The El Pahuma Orchid Reserve is a 650 hectare (approx. 1,500 acre) cloud forest reserve located only
one hour from Quito. The lush vegetation is fed by abundant moisture from the mist-laden air and provides home to a multitude
of epiphytes ("air plants") including bromeliads, orchids, mosses and ferns. The astonishing diversity of species
that make up the reserve provides limitless enjoyment for visitors interested in orchids, birdwatching or simply taking in
the sights and sounds of the forests and its three spectacular waterfalls. For the more adventurous, a strenuous hike to El
Pahuma's gentle summit (El Pahuma in Quichua means "flattened peak") is rewarded by panoramic views of the Pichincha
volcano and verdant forested valleys. Lodging is available in the Nature Center, in the rustic "Guarida del Oso"
(Bear's Den cabin) or at the summit's campsite.
Facilities and Services for Visitors
The following facilities are available for visitors. For information on volunteering, conducting research in the reserve,
planning an event, or organizing a school or special group visit, please contact us.
The beautiful wood Nature Center was constructed in 2001 with a design that harmonizes with the surrounding forest. The
center houses educational displays on montane forests and provides a space for seminars and special events. Here you
can pick up maps to the trail system, as well as informational brochures on various aspects of montane forests and the reserves
flora and fauna. The Nature Center is a popular destination for school groups that come to observe the forest, play in the
waterfalls, and enjoy environmental education programs created by Ceiba. Delicious meals are available in the nearby
restaurant or in the Nature Center itself with prior reservations. The back porch is a great place to watch hummingbirds
that visit the many feeders.
A new, spacious restaurant and dining hall, located at the entrance to the reserve, boasts a superb view of the Alambi
River valley below El Pahuma. This restaurant has a seating capacity of about 60 people, adjacent to the parking lot
that easily can accomodate large tour buses. Meals include local specialities such as fritada (deep-fried pork), cheese
empanadas, choclo (corn), and a delicious ají (hot sauce) made from a Lima family recipe. Lunch and dinner are
served throughout the week, and reservations are not required. The restaurant also sells snacks and drinks for those
merely passing by the reserve; however, we strongly recommend a brief walk through the botanical garden to stretch your legs
and take in some fresh -- flower scented! -- air.
The one-acre botanical garden near the reserve entrance is accessed by an easy loop trail from the Nature Center. The
garden celebrates the forest as habitat; no trees were cut to create it. Plantings of hundreds of native species of orchids,
aroids, bromeliads, ferns and shrubs are interspersed within the trees, highlighting the diversity and beauty of the region's
flora. The garden is a good place to see native orchids in bloom and learn about the diversity of montane forest plants with
the aid of informative signs.
There are 6 kilometers of hiking trails ranging from easy to steep and strenuous. The trail system is popular with birdwatchers
and is open from dawn to dusk daily.
- Sendero Gallo de la Peña - a short easy hike to Los Altares waterfalls. During the nesting season of the
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (August - October) access is restricted to small groups with a guide.
- Sendero Pacaya - This 40 minute (one-way) moderate hike accesses a very beautiful area of primary montane forest,
following a streambed to the 50 meter (165 ft.) high Pacaya Waterfall.
- Sendero Las Orquideas (The Orchid Trail) - This trail is a loop that connects to the Sendero Pacaya. The entire
loop is of moderate difficulty and can be made in about 1 hour. It passes through beautiful primary montane forest as well
as secondary forest, with beautiful views of the Pacaya waterfall at the midway point.
- Sendero El Pahuma - Instead of returning to the Nature Center on the Las Orquideas loop trail, the difficult El
Pahuma Trail continues up the slope through increasingly misty and epiphyte-laden cloud forest as well as bamboo thickets.
In one-and-a-half to three hours (depending on hiker condition) the trail arrives at the Guarida del Oso,
or Bear's Den, cabin where rustic dormitory style lodging is available.
- Sendero Oso de Anteojos (Spectacled Bear Trail) - This steep and strenuous hike takes off from the Bear's Den
cabin and continues up through the mysterious and often densely shrouded cloud forest to the ridge line where, in about 1
1/2 hours it joins the impressive prehispanic Yumbo trail.
- Sendero de Los Yumbos - This easy, ancient trail follows a narrow ridgeline that plummets steeply down on both
sides, affording many scenic views of the forest valleys blanketing the slopes of Pichincha volcano. The maintained trail
terminates in about 1 hour at the Pahuma Peak, the highest point in the reserve at 2610 meters. There is a campsite here (no
- Sendero Shunguyacu - This trail is under construction but once finished will form a moderate to difficult
loop trail connecting the Sendero Pacaya to the Bear's Den cabin by way of the spectacular 90 m (300 foot) Shunguyacu waterfall.
Volunteers are currently sought to help complete the construction of this trail.
El Pahuma offers a variety of lodging options for visitors, ranging from comfortable rooms in the nature center, to open-air
camping high in the reserve's forest.
- Nature Center - There are four basic but comfortable rooms
in the nature center, housing up to 15 people total with shared bath.
There is one shower that usually has hot water. There is no electricity
so volunteers and visitors should bring flashlights and headlamps.
