My first day of hiking I wanted to do a long hike and my guide Jorge suggested that we do the Tower Hike. It is a hike to an old bird watching tower. In the beginning the trail follows a ridge and it is surrounded by green and lush vegetation, but also some pastureland. Then the path continues uphill through primary forest full of epiphytes and bromelias and, some orchids. We walked quite slowly and stopped to take photos and to look for birds that we saw glimpses of between the leaves. After 3h and 45min we reached the bird watching tower which is situated at an altitude of 2500 metres (the lodge at Santa Lucia is situated at 1920m). The wood in the bird watching tower is quite rotten so you are not allowed to walk up the stairs.
We ate our packed lunch and then started the hike back to Santa Lucia. It is the same trail back and as it was mostly uphill to the tower it was now mostly downhill. When we reached the pastureland Jorge went to look for his parents cows that were somewhere nearby and I continued back to the lodge. Hiking back from the tower to the lodge took 1h 50min.
I and my guide Jorge started the hike after breakfast, around 8.30. We followed a steep path down from Santa Lucia, and passed banana plantations, a coffee field and lush primary forest. When we reached the Umachaca River we turned right and followed the trail which is an ancient trail used by the Yumbo people, it was part of their trade route between the mountains and the coast. At some places the trail passes through deep trenches called “culuncos”. They were made by the Yumbos. The path continues downhill and you are surrounded by beautiful lush primary forest. We also passed a small waterfall. Eventually the path opens up in green pastureland and we continued down to a river.
By the river you will reach the dirt road going from Nanegal to the starting point of the trail to Santa Lucia, so some people choose to do this hike on their last day, leaving Santa Lucia, and are then picked up here. We sat down on a wooden bridge and ate our packed lunch. Soon two pickup trucks and a noisy ATV arrived . Luckily they soon went away. After lunch we fallowed the dirt road up to the starting point of the trail to Santa Lucia. Jorge had is motorbike in a house here and went off to Nanegal and I walked the trail up to the lodge. This time, without my big backpack on my back, it took just under an hour to reach Santa Lucia Eco Lodge. When I arrived the people there were just going to have their lunch. I was still hungry after my packed lunch and got some soup (but there was no second plate with meat for me).
Later, when I read the descriptions for the Yumbo Pre-Inca Trail, I realised there is a beautiful waterfall with a pool just 100 metres upstream from where the trail from Santa Lucia meets the old Yumbo trail. It says you can swim in the pool in front of the waterfall and you can also go behind the waterfall. I must say that reading this I felt disappointed that I hadn’t been taken there by my guide.
The highest point of the trail is at Santa Lucia Eco Lodge at 1920 metres and the lowest point of the trail is at 1280 metres.
To see, and hear, the Andean Cock-of-the Rock birds during their mating ritual (lek) you must leave Santa Lucia very early in the morning (at some seasons there is an afternoon lek too, but there is usually less birds then). I, and my guide Jorge, left Santa Lucia at 4.20 in the morning. I was happy I had got an apple from the kitchen the night before because there was no breakfast until we returned to the lodge. It is a hike in the dark, except the light from the head torches. When we arrived to the place of the lek we sat down and waited. You have to be very quiet and you can’t wear clothes in bright colours as the birds are very sensitive to disturbance. Soon the “song” started and now and then you could see the Cock-of-the -Rock birds moving around among the trees, but no one was very close. The noise was incredible though. Jorge thought there were around 25 male Cock-of-the Rocks there.
At 6.50 we started our walk back to the Santa Lucia Eco Lodge and by then it was light outside and it was a nice walk through the beautiful primary forest .
The round trip of this hike is 7.5km and the highest altitude you pass is 2030m and the lowest altitude is at 1750m. That means it is a lot of uphill and downhill during the hike.
The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is a medium sized bird that has a length of about 30cm. The head, breast and neck of the males are bright orange/red and on the head there is a fan-shaped crest. The tail and wings are black, with grey areas on the wings.
Very early in the morning on my 4th day at Santa Lucia I had done the hike to see the Cock-of-the -Rock birds, but after breakfast I was ready for another hike and wanted to see the waterfalls and take a swim in the river. So I and my guide set off after finishing breakfast. The path to the waterfalls descends steeply and you will walk through beautiful and lush primary forest where you can see many epiphytes, bromelias and orchids. Along the trail we saw three waterfalls and at the river we followed the path to the end, where there is a good place for swimming. It was absolutely freezing cold in the water and I couldn’t stay in too long, but at least I could go a bit upstream to see a small waterfall with a pool in front of it, a very beautiful view.
