It is a forest and wildlife reserve that was founded in 1988 with the purchase of the first land holding. This was made possible with the help of numerous individuals and organizations. We would like to thank Christof Schroeder and friends, Retten den Regenwald, Flor del Bosque, Friends of the Earth Sweden and especially the Rainforest Information Center of Australia. Today Rainforest Concern has taken a significant role in manintaing the reserve, helping keep up the place as legal battles and covid cut into significant visitor and scientist income. Throughout the years we have counted on RIC for the ongoing support of the ongoing efforts to conserve this biological treasure.
Los Cedros Biological Reserve consists of 17,000 acres of premontane wet tropical forest and cloud forest. Of this, 2,650 acres is formerly colonized land, while the remainder is primary forest. The reserve is a southern buffer zone for the 450,000 acre Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, and both are part of the Choco Phytogeographical Zone. The Choco region is one of the most biologically diverse and endemic habitats on Earth.
Due to the severe threats to this area, Jose DeCoux, a North American who was living on land purchased for conservation since the 1980’s, teamed up with Centro de Investigacion de los Bosques Tropicales (CIBT) to buy up further land and legalize the reserve. Along with simply protecting the forest from further deforestation, the purpose of Los Cedros is to protect the four major watersheds within the reserve. This objective is ongoing and requires hard work and dedication from a team of many enthusiasts.
The Reserve is governed by the Fundación Los Cedros, composed of local community leaders, representatives from environmental groups, and Los Cedros staff. Board Members are profiled on this page.
View Los Cedros Reserve boundaries in a larger map
Click here to download a .kmz file with landmarks and GPS tracks from Los Cedros’ trail network.
A high quality scan of a 1:25 000 topological map of the reserve is here. A much higher resolution version of the same map is also available on request.
GIS data sources are listed on this page.
Los Cedros is only 60 kilometres northwest of Quito as the quetzal flies, but it can be quite a journey!
From Quito an early morning bus will take you away from the city, along the highways to the byways, then the dirt tracks. You will pass a succession of big green mountain views and bustling hillside towns until you reach Chontal. In the village you can find the hostal with no sign run by Ramiro Nogales and Alicia Rodriquez and you can wait there for the mules and have something to eat. There are also some new restaurants open all day, Marta’s which is inexpensive and Zulen’s which has fresh juices and inventive menu. Everyone in Chontal knows about Los Cedros so if no one is home at the hostel just ask around. There are today pick-up trucks available all day to take you from Chontal to the Second Bridge to Brilla Sol(Segundo Puente) where the new trail begins.
You will be met by the mules who are prepared to haul you and your things up the mountain. The majority of this one and a half hour hike is walking first up the hill and the rest is a long ridgetop. You will take a new trail about 100mts from the bridge where a small red sign points the way, creep underneath the forest canopy, and eventually curve up into the clouds. Somewhere towards the top of all that splendour you might find Los Cedros Biological Reserve – a little piece of paradise for thousands of species, including yourself!
|Bus Station:||Ofelia Otavalo
(in the North part of Quito, beyond the airport) Bus Station
|Bus Operator:||Transportes Minas Trans Otavalo
Tel 08-594-5827 Imbaburapac
|Departure Times:||6:00am 8:00am
10:00am 10:am Trans Otavalo
12:45pm 4:00pm express service on Imbaburapac
6:00pm (everyday except Sunday)
|Duration:||Approximately 3 and ½ hours 5 hours and 4 hours express|
IMPORTANT: To get to Los Cedros in one day you must take the 6:00am bus which gets into Chontal at 9:30am or the 8:00am bus from Otavalo (buy your ticket the day before) which gets to Chontal around 1:00pm. This gets you to the reserve in time for lunch from Quito. At that time in the morning it is easier and safer to get a taxi to the Ofelia bus station – from the Mariscal area, this should cost around $5-10. The bus station in Otavalo is always crowded so watch it.
If you intend to take a later bus then you will need to spend the night in Chontal. If you choose to do this, then please ensure that you advise us in advance (not on the morning of your arrival!).
