Our latest adventure was exploring Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, a collapsed volcano that erupted approximately 2,500 years ago. It was the first National Park established by Ecuador in 1966, also making it one of the first national parks in all of South America. Pululahua is famous for many reasons: its various flora and fauna endemic to the area, its micro-climates, the views from various spots on the rim and within the caldera, and its status as one of the few inhabited volcanoes in the world.
Our journey began as most journeys begin in Ecuador–with a bus ride (see below for instructions about how to get there). After arriving at the bus stop an hour and a half after leaving Quito, we marched up the small hill (which is actually the rim of the volcanic crater), took a wrong turn, and ended up trekking through agricultural and pastoral land for the next hour. We passed several local Ecuadorians who were tending their fields or cattle, took a bathroom break, and even bushwhacked our way through a cattle trail before I realized we weren’t heading in the correct direction. However, I did get this picture before turning around:
Once I realized we had made a wrong turn–heading down a path off the main road–we returned to the fork in the road and headed in the other direction. We spent another 20 minutes hiking up the hill until we finally reached the entrance to Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve. I knew we were close when I could see all the tourist hawkers, hear the blaring noise of announcers and music, and see the line of cars and taxis. After making it through the melee of people crowded around the entrance either selling stuff or trying to get into the park (no fees for this park, hooray!), and another short uphill climb, we were greeted with this view:
We finally made it!
For the next hour, Danielle and I made our way slowly down an incredibly steep hike with an altitude change of approximately 1,600 feet (~500 meters). On our way down the switchbacks, we met many mountain bikers and groups of people who were leaving the caldera. I crossed paths with an Ecuadorian who kept trying to communicate with me to no avail, even after trying multiple phrases of “Hablo un poco de español; Despacio hable, por favor; no entiendo que estas hablando.” The only thing I gained from the conversation was that there were English speakers farther down the trail and something about the ‘bottom’ (maybe he was trying to warn us about the hike, I’ll never know). Most of the people we passed on the way down looked dead or about to collapse from heat exposure–“This doesn’t bode well,” Danielle said as we continued to make our way, slipping and sliding at some points, down the path. Getting closer to the bottom, I noticed there were less and less people passing us, as well as people hiking down with us. At some unknown point, we had lost the mobs of people and it began to quiet down. The only other people we saw toward the bottom of the hike were an Ecuadorian family of three (with a young son), another Ecuadorian family of five (the father encouraging the rest of the family to “Vamos!” back up the trail), and two foreigners. For the first time in Ecuador, we were finally attacked by swarming bugs and mosquitoes, a fate I had thought we would be free from during our exploration of the Andes mountain range.
Once you reach the bottom of the hike, you are basically standing in the middle of farm and pasture land. Most of the locals who tend the land in the caldera are descendants of the slaves who worked on the haciendas in the area during the Spanish reign from the 17th century and into the middle of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, these lands were taken back from the Spanish religious orders and handed over to the Ecuadorian government during Eloy Alfaro’s presidency. In turn, the government handed over the land and the workers to private parties who used the capital revenues to build schools and improve the community. It wasn’t until 1964 that land reforms allowed these families to own the land.
Once we were in the caldera, we made our way north on one of the main roads that cuts through the small community of farms. After reaching the hacienda, we stopped to eat our packed lunch, nearly had to fend off some stray dogs, and took in the glorious views around us. Once we finished, we continued down the main road and eventually turned northwest as we made our way around Pondoña Hill, a lava dome that formed approximately 500 years after the collapse of the original volcano.
Nothing incredible happened after that. We hiked approximately 2.5 kilometers down the main road until we reached a fork in the road that headed north around Pondoña Hill or west toward the western entrance of Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve and Calicalí, another small town in the Andes. However, we did take in the views, checked out some interesting flora, and figured out what we should do on our next jaunt to Pululahua.
Things to do in Pululahua:
- Hiking Trails – There are lots of hiking trails in the area, as well as trails that climb up Chivo Rock, Pondoña Hill, and Lulumbamba Mountain. Click here for some maps.
- Horseback Riding – horse rentals available at Pululahua Hostel
- Mountain Biking – bike rentals available at Pululahua Hostel
- Hot Water Springs (Aguas Termo Minerales) – on the northwest side of Pondoña Hill, there are hot water springs.
- Limestone Kilns (Hornos de Cal) – kilns that were used to extract purified lime from the limestone in the area for white washing all of the buildings in the Old District of Quito when the Spanish ruled this region. Location is unknown.
- Crater Restaurant – If your not interested in hiking into the caldera, you can always visit the Crater Restaurant that offers great views from the rim while eating at the same time. You can find the restaurant at the southern entrance of the reserve.
- Pululahua Hostel
- La Rinconada de Rolando Vera
- El Leñador
- Each of these places has campsites and I’ve heard there are various campsites located in different areas near the trails that snake all over the caldera.
How to get there:
Click here for a map.
To get there by public bus, take the MetroBus line north all the way to Ofelia station. Once you are at Ofelia station, head to the northeast corner of the station and look for the queue that says Calacali/Pululahua on the placard. Get on the bus that stops here. 5-8 minutes after you pass by La Mitad del Mundo you will see a highway sign on the right that says “Mirador” and “Pululahua”. The bus will stop here and you can get off. If you are unsure about the stop, tell the ticket attendant, “Quiero desembarcar en la entrada de Pululahua.” Most attendants will notify you of the stop. Hike up the road past ‘Templo del Sol’ and you will see the southern entrance to Pululahua. To return to Quito, go back to where you were dropped off by the bus, head east down the street toward San Antonio de Pichincha until you see the “La Pareda” bus sign on the right side of the road. Wait for the bus that says, “Ofelia” on the bus placard. There are also other buses that will return you directly to Miraflores or Centro Historico if you are staying in a hostel in those areas, but you will have to look out for names on the placards of the buses.