Hiking around
Santa Rita Eco-reserve



The SOLEQ.travel team set out to explore an area we did not know yet: Santa Rita Eco-reserve. A beautiful place in the middle of nature, that not a lot of people know about. As our team likes to keep their reputation of true Ecuador experts, we are always looking for ways to expand our knowledge. That means visiting new places and gather information about them to share with you. Either here on the blog or by creating a new amazing tour. 

This time we will share our experiences of Santa Rita Eco-Reserve. We’re sure that after reading, you will be convinced that this reserve is definitely worth a visit!

Diversity in landscape and activities

Santa Rita is a private reserve located north of Cotopaxi National Park, on the slopes of the volcano Pasochoa. In this protected area you will find Andean forest, rivers, waterfalls and moorlands. And a variety of wildlife that finds its home there. At the entrance of the reserve there is a visitors center, where you pay an entrance fee of $5,-. Here you receive information about the different trails and activities available. There are for instance several waterfalls you can visit, or you can do a (guided) cycling tour or even go horseback riding (if you reserve beforehand). The reserve is a place where you can immerse yourself in nature while performing outdoor activities. It’s also allowed to bring dogs, and we can assure you they’ll love it too!

We choose to do a longer hike in the direction of the Chilcabamba lodge. This hike starts in the Santa Rita Eco-Reserve but continues through the páramo right outside of the reserve. In the latter part there is no mapped out itinerary, so we were challenged to create our own. This was not always easy… In this area Google Maps displays mostly just a plain green area without any paths or trails, which is not very helpful. In other words: this hike felt really “off the beaten track”! Nevertheless, although we took a few wrong turns, we did make it to our destination.

Animal spotting in the Andean forest…

The first part of the hike is through beautiful, humid Andean forest. Although we had perfect, slightly sunny weather, the forest was very moist, making it a perfect habitat for ferns, bamboo, orchids and moss that grows all over the trees. It was a truly pretty and at times adventurous environment to hike around. In the background we heard the sound of the flowing river that was on our right side. Clearly there was water flowing everywhere, as the trail more than once lead us over small wooden bridges. A few times we even had to cross a shallow stream without any bridge at all. By jumping from rock to rock to get to the other side, most of us managed to keep their shoes dry.

Crossing rivers in Santa Rita Eco-reserve, jumping rock to rock

While we hiked through the forest, suddenly we heard a strange sound. It sounded like an animal eating, just a few meters away from us. We stopped for a moment and everyone was dead quiet, trying to hear and see where the noise came from. Based on the sound, it seemed to be quite a big animal. A puma maybe? We sat there for a few minutes, staring at the movements in the bushes with great expectation. And then we saw the yellow-brown fur… of a dog! No puma, no wild animal, just the dog that lived at Hacienda Santa Rita and ‘guided’ us on our hike. We had a good laugh about it!

Impressive views

While we slowly gained elevation, we could see the landscape around us change. The humid, dense forest turned into rather open grassland with bushes full of colorful flowers and berries. Here in the moorlands (known as páramo), we immediately felt the difference in temperature as well, as we moved out of the shadows and into the sun. Moreover, we now could actually see the area around us: the volcanoes and rock walls that were partly covered in vegetation provided an impressive view.

Moving on, we passed grazing cows and some horses that stared at us curiously from a distance. At some point we were surprised to suddenly see a huge canyon at our left side. Coming closer to the edge, you could see water running down along the opposite cliff, forming modest waterfalls. Looking down into the depths of this canyon and seeing its colossal, lush face on the other side was pretty overwhelming. We took our time to enjoy the moment at this stunning place before we continued the hike.

Untrodden paths

Although we were getting quite close to our final destination, this was the point where we got kind of lost. We tried a few different (non-existent) trails and again risked getting wet crossing another river without bridge. Only to find out that we had gone the wrong way and should turn back around…

So we turned around to find the right trail. Once we did, we arrived rather soon at the main road near Chilcabamba Lodge. Here a pick-up was waiting for us to take us back to the Santa Rita Eco-Reserve. I was surprised to see just one vehicle, since we were with a group of more than 10 people. However, it was no problem to fit us all: standing in the back of the pick-up, it was a fun ride. We were brought back to Hacienda Santa Rita to have lunch. We were quite hungry from hiking 7 kilometers in about 4 hours. With burgers, vegetarian quesadillas, chicken with fries and a well-deserved beer we regained energy.

Viewpoint Cascada Condor Machay

We had decided to do just one more hike, because we did not want to leave without having seen one of the highlights of the reserve: The Condor Machay waterfall. The hike from the visitors center to the viewpoint takes about 25 minutes. As the name suggests, the area around the waterfall is the habitat for Ecuador’s national bird: the condor! Hiking towards the waterfall you have a great chance to spot this majestic bird. And yes, so did we! We were lucky to see a few of them flying over high above us.

The viewpoint is situated at some distance from the waterfall, just a bit higher than the highest point of the waterfall. So you get to see the water crush down from above. Cascada Condor Machay is the highest waterfall in the region. It is about 80 meters high. Watching the waterfall from this viewpoint is impressive as the platform is partly floating above the abyss. So it’s not for people who fear heights!

The majestic Condor Machay waterfall is one of the highlights of the Cotopaxi Lodge-to-lodge trek.

For us it was a great end to a great day. Hopefully now you also have an idea of what Santa Rita Eco-Reserve has to offer. If you would like to experience this yourself, just contact us! A tour normally combines hiking around this area with climbing Volcán Pasochoa and visiting Cotopaxi National park!

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