On the way back to the lodge we saw two White-faced Nunbirds and a female Cock-of-the-rock.
The hike had taken 3 hours so we were back in time for lunch. The trail to the waterfalls and river, and back, is about 5.5km long and you will walk from the lodge at 1920m down to an altitude of 1600m.
Close to Santa Lucia Eco Lodge there is a self-guided trail which takes about 40-60 minutes to walk. It is a nice walk through lush green primary and secondary forest. At one point there is an Orchid Garden. Unfortunately it was not the right season for many orchids to be in bloom when I visited, but just a few were in bloom. At another point along the trail there is a giant tree swing which I of course tried.
On my last day at Santa Lucia I had done both the cock-of-the -rock hike and the hike to the waterfalls before lunch. After resting the whole afternoon I decided to take another walk before it got dark and as I hadn’t been to the sugarcane field, and that is a short hike, that is where I went.
To the sugarcane field it is mostly downhill and you follow the same trail as the beginning of the pre-Inca Yumbo trail until you come to a sign that says you shall take the path to the left to come to the sugarcane field.
By the sugarcane field there is a replica of a traditional sugar production workshop. There was no one there when I visited, but if you are interested in seeing how organic panela (brown sugar) is made you can book a demonstration ahead (I have seen that before). On the walls there were information posters about the panela production.
The hike down to the sugarcane field and back up to Santa Lucia took about 1h.
There is a woman's co-operative that you can visit. They make various things from the forest produce, such as key rings and necklaces. There is some beautiful stuff available to buy! You can get some really authentic things and also feel good that you are supporting the local community!! I recommend it!
At the bottom of the valley near the reception is a river, you will pass this on your way to the lodge and your way back. The number of different types of butterfly is amazing! They are either flying around or on the river banks. We saw a massive blue butterfly with wings the size of my hands!!
This is a very strenuous trek of about 6 hours just about continuously uphill! It takes you to the very edge of the Santa Lucia reserve from an altitude of around 1800 up to 2800 meters. But it is entirely worth the effort!
As you go higher in altitute you notice complete change in the plant life and fauna... different species, different bird life etc. It's a different world!
And finally just when you are about to collapse from exhaustion you reach the bird tower surrounded in cloud. Here you are able to climb up and get into the forest canopy! Great stuff! Didn't see too many birds on this occasion, but it is a good spot to watch the Tucan apparently!
You have to leave the lodge at 4 am, it's dark, but great! You walk for two hours down, then up steep inclines. Arriving at the lek at 6 am. The lek is where the spectacularly coloured Cock of the Rock male performs it's mating ritual at exactly 6 am each morning!
I saw about 20 of them! They are quite big birds, beautiful colour and very noisy!!! What an experience!!!
I couldn't take any pictures! I tried, but with out flash they just didn't come out! Or maybe I'm a poor photographer! The birds are very sensitive to the flash, so you can't use it! You can get within 10 meters of them!
You can see on the map of the trails in the picture, you follow the red route.
Most if not all plants and trees in the forest have a use! Oh how much is to be learnt from local peoples knowledge of the trees! Could there be a cure for cancer or aids here? Whatever secrets lie here should not be destroyed!
The Dragon's Blood Tree was my favourite! Pretty dramatic for a tree! A careful cut to the bark makes the tree 'bleed' blood red resin. This resin can then be rubbed on the skin turning it white. The white cream can be used to treat cuts to the skin! Pretty amazing!
There is an incredible amount of bird life at Santa Lucia. You will hear all kinds of birds everywhere you go! Seeing them is another story! The forest is thick and makes birdwatching challenging! But with binoculars and a bit of patience it pays off! I saw numerous species including eagle, tucan, woodpecker...
The Forest comes alive at night! Mammals move about, owls screech!
I left the lodge with my guide at 4am and we trecked with flash lights through the jungle... Something big was moving in the thick of the trees right next to us... we shone our lights , but couldn't see it.... it didn't want to see us! Was it a Puma? a Bear? It was big! We went back in daylight to examine tracks... it was the Andean Specktacled Bear!
At the lodge there are several hammocks to relax in if you are not up for trekking!
While relaxing you will notice the continual hum of humming birds as they fly around visiting various plants.
It took me 5 days of frustration to get this little b******d on film!!! They are just so quick!
There are some trully amazing plants in Sant Lucia. The number of orkids is amazing and many of them are unknown species!! There are many rare trees in the reserve too! This is one of the many plants you can see..