Podocarpus National Park Field Course

This field course was originally designed for the University of Toronto's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. It is 12 days long and takes place at the Podocarpus National Park (PNP), which is located in Southern Ecuador. During this field course students will visit a cloud forest and a montane tropical rain forest. Both of these places are located at different altitudes within the PNP. ETV can customize the itinerary shown below to better suit the particular needs of any academic institution. Please contact us for more information.

The interactive map below shows the main travel route and places visited during this field course. Please explore this map to get a better idea of what to expect during this field course.

day 1

Day 1, Quito
The city of Quito is the capital of Ecuador and the starting point of our field trip. Quito was founded in 1534 by Spanish conquistador Sebastian de Benalcázar. However, the area has been inhabited since pre-Columbian times by several native nations such as the Quitus. The altitude of Quito is around 2,850 meters above sea level (masl). The city is divided in two main parts, the old colonial city and the modern city. We will spend our first and last nights of our field course in Quito.

Podocarpus National Park (PNP)
PNP is Ecuador's southernmost national park and was recently declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It has a size of 1,462 km2 and it spans between the provinces of Loja and Zamora-Chinchipe. It is named after the podocarpus tree, which is the only conifer native to Ecuador. In fact, the park was established in 1982 with the goal of protecting some of the last remaining forests of this native tree. The original source of quinine, the cinchona tree, is also found in the park.

day 1

The PNP ranges in elevation from 900 to 3,600 meters above sea level, and extends from the mountainous regions of the Andes to the highlands of the Amazon basin; hence, the park encompasses a wide variety of micro-climates. Temperature ranges from 8 to 15 degrees Celsius in the high zones to 21+ degrees Celsius in the low zones.

The PNP shelters the headwaters that sustain more than half the population of southern Ecuador. Four separate watersheds, including that of the city of Loja, depend on the park for their water. Over 100 small lakes, which were formed in glacial depressions, dot the landscape of the park.

The PNP is the most important animal sanctuary in Southern Ecuador. Spectacled bears, mountain tapirs, ocelots, pumas, deer and more than 600 bird species (40% of the total bird species of Ecuador) are found in the park. Also, there are many migratory species registered at Podocarpus, such as the broad-winged hawk, the chimney swift, the eastern kingbird and Swainson´s thrush.

The PNP is located in a vulnerable region of high conservation priority. The main threats to the park are poaching, illegal colonizing and mining. The park has three main administration centres located at Cajanuma, San Francisco, and Bombuscaro.

day 2

Days 2 - 4 , San Francisco Cloud Forest
On this day we'll board a flight to the city of Loja very early in the morning (6:00 AM) and then we'll head to San Francisco Cloud forest. This area is located at approximately 2,100 meters above sea level and has a temperature that ranges between 12 to 18 degrees Celsius. The San Francisco area is located within the Province of Zamora-Chinchipe. (It takes 30 minutes to travel from the city of Loja to San Francisco.) This area gets its name from the San Francisco River and it has four main trails that run through its cloud forest. This area is one of the few sites where the Podocarpus tree can easily be seen. More than 300 species of birds have been registered at San Francisco.

The Arcoiris Foundation, an Ecuadorian NGO, built an Environmental Education Centre (EEC) at the San Francisco Area. This centre has among other things a large classroom, a kitchen, a small dinning room, two large rooms (2nd floor), three small rooms (with bunk beds), two showers and two toilets. When large groups visit San Francisco the large classroom can be used as a dinning room. While at the EEC students will sleep on the floor in the two large rooms (mattresses will be available). We will have tents available for those who prefer to sleep out-doors. San Francisco will be our base camp for the next three days.

day 1

Day 5- 9, Bombuscaro
Another of the park’s administrative centers is located at Bombuscaro which is located at 6.8 km from the town of Zamora. It takes one hour and a half to travel from San Francisco to Bombuscaro. Bombuscaro has an elevation of approximately 900 meters above sea level and has been classified as montane tropical rainforest. The Bombuscaro area has four different trails, ranging from 200 m to 3 Km in length. These trails lead to waterfalls and to a nice swimming area at the Bombuscaro River.

More survey work remains to be done in the Bombuscaro area, but to date, over 230 bird species have been identified. Bombuscaro is one of the best places in Ecuador to see the coppery-crested jacamar, a rare species found in a narrow altitudinal range from Southern Colombia to Northern Peru.

day 1

The Bombuscaro area is specially known for its diversity of tropical tanagers. Some 15 tanager species can be seen in mixed species flocks passing through the trees around the Park’s Administrative Center. Bombuscaro has four cabins, three showers, three toilets, one kitchen, one conference room, and a collection of live orchids. There is not enough cabin space for large groups, so some students will have to sleep in tents. (ETV will be provided all required equipment). We will stay at Bombuscaro for five days. Bombuscaro is an ideal place for students to run their projects.

day 5

Day 10, Loja
With a population of 120,000, Loja is a very clean and friendly city. This city is at an altitude of around 2,100 meters. Loja won in 2001 third place in a world-wide contest on environmental-friendly cities. After dinner we'll go for night stroll around this pretty city. We'll spend the night at a cozy hotel Loja.

Day 11, Otavalo

day 11

Today we'll have to wake up very early in the morning (5:30 AM) to catch a 7:15 AM flight to Quito. The airport that serves the city of Loja is located in the town of Catamayo. It takes 35 minutes to travel from Catamayo to Loja by bus and one hour to travel from Catamayo to Quito by plane.

By 8:05 AM we'll arrive to Quito's airport and then we'll make our way to the town of Otavalo. The town of Otavalo is best known for the Otavalo Indian Market, which has been in operation for over 400 years. The early morning hours are the best time to visit the market. Here is where you will probably buy most of your souvenirs. We'll be back in our hotel by 5:00 PM.

Day 12 - Return to home country
Today we'll wake up early in the morning to go to the airport for our trip back home. Most flights to North America depart from Quito in the early morning. (End of field course.)


Life zones, Ecosystems visited Cloud forest (1900 masl) and Montane tropical rainforest (900 masl) on the Eastern flank of the Andes Mountain Range
Duration 11 days
Day trips Otavalo Indian Market
Max Group Size 20-24 people
Accommodation Double (2 twin size beds) rooms in hotels, lodges and eco-lodges. Camping.
Transportation Plane (two in-coutry flights); private coach bus
Bathrooms Private, Shared
Reference Price $1,200- $1,400 USD per person
Meals Three meals a day (except on first and last day)