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Antisana is a majestic and mysterious volcano in the Eastern Andes range. It is the core of this protected area, which contains high-altitude wetlands and eastern Andean forests. Volcanic activity, glacier advance and retreat, and evolution have created impressive landscapes and a diverse wildlife within its territory. Reflecting the volcano is Laguna de la Mica, which provides some of the water supply for the city of Quito. In addition to the lagoon, there are swampy areas where water accumulates during the rainy season, forming seasonal lagoons such as Santa Lucia or Mauca Machay. The reserve is the birthplace of rivers that then flow down the eastern slopes and feed the Coca and Napo rivers; there are hot springs in the Tambo Valley. Until a few years ago, it was difficult to access, but now it is one of the easiest areas to visit from the capital and other nearby areas.

The Antisana volcano is the heart of the reserve. The landscapes of this reserve and the neighboring Cayambe-Coca National Park are marked by Antisana’s volcanic activity. The last eruption of Antisana was a lateral type that occurred in the Muertepungo caldera 300 years ago, known as the “Antisanilla explosion,” which poured lava that can be seen when ascending to Laguna de La Mica. The nearby and within-area stone mines are other evidence of this activity. After the eruptions, lava flows were formed that eventually solidified and left indelible marks on the landscape. Mudflows or lahars, products of violent melting during eruptions, have also given rise to special plant formations with extensions of lichens in the middle of the high altitude grasslands.

After being in the territories of pre-Inca ethnic groups, a good portion of Antisana’s high-altitude wetlands became part of the large haciendas since the colonial era.

It is only in recent years that the high-altitude wetlands that belonged to these haciendas were integrated into the National System of Protected Areas through the creation of this ecological reserve. The main activity of these large estates in the high-altitude areas was related to the textile industry. The sandy areas seen in the flat parts of the high-altitude grasslands are a product of the thousands of sheep that grazed there for a long time. Nowadays, there is hardly any sheep within the reserve, and there are only cattle and wild horses that serve as food for the Andean condor and other native wildlife species. The surrounding communities are mainly engaged in agriculture and livestock farming. Tourism and research have replaced extensive livestock farming, and the complex hydrology of the area is now being utilized to take water from Laguna de la Mica and serve the southern zone of Quito.

The biodiversity figures of the Reserve are remarkable: 418 species of birds, 73 of mammals, and 61 of amphibians and reptiles. The reserve has its own species of amphibian, the Antisana harlequin toad, a miniature brown-colored species that inhabits the rocks of the páramo, very rare to find and in danger of extinction. In the páramo, there are also spectacled bears, mountain goats, white-tailed deer, dwarf deer, mountain tapirs, pumas, Andean cats, wolves, condors, caracaras, Andean seagulls, lizards, and guagsas.

Antisana Volcano (5,758 m)

Without a doubt, it is one of the most beautiful and unique elevations in Ecuador. It is wide, and its two peaks are almost always covered in snow. The volcano is surrounded by enormous extensions of páramo that begin near the town of Píntag to the east of Quito.

Páramo de almohadillas

All of Ecuador’s volcanoes have páramos, and each one has different characteristics. In the case of the Antisana páramos, there are extensive cushion páramos. These are small plants that grow in dense colonies and generate a microclimate that is slightly warmer than the surrounding area (which is generally very cold). This forms a “biothermal dome” that produces a small but constant flow of heat to protect the roots and young stems.

Laguna La Mica

It is of glacial origin and is currently dammed, as the Quito Municipal Drinking Water Company built a reservoir there, which supplies water to a quarter of the capital’s population. The lagoon is a spectacle that blends the engineering of the dam with the benefits of nature since ducks, coots, and gallinules swim in its cold but nutritious waters. Gulls, ibis, bandurrias, and some migratory birds such as straight-billed sandpipers and long-legged plovers fly and nest in its surroundings.

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