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Things to Do

NATIONAL PARKS &
PROTECTED AREAS OF ECUADOR

Parks and Reserves in the Andes
Parks and Reserves in the Jungle
Parks and Reserves in the Coast
Galapagos National Park
 
 

Parks and Reserves in the Jungle

Cuyabeno Reserve
The Cuyabeno Reserve is located in the Napo and Sucumbios Provinces of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The protected area, founded in 1979, contains 603,380 hectares of tropical rainforest stretching north towards the Colombian border and east to the Peruvian border. A variety of canoe and hiking tours are offered in the Reserve providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Frequently seen fauna include several species of monkey, birds, caimans, pihranas, turtles, and conga ants. Freshwater dolphins, giant armadillos, anacondas, and manatees are also occasionally spotted. The main watershed of the Reserve consists of the Aguarico and the San Miguel Rivers, and the Cuyabeno River and its tributaries. Halfway down the Cuyabeno there is a system of 14 spectacular lagoons created by lowland rainforest floods, typical of the wet season. 

Since its creation, the Reserve's boundaries have changed due to oil exploitation of the area that began shortly after the protected area was designated. Petroleum extraction and the activities derived from the oil industry such as road building, colonization, and agriculture have negatively impacted the environment. Responsible tourism, the involvement of local populations, and various NGO's have helped preservation efforts in the Reserve, but the battle continues to protect this incredible habitat.

A variety of indigenous groups, including the Cofan, the Siona, and the Secoya have traditionally inhabited the area. Recently, the Lowland Quichuas have immigrated to the area. Some of these indigenous communities are involved in "Indigenous Community Controlled Ecotourism," and offer jungle tours that support responsible tourism.

The Cuyabeno Reserve is best accessed via Lago Agrio, an oil town approximately seven hours east of Quito by bus or 30 minutes by plane. Once there, you can join a jungle tour, which generally passes through Puerto Chiritza, down the Aguarico River and into the Reserve as far as the Peruvian border.


Limoncocha Biological Reserve
The Limoncocha Reserve, located on the north shore of the Napo River between the Coca and Aguarico rivers, is on mostly level ground characterized by the presence of wetlands and swamps. The Limoncocha Reserve is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world, but its flora and fauna are continually threatened by increasing oil activity. Scientific studies have identified over 450 bird species in the area and unique trees such as the giant ceibo, cedars, laurel, the balsa, and the Pambil are common. The Reserve also contains the Laguna Limoncocha, which is famous for being an excellent bird watching site.

Lowland Quichua families live nearby the lagoon and grow mainly subsistence products along with some cash crops. Petroleum activities during the 1980s and 1990s have negatively impacted this region and its people. Therefore, the community is open to ecotourism and other alternative uses of their fragile environment.

The best way to access the Reserve from Quito is by taking a plane to Coca or Lago Agrio. Buses travel to these two destinations as well as directly to the town of Limoncocha. There is also fluvial transportation from Coca to two small ports (Puerto de Palos and Puerto Pompeya).


Yasuní National Park

Created in 1979, Yasuní is Ecuador's largest mainland National Park (982,000 hectares). UNESCO declared it an International Biosphere Reserve in the same year of its foundation. This large area in the rainforest protects three types of vegetation ranging from woodlands on dry soil to semi-permanently flooded forest. Rubber boots are imperative for exploring the numerous wetlands, marshes, and swamps. The main rivers traversing the Park are the Yasuní, Tiputini, Cononaco, Nashiño, and the Curaray. The flora and fauna found in the park is varied. Visitors will encounter vegetation such as large cedars, laurel, chonta, and sangre de drago and numerous animals including tapirs, harpy eagles, and pumas.