There is a new road that has been built to Magdalena Alto and Brila Sol that reduce the distance normally covered on Mules or on foot this reserve. Today depending on conditions the road can be useful for those who did not look forward to the traditional 17 kilometer track. The mules are also in favour of our volunteers and visitors reducing their load. So a truck may be rented in Chontal to cut the hike by two thirds. The down side is that a truck costs 10$ but when some are leaving when others are arriving this cost can be shared.
Bus schedules tend to fluctuate, so please contact the Reserve for the latest information.
The Los Cedros reserve station is rustic but quite comfortable with well constructed wooden buildings. The sleeping accommodation includes several single and double rooms, as well as a small dormitory. A spacious propane-powered kitchen serves proper meals. There are social/meeting areas surrounding the kitchen and sleeping blocks, complete with large tables and benches.
There is a gas-heated shower building with a wonderful view. The reserve uses external composting toilets.
Hammocks are strategically placed throughout the site and there is also a ping pong table. For the intrepid there are fixer-upper outbuildings located further out on the trails.
A micro-hydroelectric plant installed on a nearby river and a solar panel generate limited 12 and 110 volt power for lighting, laptops and other electrical equipment. There is also a small shared office that provides movie watching facilities.
In recent years phone lines have reached the reserve. With patience, an internet connection can be coaxed out of those lines for email, although a contribution towards the $2/hour rate would be well received.
The majority of food is bought from Cooperative Camari in Quito, where organized communities and indigenous people sell their organic foods. The meals are supplemented with fresh veggies and herbs from within the reserve. During the week good and plentiful food is prepared by kitchen staff and on weekends the inmates are let loose in the kitchen, gardens and pantry.
During most seasons crystalline and eminently drinkable water is gravity-fed from the pristine watershed. Boiled water is also available if required.
Numerous orange/lemon trees are dotted around the reserve station for making juice drinks. There is a field of banana trees and a ripening shed. A small herb and vegetable garden also provides chilli’s for the hot-heads! However, the damp climate limits the number and variety of fruit and vegetables that can be grown on site.
There are a number of chickens fed on corn and food scraps which provide our very own free-range eggs. These are supplemented by locally produced eggs from the nearby village of Chontal.
An ever-evolving (and devolving) trail system provides access to the surrounding ridges, slopes, rivers and plateaus. However, equally importantly, the majority of the reserve’s 17,000 acres remain untracked and rarely visited by humans.
The current trail network includes the following:
Los Cedros is high up in the middle of a cloud forest. There is nothing else for miles around, so bring everything else that you may need with you. This could include snacks, tea and coffee, a flashlight and spare batteries etc. However, we would appreciate it if you would take back down with you any non-compostable garbage.
From time to time you may be asked to pick up a number of harder-to-find food items before travelling to Chontal. Your cooperation with this effort will benefit everyone here and would be greatly appreciated. You might also like to bring along some extra cash for an extended stay, should you decide that you just can’t bring yourself to leave!
The Toisan mountain range runs East/West off the western side of the Andes mountains. Running North/South from this Toisan range lies the Cordillera de La Plata of which Los Cedros is the Southern most area. The reserve lies on the ascending slopes of the La Plata range consisting of steep river valleys and high ridges. Los Cedros has altitudes ranging from 1,000 meters at the entrance, up to Cerro de La Plata at 2,700 meters. This is the last ridge in the Cordillera de La Plata. The reserve encompasses four main watersheds; the Rio Manduriyacu, the Rio Verde, the Rio Los Cedros, and the south bank of the Rio Magdalena Chico. Keeping these rivers protected and clean for those that live downriver is a main objective for Los Cedros Reserve.
Although only thirty miles north of the equator, the temperature at these altitudes can get pretty chilly at night and when the clouds and rain move in. The temperature generally fluctuates between 16°C and 25°C (61°F and 77°F). Northwest Ecuador is one of the wettest climates on Earth, due to the meeting of the cold Humboldt and the warm Panama currents just off the coast. The drier season is generally from July to October. This high rainfall and 100% humidity much of the day is critical for the plant and animal communities that have evolved in these forests. This is where the flora and fauna of the Central American, Amazonian, and Andean regions overlap, creating one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet.
