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You are here:5.1.5 Cuenca-Loja Highway

5.1.5 Cuenca-Loja Highway

5.1.5 Cuenca-Loja Highway. Huashapamba Forest and Acacana Mountain.

The 191 km stretch of Pan-American Highway that connects the cities of Cuenca and Loja provides access to some protected areas like the Huashapamba Protected Forest and Acacana Mountain near to the small town of Saraguro.  The El Sayo Protected Forest is another birding site that is close to the city of Loja.  The elevation along the road varies from 1850 to 3450 meters.

Páramo Grassland, Elfin Forest, Temperate Forest.

Cuenca-Loja Highway. Huashapamba Forest and Acacana Mountain

No special arrangements are needed to visit the road. You can easily have a day birding between the two cities. Accordingly to your time and birding wishes, you can add an extra night staying in the small town of Saraguro.

There are plenty of buses running from Cuenca to Loja going via Saraguro. . The bus terminal of Cuenca City is located on the intersection of Avenues España and Héroes de Verd close to Cuenca’s airport.  The bus terminal of Loja City is located on the intersection of Avenues Gran Colombia and Isidro Ayora.  Should you take a bus to Saraguro; you can hire a taxi or pickup truck to take to the birding areas near it.

The best birding areas are located close to Saraguro , making an overnight stay here is a good idea.  The best place to stay in Saraguro is Hostal Achik Wasi.   Further information regarding Achik Wasi comes from or by writing to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Phone numbers for each:  (07) 2200 058 or Cell-phones: 09349 8518/ 09838204

The site can be accessed year around with any kind of vehicle, but a high clearance vehicle is much recommended.



Cuenca-Loja Highway. Huashapamba Forest and Acacana Mountain

The Cuenca-Saraguro-Loja Highway starts in Cuenca at the roundabout where the Avenues Loja and De Las Americas merge into each other in the south side of the city.  

Map. Cuenca Loja Highway / click here to download

Take the Pan-American Highway heading south and drive for 10.7 km.  At this point there will be a fork in the road. Avoid the left turn heading to Tarqui.  Continue driving for 0.9 km, or 11.8 km from Cuenca.  Here you will find another fork on the road.  Avoid the right and fork heading to Portete.  Take the left hand road and drive for 2.7 km, or 14.5 km from Cuenca.  At this point there is a fork in the road.  The left road is the continuation of the Pan-American Highway heading south toward Saraguro and Loja.  Avoid the right hand road heading to Girón-Pasaje.  

The pasture habitat near this fork is home to Peruvian Meadowlark and Chiguanco Thrush. Drive ahead for 51.4 km, or 65.9 km from Cuenca.  At this point there is a gate on the left.  Park here and ask for permit to enter.  The trail running parallel to the left of the pine trees and heading away from the highway will take you to some scrubby habitat some 1.0 km away.  The scrubby area in the bunch grass is home to the rare White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, and many other much more common birds.  The grassland habitat of theses highlands is also good for finding the Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant.

Drive on another 20.2 km, or 86.1 km from Cuenca.  At this point you will pass a bridge over León River.  Continue on for 1.0 km or 87.1 km from Cuenca.  Here while ascending the steep and dry valley you will see a dirt road on your left.  The beginning of this road is on the outer side of a sharp bend to the right.  You have to slow down and be careful with the traffic along the highway.

  Here reset you odometer one more time to 0.0 km.  Drive on the dirt road for 0.4 km until you reach some scrubby dry habitat.  Several common birds can be seen here as you walk down to the bridge in another 0.6 km or 1.0 km from the highway.  The most interesting species of this site is an undescribed subspecies of Loja Hummingbird which in turn was split from Amazilia Hummingbird.  I have followed the road across the bridge 3.5 km up the mountain, or 4.5 km from the highway, in search for the White-browed Chat-Tyrant which has been reported.  I have never been able to find it here, however.  The habitat looks similar to the one where the bird is found in Peru and Bolivia.  The bird must be extremely rare if it is still here.


Return back to the highway and drive for 8.8 km, or 95.9 km from Cuenca.  You will be driving by the town of Oña.  Continue another 21.1 km, or 117.0 km from Cuenca.  Here for the next 0.9 km or 117.9 km from Cuenca there is scrubby habitat intermixed with bunchgrass on your right.  Look here for Streak-backed Canastero.  Continuing on for 13.7 km, or 131.6 km from Cuenca you will arrive to Saraguro.  The main street entering the downtown will be on your right.  

