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PARKS AND TRIBES

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BEST TIME & PLACES TO VISIT IN ECUADOR [2023]

Best Time & Places to Visit in Ecuador

A CONSERVATION HISTORY

 

Nature conservation in Ecuador was started seriously in 1974 by a United Nations conservation project. At the time, there were only two national parks in the country, Galapagos National Park and Cotopaxi National Park, while there are currently a total of 59 protected areas. Due to the fact that two thirds of Ecuador was still covered bu virgin tropical rainforest, much of the continent remained largely unknown: half of the outer Andes slopes, the majority of Ecuador's Esmeraldas coastal lowlands and mangroves of Ecuador, and a good portion of the Guayas mangroves, as well as the "Oriente", the Amazon region of Ecuador. The FAO team's biologists began searching the nation for the best natural areas for their evaluation. I was a member of that United Nations research team, as I later became known as Parks Man Daan Vreugdenhil, PhD. Later, I would become the founder of the Cuyabeno Lodge and the creator of the National Parks Tours of Ecuador.

 

Our team traveled the four corners of the country, riding four-wheel-drives where we could, until they would get stuck in the mud or impossible for the presence of cliffs and jungle. We would explore the jungle for weeks on foot, hiring Indian guides to get a feel for the area. For the Ecuadorian Amazon - 90% of which was still was covered under virgin rainforest and incredibly inaccessible. I selected a special team to assist me in exploring the Amazon jungle. This team - like myself at the time - consisted of young conservation biologists and we started combing the region by dug-out canoes as far as they could; peddling up into the smallest creeks where motorized canoes no longer could. What could not be traveled by canoe, was first reconnoitered with small airplanes. We visited isolated Indian tribes, landing on airstrips often no longer than a football field long and as level as a "freshly ploughed corn field". Their villages would later serve as base camps for exploring the jungle on foot,

 

Our team rode four-wheel drives through the four corners of Ecuador, until they became stuck in the mud or stops in their tracks by cliffs or impenetrable jungle. The Ecuadorian Amazon, known as the "Oriente",was 90% covered by virgin rainforest and was extremely difficult to get into. I hired a special team to help me explore the Amazon rainforest. Young conservation biologists, like myself, made up this team, and we started exploring the area in dug-out canoes as far as we could; with outboard motors on rivers and paddling into narrow creeks, where motorized canoes were unable to go. Small airplanes were first used to reconnaissance areas that could not be traveled by canoe. We landed on airstrips as small as a football field's length and as "level" as a "freshly ploughed corn fields" to visited remote Indian villages. The people of these tribes would show us their territories and teach us about their ways of life, and their villages would later serve as base camps for exploring the jungle on foot, to which end I hired Indian guides to explore the area tracking through the jungle for weeks. The people of the tribes in question, showed us their territories and teach us their ways of life.

 

WHAT's THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PLACES IN ECUADOR: Natural areas Ecuador exploration Sangay, 1975 historical side scan.WHAT's THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PLACES IN ECUADOR: FAO natural areas exploration Ecuador, Cayambe 1975 historical slide scan.WHAT's THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PLACES IN ECUADOR: FAO Amazon exploration natural areas Ecuador, 1975 slide scanWHAT's THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PLACES IN ECUADOR: Amazon huarani airstrip. FAO natural areas exploration, 1975 slide scan

From my slide collection, some of my historic photographs from the FAO exploration of Ecuador's outstanding natural areas in 1975. We would first drive as far as the roads would take us, like this one into the Sangay region, and then hike with tents on our backs. We would paddle our canoes as far upstream as they would take us in the Amazon's lowlands, as shown here when the river was only 10 centimeters deep. Missionaries' Short Take-of and Landing (STOL) Helio airplanes took us to airstrips sometimes as short as 90 meters, from where we would hike for weeks through the virgin jungle of the Amazon region. In fact, our explorations were expeditions through a virgin Amazon jungle with hardly known Indian tribes. Those expeditions were similar to those written in National Geographic for tropical Africa this century.

 

Based on the recommendations of this United Nations Study by the FAO (available only in Spanish), in 1976, a total of 92 areas were recommended to the government of Ecuador for protection, all of which were gazetted the status of protected areas and were the first areas of what now make up Ecuador's System of  Protected Areas of Ecuador. These areas only covered 9% of the country's territory. Over time, that number grew to 59 protected areas that now cover almost 20% of the country's territory.

 

The Cuyabeno watershed, which was going to be a "Fauna Production Reserve," was one of those places. Let me explain this term, because very few people today are aware of the history of thix management category. The FAO promoted game farming and wildlife farming in Africa in the middle of the 1970s. So, we thought it would be a good idea to try something similar in Ecuador, hoping it would generate income from wildlife farming and commercial hunting to pay for management costs. We believed that it would also provide opportunities for the Sionas, the local indigenous people, to participate in the production of fauna by utilizing their own hunting and fishing traditions. As a result, it was proposed  that Cuyabeno become a Fauna Production Production Reserve.

 

Over time, Ecuador's Galapagos Islands became increasingly well-known internationally as a tourism destination while ecotourism rose in popularity. Legislation to permit the use of fauna production and hunting in protected areas never was passed.  In retrospect that was fortunate, as we at the time conservation professionals were still unaware that humid tropical forests can't support game farming. Cuyabeno is now a national park, and the Cofan and Siona Indians are heavily involved in the tourism industry, which provides them with employment while the reserve protects a larg portion of their traditional lands.

 

However, legal protection of the areas proved insufficient, and small farmers from the Andes had moved into the most accessible part of the reserve and cut down forest to create farmland, where oil-exploitation roads had opened in the a part of the area by 1983.

