Pululahua is a Quichua word that means “cloud of water” or fog. It is a collapsed volcano with great biodiversity and unique geological formations. It is due to this uniqueness that it was declared a geobotanical reserve.
The Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve was created as a national park on 28 January 1966. It was the first national park created in Ecuador and in South America to protect this unique place.
On 17 February 1978, this national park was declared a geobotanical reserve. This declaration was due to its geological uniqueness, and great diversity with more than 2000 species of flora, great diversity of birds, mammals, and insects of exotic appearance.
It is a caldera formed from the collapsed volcano after it emptied its magma chamber during the eruptions dating back to 500 BC. This type of formation is typical of very strong eruptions that weaken the internal structure of a volcano. The caldera has three lava domes, Pondoña, El Chivo, and Pan de Azucar, which formed in the years following the eruption, and after the volcano collapsed. The highest elevation of this volcano is the Sincholagua hill on the north eastern side of the caldera at an elevation of 3356 m.
Flora and fauna
The Andes have more than 2900 endemic species; many of these are found in Pululahua and for this reason it is now a geobotanical reserve. The dense tree vegetation has a lot of mosses, ferns, lichens, bromeliads and orchids.
The temperature varies from 0 °C (32 °F) to 27 °C (81 °F), and rainfall is in the range of 500 mm (20 in) 3,000 mm (120 in).
The range of altitude is 1,800 m (5,900 ft) to 3,356 m (11,010 ft).
By car from Quito: Stay on the road past La Mitad del Mundo and continue towards Calacalí. After you crest the hill coming out of the Mitad del Mundo valley and pass the gas station about 500 m down the road you will find a dirt road to the right. This is the park entrance to the Geobotanical Reserve.
By bus from Quito: The Pululahua Crater is about 25 km north of Quito near “La Mitad del Mundo”. Take the bus Mitad del Mundo on Avenida America & 18 de Septiembre, near Universidad Central. You must get off on the exit road to the crater which is about 5 minutes beyond “La Mitad del Mundo”. From there you must walk about 15 minutes uphill to the edge of the crater, also called “El Mirador”, and then 25 minutes down a steep dirt road.
Fees and permits
The roads inside the reserve are narrow and steep. Please drive slowly and carefully 20 km/h max speed.
- The Pondoña Hill is the central lava dome formed in during a later eruption 500 years after the volcano collapsed. There is also a small crater in the top eastern (frontal) side of the dome. This dome also has a trail that provides access to the area behind the hill. The views of the crater from the top of the trail are fabulous, and it is possible to see its own small crater.
- The Chivo Rock is a smaller lava dome in the southern part of the crater which ends on a sharp point. There is a trail with access to the summit where there is space for two tents. The water trail starts at its base, where the water tanks for the community are installed, and continues southward to reach the watersheds. Here you will find many water tanks used to trap the mountain water that condenses in the highland cloud forest. Please do not foul the water, be careful not to cause any damage to this fragile ecosystem and water collection area.
- El Mirador is an observation terrace at 2833 m near the south west side of the caldera with access via paved road. It has a great view of the front side of the caldera from which you can observe the agricultural west side, El Pondoña hill, El Chivo Rock, and some of the caldera walls to the north. You can also access the Reserve from El Mirador via 1.4-km foot trail that descends 300 m to the bottom of the caldera.
- Limestone Kilns: The extraction of calcium carbonate, as lime, was the main activity remembered by the oldest locals, and that many people came to work in the limestone kilns. It was similar to a gold rush. They say that hoards of mules use to carry the lime out of the crater. We have found twelve limestone kilns in the Pululahua area. These are tall rock structures 3 to 5 m tall and have an internal diameter of 1 to 1.4 m. They look like a round chimney. The limestone was removed from the walls and carried by mules to the kiln. The limestone was loaded in the kiln and mixed with wood, and coal in different proportions. A fire was built underneath the kiln which started the burning process until all of the wood and coal is consumed. This process lasted two to three days; at the end, the purified lime fell to the bottom where it was bagged. The lime was used in the construction of colonial Quito when the Spanish arrived in the eighteen hundreds. It is mixed with water and an adhesive to make a whitening paint used until today. Almost all of colonial Quito´s white walls are painted with this material. Lime is also mixed with sand, water, and clay to make a mortar like material used for joining rocks, therefore used for building rock walls. The importance of these basic building materials, for a growing city like Quito, made the limestone very important and expensive. This is why the old folks in the area say that lime was as expensive as gold.
Horseback riding, trekking, and mountain biking, are the most popular activities inside the volcano trails. This extinct volcano offers many trails that take you through different ecosystems from the panoramic, inter-Andean valley, to the rainy cloud forest. Most of these trails have been established by the people that habituated this 2500 -year-old crater. It is very likely that the Yumbos were the first to travel through this land about 1000 years ago as commercialist between the coast and the highlands. There is an important Yumbo site in Tulipe 29 km to the southwest of the Pululahua. It is connected to this crater through trails that cross the Santa Lucia Reserve and the Maquicupuna Reserve. The Caranquis were also near this crater at 15 km to the north east with a pyramid in Alance, this pyramid is also connected to this crater through very old trails that cross the Rio Guallabamba. The Incas also used these trails is their infiltration into the Yumbo and Caranqui civilizations. The Spanish used the same Yumbo trails in their multiple attempts to conquer the Yumbo country, and the province of Esmeraldas. Many of these trails are still used today but most of them have been destroyed by the construction of roads.
In the Mirador you can buy some crafts that are offered by local vendors. If you are interested in organic products, you can go down to the caldera and buy organic products such as coffee, corn, beans, guinea pigs, pork at the local Hostal.
- In the Mirador you can eat typical products offered by local vendors.
- The Crater Restaurant.
- Pululahua Hostal with organic food inside the caldera.
- Restaurant La Rinconada where have typical food.
- Restaurant El Leñador where have typical food.
- The Pululahua Hostal
- The Rinconada
- El Leñador
The Ministry of Environment has two recreational areas, one is Moraspungo which is at the entrance to the reserve, and the other is in the caldera across from the Hacienda Pululahua.
The people living in the caldera, the only in the world with agricultural production, grow maize (Zea mays), bean (Phaseolus coccineus), bean (Vicia fava), potato (Solanum tuberosum), vegetables, tree tomato, alfalfa, among other.
The Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve is a safe place for tourists.