This will be a point of reference for the next instructions 0.0 km.  Continuing from Saraguro toward Loja driving for 3.8 km, you will find the start of a dirt road on your left.  This is the road heading to Acacana Mountain.

Reset your odometer 0.0 km for future references and drive 2.9 km.  At this point there is a rock quarry on your right.  Continue for 0.6 km, or 3.5 km from the highway.  At this point you can see forest in good condition on both sides of the road.  The forest continues for 2.1 km. more or 5.6 km from the highway, until it reaches a fork.  This forest along this stretch is a good place to look for: Bearded Guan, Andean Pygmy-Owl, Great Sapphirewing, Rainbow Starfrontlet, Purple-throated Sunangel, Purple-backed Thornbill, Masked Trogon, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, White-browed Spinetail, Pearled Treerunner, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Crescent-faced Antpitta, Ash-colored Tapaculo, Ocellated Tapaculo, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, White-throated Tyrannulet, White-banded Tyrannulet, Crowned Chat-Tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Spectacled Whitestar, Citrine Warbler, Blue-and-black Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, Golden-crowned Tanager, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Black-headed Hemispingus, Northern Rufous-naped Brush-Finch and Páramo Seedeater. Golden-plumed Parakeet and Red-faced Parrot occur seasonally here.

Once you arrive to the fork in the forest uphill 5.6 km from the highway, you can continue on the left fork for 2.7 km until the end of the road.   Many of the previously mentioned species also occur here.  By taking the right hand fork you will return to the highway after 3.6 km. The spot where this dirt road loops back on the highway is 12.7 km away from Saraguro.


The Huashapamba Protected Forest is 7.3 km away from Saraguro, and when driving to Loja you will see it on the left side.  To visit the forest you will have to walk from the highway crossing through pasture for 0.6 km or more until you reach the forest where most of the species mentioned before can also be found.  Additional species found here are the Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Hooded and Black-chested Mountain-Tanager.

Acacana Mountain is also known to be one of the few places in Ecuador where Mountain Caracara can be seen.

From Huashapamba drive 32.2 km or 39.5 km from Saraguro.  At this point you will arrive at the El Sayo Protected Forest.  Here a trail on the right takes you into the forest.  Many of the previously mentioned species are also can be found here.

Continuing for further 20.9 km or 60.4 km from Saraguro you will arrive to a roundabout.  This place is only 5.5 km from Loja city bus terminal.

From here you can choose to head further south to Cajanuma entrance of Podocarpus NP, Vilcabamba and Tapichalaca or head toward Loja-Zamora Highway and the birding sites due east across the Andes.


Birds to look for

Cuenca-Loja Highway. Huashapamba Forest and Acacana Mountain.

Second-growth (2G), Stunted Forest (SF), Forest (F), Grasslands (G), Pastures (P).

Common: Purple-throated Sunangel (2G,F), Crimson-mantled Woodpecker (F), Pearled Treerunner (2G,F), White-throated Tyrannulet (2G,F), White-banded Tyrannulet (2G,F), Chiguanco Thrush (2G,P), Spectacled Whitestar (2G,F), Blue-and-black Tanager (2G,F), Blue-backed Conebill (2G,F), Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager (2G,F), Northern Rufous-naped Brush-Finch (2G,F), Peruvian Meadowlark (P).

Uncommon: Bearded Guan (F), Andean Pygmy-Owl (F), Great Sapphirewing (2G,F), Rainbow Starfrontlet (2G,F), Loja Hummingbird (2G,F), Masked Trogon (2G,F), Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan (F), Bar-bellied Woodpecker (F), Crimson-mantled Woodpecker (F), White-browed Spinetail (2G), Streak-backed Canastero (G,SF), Streaked Tuftedcheek (2G,F), Rufous Antpitta (F), Ash-colored Tapaculo (2G,F), Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet (2G,F), Crowned Chat-Tyrant (2G,F), Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant (G), Citrine Warbler (2G,F),Red-crested Cotinga (2G,F), Golden-crowned Tanager (2G,F), Hooded Mountain-Tanager (2G,F), Black-chested Mountain-Tanager (2G,F), Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager (2G,F), Superciliaried Hemispingus (2G,F), Black-headed Hemispingus (2G,F).

Rare: Mountain Caracara (P, SF), Golden-plumed Parakeet (F), Red-faced Parrot (F), Purple-backed Thornbill (2G,F), Undulated Antpitta (F), Crescent-faced Antpitta (2G,F), Ocellated Tapaculo (2G,F), White-browed Chat-Tyrant (2G), White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant (G,SF), Páramo Seedeater (2G,SF).

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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