You are here:4.2.2 Papallacta Pass

4.2.2 Papallacta Pass

The Papallacta Pass comprises high elevation habitats that can be visited by taking the E28 Highway. The birding areas include a tiny fraction of the 12,190 hectare state run Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve and neighboring places. The Papallacta Pass is located between Pichincha and Napo Provinces right on the Continental divide. The birding sites elevation ranges from 3000 m to 4100 m.  The numbers of bird species is small by any standard, but most of them are restricted to the high elevation grassland Páramo.



Páramo Grassland, Polylepis Forest, Elfin Forest, Temperate Forest,



Papallacta Pass

You can visit the pass after visiting the Chiche River and Puembo valley.  Arriving early is not essential as most birds will be active throughout the day. Birding the high elevation grasslands later in the morning is more appealing when it’s not so cold.  You well could stay in the lower elevation valleys for early morning birding and continue on to the highlands.
There is plenty of bus transportation running along the E28 Interoceánica Highway.   You can catch a bus at the Quitumbe Bus Terminal.  Ask for bus lines heading to Lago Agrio or Coca and Baeza.  You could also jump on one of these buses in Tumbaco, or at the entrance road heading to Puembo along the E28 highway after visiting the Chiche River and Puembo Valley. There are plenty of opportunities to bird along the road, but in order to have access to habitats with better conditions, and into places far from the road, hiring a vehicle is desirable.  You can hire a car from Quito or a taxi/pickup truck from either Tumbaco or Puembo.  A four wheel drive vehicle is not essential, but one with high clearance is a better option. To enter one of the high elevation sites inside the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve you will have to pay a $10US entrance fee for foreigners and a $3US for Ecuadorian residents. No prior arrangement is required.



Papallacta Pass

If you are continuing from your visit to Chiche River and Puembo Valley, to get instructions as to how to exit Quito toward this site, please see the birding instructions on the respective chapter on how to get here.

(Click here to download Map. Papallacta Pass 1).

Beginning at the traffic light where a side road goes to Puembo along the E28 Interoceánica Highway as our starting point 0.0 km.  Drive for 3.4 km toward east toward Papallacta.  At this point road splits.   Take the right hand road continuing along the E28 highway.  

Drive another 2.8 km, or 6.2 km from the Puembo entrance where you will get to a fork.  At this point, continue uphill along the E28 avoiding the road toward Pifo on the right.  Go on for another 7.8 km, or 14 km from the entrance road to Puembo.   Here there will be a sharp turn to the right with a dirt road leaving the highway also on your right.  This site is at approximately 3000 m of elevation, the road may be signed to Tablón Alto.  Drive along this dirt road for 0.1 km and park. Walk down the road in this scrubby habitat into the gully and vegetation of a stream 0.25 km from the highway.  Try to get a vantage point to search the gully for the Green-tailed Trainbearer.   Note that the Black-tailed Trainbearer also occurs here.

Further 0.2 km or 0.45km from the highway you will see an obvious clear cut in the vegetation, where a huge underground water pipeline crosses the road.  You can follow the wide path down the hill along this pipeline looking for birds on both sides.   The Green-tailed Trainbearer can also be seen in this area. There might be a fence and gate to cross, but go ahead as nobody cares.  Go down the hill to where the aqueduct crosses the path. At times at the aqueduct the White-capped Dipper may show up.  The scrubby areas here are the places to look for the Green-tailed Trainbearer. This spot is also home to other interesting, though more common species. Look for Tyrian Metaltail, Shining Sunbeam, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, White-crested Elaenia, Black Flowerpiercer, Blue-and-Yellow Tanager and Northern Rufous-naped Brush-Finch.

Once you return to the road to Tablón Alto go along for 0.25 km more or 0.7 km from the highway.  Here along the way to a bridge over a stream, the vegetation is a bit taller and at times the Red-crested Cotinga may be perched on top of the trees.  The Giant Hummingbird can also be seen if the right plants are flowering.   Thishummingbird has been seen nesting on the cliff opposite the entrance to the Tablón Alto road from the main highway.

You should also start checking the sky from this point onward. Andean Condor, Variable Hawk, Carunculated Caracara and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle may soar overhead.

Return to the E28 highway and drive toward the highlands for another 3.6 km, or 17.6 km from the entrance road to Puembo. 

(Click here to download Map. Papallacta Pass 2).

At this point there will be an asphalt surfaced side road exiting to your left just before a series of small houses.  If you carry on along the E28 highway for another 12.9 km or 30.5 km from the entrance road to Puembo, you will reach the highway summit which is the summit of PapallactaPass and the Continental Divide.  If you decide to take the highway to the pass there will be birds to look for along the way, particularly at spot 22.8 km from the entrance road to Puembo.  Here you will find a Polylepis forest patch on both sides of the road.  This forest Patch is worth checking for Giant Conebill and others.

