Pululahua: The Only Farming Community Inside of a Collapsed Volcano
The Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve is a one of a kind place – literally. It’s the only volcanic crater in the world that has farming in it. It’s one of two volcano craters with a town inside of it. We packed our bags and took the short drive from Quito to stay overnight in a collapsed volcano.
What’s with all these letters, and words, and shit. Why can’t I just watch this article? Well, now you can!!!
Pululahua is just 17 KM north of Quito. It’s just a 10 minute drive from Mitad del Mundo, the equator.
The Pululahua mirador – the lookout point over the crater – offers an amazing view of pretty much all of Pululahua. It also offers a trail that goes down into the crater. You can hike in, grab lunch, and then trek back out. The trail is a bit difficult as it drops 300 meters in just 1.4 KM, but it’s definitely doable.
Up the street from the lookout point is a hotel called El Crater Hotel. A night there will cost you around a hundred bucks, but we went to their restaurant for a quick coffee and some incredible views.
But in my opinion, if you want to get the full Pululahua experience, you gotta get into that crater and stay a night.
From the Pululahua mirador lookout point, it’s about an hour drive to the bottom of the crater. We did it on our motorcycle in a light drizzle as the fog rolled in. I can’t say it was pleasant. The road is not paved, it’s rough and full of curves. But the ride out, when the sun was beaming down on us, offered more great views… Great views are kind of Pululahua’s thing.
We arrived in San Isidro, the town in the crater, at around 3:30PM and the fog was dense enough that we couldn’t see the outer rim of the volcano. Pululahua is actually a Quichua word that means “cloud of water”, aka “fog”. I was told that the fog usually starts rolling in at around 2:00, so getting there early is key, especially if you aren’t staying overnight.
We stayed at the Pululahua Ecolodge ($50/night), one of the only guesthouses in the crater. It was very nice, with a room that looked out into a fruit orchard, and beyond (when the fog wasn’t in) to the surrounding mountains. The food there is also very good, with most of it coming from their organic gardens. I almost forgot the best part – they have a hot tub, which is brilliant at night when the temperatures drop. You can reserve a room with them through Airbnb, or contact them directly via phone or Whatsapp.
Pululahua is a 2500 year old crater. Around 500 BC the volcano erupted so much that it emptied it’s magma chamber and it collapsed.
The mineral rich volcanic soil, combined with the climate, altitude, and intervals of rain and sun, makes the crater extremely fertile. When people saw this, farmers headed to the crater to practice their craft.
Nowadays, the area is filled with farmed land. Only about 60 people live in San Isidro, and almost all of them are farmers.
They grow a lot of organic crops in Pululahua. Companion planting is popular – where you grow crops that compliment each other. For example, corn, broad beans, and squash. The beans grow up the corn stalk. They provide nitrogen to the soil, which the corn needs. The squash covers the ground so weeds can’t grow, plus it grows leaves that provide a sort of mulch, retaining moisture in the soil.
After a peaceful night in a toasty woodfire-heated room, we woke up early to do some hiking.
The crater measures about 4 kilometers in diameter at the top and 3 kilometers at the bottom. It’s horseshoe shaped – to the north it’s open and the Blanco river flows out of it.
We headed out of the crater and hiked completely around Cerro Podoña. It took us a good 3 hours, but it was enjoyable and not too difficult.
There are a lot of good hikes in Pululahua. Many people will climb El Chivo, the steep but relatively small hill right in San Isidro.
Not many cars drive the roads in Pululahua, so any road is a good hiking trail. Although I did find it hard to find information before I got there. Luck for you guys, I exist.
Here’s a decent map of Pululahua.
A couple of points of the map that might be of interest:
- Hornos de Cal – Limestone Kilns aka Infiernillo (little hell)
These rock structures are about 3-5 meters tall, and only about a metre and a half in diameter. They were once used to heat limestone. They would burn day and night at extreme temperatures for a few days in order to melt the lime out of limestone. They would use it to make a whitening paint. This paint was used to paint almost all of the white walls in Quito’s Historical District.
I believe Niebli is a village, but I’ve also seen ‘Niebli Farm’, and ‘Niebli Campground‘ listed as destinations in the Pululahua area. What got me interested in the area is that I heard they have an old distillery there that was actually the first industrial distillery in Ecuador for making sugar cane alcohol, or aguardiente.
- Agua Termales
Hot springs! I’m not sure if you can swim in them. Like I said, we had a hot tub at our guesthouse, but check them out and let me know what the deal is.
We’re already talking about going back to Pululahua. We spent 2 nights there. I can’t say there is a lot to do, but it’s a very peaceful place. The quiet roads have waving locals on them. The farm animals in the area all look so beautiful and healthy. We joked that it was a magical place that stopped aging.
If you like to hike, if you like nature, if you just wanna be able to say you spent a night in a volcano – head to Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve and enjoy the most peaceful volcano in the world.