Ecuador is a mega-diverse country, where it´s natural wonders are protected in more than 20 national parks and ecological reserves. Here are the 10 best National Parks you should visit in Ecuador.
1. Yasuni National Park:
In the heart of the tropical humid forest, the park’s territory encompasses overflowing rivers and low plains at the foothills of the Andes. Yasuni National Reserve covers 9,820 square kilometers, or 3,792 square miles.
Yasuni was proclaimed a National Park in 1919 and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989. The reserve not only protects wildlife, it also protects part of the Waorani nationality. There are more than 9,800 people within the area who work in agriculture; with coffee, bananas, yuca maize, achiote, and fishing, hunting, gathering.
Nestled in the Amazon there a three types of vegetation within Yasuni: Terra Firme, Vareza and Irapo. Terra Firme refers to the areas that do not flood, Vareza vegetation is floods periodically and the Irapo areas are almost always flooded.
2. Cajas National Park:
In the south of the equator line, between mountains there is a stunning natural Reserve called El Cajas National Park. This Reserve is located in the province of Azuay, at 33 km away from the city of Cuenca. Cajas is one of the largest and bio-diverse parks of Ecuador, because it has 270 lakes and lagoons, which 60% of these water is drinkable for humans.
The humidity and high altitude (3100 m above the sea level) provides an ecosystem that accumulates organic material in the soil, managing to retain lots of water preserving the flora and fauna of this area. Among the grasslands you can find different species of animals, such as the curiquingue, which is a large Andean bird, (back in time it was considered the sacred bird of the Incas). Also you can find the giant hummingbird, deers, skunks, foxes and local rabbits.
3. Cotopaxi National Park:
Cotopaxi National Park is geographically spread through the Provinces of Pichincha, Cotopaxi and Napo. This ecological reserve is only 37 miles away from Quito, and 18 miles away from the city of Latacunga. Due to its location, it is one of the most visited parks. Most Ecuadorians come here to touch snow for the first time!
4. Galapagos National Park:
In 1978, the islands were proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site under four criteria, one being that the Galapagos National Park is “an underwater wildlife spectacle with abundant life, ranging from corals to sharks to penguins to marine mammals, and no other site in the world can offer the experience of diving with such a diversity of marine life forms that are so familiar with human beings, that they accompany divers.” (UNESCO).
The Galapagos ecosystem contains “more than 2,900 existing species, 25% of which are endemic to the Galapagos Islands. There are also 24 species of marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, and sea lions within the reserve”.
5. Machalilla National Park:
Located in the province of Manabí, its name comes from the Machalilla pre-hispanic culture. Machalilla was declared a National Park in 1979, becoming one of the first protected areas in Ecuador!
41,754 hectares of land include varying ecosystems such as the dry and semi-dry forests, along with the beaches at the coast. Aside from that, 14430 marine hectares are protected as part of the National Park.
Besides encompassing beautiful landscapes and adventure destinations, this park has an important cultural value. The Machalilla culture lived in the area for 800 years (until 1000 AD), the Valdivia culture inhabited the coast more than 5,000 years ago and the Manteño-Huancavilca settled here 500 years ago. Archaeological sites and comunes managed by descendants of the coastal cultures are spread throughout the park.
6. Cayambe Coca National Park:
Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve is mostly known for the massive volcano that gives the park its name, and it is no surprise why. Cayambe, the snow capped giant standing at 18.994 ft, is worthy of admiration.
However, what really makes this park exceptional is water. There is water EVERYWHERE. Whether there is fog or rainfall, mist always hovers nearby. Besides, the paramo vegetation is constituted to retain water in the higher parts, lagoons cover large spaces of the ground and then we have the rivers, with drops and falls.
In the higher parts, you can find thermal and mineral water sources such as Papallacta and Oyacachi. In this region rivers such as Due, Chingual, and Cofanes flow into the Aguarico, which then meets Coca and finally the grand Napo river.
On the other side, to the west, hundreds of rivers and streams nourish the Mira and Esmeraldas rivers that flow out to the Pacific Ocean.
7. Llanganates National Park:
Established in 1996, Llanganates National Park is known for its abundant cloud forests, vast paramos, and mystical lagoons. Located in the provinces of Cotopaxi, Napo, Pastaza and Tungurahua, the park covers diverse ecosystems and is home to some of the country’s most interesting species in flora and fauna.
Besides…legend says that upon the conquest of the Spaniards, Inca leader Atahualpa buried his treasures under the hills of Llanganates. Many explorers have come to Llanganates on expeditions in search of the hidden gold, digging tirelessly for the treasures of the Inca Empire, which have never been found.
Treasure or not, this area is truly special and magical to explore. Stretching from the western paramos to the eastern cloud forests on the flanks of the Amazon, there are other wonders to keep an eye out for!
8. Podocarpus National Park:
Located in Loja, Zamora Chinchipe, Podocarpus National Park was established as a national park in 1982, with a length of 146,280 hectares. This territory is an area of importance for biodiversity conservation. Its humid climate, intermediate altitude and mountain barriers make it the ideal place for life to grow. The region was recognized as a Biosphere Reserve in 2007 by UNESCO for its megadiversity in flora and fauna and its moors and cloud forest ecosystems, essential in both Ecuador and Peru.
The Podocarpus tree, which gives the park its name, is characteristic of the evergreen lowlands.
Did you know? National Geographic covered a story on locals of the area, who are said to live up to 130 years old by drinking the water that is filtered by the roots of the magical and mystical Podocarpus trees.
9. Sangay National Park:
This 27,0000 hectare national park not only contains two active volcanoes, it is also home to diverse ecosystems such as the glacial and volcanic, the cloud forest, the paramos, the rainforest, the grasslands, and the wetlands.
The altitude in the park ranges from 900 to 5,319 meters above sea level. Located in the provinces of Morona Santiago, Chimborazo, Tungurahua and Cañar, this extensive territory is extremely biodiverse. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1983. Sangay National Park is also a significant source of water for the region. The Paute river on the southeast creates the most important hydroelectric supply! Besides, within the park there are over 320 lagoons, either solitary or in lake complexes.
The park is also home to Cañari and Puruhá descendents in the Andean region (highlands), and Shuars in the Amazon. Archaeologically, it has been uncovered that Sangay National Park is rich in history. Pre-Columbian and Pre-Incan ruins can be found in the east. An Inca trail or Andean road system that travels through Achupallas, enters the park, passes Culebrillas lake and then leads to the Ingapirca ruins.
10. Sumaco National Park:
In the year 2000, UNESCO declared the Sumaco Napo Galeras a “Biosphere Reserve.” Located In the Northern Amazon, the extensive territory of the reserve covers mountain ranges, tropical rainforests and foggy cloud forests. These biodiverse ecosystems are formed on the slopes surrounding Sumaco volcano, the only volcano located entirely in the Amazon.
Did you know? Sumaco Volcano has yet another fantastic attribute: it is the source of important rivers and streams in the region, such as the Payamino, Hollin, Pucuno, Suno, etc. Sumaco Volcano famous trail goes up to crater Wawa Sumaco, standing at 2,500m above sea level. You could also visit the waterfalls surrounding the area, where you can enjoy contact with nature and take a bath in vitalizing fresh water pools.