- Guarida del Oso ("Bear's Den Cabin") - This rustic
cabin contains 10 bunk-style beds and is ideal for adventurous travelers,
researchers, or students who wish to spend the night in the mist-shrouded
forest and wake up to excellent bird-watching. This is also the best
place to catch a glimpse of the threatened Spectacled Bear. There
are cooking facilities for rent, a campfire area and a pit toilet,
but no electricity nor running water. Visitors must bring their own
food, water and sleeping bags! Groups of 6 or more are required to
hire a guide.
- Camping - a primitive campsite is located in a grassy clearing on the summit at El Pahuma peak. There are no facilities
and visitors should prepare for inclement weather and bring food, water, flashlights and camping equipment. A guide is required
for groups of 6 or more.
Ruth Lima is El Pahuma's general manager, providing oversight and accounting for the reserve's daily operation.
Her training in reserve management and accounting was organized by Ceiba, and she has proved to be a dedicated and talented
Rene Lima is El Pahuma's on-site guide. He is extremely knowledgeable about the local bird and
orchid species. Rene recently founded the Local Naturalist Guide Association for the region, and is actively involved in the
promotion of other sites of interest, both natural and cultural, around El Pahuma.
The El Pahuma Orchid Reserve is less than one hour from Quito by road, so it
makes for a convenient day trip (see
can get there by bus or by car. From the airport, follow signs heading
north to Mitad
del Mundo (the monument marking the equator). Continue north at the circle
(bear left), following signs to Nanegalito. This is the main highway to
the coast that begins to climb westward into the mountains. When the road
forks at the town of Calacalí, stay to the left to skirt the town, and
continue for another 22.5 kilometers (20 minutes or so).
Watch for signs indicating that you are nearing the entrance to El Pahuma! The
entrance itself is on the left, immediately at sharp curve. Park in the
lot on the right, across the road from the trailhead.
As you walk down the entrance trail, you will see the Nature Center where you pay a
modest entrance fee that helps defray the costs of managing and maintaining the reserve. There are several trails
within the reserve. Immediately adjacent to the nature center is our lovely orchid botanical garden,
showcasing some of the over 200 species found in the reserve (more on El Pahuma's orchids).
The El Pahuma Orchid Reserve is a model conservation project that allows
local landowners to make a sustainable revenue from forest protection.
However it takes substantial revenue and manpower to maintain the orchid
garden and trails, monitor plant and animal populations, protect the
forest from poachers, and carry out educational programs the reserve.
We depend on your donation and the help of
volunteers to keep the project going and
ensure long term protection of the forest.
inventory yields over 200 species!
Systematic field surveys have begun to document the high biological diversity of the reserve.
Ceiba's intern, Philip Myers, spent over four months conducting an inventory of the orchids
found in the reserve and recorded over 170 species; further identifications by experts visiting the reserve has increased
this number to over 200 species. The preliminary results of Philip's survey are available as the El
Pahuma orchid list. Several of the species discovered, particularly in the genera Stelis and Pleurothallis,
have yet to be identified, and local orchid experts Monica de Navarro and Alex Hirtz predict that they may turn out to be
new species. The photographs and natural history information Philip has collected will be used later to publish a guidebook
to the orchids of El Pahuma.
Preliminary avian inventory
Two Ceiba avian inventory volunteers, Dave Lauten and Kathy Castelein, completed
a preliminary survey of birds found in the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve in April of 2000. Seasoned tropical birders, Dave
and Kathy spent approximately one month starting on the reserve's species list (view the current El
Pahuma bird species list). Because El Pahuma's forests are located in a mountainous region famed for its high rate
of endemism, we anticipate the reserve will possess a unique mix of mountain specialist bird species. We expect that
the number of species found in the reserve will more than double after thorough surveys are completed. If you have gone birdwatching
at El Pahuma and have a confirmed sighting of a species not on the list, please contact us!
Future research will collect data on other taxonomic groups, such as mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and persons interested
in conducting investigations in the reserve should review our researcher guidelines. Specific
objectives for the monitoring of populations of threatened species in the reserve (e.g., the Spectacled Bear) are being included
in the reserve's management plan.
Number of new plant species discovered at El Pahuma up to nine!
Botanists from the National Herbarium of Ecuador, with the support of the Missouri Botanical Garden began the floral inventory
of the reserve in October 1999. By the beginning of February, 2000, the team had discovered six plant species new
to science in El Pahuma! Two of the species are high elevation trees, members of the Sapindaceae and Meliaceae families,
while the other four are epiphytic Aroids (the same family as Philodendrons). Samples of these plants are still awaiting
taxonomic description by experts at the Missouri Botanical Garden. More recently, John
Clark, a Ph.D. student from the George Washington University and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History,
discovered 3 new species of Gesneriaceae in the reserve. He is in the process of publishing the taxonomic descriptions of
these new plants.
Getting Involved in El Pahuma
Spend some time in Ecuador and gain valuable field experience by joining the team that's making the El Pahuma Orchid Reserve
a reality! Ceiba's volunteers and researchers make a huge difference and contribute daily to the project's success. All
details and application forms are available online if you are interested in volunteering, or
in conducting research.
For further information, please contact Ceiba.