It is estimated that there are more than 400 species of birds in the reserve, with 358 on the reserve bird list as of June 2020. Some of the most endangered birds in Ecuador, such as the critically endangered Black-and-Chestnut Eagle are here, as well as Tanagers, Hawks, Eagles, Parrots, Owls, and Toucans to name but a few. Over a dozen species of hummingbirds whizz around throughout the forest, some only an inch long. The stunning Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, the Toucan Barbet, and the colorful Golden Headed Quetzal make their home here too.
Click here for Bird Life International’s entry for Los Cedros.
Evidence in the form of scat, tracks, and the occasional sighting provide the assurance that our six species of felines roam their territories here in the reserve. Common names are the Jaguarundi, Margay, Ocelot, Oncilla, Puma, and the western subspecies of Jaguar. In the morning, along with the chorus of birds, you are likely to be woken by the Ecuadorean Mantled Howler Monkey. He is the loudest, so can often be heard, and sometimes seen, in the canopy. The two other primates are the White-Headed Capuchins and the critically endangered Brown-Headed Spider Monkey. The only species of South American bear, the Spectacled Bear, inhabits the higher elevations of the reserve and is seen on occasion.
Other mammals include the Opossum, Nine-Banded Armadillo, Kinkajou, Tayra, Southern River Otter, Collared Peccary, Red Brocket Deer, Paca, Agouti, Spiny Pocket Mouse, Porcupine, Western Dwarf Squirrel, Red-Tailed Squirrel and many species of bats.
The reserve is also home to numerous species each of snakes, lizards and frogs which are often seen but usually move quickly away. Many of these species are rare and endangered. For example, the reserve has a rainfrog that is only known from Los Cedros, Pristimantis cedros and another that is only known from Los Cedros and one other locality, Pristimantis mutabilis.
Encompassing thousands of species, the invertebrates dominate the faunal biomass. In Los Cedros there are hundreds of species of nocturnal moths, most with amazing wing patterns and colors. There are also thousands of species of butterflies, ants, beetles, spiders, flies and bees, many of which are undescribed.
Abundant tree species include Copal, Madroño, Avocatillo, Strangler Fig and Clusia, while the endangered Cedars that give the reserve its name are less numerous. The number of tree species per hectare is very high, estimated to be as many as 400/ha. The dense forest floor and understory is a thick web of buttress roots, lianas, vines, prop roots, drop roots, decomposing plant material and abundant fungi. Characteristic of a cloud forest, the trees on the ridge lines are more stunted in size and laden with masses of luxuriant ephiphytes, with a more open canopy allowing a thicker and richer understory.
Also common in the upper story are climbing philodendrons, bromeliads, and ferns. The area is especially rich in orchids, with more than 200 species identified, many of which were described from the reserve, with a predicted (by Cal Dodson) 200 yet to be discovered.
In the area we now know as the Los Cedros Reserve, evidence has been found of indigenous people inhabiting the area in prehistoric times. Along the trail to the reserve, spiral and circular petroglyphs can be seen on a large granite boulder. Several stone corn grinders, “bateas”, and various pottery and ceramic jewellery fragments have also been found in areas where the forest shows signs of former secondary regeneration. Evidence of terracing can also be seen. From these findings we can only speculate the type of life this forest once supported.
The next human existence we know of in the area came in the 1950’s when a Czechoslovakian immigrant, Pepe Yanouch, used the power of mules to transport a bulldozer over the mountains for the purpose of clearing the forests at the junction of the Guayllabamba and Magdalena valleys. After the founding of the town of Saguangal, a road was soon opened to Quito. The area has since been steadily colonized, clearing land further and further up the valleys. Most of these colonists are small-scale, family-run farms who cultivate corn, papaya and bananas as well as raise beef cattle. Some of these colonists have since been bought out in the process of acquiring land for the reserve.