Podocarpus National Park
The park was created on 5th January 1983.
Flora and fauna
The flora and fauna of the park are incredibly diverse and numerous.
Over 560 species of bird have been registered in the park, making up 40% of the bird species present in Ecuador as a whole. More than 4,000 species of 'higher' vascular plants are present in the park including an immense number of orchids. Mammals in the park include the pudú (Pudu mephistophiles), the world's smallest deer & the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), the only wild bear living in South America.
There are three entrance points to the park: Cajanuma, Vilcabamba & Bombuscaro.
Around 13km south of Loja on the road to Vilcabamba is the turn-off (eastern side of the road) for the park with a registration point and gate building clearly visible. The Cajanuma admin centre and refugio are a further 9km uphill along a dirt road. From the admin centre various walking trails start.
Buses (Busetas Vilcabambaturis) run from Loja's terminal terrestre through town to the park gate building by the main road, ask to be dropped off as the bus continues to Vilcabamba. Buses run every 15 minutes from 5:45am to 9:15pm and cost $0.50 per person.
Shared taxis (Company "11 de Mayo" on street Manuel J Aguirre near the junction with Mercadillo), like the bus, will drop you by the park gate building for around $1.50 per person.
Taxis will take you to the Cajanuma admin centre, where the walking trails start, for $8 to $12 per car from Loja. Obviously this avoids having to walk the 2 hours uphill from the park gate building.
On the return to Loja the bus is probably the best option having walked the 1.5 hours down to the park gate building on the main road. That is unless you have organised a taxi pick-up.
As with all national parks in Ecuador (except the Galapagos) there is no entrance fee. The former $10 charge was removed in 2012.
Walking trails from Cajanuma:
Spectacle Bear Trail (Sendero Oso de Anteojos) - a short walking loop just behind the refugio leading from & ending at the Viewpoint Trail taking about 15 minutes and covering 400 metres. The trail is well maintained & an easy walk with interactive displays about the flora and fauna in the park as well as signs pointing out the trees to be seen.
Cloud Forest Trail (Sendero Bosque Nublado) - further up from the Spectacle Bear Trail this 700 metre, 20 minute walking loop from & to the Viewpoint Trail takes in the atmosphere of the park with a viewpoint at its farthest point.
Viewpoints Trail (Sendero Los Miradores) - this trail starts & ends at the Cajanuma refugio. The section running past the Cloud Forest Trail & Spectacle Bear Trail is in a good condition, well maintained & with steps in the steeper sections. This easy-going section reaches as far as the first clearly marked viewpoint mirador, taking around 45 minutes up and 30 minutes back down to the refugio. The rest of the trail is much harder going, often very steep, (with some scrambling and jumps) muddy and narrow. You are rewarded with great views from the ridge of the surrounding park, countryside, Vilcabamba and Loja as well as better chances of seeing birds and animals. The trail took us 7 hours in total at a very slow pace with 30 minutes for lunch, the trail is meant to be only 5 km.
Godfather Lake Trail (Sendero del Compadre) - this trail starts at the refugio and ends at the Godfather Lake. The first couple of kilometres follow the same route as the Viewpoints Trail before splitting off at an unsigned junction. The total one-way distance is around 15 km and should take around 8 hours at a reasonable pace.