Thirty kilometres southeast of Quito, the luxuriant Refugio de Vida Silvestre Pasochoa ($10) is a dense forest spread over Cerro Pasochoa (4200m), an extinct volcano whose western side collapsed in an eruption more than 100,000 years ago. The inaccessibility of the terrain, hemmed in by the crater’s remaining walls, has left the forest largely undisturbed, despite its proximity to Quito.
The reserve is managed by the Quito-based Fundación Natura, at Av República 481 and Diego de Almagro (t02/2272863, wwww.fnatura.org), which has installed visitor facilities, including private en-suite rooms ($10), basic refuge ($6), campsite ($5) and a kitchen; bring a sleeping bag and food. A variety of trails lead through the forest, rich in beautiful native trees and plants – including Andean cedars, orchids and podocarpus (Ecuador’s only native conifer), as well as 126 species of birds (a guide for sale at the entrance lists them all). One trail rises out of the forest and heads up across the páramo, following the outer slopes of the crater rim. It’s a six- to eight-hour hike up to the summit of Cerro Pasochoa; guides can be booked in advance ($10–40 depending on hike).