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How to See Andean Bears in Ecuador: Where to Find the Elusive Spectacled Bears

There are eight species of bears in the world: the polar bear, the brown bear, the black bear, the panda bear, the Malayan bear, the Asiatic black bear and the Andean bear or spectacled bear. The role of the Spectacled Bear in its ecosystem is very important, since they help to disperse seeds over a large area and by knocking down bushes and branches in search of food, they help revitalize the life of the Andean cloud forests. Being born tree climbers and building their bed with the branches, they allow light to reach the soil and seed germination occurs. They are the greatest allies that the Andean and Amazonian forests have.

What is the difference between an Andean bear and a spectacled bear?

The spectacled bear is the same as the Andean bear. They are called spectacled bears because of the white spots around their eyes. Each bear has its own unique markings, some of them have full glasses while others have half or no glasses.

The Andean bear is the largest mammal in South America and can be up to 2.2 meters tall and weigh up to 400 pounds.

Where can you find the Andean bear?

The Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) also known as the spectacled bear is endemic to the Andes mountain range (which goes from Venezuela to the south of Bolivia passing through Peru, Ecuador and Colombia) in South America. The interesting thing about this bear is that it is the only bear in South America, which is why it is known as “The Kings of the Tropical Andes”, “The Guardian of the Paramos”, “The Gardener of the Forest” or “The Architect of the forests”. You can find them both in the trees and on the ground looking for food and shelter. They rest in caves, on the ground or in trees. Spectacled bears inhabit Andean and sub-Andean cloud forests, paramo areas, jungles, and intervened forests.

Near Quito there are 3 areas where it is possible to see spectacled bears. Read on to see where to go to see this majestic creature.

Where can you see spectacled bears in Ecuador?

The Andean bear can be seen at the Andean Bear Viewpoint in Pimampiro in Imbabura, the Maquipucuna reserve in Pichincha, the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve and the Podocarpus National Park in Loja. They can also be seen on the Pifo-Papallacta road, in the Antisana Reserve.

It is very important to keep in mind that the Andean bear is in its natural habitat, so it is not guaranteed in any of these places that you can see the Andean bear, even with the best conditions. Part of the experience is learning and being part of the conservation of the natural habitat of these wonderful creatures.

1. Maquipucuna lodge

The Maquipucuna Reserve is the most pristine cloud forest in Ecuador, located in the closest tropical forest to Quito in the Chocó-Andean corridor, one of the three main places of biodiversity found in the world, within three parishes northwestern: Calacalí, Nanegalito and Nanegal. The reserve covers around 5,000 hectares with a lodge and 14,000 hectares of neighboring conservation area. This wonderful project came to life in 1989 as a non-profit organization for the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable development of the use of natural resources in the northwestern region, and was a fundamental actor in the promotion of good management of natural areas (state and private), supporting ecotourism programs to empower local communities, emphasizing environmental education. Today it is the best place to see an Andean bear in its natural habitat.

The chances of seeing the bear depend on the maturity of the aguacatillo, when it is bear season they stay between 4 to 12 weeks, before going back up to the Cotacahi – Cayapas Reserve.

Maquipucuna in Quichua means “helping hand”. The reserve can be visited for the day or you can stay at the lodge. The entrance to the reserve costs $15 for foreigners and $5 for nationals if you go on your own or $50 if you take a guided tour that includes the entrance, lunch and a tour of one of the reserve’s trails. If you decide to go on your own, you must travel only on authorized trails, you cannot carry aerosols, pets, or firearms. In the reserve you can camp, take photography, go bird watching, ecotourism, wildlife observation and hiking. If you decide to sleep in the lodge, the prices start at $85 per person per night and includes 3 meals, the entrance fee and various tours within the reserve.

The reserve has 119 species of 86 genera and 48 families in terms of flora and 25 species of 14 families and seven orders of fauna, including the spectacled bear.

