Ecuador Attractions: Highlands
This is the most important ethnic group of the province of Tungurahua, said to have been brought to Ecuador by the Incas, from Bolivia, to guard the gateway to the rain forest. They are excellent weavers and have preserved their customs, costumes, traditions and original political and cultural organization.
Occurs at elevations above the tree line. Starts at 10,496 up to 13,120 feet (3,200 up to 4,000 meters). Nightly frosts. Between the temperate Montane valleys and the snows of the highest peaks stretch high-altitude grasslands characterized by chill mists and low, spongy vegetation spotted with sharp grasses and shrubs.
High levels of ultraviolet light and wet, often freezing conditions have caused the sturdy layer of páramo vegetation to develop thick waxy leaf skins covered with fine hairs for insulation. Plants lay low on the ground to escape the wind, the temperature variations, and grow leaves in a circle to make sure none shade any of the others.
Located in the Andes mountains in central Ecuador, Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. Cotopaxi which means “neck of the moon”, rises from a valley about 2,750 meters (9,000 feet) above sea level to a height of 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) above sea level. The width of its crater from west to east has been estimated at more than 500 meters (1,650 feet) and the width from north to south at about 700meters (2,300 feet). The perfectly formed snow-covered cone of Cotopaxi is 1,341 meters (4,400 feet.) high.
Surrounding Cotopaxi Volcano is the Cotopaxi National Park, an ecological sanctuary of 36,000 hectares (88,920 acres), especially attractive for nature lovers, with the treeless vegetation of the Andean moorlands or paramo. You may see herds of llamas and perhaps deer, rabbits, frogs and lizards. Bird life includes the Andean gull, ducks, several species of hummingbirds and with some luck, the condor.
The first recorded eruption of the volcano was in 1534, at the time of the Spanish conquest, frightening both conquered and conquistadors alike. The last major eruption was in 1877.
Chimborazo Volcano is located on the Western Cordillera of the Andes in central Ecuador, 150 kilometres (93 miles) southwest of the capital, Quito. Chimborazo’s majestic summit rises 2,500 meters above the surrounding highlands (3,500 to 4,000 meters) with a 20-kilometer wide base. The Chimborazo is covered by perpetual glaciers and snow.
The Chimborazo is a Quaternary volcano that has not erupted in historical time. Elevation of the summit is 20,700 feet (6,310 m). The summit of the Chimborazo constitutes the farthest point from the center of the Earth – because it is just one degree south of the equator—and our planet bulges at the equator.
The Chimborazo is featured on the Ecuadorian Coat of Arms, to represent the beauty and richness of the Ecuadorian Highlands. It is the sacred mountain, the protector of the Andean peoples of Ecuador.
CHIMBORAZO FAUNISTIC RESERVE
The Chimborazo is surounded by the “Reserva de Produccion Faunistica Chimborazo.” which forms a protected ecosystem to preserve the habitat for the Andean camelids: vicuña, llama and alpaca.
The vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) is one of two wild South American camelids, along with the guanaco, which lives in the high Andes. It is a relative of the llama and the alpaca. Vicuñas produce small amounts (about a pound per year) of extremely fine wool. The Incas raised Vicuñas for their wool, and it was against the law for any but royalty to wear vicuña garments. Both today and under the rule of the Inca, the vicuña has been protected by law. In 1960 there were only about 6,000 vicuñas in the wild due to uncontrolled poaching ever since the Spanish conquest of South America. Protection measures were carried out and raised their numbers up to 125,000. Although the number is somewhat comforting, these animals are still classified as vulnerable by the IUCN and endangered by the U.S. Vicuñas were re-introduced to the Chimborazo Reserve.
The llama (Lama glama) is a large camelid that originated in North America and then later on moved on to South America. The term llama is sometimes used more broadly, to indicate any of the four closely related animals that make up the South American branch of the family Camelidae: the true llama, the vicuña, alpaca, and guanaco. They were used as a system of transportation and beasts of burden. Differentiating characteristics between llamas and alpacas are that llamas are larger and have more elongated heads. Alpacas also have a more luxurious wool than llamas
The Alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a domesticated breed of South American camel-like ungulates, derived from the wild vicuña. Alpacas are kept in herds that graze on the level heights of the Andes of southern Peru, northern Bolivia, northern Chile and Ecuador at an altitude of 3500 to 5000 meters above sea-level, throughout the year. Alpacas are considerably smaller than llamas and unlike them are not used as beasts of burden but are valued only for their wool, used for making blankets, sweaters, socks and coats. The fiber comes in more than 22 natural colors
The páramo or “Jalca” is a characteristic formation of the Tropical Andes of the North of South America, between the upper forest line (about 3500 meters altitude) and the permanent snow line (about 5000 meters). The ecosystem consists of mostly glacier formed valleys and plains with a large variety of lakes, peat (decayed vegetation matter) swamps and wet grasslands intermingled with shrub and forest patches It has a great biodiversity of plants, mammals and birds and multicolored flora such as spongy vegetation (cushion bogs), bromeliads, mosses and small forests of Andean trees such as Puma Maqui (hand of the puma), Polylepis and Ginoxis. This is also the habitat of deer, rabbits, wolves and a great diversity of avifauna from the tiniest hummingbird to the majestic condor, the largest flying bird in the world.
The páramo extends along hills, valleys and antique moraines of the Chimborazo and Carihuairazo volcanoes.
THE STAR OF THE CHIMBORAZO
The mountain inn “Estrella del Chimborazo” is located at an altitude of 4,000 meters (12, 120 feet) in the Valley of Totorillas, on the southern slopes of the Chimborazo. It is named after an endemic hummingbird of the area. Its installations consist of a main building with the living and reading room around a great fireplace, dining room and kitchen. Additionally there are two cabins, each with four double rooms and two complete shared bathrooms. Rooms have heaters and plenty of hot water. It provides modern and comfortable accommodations.
It is on the same site of the Totorillas Tambo or resting place on the Inca road system. It is used mainly by mountain climbers who acclimatize here before they climb the Chimborazo. This cozy refuge is full of photographs and graphics of the natural history of the Chimborazo.