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3.5 Cerro Mongus

The Cerro Mongus preserve is a remote remnant forest comprised of the temperate forest on the western slope of the “Cerro Mongus”.   This mountain also known as “Cerro Mondragón” and is located in the Carchi province of Northern Ecuador.  The site provides good quality water to all the small communities and villages below it. The boundary of the preserve and its size are not well determined, and the forest is so steep and remote that would be hard to believe that anyone would promote any other use for this land, other than to protect the water supplies of the area. The forest ranges from 3100 to 3500 m and the closest town to it is “El Juncal”.  There are a handful of rare and local species that can be seen better here than anywhere else in their range.  Special mention has to be made here of the super rare, and local, Chestnut-bellied Cotinga.



Páramo Grassland, Elfin Forest, Temperate Forest,



Cerro Mongus

To access this site you can carry on north from the San Pablo and Yaguarcocha lakes on the Pan American Highway.   You can either camp close to the forest near the small village of Impueran, or overnight on any of the various hotels and resorts close to small town of “El Juncal”.  From El Juncal, you will have to drive between 2 and 1/2 hours to get near the forest.  The Hostería Oasis in Ambuquí is a good place to stay This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;  phone numbers (6) 2996304 or (6) 2941200.   The rooms are $23 US per person per night including breakfast. Cerro Mongus is fairly dry during the months of March to June, but one should be aware that sporadic rains can occur even at those times of the year.  Depending on weather and road conditions, access the last section of road above Impueran can be limited by bad weather forcing you to camp either in Impueran, or slightly above it.   In much the same way, these conditions might mean that Impueran might be as far as driving may allow in getting to the forest.

Regardless of weather conditions in Cerro Mungus, a 4-wheel drive vehicle is essential to drive above Impueran.  If it is raining the road is not accessible, even with the best of 4 wheel drives vehicles.  You will have to wait only on a sunny day after the steep road has dried.  It is possible to walk the entire way up from Impueran to where the Chestnut-bellied Cotinga can be seen.  The road is about 5 km uphill hike from Impueran at an elevation of 3000 m to the forest where the cotinga can be seen at about 3500 m. 

The village of Impueran does not charge any fee to visit the place as of May 2009.  The local people are welcoming. There is public bus transportation only to Caldera, which is part of the way to Impueran but, again, a four wheel drive is necessary from this town.  If you have the time and are fit and adventurous you can do without the vehicle.  The people from Impueran have dairy cattle on their ranches, and they sell milk which is collected from the town on a daily basis.  You can ride the milk truck from Caldera to Impueran and back or any of the trucks collecting the farm products from the area.



If you are continuing from your visit to San Pablo and Yaguarcocha lakes, see the birding instructions on the respective chapter on how to get there.   After you have visited the Yaguarcocha Lake and from the entrance to Yaguarcocha Lake, continue driving further north for 19.3 km along the Pan American highway.  After descending to the bottom of a low valley you will come to a fork.  Avoid the left sharp turn which heads to the western lowlands.  Take the right hand road, which is straight ahead, heading toward the Colombian border, and the Cerro Mongus site. We will call the turn off to the coastal lowlands 0.0 km as a point to start to the various places to follow.  From this point, drive for 16.5 km to Ambuquí.   Here you will see the Hosteria Oasis on your right. The Hostería Oasis grounds are particularly good for Blue-headed Sapphire and Scrub Tanager. From the Oasis Hosteria, drive for 7.0 km west to Piquiucho.  Here after crossing the bridge over “El Chota” River, Piquiucho will be on your right.   Do not miss the turn to your right off of the Pan American highway.   Piquiucho is small, and the entrance to Cerro Mongus is not sign-posted.  This point is 23.5 km from the turn off to the coast.  Here in Piquiucho, once leaving the highway, we reset the odometer to 0 km. 

(Click here to download Map. Cerro Mongus).