Yasuní is mostly uninhabited, except for several Huaorani indigenous families who have lived within the park boundaries for generations. A large concentration of this indigenous group resides in the Huaorani Reserve created in 1991. This reserve borders the National Park to the north and serves as a buffer zone helping to maintain conservation efforts. In 1991, the Ecuadorian government gave "Conoco," a U.S. based oil company, the right to begin exploitation within the Park but Maxus Oil Consortium and currently YPF of Argentina later replaced it. Since then, a 110-km road has been built into the area for the use of oil workers, locals, and researchers. Nevertheless, this area remains remote and relatively difficult to explore. Yasuní is best accessed from Coca via the Napo River, and hiring a tour guide is highly recommended due to the remote location and difficulty involved with solo travel.


Antisana Ecological Reserve

Antisana Ecological Reserve encompasses 10 ecological zones ranging from páramo to lowland rainforest, along with a variety of climates, vegetation, and wildlife. The Reserve's main attraction is the snow-capped Antisana Volcano, the fourth highest peak in Ecuador. Antisana affords travelers with numerous trekking opportunities including the less traveled Guacamayos mountain range. Among the many bodies of water in the Reserve, Micachoca Lagoon is the Reserve's largest. Located at 3900m, it's an excellent spot for trout fishing. Visitors occasionally spot some of the Reserve's wildlife such as puma, white-tailed deer, the Andean fox, and the Andean condor.

There are two ways to access the Reserve. Coming from Quito, go to Pintag and then continue on a rough road through several villages for approximately 45 km. When coming from Lago Agrio, go through Papallacta, Cuyuja, Baeza, and continue to the entrance in Cosanga.


Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve

Founded in 1970, the Reserve's cloud forests and páramo (high altitude grasslands) remain relatively undamaged due to the area's inaccessibility. Home to Ecuador's third highest mountain, Cayambe, this protected territory sloping down into the Amazon Basin offers many interesting sites. Other than the typical páramo vegetation, the flora consists of many species with great ecological, economic, and medicinal value such as: orchids, balsa wood, cedar, laurel, sangre de drago, and ayahuasca. With over 450 identified species of birds, including the elusive Andean condor, animal life abounds. Besides the Reserve's unique flora and fauna, there are also many exciting outdoor activities.

 Reventador Volcano's trails allow for great day trips or more challenging trips to it's summit to revel in the spectacular scenery. More accessible and equally impressive, is the San Rafael Waterfall, where the Quijos River drops an awesome 130-m (423-ft). The river system in this area carves deep canyons throughout the densely forested Andes, which are fed by approximately 80 isolated lagoons dispersed in the páramo. Beautiful lakes are found on the road from Oyacachi to Papallacta, a town famous for its Hot Springs, as well as in the foothills of the Cayambe and Saraurcu Mountains. You can take a strenuous hike down the Oyacachi valley leading to El Chaco along a mule path, or a less demanding jaunt descending the road to Cayambe with an excellent view of the snow capped Cayambe Mountain. 


Llangantes National Park

The Llangantes mountain range is one of the most remote and difficult to hike in Ecuador. Located in the provinces of Tungurahua, Cotopaxi, and Napo, the Park offers challenging hikes and many beautiful trout and salmon filled lagoons. Trees such as the ceibo, the chuncho, and cedar decorate the landscape in addition to monkeys, birds, deer, and spectacled bears. Created in 1991, the protected area does not yet offer an administration office or lodging for visitors. Therefore, you should visit the INEFAN office for detailed information about the park. A local guide is strongly recommended as well as 1:50,000 maps of the region. The park, accessed from the town of Pillaro near Ambato, is best visited between December and January.


Sangay National Park

The Sangay National Park is one of the most remote areas in Ecuador. Within its boundaries you will find three of the country's highest peaks, Tungurahua Volcano, El Altar, and Sangay. Although hunting has threatened the resident fauna, it is still home to many rarely seen animals such as tapirs, ocelots, pumas, and porcupines. The vegetation includes highland grasses and shrubs and cloud forests in the East. Tours can be arranged from Banos, which is located just 70-km away from the park. The best route leading to the park is from Riobamba to Aloa.

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