You are here:2.1.1 Yanacocha and Verdecocha.

2.1.1 Yanacocha and Verdecocha.

These two private reserves are adjacent to the otherwise inaccessible 19,200 hectare of Bosque Protector Mindo Nambillo. Yanacocha Reserve contains 1240 hectare protected by the Jocotoco Foundation that encompasses some of the most pristine and accessible Temperate Forest on the western side of the Ecuadorian Andes.  It includes a section of Polylepis forest which has become very rare in the region.

Verdecocha is an 1152 hectare preserve protected by the Nubesierra Foundation.  It is situated at a slightly lower elevation than Yanacocha.  These two sites can be visited in a single day.   I suggest that you visit the Yanacocha reserve in the morning and the Verdecocha reserve in the afternoon.  At the end of the day you can either go back to Quito or continue along the Nono-Mindo Road. The Nono-Mindo road has almost no public transportation and both Verdecocha and Yanacocha forest are quite a long distance from it.   I do not recommend enduring the long walk onto each of them from this road.  It is wiser to hire a pickup truck, taxi or rent a car from Quito. The cheapest alternative could be to rent a public transportation pickup truck.   These are white in color and have a red symbol in both sides, with orange license plates.  



Páramo Grassland, Polylepis Forest, Temperate Forest, Upper Montane Cloud Forest.




From Quito you can have an easy birding day trip to Yanacocha and Verdecocha, or you can visit them on the way towards the Tandayapa and Mindo Valleys.  Yanacocha is only an hour drive away from Quito and the site can be accessed year around with any kind of vehicle, except during the rainy season from late December to early May.   During this period a 4-wheel drive is occasionally essential.   Yanacocha does not have overnight accommodations or any place to eat.   Camping is permitted with permission of local landowners on the private land near the preserve.  Camping is not recommended, however, due to chilly winds that occur at such a high 3360 meter elevation. The site is open 7 days a week.   Birding visitors must pay the US $10 ($2 for Ecuadorians) entrance ticket fee as they leave the preserve.  Not that there is very little public transportation along the Quito-Nono-Mindo road.


The Polylepis Forest

The Polylepis forest can be visited on a side road near Yanacocha and can only be visited upon request and permission from the Jocotoco Foundation / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Phone: 02-2457090 in within working hours, Monday to Friday).  The foundation will provide you a key needed to open the entrance gate. This key is normally held by the park rangers.  To visit this forest a 4-wheel vehicle is essential.



This preserve is 1 ½ hour drive from Quito.   A visit here always require a 4-wheel drive because after leaving the main Nono-Mindo road the 4.9 km entry road up the hill is extremely rough and bumpy.   During the rainy season (late December to early May) it turns muddy.  The hacienda and Reserve Verdecocha welcome visitors for the day.  You can pay the entrance fee (US $5 apiece) at the Hacienda house at the preserve.  There are accommodations and meals available for visitors and these can be pre-arrange by notifying   the Nubesierra Foundation at: / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Phone: 02-2551508).




The Nono-Mindo road begins in Quito at the intersection of Machala Street and Mariscal Sucre Ave. (0 km).   Mariscal Sucre is also known as the Av. Mariscal Antonio Jose de Sucre or (usually) Avenida Occidental.    Take Machala Street up the hill towards West.  Follow Machala Street up the hill staying on the main street heading to Nono. (Click here to download Map. Entrance from Quito to Nono-Mindo Road).

After 4.6 km from Quito, there is a side road to the left that is signed Hosteria San Jorge.   The Hosteria San Jorge is located 1.4 km from the Nono-Mindo road entrance and is an alternative to stay the previous night before visiting Yanacocha. Follow the cobblestone road until it turns into dirt road and take the right hand fork following the signs “To San Jorge” located at 3040 m.   This lodge is a good place to stay to acclimatize and bird if you arrive in the early afternoon to prepare for a following morning visit to Yanacocha. (Click here to download Map. Road to Yanacocha).

From the San Jorge entrance road (at the Nono-Mindo road) keep on traveling for 1.2 km or 5.8 km from Quito. At this point you will reach the end of the asphalt (as per January 2010).

Follow the main road to the left as the road straightens and goes down into a neighborhood. After a further 3.0 km up the road or 8.8 km from Quito (3200 m.) you will find a gated white-pillar archway on your left.  If the gate is closed, just go ahead and open it.   It is never locked because it is also a public road.  At this spot the Ranch House has been converted into a “Hosteria” (small inn) called the Rancho Hostería Quindiñan.  (Phone number for this Hosteria  is  2-2808 818).  From this place you will also find signs pointing to Yanacocha Reserve.  Reset your odometer to 0.0 km for further reference. Take this side road and soon after 0.7 km from the gate you will reach the first junction.   Stay on road to the right which levels out after a short steep hill.   The left side fork goes only up to a grassy degraded habitat.  Driving for further 0.7 km or 1.4 km from the Nono-Mindo road you will reach a crossroad. The way left goes to grassy pasture land.  Continue along the main road as the road to the right goes to a private ranch house.   Stay on this main road to left for further 6.0 km or 7.4 km from the Nono-Mindo road. While on this section of the road and especially when near the Faba bean fields look for the Curve-billed Tinamou.   The second-growth scrubby habitat is good habitat for the Tawny Antpitta, and the grasslands are a good place for Páramo Pipit and Short-eared Owl.

