Podocarpus National Park
|Podocarpus National Park|
Trees surrounding the Bombuscaro river
Zamora Chinchipe and Loja
|Nearest city||Loja, Loja, Ecuador|
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It covers 1462.80 km², from two spurs of the eastern range of the Andes to the basins of the Nangaritza, Numbala and Loyola rivers. About 85% of the park is in the province of Zamora Chinchipe and the remainder in the province of Loja. It is categorized as a megadiverse zone and an area with a high level of endemic species because is a meeting point between four ecological systems: Northern Andes, Southern Andes, Amazonian and Pacific ecosystems. Although a considerable knowledge has been gathered about its biodiversity in parts of the area, only a minority of the species inhabiting the park has been discovered so far.
The Podocarpus National Park spans from lower montane rain forests at ca. 1000m up to high elevation elfin forests at 3000 m. Paramo or subparamo vegetation is found at elevations >3000 m where a complex of more than 100 lagoons exists, among the best-known being the Lagunas del Compadre.
The park has two main entrances. One is in 'Cajanuma Sector' ca. 8 km south of Loja where elfin forest and paramo habitats at elevations between ca. 2900 and 3500 m can be accessed. The other is in 'Bombuscaro Sector', corresponding to the Bombuscaro River in lower montane forest habitats at elevations from ca. 1000 m upwards. There are two alternative entrances without park guards: the 'Romerillos Sector', corresponding to the Jamboé River southeast of the Bombuscaro Sector is also an entrance for gold miners that work inside the park. Another entrance is at Cerro Toledo, east of the Yangana-Valladolid route in the south-western part of the park.
The park contains an exceptionally diverse flora, and has been considered the 'Botanical Garden of America'. Its high and low mountain-forest ecosystems, located in the Nudo de Sabanilla pass, and its very humid mountain and premontane forests in the basin of the Numbala River, have more than 4,000 species of plants including trees that can measure up to 40 meters, like the romerillo (Podocarpus glomeratus) which gives its name to the park, and many other valuable species like the Cinchona - the national tree of Ecuador - and a huge variety of orchids.
Among the main species found in the region are chilca (Baccharis sp.), laurel, San Pedro cactus, uvilla, Black Elder, pumamaqui (Oreopanax sp.), sappanwood, arrayán, cashoco, alder, acacia, sage, guato blanco, cedar, castor-oil plant, walnut, yumbingue (Terminalia guyanensis) and canelón (Swartzia littlei).
So far, 68 species of mammals have been recorded in the park and its surroundings, 4 of them are on Ecuador's "Red List" as either endangered or vulnerable:
- Mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque)
- Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus)
- Northern pudu (Pudu mephistophiles)
- Jaguar (Panthera onca)
Other notable mammals include:
- Amazonian hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus semistriatus)
- Common grey shrew opossum (Caenolestes fuliginosus)
There are also 560 registered species of birds which is 6% of all birds registered worldwide and 40% of the birds registered in Ecuador. For this reason it was identified in 1995 by Wedge and Long as one of the important areas for the conservation of neotropic birds.
The area has also been identified as a diversity hotspot of insects such as geometrid moths. So far, 1,266 species of this family have been recorded in the northern part of the park and adjacent montane forests, a number exceeding any other place in the world.
The city of Loja is nearby, ca. 25–90 minutes from the two major entrances of Cananuma and Bombuscaro. There are three guided trails that you can take from 15 minutes (speckled bear trail) to 1 hour and 20 minutes (Cloud forest trail). There are more longer trails for those that prefer to backpack or camp. It costs $10 to enter for foreign adults (less for Ecudaoreans, children and seniors). You can as well enter the park from Vilcabamba and Zamora, which are both located directly next to the national park.
The rainy season varies throughout the park. In the east the rainy season is March - July, while in the west the rainy season is October - December. The mean temperature at high elevations is 12°C (54°F) while in the lower parts of the park it is 18°C (64°F).