The observation of bears in Maquipucuna is seasonal, normally they can be seen in the middle of the year or during the last months of the year. How long they can be seen depends on how much food is found.

To get to Maquipucuna from Quito, you must take the Calacalí-La Independencia road until you reach Nanegalito, from there you must take the detour to Nanegal, continue 12 km, pass the community of Santa Marianita. This tour takes approximately 2 hours from Parque la Carolina in Quito.

In all the tours while the group participates with the guide, there is also the presence of the trackers, who go in search of the bears along all the trails of the reserve. During the tour, the guides explain the habits of the bears and the importance of their habitat.

The spacious and luxurious rooms have private bathrooms, with spring water, showers with abundant hot water and beautiful terraces with views of the forest.

2. Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve

The Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve is a protected area of ​​cloud forest where you can see the Andean bear. The only thing is that they are not seen as easily as in the Maquipucuna reserve, so it is recommended to stay longer to increase the chances of seeing one of them.

3. Pimampiro

At the Pimampiro viewpoint, which is located an hour and a half from Ibarra and 3 hours from Quito, it is one of the best places to see the Andean bear from afar (200 kilometers away) throughout the year. The owner of the viewpoint is Daniel Vasquez, he observed that in front of his property, which is separated by the Pisque River canyon, several spectacled bears and that is how the idea of ​​creating this viewpoint was born. He documents through video the behavior of the bears, the customs, the relationship they have with the owners of the crops to have better controls and understanding about this wonderful species of bears.

Bears are most often seen when the higuerón trees bear fruit twice a year. The chances of seeing the bear increase between 06:00 AM and 08:30 AM and 4:00 PM until 6:30 PM.

Daniel also offers a place to stay for only $25 that includes a tent, snack and breakfast. If you don’t want to spend the night he can take a tour for as little as $15 and visit various trails to see if they spot a spectacled bear.

In order to get to the Mirador del Oso Andino from Quito, you can take the buses that go to the city of Ibarra from the Carcelén Terminal. These buses leave every 10 minutes and cost $1.50. From Ibarra you must take the buses of the Cooperativa de Transportes Oriental which leave every 15 minutes to Pimampiro and from there take a taxi that will take you to the viewpoint. The taxi may be charging between $7 to $10 USD.

You can make a reservation to make sure the viewpoint is open by calling or writing to the following number 0980552680 (WhatsApp).

My experience seeing the spectacled bear in Maquipucuna:

I have been lucky enough to visit Maquipucuna twice and the truth is that I have fallen in love with the reserve and the spectacled bear. The first time I went only for one day and I was not lucky enough to see any Andean bear, but I fell in love with the place knowing that my visit contributed to the conservation of the bears natural habitat. As the place is close to Quito, I asked Rodrigo, the owner of the reserve, to let me know when there was a higher activity of the spectacled bears. He called me one night and told me to come early tomorrow, without hesitation, I got up at 6 AM and went straight to the lodge. I had a lucky day and saw 4 different bears including a female bear and her baby. The strangest thing is that the weather was not great, it was rainy and cloudy but I was lucky. I decided to spend the night to see if the weather would improve. That day there was a burst of sun and we only found one bear, but at the end of the trail I ran into an armadillo. My eyes could not believe it, my dream was to meet one of these magical and beautiful creatures. It is not common to see them during the day and this beauty even posed for my photos and videos.

Maquipucuna is a truly magical place where you can share and coexist with nature. A place that I would not change for the world and that I want to help promote to continue caring for and conserving the natural habitat of the spectacled bear and all the birds and other species that inhabit this wonderful place. I guarantee that you will have an unforgettable experience full of peace and happiness.

Maquipucuna Lodge offers 32 kilometers of trails. The trails vary in their range of difficulty and some of them are recommended to go with a guide.