Eventually you will get to the water company camp called Campamento Pichan.  EMAPA the Municipal water company at an elevation of 3350 m. Here you may be asked the purpose of your visit and the driving plate numbers may be written by water company guards.  Continue another 2.3 km or 9.7 km from the Nono-Mindo road. You will arrive at a second road crossing.  The sharp road up the hill to the left goes to “The Polylepis Forest”.  The right hand road leads into farm land and houses.  Proceed along the road on level terrain for no longer than 500 m.  At 10.2 km from the Nono-Mindo road, you reach the Yanacocha reserve parking facilities.  Here you will pay your entrance fee, register and use the bathroom facilities. The park rangers have been able to tame a couple of Tawny Antpittas that live just behind the ranger station. Ask them to perform the Antpitta feeding technique for the antpittas may show up at close range.

The critically endangered and endemic Black-breasted Puffleg (e) occurs along the main trail and inside forest, especially along the inside forest trail name after this rare and endemic Ecuadorian hummingbird. The Puffleg is seen most easily from April to June with other scattered records from December to mid-July.

You can slowly walk the almost level terrain path listening and looking for flocks and stopping at the hummingbird feeding stations.  The main trail goes through good forest for quite a long distance and you will easily get as far as the tunnel (approximately 2.5 km).  Here the last of the hummingbird feeding stations is located.  Some of the feeders are set just by the tunnel entrance and the last ones just some one hundred meters inside the forest past the bathroom facilities with a beautiful view.  You want to start as early as possible because after 10:00 AM the sky is sunny and clear, and bird activity will be nil.  If clouds move in it can become so foggy and dense that bird observation will be very difficult.

(Click here to download Map. Yanacocha and Polylepis Trails).

The three inside forest trails will provide you with the best opportunities to look for several hard to view species such as Undulated, Chestnut-napped and Rufous Antpittas and the agoraphobic Blackish, Ash-colored and Ocellated Tapaculos.

It makes good sense to stay until after lunch and then return to Quito looking for species along the more open terrain, or you can carry on to Verdecocha.

The Jocotoco Foundation is organizing an Andean Condor feeding station (as per January 2010) with the hope to enhance the chances to see this magnificent bird. This feeding station is located along the way to the “Polylepis Forest”.



The Polylepis Forest.

From the sign “Polylepis Forest” you take the sharp turn up the hill. Reset you odometer to 0.0 km. Remember that this road is only for 4- wheel drive vehicles. Follow the road for 1.5 km.  You will see a sharp turn to the right after a house.  Follow this road by turning up the hill to the right.  This is the 3445 meter elevation point and after 200m you will get to a gate which you will need a key to open. The park rangers will help you with the key but remember to ask for the key and permission to enter from the Jocotoco Foundation office in Quito. The winding road past the gate goes through open grassland terrain and after 5.1 km from Yanacocha road cutoff you will be in the Polylepis Forest at an elevation of 3600 meters.   Drive only 500 m more and then find a place to park.

The Polylepis forest is best visited right at dawn or in the late afternoon as the Imperial Snipe displays and vocalizes right at the crepuscular hour.   With a lot of luck it might also be seen walking on the ground inside this forest.



(Click here to download Map. Road to Verdecocha).

To continue to Verdecocha you have to backtrack to the entrance of the Yanacocha Road along the Nono-Mindo road.  From the Yanacocha entrance road drive down the hill towards the town of Nono for 9.5 km; this is 18.2 km from Quito.  Here you will get to a road junction on outskirts of Nono.   At this fork the downhill road to the right continues into the town of Nono itself.  Instead turn to the left toward Tandayapa and Mindo, the entrance to Verdecocha is only 8.7 km further ahead or 26.9 km from Quito.

Alternatively, to save time and only if having a 4-wheel drive vehicle you can take a short cut from Yanacocha. Return to the intersection to the road up the hill going to “Polylepis Forest”, at this point the road leading into farm land and houses goes down towards the Yanacocha Ranch ruins and a “new” small village. By taking this bumpy road (only recommended when dry even with a 4-wheel drive) for 9.6 km you will reach the small village of Alambi Bajo (2555 m) along the Nono-Mindo road (without having to drive through Nono itself); here you turn to the left and continue along the Nono-Mindo road for only 3.6 km to find the entrance to Verdecocha.

