This website intends to show the beauty and natural history of plants and animals living in the cloud forests of the Colombian Western Cordillera and surroundings, and especially those at "El Refugio" nature reserve.
Established 1978, "El Refugio" is a privately managed nature reserve, dedicated to the conservation of the flora and fauna of the western Andes of Colombia. It is located on the Western Cordillera of Colombia, between 1900 and 2300 m. alt., near the city of Cali. It includes 14 hectares of pristine forest, as well as 4 hectares of natural regeneration and gardens. The forests of El Refugio are part of a larger forest patch of about 1000 hectares, located on the crest of the western Andes.
Only 30 minutes away from Cali, and very easy to reach, "El Refugio" offers a unique opportunity for nature lovers to make observations on the flora and fauna living in the cloud forests of Colombia.
The Western Cordillera of Colombia is known for its very high biodiversity, with a great number of orchids and bromeliads, many of them endemic. If you like to watch orchids under natural conditions, El Refugio is a good opportunity for you.
Forest at "El Refugio". The top of the mountain corresponds to the continental water divide of the Andes
Location, climate and topography
Facing the Pacific Ocean side of the Colombian Western Cordillera, the forest of El Refugio is humid and relatively steep, although some parts of the forest are moderately steep or even flat. Average temperature is 18°C (65°F), with day temperatures between 20 and 24 °C (68 to 75 °F) and rather cool nights (near 16°C or 61°F). Fog is frequent in the afternoon.
Vegetation and fauna
The natural vegetation of El Refugio corresponds to an undisturbed cloud forest (on the upper part) and a secondary forest (on the lower part) which has been enriched with many valuable species of trees, palms, ferns and anthuria. There is also a big garden with a fine collection of plants -grown under very natural conditions- including orchids, bromeliads, palms, andean blue berries, trees, aroids and melastoms.
The fauna includes at least 100 bird species, including over 12 hummingbird species, but also some larger species like the motmot (Momotus aequatorialis), the lyre-tailed nightjar (Uropsalis lyra) and the colombian chachalaca (Ortalis columbiensis).
The mammals observed at El Refugio include armadillos, agoutis, porcupines, night monkeys and tayras. The insect fauna is very rich, with a great variety of moths, beetles and grasshoppers. The reptile fauna is pretty rich but not conspicuos, as most of them remain camouflaged, and include snakes (like false corals and the Eyelash viper) and lizzards (several species, of the genera Anadia, Anolis, Cercosaura and Norops). There are also several frog species of the genus Pristimantis. During a night walk with a flashligt through the gardens of El Refugio, it is possible to see different frogs and lizzards, and even some snakes and tarantulas.
Below, Dr. Eduardo Calderón, manager of El Refugio, showing a Clavija tree grown by him at the place (this tree, locally called "huevo de gallo", has edible fruits and is also native to the forest of El Refugio):
The plants are kept under very natural conditions, taking advantage of the high humidity and the many different niches offered by the different tree species and the complex topography.
Guzmania multiflora, grown on the base of a tree
The complex garden of El Refugio is 45 years old, and offers a unique opportunity for the cultivation, under nearly natural conditions, of many bromeliads and orchids growing the tree branches and trunks. The high biodiversity of the place is a great opportunity for study and reserarch on the fauna and flora.
Part of the garden at El Refugio, depicting the wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense, with the white trunk), tree ferns and many other plants in a complex assemblage (picture by Jean-Marc Tery). The wax palm is the national tree of Colombia.