The Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve

A significant portion of Ecuador’s land area has been set aside as parkland, preserves and reserves that do not allow any human exploitation of their copious floral and faunal resources. One of the most important of these regions is the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve, located in Imbabura Province in the northwest part of the country. The isolation of this region has helped to ensure its preservation. Although relatively close to Quito (about 85 miles north), the area is poorly served by roads and is more than 100 miles from the populated Pacific coast.

Spreading over 750,000 acres of land ranging from steamy lowland rainforests to chill Andean highlands, the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve is home to a startling number of plant and animal species, some of which are threatened with extinction outside this protected sanctuary. Large mammals such as jaguars, tapirs and spectacled bears can live and breed in their natural environments relatively unhindered, though poaching does occur on a small but manageable scale.

The Ecuadorian government has forged a successful partnership with the Cayapa, a tribe of native people whose ancestral lands lie within the boundaries of the reserve. The Cayapa act as guides and guards, shepherding tourists through the reserve while keeping an eye out for poachers and illegal squatters. One of the more exhaustive trips that can be booked with a native guide is an 8-day excursion that takes hikers on a roundabout journey over elevations that vary between 100 feet to more than 15,000 feet above sea level. Along the way, breathtaking scenery around the Cotacachi Volcano delights the eyes. Bubbling hot springs, volcanic lakes and sparkling waterfalls are just some of the features of this idyllic, otherworldly landscape.

A highlight is 600’ deep Cuicocha Lake, which fills the crater of an extinct volcano. Three domed peaks covered in lush vegetation break the mirror-smooth surface of the lake. For those who are looking for a vacation that is off the beaten path, it would be hard to go further than the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve in warm, welcoming Ecuador!