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Map of the Cordillera del Condor National Park.

Among all the factors that come together in the Cordillera del Cóndor National Park to make it such a unique nature reserve, we  highlight the dominant presence of the elevated plateaus or table-top mountains or mesas of sandstone and limestone, with an undulating relief at the top, similar in structure to the Tepuis of the Guiana Shield, in Venezuela.


Access to the Cordillera del Cóndor is not easy, you can arrive by plane to Macas or Loja and continue for 4-8 hours by land to neighboring towns such as: San Juan Bosco, Gualaquiza, Santiago, El Pangui, Yanzatza, Paquisha or Zamora; since from these places you enter a road network that accesses the base of almost the entire mountain range (Sánchez 2005). In areas inhabited by Shuar communities, access can only be done with local guides, since they know the trails that are in the middle of the forest (Sánchez 2005).

Beaches: The beaches of the Negro, Nucantai, Chuza and Yukiankas rivers are a great attraction in the Santiago de Méndez Canton.

Santiago River: It is an important navigable river in which extreme water sports can be practiced (Sánchez 2005).

Hot Springs, Chorreras, Caves and more:
In the Limón Indanza Canton you can enjoy:

  1. The hot springs in Santa Rosa Mamangui;

  2. the Chorrera de Santa Rosa; and

  3. the enigmatic Cueva de los Tayos.

In San Juan Bosco you can:

  1. Climb the Sugar Loaf Hill,

  2. Visit the Wakambeis caves; and

  3. Amazonas school farm.

In Gualaquiza you can enjoy:

  1. the waterfalls of Sacramento de Guabi (El Ideal Parish);
    the archaeological vestiges known as the ruins of San José (El Aguacate parish);

  2. the ruins of Cadi (Nueva Tarqui parish);

  3. the fortresses and pucarás of the Cañaris

    In San Miguel de Cuyes you can explore:

  1. The confluence of the Bomboiza and Zamora rivers; and

  2. The tourist center of El Remanso on the Cuchipamba River.



As a result of the Peace Agreement between Ecuador and Peru, signed in 1998, two small national parks were established (1999), of 6,000 ha in the Peruvian area and 2,400 ha on the Ecuadorian side. These are located between the source of the Kuankus River, which runs to Ecuador, and the Cenepa River, which runs to Peru. These small “Peace Parks” are part of the immense Cordillera del Cóndor, which is more than 160 km long (Bajaña et al. 2004a).


The Cordillera Del Condor National Park  (officially Biological Reserve) was gazetted on June 4, 1999 Executive Decree No. 369 Official Gazette June 11, 1999 r. No 210 with a total area 2,440 ha and an altitudinal range 200 –2,920 masl.



 High zones: 13-18 °C Mountainous zones 18-22 °C Zones below 800 masl: >22 °C. It is an extremely humid area throughout the year.



The Cordillera del Cóndor, in Ecuador covers the provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago (Fundación Natura 2000). This section describes the most relevant characteristics in general of the entire Cordillera del Cóndor on the Ecuadorian side, since there are no specific studies of the reserve itself. The Cordillera Del Cóndor National Park (officially Biological Reserve) and its area of ​​influence frame a sub-Andean area, characterized by mountainous reliefs, whose slopes vary between 200–2 800 meters above sea level. The presence of these mountainous reliefs contributes to the existence of large hydrographic systems, as is the case of the Zamora, Santiago and Namangoza basins (Fundación Natura 2000). This area is extremely humid, due to the presence of clouds that form on the western slope of the Andes and come from the Amazon plain (Sánchez 2005).


The Cordillera del Cóndor also supports numerous plant species, reported in the Ecuadorian part (Sánchez 2005), thanks to the presence of a great variety of geological substrate, high humidity throughout the year, a vertical gradient in cloud cover, temperatures and natural disturbances, such as avalanches and riverbed erosion (Neill 2003). Additionally, it is known (by interpretation of a satellite image in 2000–2001) that the Cordillera del Cóndor still conserves 91% of its natural vegetation cover; 5% are intervened areas and the remaining 4% indicates areas with the presence of clouds or without vegetation (Bajaña et al. 2004a).


Flora and fauna



The cloud forests at 1,300 meters above sea level, on limestone rock formations, are another of the beauties in the region; There are no other similar forests in Ecuador. The trees are low and full of mosses, lichens and epiphytes, while the undergrowth is closed. On the ground, there is a thick layer of organic matter shaped like a huge sponge.


