Guided by its name, one could say that the Cayambe – Coca National Park protects the snow-capped Cayambe volcano and the sources of the Coca River, but in truth, this is rather the national park of water. There is water everywhere, in the environment due to the constant mist and rains, in the vegetation and leaf litter on the ground, in the wetlands and lagoons in the high part, in the soil and cushions of the paramo, and in the rivers that form waterfalls and cascades. In the high part, there are famous springs of thermal and mineral waters such as those of Papallacta and Oyacachi. In this region, there are the sources of rivers such as Dué, Chingual, Cofanes, and Cuyabeno, which feed Aguarico, so that together with the Coca, they deliver their waters to the great Napo River.
On the other side, towards the western foothills, is the home of hundreds of springs that nourish the Mira and Esmeraldas rivers that flow into the Pacific Ocean. In the park, along with Cayambe, there are other important elevations such as Saraúrco (4,725 m altitude) and Cerro Puntas (4,425 m altitude), the latter formed by 48 immense rocky teeth that give it a unique appearance. In the lower zone of the park, the Reventador volcano is located. The park also has a system of 80 glacial lagoons, fed by the melting of Cayambe. This complex was declared an important wetland at the global level or Ramsar site. The Papallacta lagoon is very accessible from the Interoceanic highway (Quito – Papallacta road), as well as the San Marcos lagoons, on the Ayora to Olmedo road, which can be reached by a secondary road.
In this park, visitors will have the privilege of going from the highest areas of the eastern mountain range to the Amazonian plain in just a few hours, and in that journey, they can recognize the diverse mestizo and indigenous populations of the Sierra and Amazonia. Towards the Andean valleys, there are the traditional cities of Cayambe and the parish of Olmedo. This region was inhabited by the Kayambis and Karankis, and pre-Inca festivals such as Inti Raymi to celebrate the summer solstice still persist today. On the edge of the park and towards the eastern side, there are important foothill cities such as Baeza, El Chaco, and Lumbaqui. This was the route taken by the Spanish in their search for El Dorado, and on their descent, they founded Baeza in the year 1559.
Today, the ancient Baeza, recognized for its beauty of wooden houses adorned with flowers, has been declared a National Cultural Heritage. Within the park is the town of Oyacachi, a Kichwa community famous for its alder wood crafts and for now receiving hundreds of bathers each year in its thermal pools. This indigenous community is the one that originally saw an apparition of a virgin in a cave, which was later carved in wood. Eventually, it was moved from Oyacachi and is currently the famous Virgin of El Quinche.
The park is home to 100 species of endemic plants, 200 species of mammals, 900 species of birds, 140 species of reptiles, and 116 species of amphibians spread across all its ecosystems. On the large plains of the paramo near the lagoons or where the grasslands mix with bushes covered in hair to withstand the cold, you can see cervicabras and rabbits jumping among the grass, and the curiquingue or paramo partridge walking slowly. Andean weasels or chucuris slide among the vegetation, as do some paramo mice, including an aquatic one. Among the larger species are the white-tailed deer, the spectacled bear, and the mountain tapir. In the skies, you can see hawks, curiquingues, and Andean condors, and in the lagoons, ducks and seagulls swim. As night falls, paramo wolves and skunks begin to appear. The forests of paper tree or yagual that interweave with each other and leave barely any room to walk, are mixed with patches of plants such as taruga, chicory, chuquiragua, romerillo, licopodio, and achupalla.
As you descend, you encounter the Andean forest in all its splendor, displaying trees such as pumamaquis, colcas, suros, olives, cedars, guabos, and alisos, which begin to be covered in mosses and ferns. There are also large tree ferns. In these forests, the Andean toucan, the mountain pava, and the quetzal live. Near the waterfalls, on the rocky slopes, the rock cocks nest, colorful birds with red crests that perform a reproductive dance accompanied by their noisy squawks in the early morning and at night. Among the rocks in rivers are torrent ducks and white-capped dippers.
In the lowest area of the park, macaws, parrots, toucans, king vultures, guantas, guatusas, tapirs, cuchuchos, heads of mate, cusumbos, and a variety of monkeys such as squirrel monkeys, night monkeys, spider monkeys, and howler monkeys appear. There are also conspicuous flowers of heliconias or platanillos and anthuriums, and palms such as chambira, chonta, and palmito. Here the trees grow taller, with larger leaves, and the temperature increases, announcing the entrance to the Amazon.
Volcano Cayambe (5,790 m) It is the highest point where the equator line passes in Ecuador and one of the favorite mountains for mountaineers. The beauty of its rugged terrain, the formations of ice lagoons, and the condors that can be seen on the way to the summit make it particularly attractive.
San Rafael Waterfall It is a magical place where you can appreciate all the beauty and power of nature. It is formed by a 160-meter drop of the Alto Coca River, which originates at the confluence of the Quijos and Salado rivers. It is the largest waterfall in Ecuador.
Thermal waters The most well-known are those of the Oyacachi community and the Papallacta area. The thermal waters reach up to 60°C thanks to the volcanic activity of the Antisana and Reventador, and also possess minerals with healing properties.