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ecoDestinations - Ecuador
Ecuador is a go-to destination for any ecotourist. It is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries in the world, where you’ll be sure to hear howler monkeys in the forest, hang out with llamas in the Andes, and see humpback whales along the coast. Highlights include Quito, the capital of Ecuador that is filled with Spanish colonial architecture, and the Galapagos Islands, which is surrounded by the second largest marine reserve in the world. Expect to experience vibrant cultural cities, sleepy beach towns with amazing surf, and ancient jungles surrounded by active volcanoes and snow-capped peaks.
Ecuador was named one of the world’s mega-diverse countries by Conservation International. As a means to protect its precious ecosystems, Ecuador’s 2008 constitution was the first in the world to legally recognize the Rights of Nature. It is home to some 1,600 bird species, 4,500 species of butterflies, 405 reptiles, 440 species of amphibians and 382 species of mammals. Its cloud rainforests are considered the single richest area on the planet, containing approximately 15% to 17% of the world’s plant species and nearly 20% of its bird diversity. The cloud forests are also home to iconic species such as the spectacled bear, jaguar, sloth, howler monkey, and puma. The Galapagos Islands, famous as the location where Darwin developed his ideas on the Theory of Evolution, are another hotspot of biodiversity. These 19 volcanic islands, located at the confluence of three ocean currents, is the habitat of some very unique animals, including the land iguana, the giant tortoise, and the Galapagos penguin.
The indigenous movement in Ecuador is one of the strongest in South America. There are 14 distinct indigenous peoples that represent 7% of the Ecuadorian population, including the Tsachila, Chachi, Epera, Awa, Kichwas, Shuar, Achuar, Shiwiar, Cofan, Siona, Secoya, Zapara, Andoa and Waorani. There are even several groups of uncontacted peoples deep within the Amazon. Indigenous communities own more than 6.8 million hectares of forests; however, deforestation and pollution through the oil, copper, gold and agriculture industries threaten their territorial and cultural integrity. In order to protect the wellbeing of indigenous lands and culture, it is necessary to establish their right to self-determination at the local, national, regional, and international level.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is nestled in the heights of the Andes. It was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an ancient Inca city and stands at an altitude of 2,850 m (9,350 ft). It was declared one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the 1970s due to having one of the best-preserved and least altered historical centers in Latin America.
Cuenca is located in a valley surrounded by the Andean mountains. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its beautiful colonial Spanish architecture. Highlights include the New Cathedral, the Old Cathedral, the Carmelite Monastery, and the Santo Domingo Church.
Qhapag Ñan is the old Andean Road System and the newest edition to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, having been added in 2014. It was an extensive system used as a link from Cusco, the Inca capital, to the rest of its empire, spreading over 30,000 km (18,640 miles) along the Andes. Its most famous portion is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
The Galapagos Islands consist of 127 islands and islets, 19 of which are volcanic, and are situated 1,000 km (620 miles) from the coast of Ecuador. The UNESCO World Heritage Site called it a “living museum and showcase of evolution.” Human settlements are restricted to only 3% of the area, on four of the largest islands. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, which surrounds the islands, is the second largest in the world.
Sangay National Park has a wide spectrum of ecosystems, from active volcanoes, tropical rainforests, plains, and the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. It is an important refuge for rare species like the mountain tapir and spectacled bears.
Cayambe-Coca National Park features hot springs and highland prairies that are frequented for its excellent fishing and bird watching. It also contains archeological structures such as the pre-Incan Sun and Moon temples in Puntiatsil, and a portion of Qhapag Ñan. It is also known for the San Rafael Waterfall, the tallest waterfall in Ecuador measuring 131 m (430 ft).
Cotopaxi National Park is located near Quito and is the location of Cotopaxi volcano, which is among the highest active volcanoes in the world.
El Cajas is a national park about 30 km west of Cuenca. It is home to a large variety of animals many of which are endemic or endangered. It is currently a candidate as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Machalilla was named an internationally important wetland. Wildlife includes armadillos, monkeys, and over 270 species of birds. The ocean regions of the park also provide a breeding ground for humpback whales.
Yacuri National Park has over 46 high-altitude lakes. The most commonly visited are Laguna Negra, an extremely deep lake in the caldera of an extinguished volcano that is frequented by traditional medicine men, and Laguna Yacuri, the largest lake in the park. Qhapag Ñan also passes through the park and there are several archeological ruins including petroglyphs, plazas, and cemeteries.
Yasuni National Park is arguably the most biologically diverse spot on Earth. It contains approximately one-third of the world’s amphibian and reptile species, as well as very high levels of fish (382 different species!) and at least 596 species of birds. It is also home to two uncontacted indigenous tribes, the Tagaeri and Taromenane.
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