El Pahuma

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Oncidium cucullatum El Pahuma Orchid Reserve

Nature Center     Restaurant     Botanical Garden     Trails     Lodging    
     Getting There     Orchid List     Bird List     Get Involved     Archives

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.

New nature center, surrounded by nature!Nature Center

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.

Restaurant and mountain viewRestaurant

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.

Attractive Epidendrum species found in the gardenBotanical Garden

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.

Hikers take a well-deserved rest amid mossy treesTrails

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 facilities).
  • 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 administrator.


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.

Getting There

The El Pahuma Orchid Reserve is less than one hour from Quito by road, so it makes for a convenient day trip (see map).  Waterfall at Los AltaresYou can get there by bus or by car.  From the airport, follow signs heading north to Giant tree ferns tower overhead in the misty cloudsMitad 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).

Get Involved

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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.



Orchids of El Pahuma's gardenOrchid 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.


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