I suggest you to take the asphalt side road exiting the E28 highway at 17.6 km from the entrance road to Puembo. This is a section of the old road that eventually joins the highway at the pass.  Along this side road you can bird your way up to the Continental Divide without the annoyance of traffic noise and horns blowing along the main E28.

Before you start driving up this side road, reset your odometer to 0.0 km.  Drive up the road for 2.9 km and check the fence posts and grasslands for: Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Páramo Pipit, and during the austral migration period look for the rare White-browed Ground Tyrant. At this point the asphalt ends at a fork.   Continue up the right road, as the left road goes into private property.  You will see nice big houses on your left, and while these houses are still in view, at 0.8 km from the end of the asphalt or 3.7 km from the highway, drive slowly or walk to look for Black-winged Ground-Dove

Once you have driven another 1.6 km, or 5.3 km from the highway, you will reach a point where a gap on a long wall allows you to see some boggy and wet grassland on the left. Stop and bird around this area, and on right hand edge of the road.  This place will allow you to overlook some Polylepis forest patches below along the highway.

The Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant can be seen here, and on the left side wetland and bushes look for:  Many-striped Canastero, Tawny Antpitta, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes.

The Polylepis trees on the right offer a chance to see:  Shining Sunbeam, Viridian Metaltail, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, Giant Conebill, Glossy Flowerpiercer and Pale-naped Brush-Finch.   Remember to scan the sky for raptors and Andean Condor.

Continue up the road for 4.0 km more or 9.3 km from the highway.  At this point there will be a nice forest patch with Gnoxys as the prevailing trees, with a few scattered Polylepis trees and others.  Search this forest patch for Giant Conebill, and if plants are flowering look for the Ecuadorian Hillstar. Also check for Andean Pygmy-Owl, Shining Sunbeam, Viridian Metaltail, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Páramo Tapaculo, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Golden-crowned Tanager and Pale-naped Brush-Finch.

Drive for 2.2 km, or 11.5 km from the highway, and while driving you will see the stalks of a ground bromeliad plant.   If these are flowering, look for the Ecuadorian Hillstar.  If the stalks are dead, instead look on top of them for the Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant. The Many-striped Canastero is common in the bunchgrass.

At this point you will reach to a fork; the left hand road up the hill takes you into the Cayambe-Coca Reserve and onto even higher terrain.   The right hand road takes you back to the E28 Highway after only 50 m just at the Continental divide at 3900 m.

Here at this last fork, and very close to the highway, you should walk along the stretch of straight road heading into the park, and look for Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, which might be sitting on the top of the bushes in the flat valley around you.  If the ground bromeliads are in bloom also look for the Ecuadorian Hillstar along with Grass Wren and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch.

Before you start driving to the higher elevation into the Cayambe-Coca Reserve reset your odometer to 0.0 km at the last fork.  After driving only for 0.25 km, there will be a gate where you need to pay a $10US entrance fee for foreigners and a $3US for Ecuadorian residents.  Continue driving up the hill, check for Cinclodes since along this stretch both Bar-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes occur. 

Another 1.4 km up the road, or 1.6 km from the last fork, you will come to a short flat stretch with plenty of bushes close to the road, especially up the hill on the left side.  Stop here and look for the flowering bushes of the Chuquiraga jussieui or “Chuquiragua”.   This aster- related flower is a main attraction for the rare and, nearly Ecuadorian endemic, Ecuadorian Hillstar.  If the orange clusters of flowers are open you want to stay looking at the flowers until the Hillstar shows up, for sooner or later it will.  Watch it feeding on the Chuquiragua flowers.  The bird will land on the flowers to sip nectar. At times even the uncommon Blue-mantled Thornbill may turn up feeding on other flowering bushes in the area.

From this area up the road, start looking for   Páramo Ground-Tyrant, Andean Tit-Spinetail and Many-striped Canastero.

Continue driving up the roa and you will see a big lake on the right.  If weather allows, scan the lake surface for Silvery Grebe.   From the hillstar stop, drive for another 1.5 km, or 2.1 km from the last fork.  At this point you will see a parking spot to the right.  Continue driving up to the communication towers at the end of the road.   Once you past the parking lot, begin looking for the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe along the way to the tower at the end of the road at 4100 m of elevation.  This is a secretive and cryptic species and therefore you must drive slowly.  If you don’t find it along the road, you must walk around the end of the road and look for it on foot.  You can also take the trail heading away from the road to look for the Seedsnipe and Andean Snipe.  Here during Boreal Migration you could also find the rare Common Snipe.

(Click here to download Map. Papallacta Pass 3).

Return to the E28 highway, and at the continental divide reset you odometer to 0.0 km. Here at the pass look again for Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, if you have not seen it yet.

