Far from the madding crowd in northern Ecuador is the Páramo del Ángel reserve, or Angel’s Tundra. The landscape is of high-altitude moors and lakes with strange trees such as the paper-bark tree polylepis. I drove from the northern town of Ibarra (about 2 ½ hours from Quito) and crossed into Carchi Province on winding mountain roads. At the town of El Angel headed off the paved road for another hour to lake El Voladero.
Once at the reserve I took a hike through the damp polylepis forest to the moorland. The area is the source of some of Ecuador’s important rivers. The most striking plant are the frailejones (big monks) which are some of the tallest flowers in the world. These espeletia shrubs adapt to the cold by velvety, rabbit-eared leaves which look like they have fur coats. They are related to sunflowers. Hiking up to nearly 4,000 m the views are great, one can see all the way to Colombia. The weather can change quickly so several layers came in handy. There are interesting birds like the strange carunculated caracara. Most impressive were a family of condors that came very close making sure that I was not carrion. I learnt that they nest within the reserve, a good reason for its protection. There is one basic guest house and restaurant. I recommend staying near Ibarra at a more comfortable place such as Hacienda Piman. Ideal to spend a few days acclimatizing in the high Andes.
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Related: Top 10 Places to Visit in Ecuador