The Ecuadorian Andes offer a great variety of attractions from volcano climbing and hiking to horseback riding, canyoning, rafting or canopy. But there are also lesser known places just as beautiful. One of them is the ecological reserve of El Ángel, close to the Colombian border.
Él Ángel is the name of a town as well as the name of the ecological reserve it borders. It is in the north of Ecuador, close to the Columbian border. The town of El Ángel is reachable by bus from Quito’s northern bus terminal Carcelén. The bus ride takes around four hours. There are buses leaving every one to two hours. Usually it is no problem to show up at the terminal and buy the ticket just before you want to get on the bus. We, however, went on the first day of a 4-day holiday. It felt like everyone who lived in Quito was at the terminal. We had to wait in line for almost four hours until we finally got a ticket for the next bus. We didn’t have anything else planned for the day so it was no problem for us.
Getting to the ecological reserve is easy. There are pick up trucks waiting for tourists wanting to go to the reserve at the Parque Libertat (Liberty park) in the town of El Ángel. It is best to go in a group, because you pay per truck and not per person. The driver then takes you to the starting point of the hiking trail in the reserve, waits there for you and then takes you back to the town. On the drive you already have amazing views, as you drive through the reserve.
El Ángel – a sleeping town in the Andes
El Ángel is a small and pretty town but if you are looking for something exciting, you’re at the wrong place. Especially over the holidays, almost every restaurant, bakery or store was closed and people where away for their days off. It was impossible to find a place that would serve a cup of coffee, but we found a good restaurant where we ate dinner on our first night and lunch on the next day.
The parks and squares are decorated. The Parque Libertat has many different trees and hedges trimmed carefully into different formations.
On the square in front of the church are statues of typical animals from the region. To “western” eye this might seem corny but at least the town is making something nice out of their public areas.
A day in the ecological reserve
El Ángel is supposedly the coldest place in Ecuador. We went there during the raining season and expected the worst. But either everyone we talked to beforehand was exaggerating or we got really lucky. We left early in the morning, because chances of rain are lower and we had a nice and sunny day with temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius.
The special thing about the natural reserve is the espelatia plant, known as frailejón in South America. It is endemic and can only be found in Ecuador and some parts of Colombia and Venezuela. The plants grow in the páramo landscape at high altitude.
The views you have in the ecological reserve are incredible: frailejónes plants as far as the eye can see, in between only a few different plants, mainly grass.
The national reserve has created a nice and easy hiking trail, which leads through the frailejónes all the way down to a beautiful lagoon. From there the trail leads back up, about five minutes of steep uphill hiking, but definitely worth the view you have from the viewpoint. From there the trail leads you back to where your driver is waiting to take you back. The whole hike takes around one and a half to two hours, depending on your speed and if you take breaks.
My experience in this beautiful nature was definitely one of the best ones I have had in Ecuador. The unique scenery and the fact that it is still an unknown place among travellers as well as Ecuadorians made this trip very special.