The two most popular day trips from Quito are to Mount Cotopaxi National Park (famous for its massive volcano) and Otavalo (famous for its market). Both are worthwhile destinations, but both are a bit further from Quito (1.5 to 2 hours away) and we strongly recommend them as overnight trips, when you can appreciate them with fewer crowds, sleep in one of several different historic haciendas, and have a chance at better weather (Mount Cotopaxi is often cloud covered during the day, which can make it a frustrating day trip). Antisana Reserve offers a way to get off the beaten path and experience some of the best of the Ecuadorian Andes in a compact day trip.
The centerpiece of the nature reserve is Antisana Volcano, Ecuador’s fourth largest mountain, 18,700 feet tall and covered in massive glaciers that are hundreds of feet thick (see photo). The mountain is surrounded by “páramo” (a unique Andean grassland environment) and is home to a wide variety of avian species, including the Andean Condor, Black-faced Ibis, Silvery Grebe, Andean Gull, and Andean Ruddy Duck. On the western side of the reserve you are in a high Andean valley, while the eastern side drops away to the Amazon rainforest. Fauna that make their home in the Reserve include llamas, pumas, Andean fox, white tailed deer, mountain tapir, and the elusive and extremely endangered Andean spectacled bear.
Arriving to the Reserve is part of the experience, as the drive affords spectacular views of the surrounding area, including Quito in the distance below the enormous Pichincha volcano. Once in the Reserve, we can arrange as much hiking and exploring as you would like, from easygoing walks to adventurous treks up onto the glacier.
If you’re visiting Ecuador to do a Galapagos cruise and are wondering about how to spend an extra day before or after, the Antisana Reserve is an outstanding option.