This park has three main attractions: three volcanoes (two of them active), an abundance of lakes with amazing stories, such as the one where hundreds of birds come to die, and a huge biodiversity. The park extends over the Eastern Cordillera protecting páramos, high Andean forests, and subtropical forests. Because of this wonderful geography and extraordinary biodiversity, UNESCO declared it a World Natural Heritage Site in 1983. The headwaters of the Upano River, which borders the eastern city of Macas and then flows into the Pastaza towards the Amazon, are located in the park. The other important river is the Paute, which also marks the southeastern boundary; its dammed flow still generates the country’s largest source of hydroelectricity. The Paute then flows into the Santiago River in the Amazon.
Sistema Nacional de Áreas Protegidas (2011)
In the mountainous and high part of the park live the descendants of the Cañari and Puruhá peoples, and in the jungle area are the territories of the Shuar nationality. The park is framed by three volcanoes: Sangay (5,230 m), Altar (5,319 m), and Tungurahua (5,016 m). Perhaps the most striking for its perfect cone shape is Sangay, the southernmost of the northern volcanic zone and one of the most active in the world. Its last eruption began in 1934 and continues to this day. Its name comes from Samkay, which in Shuar means “to scare away”. Tungurahua, on the other hand, has violently erupted since August 1999 and has not stopped since, producing strong explosions, pyroclastic flows, and even lava flows. The name Tungurahua comes from the two Kichwa words tungur (throat) and rauray (burning). Altar is the only one with a name in Spanish, but its indigenous name, Cápac Urcu, means sublime mountain, which honors its beauty; it is the only one that is dormant. Those who practice mountaineering or adventure hiking know that Sangay National Park is a rugged area. It has a difficult topography, extremely steep in some places, surrounded by valleys but with steep slopes, abundant hills, and many pointed rocky peaks. Despite the challenges of visiting it, its unique landscape makes it very attractive.
There are pre-Inca and pre-Columbian vestiges that demonstrate that this region was inhabited towards the eastern part by the Guamboyas, Canelos, and Macas, and towards the western side by the Puruháes, whose descendants are the current Kichwa-speaking populations in the Andean zone of the park. Upon the arrival of the Incas, the peoples of the eastern zone were not affected, while the Puruháes had to resist. The Andean Road System or Qhapaq Ñan crosses to the south of the Achupallas area and enters the park, passing through Culebrillas lagoon, and then leaving its limits towards the ruins of Ingapirca. During the Spanish Conquest and Colonization, the eastern region was the scene of the search for gold; even one of the first cities founded was called Sevilla del Oro. The Spaniards founded cities year after year, which were then destroyed by the indigenous populations. The truth is that the gold was always there, tempting the greed of people who came from very far away. The park is one of the most biodiverse in the country, and although research has already been done, not all of its species of flora and fauna are yet known. The geographical conditions generated by the presence of the three volcanoes in the middle of the jungle create several floors in the foothills, which favors the diversity of animal species. The number of records is 107 mammals, 400 birds, 90 amphibians, 26 reptiles, and 17 fish, among which some endemic species stand out such as a wild guinea pig and the Azuay shrew.
There are more than 3,000 species of plants, of which 586 are unique to the area, including around 250 orchids. The park’s vegetation ranges from paramo zones to subtropical zones, passing through cloud forests. In the humid paramo, a unique type of fern that grows in water, aquatic plants, cushions, and mosses can be found. The shrubby paramos have, in addition to grassland, sigses, suros, chuquiraguas, paper trees, and kishwares. In the cloud forest, mosses, huicundos, and orchids cover the trunks of trees such as alder, mountain cedar, and romerillos. There are bushes such as taruga, huagra manzana, ibilán, and trinitaria. In the transition zone between Andean and subtropical forests, there are guareas, sandallas, and tree ferns. In the lower and warmer parts, there are cedar, cinchona or quinine, guaba, apple trees, and bushes such as the cow’s tongue.
The park is home to a numerous population of Andean bears, mountain tapirs, pumas, rabbits, paramo wolves, chucuris, deer, and porcupines. In the lower parts, there are jaguars, ocelots, spider monkeys, and chorongos, anteaters, and giant armadillos. Among the birds, there are some that can be seen more easily, such as patillos, gallaretas, and the gray macaw, an aquatic bird that swims in the lagoons of the paramo. In the forests of the foothills, montane guans, tangaras, and woodcreepers are common. In the lower parts, there are several species of macaws, parakeets, and parrots. The park protects various species of tree frogs, cutines, and marsupial frogs.
Sangay: It has a perfect conical shape covered by a sporadic mantle of snow; occasionally, columns of ash can be seen coming out of its crater. It can be admired from the páramos of Návac or from the heights of Punín, Cacha, Atillo, and Ozogoche. Tungurahua It has a conical shape and occasionally can be seen covered in snow. To admire how it throws lava and clouds, one can go to one of the several viewpoints that have been arranged around it, especially in Baños and other surrounding towns. In the park, 327 lagoons have been recorded, either solitary or forming lacustrine systems. The Atillo system includes the lagoons of Kuyuk, Magdalena, Colay, Chapanapungo, and Sisñán. The Ozogoche complex is made up of the lagoons of Cubillín, Magtayán, and others smaller ones. The Sardinayacu lagoons are the only ones surrounded by Andean forest. The Ozogoche and Atillo lagoons every September receive the cuviví or plover, a migratory bird from North America that, strangely, seems to come to die in the lagoons, as a kind of “mass suicide”.
Foto: Ministerio del Ambiente (s,f)
El Altar: For many people, this inactive volcano has one of the best landscapes in the country, because in its last eruption, a huge agora of rocky peaks was formed that open to the west, with very unique ecclesiastical names: El Canónigo, Los Frailes, El Tabernáculo, La Monja Menor, La Monja Mayor, El Obispo, and El Acólito. At the bottom of the caldera, the Laguna Amarilla was formed over which the glaciers descend. The park has the following trails: Ozogoche Trail. It covers the Ozogoche lagoons along a natural path of 2 kilometers. Laguna Amarilla del Altar. This trail leads to the Altar volcano. It is a 12-kilometer trail with a difficulty level ranging from medium to advanced, depending on whether you want to reach the lagoon or the summit of the volcano. For the latter, the assistance of a specialized mountain guide is required.
Foto: Ministerio de Turismo (2020)
Qhapaq Ñan. This trail is the ancient road from the pre-Hispanic era. It is an ancestral path that crosses the paramo and along its route several archaeological sites can be observed. Sardinayacu. It is an 8-kilometer trail that can take an entire day, leading to the natural viewpoint of Sangay. Arrayanes Forest. This 3-kilometer trail goes from the union of the Upano River and the Volcan River to the Sardinas River. Activities such as kayaking, fishing, and rafting are available on the river.
Foto: El Universo (2020)