Spanning elevations between 950 m and 3700 m, Podocarpus is one of the most diverse protected areas in the world. It is particularly rich in birdlife, including many rarities and some newly discovered species; there could be up to 800 species in the park. It also includes one of the last major habitats for the spectacled bear and protects stands of romerillo or podocarpus, a native conifer. The park is divided into two areas, an upper premontane section with spectacular walking country, lush cloud forest and excellent birdwatching, and a lower subtropical section, with remote areas of virgin rainforest and unmatched quantities of flora and fauna. Podocarpus is at the heart of the Podocarpus-El Cóndor Biosphere Reserve, established by UNESCO in 2007.
Attractions and park services
Both the highland and lowland areas can be quite wet, making rubber boots an asset. There are sometimes periods of dry weather from October to January. The upper section is also very cold, so warm clothing and waterproofs are indispensable year-round.
The Cajanuma ranger‘s station and refugio (shelter) is 900 m walking from the car park. Nearby are several basic cabins with beds and mattresses (US$3 per person). La Poderosa, a lovely waterfall, is 500 m away. Cajanuma is the trailhead for the eight- hour hike to Lagunas del Compadre, 12 lakes set amidst rock cliffs; camping is possible there. At San Francisco, the ranger’s station is operated by Fundación Arcoiris . They have a nice shelter, $, with hot water and use of kitchen. This section of the park is a transition cloud forest area at around 2160 m, very rich in birdlife. It is also the best place to see the podocarpus trees, a very slow-growing conifer which is in danger of extinction. A trail (four hours return) goes from the rangers’ station to a small but impressive stand of podocarpus.
In the Vilcabamba area, abutting the park, are several private reserves with shelters, which provide access to the cloud forest within the park .
do you know Loja and Vilcabamba well?