Drive through Piquiucho and at 0.2 km there will be the first fork.   Stay along the left road going downhill for a short stretch.  Continue for further 4.6 km or 4.8 km from Piquiucho, and you will reach the small town of Caldera.   Drive past the town along the main road and after leaving Caldera at 5.2 km from Piquiucho, you will see a bus stop on your left and a fork adjacent to it.  Take the left narrow road heading up the hill for another 7.5 km or 12.7 km from Piquiucho.   At this point you will be in the small town of Alor facing a road fork.   Take the left hand road around the small plaza/soccer field driving away from the town up the hill.   Shortly after there will be a turn to the left that should be avoided.  Stay on your right and up the hill along a series of zigzags for 9. 2 km or 21.9 km from Piquiucho.  At this point there will be a fork in the road with a few scattered houses.   Take a left turn here and go on for 6.4 km more, or 27.3 km from Piquiucho. At this point there is an intersection in a bend.   Stay at the same level along the main road for 0.2 km, or 27.5 km from Piquiucho. At this point you will come to yet another fork.   Here you will take the right fork up to a small village.   This is the small town of Impueran.  Drive for 0.7 km through town.  The soccer field will be on your right, and the church on the left. At this point you are 28.2 km from Piquiucho.   You will arrive at a fork.   Take the left road uphill for this goes into the forest.  The first 0.7 km along this stretch of road was surfaced as of May 2009.  All vehicles will be able to make it up to this point which is 28.9 km from Piquiucho.   From here on the road gets rough and difficult, and 1.0 km from here or 29.9 km from Piquiucho, there will be a fork.  You won’t believe you have to take a left turn and head up the hill…but you do!   The end of this road is just 1.0 km more, at 30.9 km from Piquiucho.  If you have made it to this point, park and camp and consider yourself lucky!. Continue on the path up the hill heading to the forest above you.   The first section of the trail will be through open terrain and once you get to the forest and enter it, the trail goes up steeply.

This forest trail is a good place to look for the Black-thighed Puffleg. There might be some good birding along this stretch, and after a short walk of +/- 200m, you will come out to open grassland with “Frailejones”.  You will still have to walk up for 2 km more bordering the forest on your left.   With much luck, you might see the cotinga at the forest edge before you get to the trail that cuts through the forest. When you are about to get the upper edge of the forest on your left, at 3500 m, there will be a narrow trail running along a small ditch which collects water from the forest.   You must follow this trail, which levels out here, and look for the Chestnut-bellied Cotinga on the tree tops you can see from the trail.   Take your time, especially along the stretches where landslides have created short vegetation, and you can scan the surrounding tree tops easily. The Red-crested Cotinga is also here and this species usually takes over the more exposed parts of the trees.   You must look for the Chestnut-bellied Cotinga on the treetops but in the less conspicuous, but still exposed trees branches.  This forest is also home of the rare and restricted Crescent-faced Antpitta along with Black-thighed Puffleg, Masked Mountain-Tanager, Black-backed Bush-Tanager, Black-headed Hemispingus, and Andean Siskin.

Birds to look for

Cerro Mongus

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

Common: White-tipped Swift, Shining Sunbeam (2G, F), Great   Sapphirewing (2G, F), Buff-winged Starfrontlet (2G, F), Golden-breasted   Puffleg (2G, F), White-browed Spinetail (2G, F), White-throated Tyrannulet (2G,   F), Agile Tit-Tyrant(2G, F), Red-crested Cotinga (2G, F), Rufous Wren (2G, F),   Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager (2G, F), Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager (F),   Pale-naped Brush-Finch (2G, F).

Uncommon: Plain-breasted Hawk (2G, F), Andean Guan (F),   Andean Snipe (G), Andean Pygmy-Owl (2G, F), Rufous-bellied Nighthawk (F),   Mountain Velevetbreast (2G, F), Glowing Puffleg (2G, F), Sapphire-vented   Puffleg (2G, F),  Black-thighed Puffleg   (2G, F), Rainbow-bearded Thornbill (2G, F), Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan (F),   Bar-bellied Woodpecker (F), White-chinned Thistletail (2G, F), Rufous   Antpitta (2G, F), Páramo Tapaculo (2G, F), Crowned Chat-Tyrant (F), Barred   Fruiteater (F), Páramo Pipit (G), Black-capped Hemispingus (F), Black-headed   Hemispingus (F),  Black-chested   Mountain-Tanager (F), Golden-crowned Tanager (2G, F), Slaty Brush-Finch (2G, F),   Northern Mountain-Cacique(F), Andean Siskin (2G, F).

Rare: Tawny-breasted Tinamou (2G, F), Black-and-chestnut   Eagle (F), Imperial Snipe (F), Golden-plumed Parakeet (F), Rusty-faced Parrot   (F), Swallow-tailed Nightjar (F), Purple-backed Thornbill (2G, F), Undulated   Antpitta (F), Crescent-faced Antpitta (F), Chestnut-bellied Cotinga (F),   Masked Mountain-Tanager (F), Slaty Finch (2G, F), Black-backed Bush-Tanager(F).

Copyright © 2010 by Lelis Navarrete

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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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