 

INVASION OF THE CUYABENO NATURE RESERVE

The then, director of the reserve, Dr. Flavio Coello - now Professor of Nature Management at the Catholic University in Quito, visited  me in my then home in Netherlands to ask me to go back to Ecuador and work with Flavio at a solution. After analyzing the situation, we advised the Government, that the invaded part of the watershed could best be excluded from the area, as too many families had already established their farms. That is why the upper part of the reserve has a bottleneck incision. There was still a lot of uninhabited jungle to "move" the reservation eastward. As director of Cuyabeno, Flavio succeeded to convince the national director of the protected areas system to expand the park, which now reaches all the way to the border with Peru, also including the Lagarto Cocha Lakes, thus making Cuyabeno Faunistic Reserve the second largest nature reserve of Ecuador. In 1985, I participated in a United Nations team on sustainable development of the Oriente of Ecuador. Cuyabeno remained under pressure as Ecuador depended on oil revenues and continued to open exploration roads into the reserve.

 

Our partner, Dr. Flavio Coello, who is now Professor of Nature Management at the Catholic University in Quito, who was the reserve's director at the time, came to my home in the Netherlands, asked me to return to Ecuador to help him find on a solution to these illegal settlements. After analyzing the situation together, we advised the government of Ecuador, to exclude the invaded portion of the watershed from the reserve because too many families had already established their farms there. This is why you can see a bottleneck incision on the map of the upper portion of the reserve. However, there was still a lot of uninhabited virgin jungle east of theCyaubeno watershed. So we were  able to persuade the national director of the protected areas system, Ing Arturo Ponce, to expand the park from the original 150,000 hectares to about 600,000 hectares. As a result, the park now extends all the way to the border with Peru and includes the Lagarto Cocha Lakes, making Cuyabeno Faunistic Reserve Ecuador's second-largest nature reserve. Moreover, both Peru and Colombia added bordering protected areas to the reserve, thereby growing the total area protected to more that 2,000,000 hectares of virgin Amazon jungle.

 

WHAT's THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PLACES IN ECUADOR: new oil exploitation service areas created in and around Cuyabeno in the early 80s.WHAT's THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PLACES IN ECUADOR: The new oil exploitation service town Tarapoa in 1983.WHAT's THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PLACES IN ECUADOR: Settlers started clearing forest in Cuyabeno to raise cattle.WHAT's THE BEST TIME TO VISIT PLACES IN ECUADOR: release of oil at oil extraction pumping stations, 1983 slide scan.

Some of my scanned historical slides from 1983 and 1985 showing deforestation after the road to the border with Colombia, traversing the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. In addition to deforestation for oil extraction (slides 1 and 2), the road had made it possible for settlers to move in, who began cutting down the jungle for cattle raising. In addition, oil exploitation in those days was extremely messy, and at each pumping station pouring out oir spills into the jungle. Please be aware that these pictures are scans of our old, partially restored slides from the 1980s. They are not of our contemporary quality.

 

CUYABENO LOOP and LAGARTO COCHA EXPEDITION

We stressed the importance of ecotourism be promoted by the government, as it would be both politically and socially difficult to justify such large stretch of land being protected, if there were no economic benefit for both the national economy or the local people. That was, however, easier said than done because there was no way to visit the reserve without spending the night. So we proposed that the government would grant permission to build and operate the Cuyabeno Lodge. Se selected a seasonal island in the Cuyabeno Lake, making it the first lodge. Originally, all ecotourism was concentrated around Lake Cuyabeno. Cuyabeno, though, is a huge reserve that contains numerous lakes and beautiful sites, including the Cofan Lodge at Zabalo, and the huge marsh area at the border with Peru, in the Lagartococha area of the reserve. so recently we developed, the five-day Cuyabeno Loop, an epic 200-kilometer journey through the Reserve's eastern part, was developed by biologists. The Lagarto Cocha Expedition is available for those who want to explore the jungle in a more daring manner. It takes you to the undiscovered lakes and creeks near the border with Peru.

 

NATIONAL PARKS TOURS

Furthermore, Flavio and I were of the opinion that other parks and reserves on the mainland were and continue to be severely underutilized. Averaging between one and two visitors per day, many locations only receive a few hundred or a few thousands of visitors annually. This really is insufficient to justify their protection politically and economically. Therefore, we collaborate with indigenous people and established the Ecuadorian company "Parks and Tribes." As professionals in protected areas management with PhD's we are the most knowledgeable professionals on the protected area system in the nation. We have traveled the entire country many times for our nature conservation work. We  have put our knowledge of the nature of Ecuador to work to create a National Parks Tours that are logistically manageable possible so that visitors can enjoy some of Ecuador's most beautiful National Parks, landscapes and ecosystems. as well as Ecuador's  Amazon and Galapagos National Park. By combining both the best protected areas of Ecuador with its fabulous culture, our tours offer you the best places to visit in Ecuador in 2023, while

the best time to visit Ecuador is all year around! Find more national parks tours in other countries.

 

7 DAYS PERU CULTURAL HIGHLIGHTS MODULE

For many clients, the opportunity to travel to south America only occurs in a lifetime. Therefore, they like to combine their trip with seeing the cultural highlights of Peru. For that purpose, we also offer a 7 days Lima - Cusco - Machu Picchu Module.

BEST TIME & PLACES TO VISIT IN ECUADOR [2023]

PARKS & TRIBES Travel Agency

Street: Las Casas, Side street: Jose Coudrin, 2 blocks above the Occidental Highway

Cantón Quito, Prov. Pichincha, Parroquia Belisario Quevedo

Tel: (++593)(02) 2 2324 4086, Cell phone: (++593) (0) 99 283 2187 Whatsapp: (++)1 304 901 0718

Email: info@parks-and-tribes.com

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