The El Pahuma Orchid Reserve maintains an extensive trail system that explores mossy forests, steep slopes, and plunging waterfalls; trail difficulty ranges from a short, easy stroll on flat ground near the entrance at 1800m all the way to strenuous climbs up to the reserve’s highest reaches at 2400m. The main waterfall to visit is the spectacular 30m tall Pacaya waterfall, just a 20 minute hike uphill from the welcome center; 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 the 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 hundred meters as it cuts across El Pahuma’s most protected forest zone.
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.
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, near the reserve’s welcome center. Near the entrance is El Pahuma’s nature garden, which showcases 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, easily-accessible area.
The second floor of the Ecoc Center has three rooms where visitors can stay overnight: perfect for getting up early to birdwatch! Lodging is rustic, but comfortable. A shared bathroom includes a hot shower. On weekends, enjoy delicious local cuisine in an open-air restaurant (pictured above) with stunning views of the reserve, and frequent visits from speedy hummingbirds. The restaurant serves a range of dishes, from pork fritada to locally-raised trout, or trucha, all accompanied by one of Ecuador’s famous midday soups. Contact the reserve (email email@example.com) to make a reservation for an overnight stay.
Camping is available for guided groups of up to 8 people. The Bear’s Den Cabin (Guarida del Oso) provides welcome respite after the strenuous hike up the Pahuma Trail. Its a rustic shelter with bunk beds and a cooking area (bring your own camp stove). From there the Oso de Anteojos trail accesses the upper reaches of the reserve including the Yumbo Trail. Bring a sleeping bag! A guide is required for camping trips due to issues with people leaving trash and cutting the forest for firewood (no exceptions). Contact us for more information and to plan your ultimate cloud forest adventure!