If you are in Quito, take advantage of the summer and its clear skies to enjoy different nature experiences a short distance from the city. Here we present four that we have visited recently.
1) Cascadas del río Pita
Quito is surrounded by waterfalls and the canton of Rumiñahui, south of the city, is where you can spend the day enjoying their spectacular proportions. These falls are created by the combination of rugged geological formations formed by ancient eruptions and the waters that descend the great snow-capped mountains of the northern Andes: Sincholagua, Antisana, and Cotopaxi. One of the most impressive (and most accessible) is the Gran Cascada del Pita. Neighboring the Molinuco complex, one can hike through several riverbeds, passing through different waterfalls, in a beautiful walk that ends at an enormous waterfall, ideal for a picnic. Also check out Las Tres Cascadas and Condor Machay.
2) Yanacocha, Zuroloma
The western slopes of Pichincha offer a clearer hint of what Quito’s surroundings looked like before the arrival of the Spaniards. In the highest part of the mountain range, we find ancient irrigation systems that today are part of an important elfin forest and páramo reserve: Yanacocha. The walk to the “hummingbird garden” is easy, but one can venture along the “tunnel” trail, go inside the forest or climb up to paramo along the Andean Snipe (a more demanding trail). Each time you visit the bird feeders, you find different species, including large Andean guans, astounding Sword-billed hummingbirds or stunning mountain tanagers (there are several species, each one with its own dapper plumage). If you continue past Yanacocha towards the town of Alambi, visit the family-owned Zuroloma, which also offers a short walk in forest, many of the same birds, and a beautiful view of the gullies that form along the hidden side of the great Mount Pichincha.
One expects archaeological ruins in what was once a great natural observatory for the entire northern region of the Andes during pre-Columbian times, but the Cochasquí experience goes further. We begin, of course, with the tola pyramids of the ancient Kitu-Cara civilization, which one can visit and through which one begins to understand just how special and visionary these original cultures actually were. Only a very specific part of the park has been dug up as of yet, and we get a tiny window of the actual extent of these pyramids and their complex inner constructions. It’s striking to notice those that are still intact; they look like hills. The truth is, time has covered them with grass, on which, today, dozens of friendly llamas graze. Which brings us to another highlight of the place: the wildlife. Apart from dozens of llamas, Cochasquí is home to an entire community of Burrowing owls, an adorable terrestrial owl that nests in holes in the ground. Sometimes you will see them with young, perfectly camouflaging themselves in the grass. An incredible visit for the whole family.
4) Parque Jerusalem
This unusual ecosystem, hidden behind the hills of the Pisque River Valley, at the height of the town of Guayllabamba, seems like a forest taken from another continent; in fact, its name certainly hints at this. This fabulous “dry Andean” forest is one of the few that remain and continues to be protected, where one is quickly amazed by the fascinating vegetation all around. Carob trees dominate, their flat tops creating an almost African-looking savannah landscape, along with a number of species you would expect in arid ecosystems such as cacti and gigantic agave plants. The trails are well marked, easy to walk, and educational, and spending time in this beautiful setting is always enjoyable. It’s also the starting point to head out towards “The Hidden Route”, a thread of sleepy towns with beautiful churches, surrounded by amazing mountain landscapes.