Hiking In Podocarpus National Park, Ecuador


“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” (John Muir)


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Podocarpus National Park, located in southern Ecuador, covers about 1460 square kilometers (560 square miles). The altitude within the park ranges from 960 – 3800 meters (3150 – 12500 feet), which makes it possible to see a tremendously wide range of plant and animal life. The park is named for the “romerillo” or Podocarpus tree, which is among over 4000 species of plants found in the park, along with 68 recorded species of mammals and 560 species of birds.


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


We didn’t see many animals or birds on our hike, but there were lots of plants…


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


There are two main entrances to Podocarpus Park, one close to Loja, the other near Zamora, and several other smaller access trails, one near Vilcabamba. At the time of writing this post, entrance was free. We entered through the Cajanuma entrance, a short taxi or bus ride from Loja. From here you can walk 8.5 kilometers to the “refugio” where the trails begin, or take a taxi. We chose to take a taxi up and walk back.


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


A few small cabins close to the refugio are available for free. They have bunks with mattresses, but you need to bring your own bedding. There is a covered area near the cabanas with a fire pit for cooking.


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


There are several trails accessible from the refugio, the longest leading to Lagunas de los Padres, a 15 kilometer, 4-day return trek. There is a small lake to camp by about halfway there, and you can fish for rainbow trout once you get to the lakes. We chose a shorter loop on this visit…


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


We walked for about a kilometer on a very steep trail, bringing us to a viewpoint with spectacular views. The elevation here is 2900 meters/9500 feet. Breathing was more difficult, and the sun was hot even at this altitude. The city of Loja is visible in the distance.


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


The 8.5-kilometer hike back to the entrance is downhill – thankfully – with lots of beautiful scenery along the way.


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Looking back to the viewpoint on our walk down to the entrance…

Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Loja in the distance…

Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


Hiking Podocarpus National Park, Loja, Ecuador


After finally arriving at the entrance, we flagged down a taxi for a ride back to Loja. We’ll return for an overnight stay at one of the cabins and a longer hike to a higher elevation next year…

Here’s a 360-degree video from the look off:


*Hint: If you’re in the Loja area during December, you absolutely do not want to miss the fantastic nativity scene at Catedral de Loja – be prepared to spend at least an hour. For information, photos and a video, click on this link: Nativity Scene.

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