The El Pahuma Orchid Reserve provides visitors with delicious local cuisine in an open-air restaurant with stunning views of the reserve, as well as overnight accommodations in a two-story lodge nestled within the forest (convenient for researchers!). Visitors to the reserve enjoy an extensive trail system that explores the area’s mossy forests, steep slopes, and plunging waterfalls; trail difficulty ranges from a short, easy stroll on flat ground all the way to invigorating climbs up to the reserve’s highest reaches.
At the entrance of the reserve, you can put your cameras to good use as they are captivated by over a dozen varieties of native hummingbirds that regularly attend an array of feeders, surrounded by flowering orchids. Continuing into the reserve, you encounter El Pahuma’s botanical garden, which showcases an eye-catching array of native plants, from orchids to bromeliads and heliconias and giant aroids (elephant-ears). These plants are routinely collected from natural treefalls, where they would normally perish, and installed in the garden so that visitors may observe much of the diversity of the region in a small garden area.
The stream that runs through the middle of the botanical garden can be followed to a nearby waterfall, one of three in the reserve; this trail is quite easy, nearly level, and meanders through a humid and rich canyon where Andean Cocks-of-the-Rock can be seen during nesting season. Hummingbirds and other spectacular fauna are often visible, including Beautiful Jays, Toucan Barbets, and the stunning mixed-species tanager flocks for which the high Andes are famous. The waterfall at the trail’s end drains into two small pools, called Las Pozas, that were used ceremonially by the region’s pre-Colombian indigenous people, the Yumbos.
Additional trails branch off to higher elevations, where the spectacular Pacay waterfall (reaching over 25 m, or 75 ft, in height) can be seen and photographed; if you are intrepid, try scrambling across the rocks to take an icy shower beneath the base of the falls. Begonias and other wet-habitat flowers are common here, as are Dippers, small birds that forage for insects on wet rocks in the middle of the falls.
For those visitors with an urge to see the higher elevation forest, the lengthy Guarida del Oso (Bear’s Den) trail climbs from the entrance to the top of the ridge that roughly bisects the reserve, an ascent of some 900 m (3000 ft). Along the way, the forest clearly changes, becoming even more humid, and bathed in dense clouds by afternoon. Larger birds can be readily observed here, such as the incredible Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, and the turkey-like Andean Guans. Mammals abound in this little-visited area of forest, and if you walk quietly you might catch a glimpse of a Spectacled Bear, Tayra, or even (at night) an Olinguito. At the top of the ridge, you will find the awe-inspiring Yumbo trail, a steep canyon worn deep into the earth by thousands of footsteps over centuries of indigenous use. The trail, long since destroyed in most areas outside the reserve, can be followed for several miles as it cuts across El Pahuma’s most protected forest zone.