The hike down the laughably steep rim turned out to be the easy part. Sliding down into an ancient volcanic crater should have been the worst, save for the climb back up, but bushwhacking through the cauldron had left us scraped and bruised. Despite the theme of disappearing trails and thorn bushes, hiking in an orchid forest surrounded by the craggy caldera was an experience exceeding our expectations.
Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve is one of the more unique and beautiful locations we have visited. Located an hour north of Quito, the crater of this ancient volcano now holds a nature reserve surrounded by hiking trails. Unlike many parks, a few houses and farms reside within the crater adding their own type of beauty. The park holds 3,383 hectares, and attracts very few visitors compared to Mindo despite its proximity to Quito and diverse ecosystem.
Hiking in Pululahua
There are many options for hiking in the reserve which are all best seen in the morning before afternoon clouds and rain come in. The few people who do make their way to Pululahua only go to the main lookout point, or at most hike down and back up the initial one and a half kilometer path into the crater. While the entrance views and hike in are well worth the trip, there are numerous other hikes inside that could fill a day or days.
There are a series of trails within the park and along the crater rim. Several are visible from the main viewpoint, snaking around the mountains and up to various peaks. A list of hiking options is available on the Pululahua Hostal website, which is one of the hotels in the crater. While we opted to visit Pululahua on a day trip, we quickly regretted not staying at one of the very few accommodations within and doing a second day of hiking and horseback riding. There is also a hot spring reachable further down the valley.
Our Hike in Pululahua
We chose to hike a loop around Cerro Penodoña, which took roughly five hours including a lunch stop at the Pululahua Hostal and several times following false trails into dense thorn patches.
Our hike, done clockwise, started on a down sloping dirt road passing the west side of the mountain. After six kilometers on the road following signs towards La Escondida, a trail cuts off to the right to wrap around the peak. It gets confusing here as there are times when the trail suddenly stops in a thicket, which required us to backtrack in search of the real trail. One wrong turn led us to an amazing orchid and wildflower field, back framed by the valley.
Once locating the correct track, shown mostly accurate on maps.me, we wrapped the north and east part of the mountain along a wildflower and epiphyte lined path. The trail skirts several farms, one of which had a few friendly faces which happily accepted our treats. This farm, Casa L’Amore, is also a B&B and has an incredible view of the valley on both sides.
Shortly afterwards, the trail on maps.me is wrong and directed us into a field blocked by barbed wire fences. We ended up having to hop the fence several times to avoid thorn patches, and ultimately decided simply to trespass just to get back to a road. It was frustrating and painful, but we did see a parliament of tiny owls, so we’ll call it even.
From the park entrance, this loop hike is around 13 kilometers and much more difficult than it could be with well marked trails. In hindsight, we would recommend following one of the more obvious trails up to the lookouts on Cerro Penodoña or along the northeastern ridge line to Lulumbamba.
How to Get to Pululahua From Quito
Getting to Pululahua by public transport from Quito is easy. Starting from the Bolivia y America bus stop near Hospital Carlos Andrade Marín north of the Centro Historico, numerous buses make their way north towards the highly touristed Mitad del Mundo (equator monument). These are the coach sized blue buses, with Mitad del Mundo written across the front of the window. The hour-ish ride costs $0.40-$0.45 per person (we were charged different in each direction), with the last stop being a few kilometers past the Mitad where they turn around at the entrance to Pululahua.
From the bus stop, you will have to walk around one kilometer up the road to the entrance of the park. There is a huge sign pointing the way so it is impossible to get lost. The entrance to the park is free, but you’ll have to check in at the ranger station with your identification card or passport. The park is open from 8:00am – 5:00pm and there are souvenir shops, restaurants, a museum and clean free bathrooms. You can also arrange horseback riding trips here or at the hostels in the park.
There are several ways to reach the Bolivia y America stop, depending on your starting location. Taxi and Uber and always available and relatively cheap, or you can try and figure out the city bus system. We made an ill fated attempt at using the city bus, which costs only $0.25 per ride. Google transit maps offers incorrect routes which sent us in the wrong direction. We ended up having to walk several blocks after prying our way out of a way overstuffed bus by forcing the doors open. It’s up to you, but our experience with the Quito bus system left us less than enthralled. You get what you pay for. Also watch out for pickpockets on crowded buses.
Before you hop on a coach in Ecuador, read up on how to keep your belongings secure. This country is known for theft on buses.
How to Get to Quito From Pululahua
Buses sit at the drop off point for a while before returning to Quito, meaning that there is almost always a bus waiting when you finish visiting the park. Simply hop on one and repeat the trip in reverse, exiting near Hospital Carlos Andrade Marín and grabbing transport back to your hotel.
Where to Stay in Pululahua
There are very few options for accommodations in the crater. The most well known is Pululahua Hostal, located at the base just beyond the the end of the entry trail. We ate lunch here, which was good albeit slightly expensive, and the hotel looked nice and owner friendly. This is also the most convenient location if you are hiking in with a large backpack, although they do offer pickup from various locations for a fee.
The other place we encountered is the aforementioned Casa L’Amore B&B. While we did not visit this property and cannot speak to conditions, food, etc., we can confirm that it looks nicely kept and the setting is unmatched in the valley. If done again, we would look into staying here.
If you are heading to Peru next through the Aguas Verdes border, you will want to read our detailed experience.
Planning a trip to South America? Don’t forget to add Colombia! It is easily one of the best countries for travel in the world, and often gets left off of itineraries. Or take a look at some of our other favorite locations for hiking and wildlife in Ecuador:
- Trekking the Quilotoa Loop
- A Jungle Safari in Cuyabeno
- Whales in Isla de la Plata
- How to Day Hike Cotopaxi Volcano
Planet Earth is amazing, so maybe it’s time to start planning your trip around our planet? Don’t make the same mistakes as us! This detailed planning guide will ensure you don’t forget anything. Oh and here is the world’s best minimalist packing list, just for you.
How do we afford long term travel? This is the number one question we get from other travelers. The answer is easy, we prepared using one simple concept. (Hint: It’s simple and you can do it too.)