The trails of Maquipucuna:

  • Waterfall Trail: 200 meters. 10 minutes one way.
  • The Spectacled Bear: Variable distance from 1 1/2 hours to 2-3 days of camping and hiking uphill. One way.
  • Wetland Trail: 3 1/2 km, circular trail of 3 1/2 hours.
  • Self-guided trail: 1 km. 45-minute loop.
  • Quiet trail: 6 km. 4-5 hour walk.
  • Fluvial path: 3 km. 2 and a half hour loop.
  • Palmitos Trail: 4.5 km. 4-hour loop.
  • Arriero’s path to a larger waterfall: 5.5 km. 4-5 hours.

What can be done to protect the Andean bear?

Raise awareness to care for the habitat of the Andean bear and make the local population aware of its importance and why it should not be hunted, for any reason. Support the reserves that take care of their habitat and promote conservation corridors.

An ecological corridor with an area of 65,000 hectares was created where the bears roam in order to provide them with greater freedom of movement, this same ecological corridor helps other species of mammals to be able to move freely.

How endangered is the Andean bear?

The Andean bear is considered an animal in danger of extinction due to the fragmentation of its natural habitat from agriculture and livestock, indiscriminate hunting and human intervention in its habitat through the implementation of productive activities and the felling of forests.

What does the Andean Bear eat?

Andean or spectacled bears are omnivorous and their diet includes fruits, vegetables, pacche (aguacatillo), puyas, bromeliads, palms, fresh fruits, sweet fruits, achupallas, paramo grapes, roots, bark, leaves, fungi, cacti, insects and occasionally wild animals (birds, deer and insects and occasionally cows and sheep) and carrion thus helping with the decomposition of dead animals. They are most active during the day when they look for food in trees and on the ground. Andean bears are solitary animals.

In Maquipucuna the spectacled bears feed on ‘Pacche’ which contain avocado fruits rich in fats, a true delicacy that attracts adult and young bears, mainly females with their young.

What to do if you meet an Andean Bear?

  • Keep a distance of at least 10 meters from the Andean bear.
  • Do not feed them, as these animals are wild. They are not violent but its space should not be invaded.
  • Do not make them feel uncomfortable and corner the Andean bears.
  • If you see a mother with her baby, please keep an even greater distance
  • If you meet them on the road, please let them pass calmly, do not honk or turn on the lights. Let the animal move forward calmly. Remember that the road is in their natural habitat and they have priority. In areas where you are more likely to see them on the roads please slow down.
  • Do not wear brightly colored clothing or wear perfume. Avoid the color red.
  • Always stay calm.
  • Do not make loud sounds.
  • Move slowly and move away, so that the animal continues on its way.
  • Avoid direct eye contact.

12 Interesting facts about the Andean Bear that you surely did not know:

  1. They are excellent swimmers.
  2. Many cultures believe that their claws have medicinal properties, making the bear vulnerable to hunting.
  3. They leave messages in trees through their claws and body odor.
  4. They do not hibernate.
  5. Their young are called cubs. A female can have 2 to 4 cub per pregnancy. The mothers are very protective and their young remain with their mother for up to two years and can be separated at eight months, between four and five years of age they are considered adults. Its gestation period lasts between 7-8 months. 
  6. Four months before birth, which normally occurs in February, the female begins to build a two-meter nest made up of branches and wool from her own body to have a comfortable place where she can give birth and share with her young. When the baby reaches 5 months of age they stop drinking milk and start eating solids.
  7. It is very rare to see a male bear together with a female and her cubs.
  8. They are very shy bears, so interaction with humans is not common.
  9. They are not violent, they only attack to defend themselves in situations in which they feel threatened.
  10. It has a well-developed sense of smell, being much more powerful than that of a dog.
  11. They can live up to 35 years.
  12. It is considered a silent animal, which emits low intensity sounds when it is curious, feels threatened or as a communication mechanism between mother and calf.
  13. It is the third largest bear in the world after the Polar Bear and the Grizzly Bear.

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