By N. H. Gill
(February 11, 2021) — The Reserva Ecológica Antisana, located in the Andean cordillera southeast of Quito, is one of the few remaining areas in the Ecuadorian highlands where relatively large populations of endemic plants and animals continue to thrive. Encompassing over 460 square miles of highland páramo and eastern Andean forest, at elevations ranging from 4,600 ft. to 18,900 ft. above sea level (1,400 m. to 5,753 m.), the reserve is home to over 400 species of birds, 73 species of mammals, and 61 species of amphibians and reptiles.
Historically used for sheep and cattle ranching, the reserve was created in 1993 to protect the area around the Antisana volcano, one of the largest strato-volcanoes in the eastern cordillera, as well as the Laguna Mica, which supplies nearby Quito with some of its drinking water. Intense grazing and burning over centuries has resulted in the transformation of parts of the highland landscape as tall-tussock grasses have been replaced by short-turf grasslands. The snowline has also changed, moving several hundred meters upslope over the last several decades.
The eastern side of the park, which receives more than twice as much rainfall as the western side, includes a series of hot springs in the Valle del Tambo, reached via the “Ruta del Condor” on the eastern flank of the cordillera, beginning 5 km from Papallacta. The highland sections near the volcano and Laguna Mica are located 35km east of Pintag. Large lava flows cover the valley floor along this route.
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Cover photograph: Laguna Micacocha, Reserva Ecológica Antisana, January 2021. Photograph by N. H. Gill.