Once you start down the hill toward the eastern lowlands you enter Napo Province.  Drive for 1.8 km down the road, and at this point there will be a Polylepis forest on the left.  Park here and survey the forest for Giant Conebill, Black-backed Bush-Tanager and Pale-naped Brush-Finch.  At the bottom end of this patch of Polylepis forest, just before a curve to the right at 1.9 km from the Continental Divide, there is a trail going away from the highway.  You probably want to park on the straight bit of road in front of the Polylepis forest.  Walk this trail slowly until you get close to the Polylepis on left side.  Look again here for Giant Conebill, Black-backed Bush-Tanager, Pale-naped Brush-Finch, Great Horned Owl, Bar-bellied Woodpecker and White-throated Tyrannulet.  Keep the Polylepis forest on your left while you continue walking up.  You will reach a view point 0.8 km from the highway overlooking a lake named “Sucus” below.  You need a scope to look here for Silvery Grebe and Andean Ruddy-Duck.

Returning to the E28 highway and driving down for another 1.2 km, or 3.0 km from the Continental Divide, you will see a side road on the left.   Take this road and drive 1.4 km. Here you will be able to look down over a bog where the Noble Snipe occurs. You may need to walk the bog to see the bird flying in front of you.

Once back in the highway drive another 4.4 km, or 5.8 km from the Continental Divide, you will see a side road on the left.  This is the entrance way to descend to the Jamanco Hot springs and the PapallactaLake shore.

This is the starting point continue with your trip and visit Papallacta Lake and Termas de Papallacta.


Birds to look for

Papallacta Pass

Grasslands (G), Second-growth (2G), Stunted Forest   (SF), Forest (F), Rivers (R), Lakes (L).

Common: Tyrian   Metaltail (2G,F), Shining Sunbeam (SF), Bar-winged Cinclodes   (G), Tawny Antpitta (2G, G), Tufted   Tit-Tyrant (2G), White-crested Elaenia (2G), Many-striped Canastero (2G, G), Grass Wren (G),   Black Flowerpiercer (2G), Scarlet-bellied   Mountain-Tanager (2G,F), Plain-colored Seedeater (2G,G), Northern Rufous-naped   Brush-Finch (2G), Plumbeous Sierra-Finch. (G,SF).

Uncommon: Variable Hawk (G,2G), Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle (G,2G), Carunculated   Caracara (G,2G), Andean Ruddy-Duck (L), Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe (G), Andean   Snipe (G), Noble Snipe (G), Green-tailed Trainbearer (2G), Black-tailed   Trainbearer (2G,F), Giant   Hummingbird (2G), Viridian Metaltail (F,SF),    Stout-billed Cinclodes (G), Andean Tit-Spinetail (G,SF), Páramo   Tapaculo (F,SF),  Black-billed   Shrike-Tyrant(G),  Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant (G,2G), Rufous-breasted   Chat-Tyrant (G,2G), Páramo Ground-Tyrant (G) Red-crested Cotinga(SF,F),Páramo Pipit   (G), Glossy Flowerpiercer (2G),   Blue-and-Yellow Tanager (2G),   Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager (F), Black-backed Bush-Tanager (2G,F), Pale-naped Brush-Finch(2G,F),

Rare: Andean Condor (G,2G),  Silvery Grebe (L), Andean Pygmy-Owl(2G,F),   Common Snipe (G), Black-winged Ground-Dove   (G), Ecuadorian Hillstar (SF), Blue-mantled Thornbill (G), Bar-bellied Woodpecker (F), White-browed   Ground-Tyrant (G), Red-rumped   Bush-Tyrant (G), White-capped   Dipper (R),  Golden-crowned Tanager (SF), Giant   Conebill (F), Páramo   Seedeater (F).

Copyright © 2010 by Lelis Navarrete

All rights reserved. This web book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author and Jocotoco Foundation except for the use of brief quotations in a book review and to print the information for traveling in Ecuador purposes.

You may not mirror, modify or otherwise alter any files in this website for rebroadcast, print or distribute in anyway the information contained therein with commercial purposes , without written permission from the author. Except as expressly provided above.

Meet the Author

Lelis Navarrete – Birding tour leader. Lelis has 19 years of experience as a birding guide and naturalist in the field. He has led groups of birders throughout most of Latin America, guiding frequently in countries like his native country of Ecuador and in the Galapagos Islands, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Panama. A Biology B.Sc. graduate from Universidad Católica in Quito, Lelis has supported Jocotoco Foundation since its founding in 1998 and was an active Board Member until 2010 supporting Ecuadorian bird and wildlife conservation. Lelis divides his time between his two great passions in life: birding and spending time with his wife Solange and son Fabian with whom he lives in Quito.


Jocotoco Foundation

  • Lizardo García E9-104 y Andrés Xaura,
  • Quito - Ecuador
  • Tel: +593 2 250-5212
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.