A trek between bears and pumas

Have you ever heard of the spectacled bear? It’s the only bear in South America and lives exclusively in the Andes. In Ecuador, it is mainly seen in the Cayambe – Coca reserve region.

Between July and February, the spectacled bear can be seen for up to ten weeks. But beware: the exact date of this observation season changes every year according to the flowering of the Achupallas, a plant the bears love. So you need to be in the right place at the right time and be lucky enough to meet this little bear.

Lately, several people have told us they’ve seen one, so we set off from Quito in the early hours of the morning, accompanied by our guide Ana, to try our luck with this famous spectacled bear.

After leaving the capital, we headed for the village of Papallacta, where we hiked one of our favorite trails in the region named “Agua y Vida”, finishing with a moment of relaxation in the hot springs. On the way, we keep a close eye on the mountain and its páramo, looking for a moving black “spot”.

The Puma, almost impossible to see

About 35 minutes into the trip, our guide spots something… Surprise, it’s not a bear, but a Puma! Not far from him, a doe is grazing. Then another puma joins him, and the doe senses them and stops.

Seeing a puma is an extremely rare event, and we realize how lucky we are.

To better observe this rare spectacle, we equip ourselves with a pair of binoculars. Suddenly, the pumas, who had been hiding behind a mound, set off in pursuit of the doe. Then, an owl we hadn’t spotted takes flight. The fast-moving doe finally manages to outrun her predators, who give up and disappear into the mountains. The beauty of this scene, worthy of a wildlife documentary, leaves us breathless.

We continue our journey in the hope of seeing felines or a spectacled bear, and finally arrive at the entrance to Cayambe – Coca park, where we leave the vehicle and begin our walk.

A trek with lagoons and paramo

Right from the start, this hike offers us a splendid view of several lagoons of varying sizes in a mystical landscape, surrounded by mountains and dotted with brightly-colored flowers, with the majestic Antisana volcano as a backdrop.

The path then descends to a lagoon, which we walk alongside for a few minutes before descending again to a second lagoon, which looks even more beautiful than the previous ones. The trail continues past numerous other stretches of water, each as magnificent as the next.

Still on the lookout for the bear we’d originally come to find, we keep our eyes peeled for a number of bird species, including condors flying in the distance and a curiquingue, a typical Andean bird of prey.

In the end, we weren’t lucky enough to see any bears today, but we did spot several Achupallas that had been shelled by one of them.

We pass a large waterfall gushing out of the green vegetation, and finally arrive at the hot springs, after a 4-hour walk at a moderate pace.

There, after all that effort, we enter the thermal baths to enjoy the virtues of their waters and allow our muscles to recover from the walk. Imagine these hot-water baths, surrounded by mountains and with many hummingbirds feeding on the flowers lining the pools…

To round off the day, enjoy a delicious locro de papa, a typical Ecuadorian potato soup served with cheese and avocado, the perfect way to warm up and regain your strength after a day of hiking.