The Reserva Ecologica El Angel is a reward for who just enters Ecuador or leaves the country for Colombia. Any alternative to avoid the busy Panamarican Highway is good in Ecuador, but some detours are certainly more beautiful than others. Cycling through Reserve Ecologica El Angel is one of the most beautiful detours and a must for every cyclist riding from north to south or vice versa. The route is not easy, but the reward is absolutely worth it.
The El Ángel Ecological Reserve is located in the province of Carchi, in the northern Andes region of Ecuador. It has an extension of 16.541 hectares, with altitudes ranging from 3400 to 4200 meters above sea level. The ecological system is called paramo, a moorland. It’s a very humid with many lakes and soils that retain a large amount of water, so it is considered a true "sponge" that provides vital fluid to all the Province of Carchi. El Ángel is full of flora and fauna, with the frailejones trees as the most representative ones. They have a rosette crown of leaves which are covered by whitish hairs that protect from the cold, repel water and reflect solar radiation. Because of their velvety texture they are also known as "rabbit ears”.
We cycled from south to north and the Reserve Ecologica El Angel was our last part of Ecuador. The route is heavy with bad roads and climbing above 3,700 meters. But most cyclists who choose this route had a decent training in Ecuador or Colombia.
There are different ways to get to El Angel. Our route description starts at the exit of the Panamericano in the south of route 187. From there you start with a long climb all the way to the Guardaparque building, the highest point of the route. The climb is almost 55 kilometers long and paved until the village of El Angel. From there, a fifteen kilometer long cobblestone road starts until the Guardaparques. The beginning is steep and heavy, but gradually the ascent is less steep and the cobblestones disappear. Halfway this cobblestone road, you will enter the national park with a dramatic change in scenery. From the Guardaparques the route goes down a dirt road with lots of stones and puddles of water. With our thin tires we had to descend slowly and carefully. After about ten kilometers the road becomes better and it is easier to descend into Tulcan.
If you start in the north, you have a shorter and easier climb from Tulcan to the Guardaparques. Then there is the terrible descent over the cobblestones to El Angel. That is the salvation with a long descent to the bottom of the valley.
On your way to the national park you cycle past two villages, Mira and El Angel. In both villages there are restaurants, shops and hostels for sleeping. You will need the hearty, warm meal in the long climb to El Angel.
At the top of the top, at the Guardaparques, which is also the visitor center, you can stay overnight as a cyclist. They have a separate room with a whole pile of mattresses, a table and some chairs. There is no electricity in the building and the water is drained from the river. You will have to bring your own food and cook it on you own stove. Yet it is a luxurious place to sleep because in the humid climate at 3,700 meters, it feels freezing at night. From the visitor center there is a short walk of four kilometers to some viewpoints. It is often misty and cloudy, but if you are lucky with the weather, the walk is a must-do.
In El Angel it is possible to sleep in the fire station. We did not do this because we slept in the neighborhood of Mira at a local family home, but in the climb we met a group of cyclists who had just slept at the firefighters for two nights.
A paramo is a special ecosystem that works like a sponge. It is always humid, with usually a lot of rain and fog. The route starts at 1,500 meters altitude, but climbs above 3,700 meters. There it is cold and wet. Prepare yourself for rain, fog and lots of clouds, so that every stroke of sun is a reward. In good weather there are beautiful views and even the Cotopaxi can be seen from the viewpoint.
Ecuador has two seasons, dry and wet. July and August are the dry months with the greatest chance of blue sky. From September the rainy season starts and in October you are sure of a daily downpour.
From El Angel you will hardly see a car, except for the park rangers and a seldom group of tourists. If you have problems with your bike, you will have to wait a long time for a passing car. Be prepared for this!
Looking for more information about the park? Have a look at the website of Reserva Nacional El Angel.