After a small bridge you will get to a side road to your left.  This elevation is 2400 m and there is a sign pointing to Verdecocha.   Take this rough road up the hill that requires 4-wheel drive vehicle, unless the Verdecocha staff has been contacted and are waiting for you with their own vehicle. Reset your odometer to 0.0 km for further reference. Drive the uphill road for 2.4 km until you get to a gate that might be locked.  You must arrange your visit beforehand. You can also talk to the trout farm staff.  (If the gate is closed walk down the left road from the gate some 500 m and ask the staff to open the gate for you. Explain you are to visit the reserve). From this gate proceed up the hill for 2.5 km to the Verdecocha headquarters at 2700 m or 4.9 km from Nono-Mindo road turn off.  Here you will arrive at the Verdecocha lodge where you may pay your entrance fee and ask for advice regarding where the Black-breasted Puffleg (e) has been seen recently.

(Click here to download Map. Verdecocha Trails).

There are a few good forest patches along the entrance road to Verdecocha and there is good forest edge birding right around the Verdecocha lodge.  Here the biggest attraction is the critically endangered Black-breasted Puffleg (e) which can sometimes be seen visiting the hummingbird feeders at the lodge.  The bird is most likely to be seen during April to June but may be present from December to mid-July.  When driving into Verdecocha you will be climbing on a steep hill and once you reach the level terrain at the main lodge you will see a grassy and marshy area on the right.   Check this artificial marsh for the scarce Noble Snipe.  Close to the Verdecocha main house there are two trails heading into forest.  One is a long trail leading to the upper ridges.  The other is a 1km loop which is recommended for finding such forest specialties as Undulated, Rufous and Chestnut-naped Antpittas


Birds to look for


Grasslands (G), Cultivated fields (CF), Second-growth (2G), Stunted  Forest (SF), Forest (F)

Common: White-collared Swift the altissima race, Shining Sunbeam (F), Great Sapphirewing (F), Buff-winged Starfrontlet (F), Sapphire-vented Puffleg (F), Tyrian Metaltail (F, 2G), Rufous Antpitta (F), Tawny Antpitta (G,2G), Blue-backed Conebill (F), Superciliaried Hemispingus (F), Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager (2G,F).

Uncommon: Curve-billed Tinamou (G,CF), Andean Guan (F), Sword-billed Hummingbird (F), Golden-breasted Puffleg (F), Purple-backed Thornbill (F), Rainbow-bearded Thornbill (SF), Bar-bellied Woodpecker (F), White-browed Spinetail (F), Chestnut-naped Antpitta (F), Undulated Antpitta (F), Crowned Chat-Tyrant (F), Barred Fruiteater (F), Páramo Pipit (G), Golden-crowned Tanager (F), Black-chested Mountain Tanager (F).

Rare: Tawny-breasted Tinamou (F), Andean Condor, Andean Pygmy-Owl (F), Short-eared Owl (F), Black-breasted Puffleg (F), Ocellated Tapaculo (F), Giant Conebill (F), Paramo Seedeater (F).

For a complete Yanacocha checklist go to:



The Polylepis Forest

Grasslands (G), Cultivated fields (CF), Stunted  Forest (SF), Forest (F)

Common: Shining Sunbeam (F), Black-tailed Trainbearer (CF, SF,F), Tawny Antpitta (G,SF), Black-chested Mountain Tanager (F),

Uncommon: Andean Snipe (G), Imperial Snipe (F), Great Sapphirewing (F), Undulated Antpitta (F), Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager (F).

Rare: Andean Condor (G), Giant Conebill (F).




Second-growth (2G), Forest (F)

Common:Fawn-breasted Brilliant (2G,F), Booted Racket-tail (2G,F), Violet-tailed Sylph (2G,F), Azara´s Spinetail (2G), Long-tailed Antbird (2G), Andean Solitaire (2G,F), Flame-faced Tanager (2G,F), Beryl-spangled Tanager (2G,F), Blue-and-black Tanager (2G,F), Blue-capped Tanager (2G,F), Blue-winged Mountain Tanager (2G,F),

Uncommon: Torrent Duck, Sickle-winged Guan (F), Tawny-bellied Hermit (2G, F), Mountain Velvetbtreast (2G), White-bellied Woodstart (2G), Chestnut-naped Antpitta (F), Undulated Antpitta (F), Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant (2G,F), Barred Becard (2G,F), Glossy-black Thrush (F), Capped Conebill (2G,F), Golden-naped Tanager (2G,F),

Rare: Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Semicollared Hawk (F), Black-breasted Puffleg (2G), Plushcap (2G,F).

For a complete Verdecocha checklist go to:

(2 or 3 mistakes!)

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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.


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