Parque Jerusalem – Dry Forest of the Ecuador Highlands
Jerusalem Park, or Bosque Protector Jerusalén in Spanish, is an area of protected dry forest a short distance north of Quito Ecuador. Most people come to this tiny nation to experience the rainforests of the Andean slopes or the cloud forests at the higher elevations. Being unaware of this tropical gem, travelers miss the opportunity to visit one of the foremost parks vying for the attention of tourists and residents in this biodiverse country.
Much of the inter-Andean natural forest has been consumed by agricultural development over the past decades. The Guayllabamba River basis, having a much dryer climate than the surrounding areas, is not as hospitable to the cultivation of crops. The Ministry of Agriculture, wishing to preserve the flora and fauna of the region, dedicated 1,110 ha. (2,800 ac) of land for this purpose in 1989. Since the, Jerusalem Park has become one of the most family friendly reserves within Ecuador.
The Guayllabamba River valley is noted for the last known sighting of the Turquoise-throated Puffleg. This species has no confirmed records since 1851, although there was an uncorroborated observation in 1973. It is considered critically endangered and possibly extinct, though many search for its continued existence. For this reason, BirdLife has designated this region as an Important Bird Area.
Bosque Protector Jerusalén is a dry forest area experiencing less than 600 mm (23 in) of rain per year. It is the only such area with the Inter-Andean valley and the highest dry forest area in South America at an altitude of 2,500 m (8,200 ft). Temperatures are mild averaging 17o C (63o F) during throughout year. The woodland is comprised of ragwort (Baccharis latifolia), elderberry (Cestrum sp.), acacia (Fabaceae) and a numerous variety of cacti.
There are several paths traversing the park, catering to individual abilities and tastes. The paths are well maintained and plaques have been placed around the reserve describing the features of the various terrain and flora species. Every effort has been made to develop an experience that is both enjoyable and educational. Many of the plaques have Braille translations for the visually impaired. Several marquees are posted along the trails indicated the various wildlife that can be encountered.
Bird Watching Opportunities
Jerusalem Park is a wonderful stop on any avid birder’s list. Many species that are difficult to spot within the Inter-Andean valley can easily be encountered inside the reserve. Although the bird population is small compared to the rainforest areas, the avifauna in the region is quite impressive. Vermillion Flycatchers are fairly common, as well as Southern-Yellow Grosbeak and Scrub Tanagers. The Giant Hummingbird is rather prevalent to the area and can be seen feeding alongside Purple-collared Woodstar and Sparkling Violetear. The acacia forest and dry scrub is a haven for the Buff-fronted Owl, a very rare species throughout the rest of Ecuador. Burrowing Owls can also be observed within the reserve.
Access and Facilities
Parque Jerusalem is about 28 km (17 miles) north of Quito and can be easily reached by private vehicle or public transportation. Travel north on the Pan-American Highway towards Guayllabamba. Continue passed the town for another 6 km (4 miles) until Puélllaro-San José de Mina road. There will be a large billboard indicting the left turn towards the park. Travel another 3 km (2 miles) and to the entrance of the reserve. Once inside there will be a $2 charge per person ($1 for locals) for access to the facilities.
In addition to the various flora and fauna that abound within the park, other recreation is available. Horseback riding is obtainable and there are several football (soccer), basketball and volleyball areas for the sporting enthusiasts. A small pond provides fishing opportunities and there is a pool for a short dip before or after a hike around the park. Camping grounds are also available. There is a restaurant providing good, inexpensive meals for those who do not want to partake of the picnic facilities.
Jerusalem Park is a great place to acclimatize oneself to the altitude before tackling some of the more strenuous areas of the rainforest and cloud forest. It amicable weather and undemanding trails provide a perfect start for the flight-wearied traveler. The avifauna and abundant flora furnishes a pleasant beginning to an adventurous vacation.
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