Situated high in the Andean mountains, at an altitude of over 3,500 meters above sea level, the El Angel Ecological Reserve is real wilderness. A must for the adventurous traveler, this park is a garden of hardy grasses, lagoons and rivers whose m most impressive feature are its areas dotted with the curious Espeletia plant with its thick trunk and succulent leaves. El Angel is a unique ecosystem and is considered to be one of Ecuador’s biodiversity hotspots.
Situated in the northern Ecuador, close to the Colombian border, the Reserve is classified as Andean Páramo (Moorland), a landscape filled with lakes and trees (no more than 15 meters high) covered with mosses, lichens and ferns. The landscape is mountainous with steeply inclined cliffs, and within the perimeters of the Reserve visitors will be able to see four peaks of over four thousand meters: Los Socavones and Yanacocha (4,000m), Chiles (4, 218 m) and Orifuela (4,213m). This is truly spectacular and distinctive landscape.
El Ángel is also notable for its many lakes and their beautiful surroundings. The best known and most accessible are the El Voladero Lakes and the striking Lagunas Verdes, whose sulfur rich waters and resident algae give them an unusual turquoise color.
For the visitor, the Park and its surrounding area are well served by tourist infrastructure. At the El Voladero lakes there is parking, information, self-guided trails and look-outs, while camping is available at El Salado, near the town of San Gabriel. The Tufiño Ecotourism Complex, located 22 kilometers from Tulcan and 8 K from the town of Tufiño, has a restaurant and self guided trails which lead to the páramos of Mt. Chiles.
The region is also known for its curative thermal springs, and after a day, or a night camping on the paramo visitors can relax in the warmth of the sulfur-rich hot springs of the nearby Tufiño Ecotourism Complex or the La Calera Spa, located 11 kilometers south of the town of El Angel. The springs are said to have curative properties. An unusual aspect of the area that the visitor will also want to explore are the naturally carbonated waters that flow close by the Ayora River.
Despite its cold climate – the maximum temperature is 18°C – the El Ángel Reserve is home to a number of mammals such as the little red brocket deer, the fruit bat and the Andean fox, which have adapted to the area’s cold rarified atmosphere. The area is also of major interest to birdwatchers, as it contains a large number of species – some 320 – ranging from the huge, highly endangered condor with its wingspan of almost three meters, to the Curiquingue or white throated caracara, and the tiny puff-leg hummingbird.
The Reserve is considered to be an Important Breeding Area (the El Ángel – Cero Golondrinas IBA) and as such essential for the conservation of certain species of Neo-tropical migratory birds. Six birds in that category can be found here including the broad winged sparrow hawk, the flycatcher, and the red tanager.
The Polylepis forest is located in the Colorado Canyon sector of the Reserve’s buffer zone, 13 km from the town of El Ángel. This type of forest is thought to be extremely old, unique in the world, and its trees are known locally as red or paper trees due to the pigmentation and fragile nature of their bark.
Within the forest is a hostel of the same name that offers cabins with private bathroom, hot water, restaurant, bar, games room, sport fishing and excursions on foot or horseback.
The recommended time to visit is from June to October, when the daytime temperature of the Reserve can reach 18 °C, with an intense sun. The visitor can also expect strong winds and intermittent drizzle, with night temperatures that drop below freezing. From November to May, the area is cloudy and drizzly, there is sometimes snow and daytime temperatures can drop to 0°C. While the Reserve is picturesque at this time of year, it is also less accessible.
What to bring:
Very warm clothing.
How to get here:
Several routes lead to the Reserve:
The El Ángel–La Libertad–Cobos road which crosses the western part of the Reserve (25 km);
The El Ángel–Tulcán road which passes close by the El Voladero lagoons (87 km);
The Panamerican Highway from the city of Tulcán, then following the San Gabriel–Bolívar–El Ángel road.
The Tulcán–Tufiño–Lagunas Verdes road which leads to the Lagunas Verdes lakes.
These are secondary roads and in winter are more difficult to transit. Other local tertiary roads are virtually unusable in the rainy season.
The area by numbers:
• 320: The number of bird species inhabiting the Reserve.
• 7-11: The average annual daytime temperature of the Reserve in °C.