According to Sierra (1999) the Cordillera del Cóndor is located in the southern subregion of the Eastern Cordillera and the Amazon Cordilleras, here there are various types of forest as a result of the presence of a variety of plateaus formed at different altitudes (Sánchez 2005). According to Neill, thanks to these components, the plant formations present in the Cordillera are:


Amazon forest (300–800 masl): Distributed in the area of ​​the Santiago River and its tributaries (Kuankus, Mayaik and Tsuis), to a lesser extent, in the Zamora River, to the south. The canopy measures 30 m and the characteristic species are: seiqui (Cedrelinga cateniformis, Qualea paraensis, Vochysia grandis) and occasionally mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), recorded only south of eastern Ecuador. We also find palms such as terena (Wettinia maynensis) and pambil (Iriartea deltoidea). In the lower parts there are alluvial soils and sandstone areas, with a characteristic herbaceous species, the Rapatea muaju (Bajaña et al. 2004a).


Premontane forest (800–1,300 masl): It is located in the northern part of the Cordillera, around the Amazon forest, on the Kuankus river. In the southern part we find it in the valleys of the Zamora, Nangaritza and Quimi rivers. This plant formation has a canopy 30 m high, with typical species of the lower slopes of the Andes. On the one hand, you can find species such as: seiqui, pambil, Tachigali vasquezii, Clitoria arborea (Fabaceae); colorado (Guarea kunthiana), cuero de sapo (Ochromadendron nubiae) and on the other, the most common Andean genera are: Ceroxylon, Podocarpus and Remija, mixed with lowland species (Sierra 1999, cited by OIMT 2005).


Tepuy premontane forest on sandstone: It appears as a dense forest, with dwarf trees that do not reach 20 m in height in the canopy and tree species with a discontinuous distribution from the Guiana Shield. The representative shrub and arborescent species are: Bonnetia paniculata (Theaceae), Digomphia densicoma (Bignoniaceae), Chrysophyllum sanguinolentum (Sapotaceae), Clethra revoluta and Remijia chelomaphylla (Clethraceae); (Bajaña et al. 2004a).


Montane forest (1,800–2,300 masl): The canopy is the same as the previous formation, especially on slopes and ridges. There is a high density and diversity of epiphytes (mosses, ferns, orchids and bromeliads) on the branches and trunks of the trees. The Chusquea genus of bambusoideas herbs is represented by several species that grow densely in the understory. We can also find species from the Rubiaceae, Melastomataceae and Lauraceae families, and in the southeast sector you can find Podocarpus (Podocarpaceae) trees; (Bajaña et al. 2004a).


Tepuy montane forest on sandstone: We found a very dense formation, with small bushy shrubs and trees up to 5 m tall. This amazing area presents a high degree of endemism, with dominant species of the genus Clusia (Clusiaceae), within which the majority of plants have not been identified and are possibly all new species. The most representative plants are: Weinmannia auriformis (Cunoniaceae) and Schradera sp. (Rubiaceae); (Bajaña et al. 2004a).


High montane scrub (above 2,700 masl): It is found in the Nanguipa Mountain Range, between the Zamora and Nangaritza rivers, south of the Nambija mining area. It presents a páramo-type herbaceous vegetation, dominated by a species of endemic dwarf bamboo (Neurolepis asymmetrica). Within this formation is included the high montane scrub on igneous rock, which is found on the crests of the mountain range, mainly in the Kuankus river basin. The characteristic species of endemic shrubs and small trees are: Clethra parallellinervia (Clethraceae) and Bejaria zamorae (Ericaceae); (Bajaña et al. 2004a).

High montane scrub of Tepuy on sandstone (above 2,300 masl): It is located on the crests of the Cordillera del Cóndor, between the upper basin of the Nangaritza and Nunpatkaim rivers, south of Shaime. This plant formation has not yet been studied; however, satellite images detect the presence of páramo, above 2,700 masl (Bajaña et al. 2004a).



The least altered area of ​​the Cordillera del Cóndor is the Coangos river basin, since it preserves extensive areas of mature forest, thanks to its difficult access and low population density (Fundación Natura 2000). The characteristic families of dicotyledons are: Rubiaceae, Burseraceae, Melastomataceae, Fabaceae, Caesalpinaceae, Mimosaceae, Gesneriaceae, Araliaceae, Clusiaceae, Moraceae and Meleaceae. The species of these families are structural components of the forest and produce, many of them, food for the local fauna. Tachigali vasquezii (Caesalpinaceae) is characteristic of the hill forest and alluvial forest, in the provinces of Napo and Morona Santiago (Jørgensen and León-Yáñez 1999). Among the families of monocotyledons, the following stand out: Arecaceae, Araceae, Bromeliaceae, Costaceae, Maranthaceae, Orchidaceae, Poaceae and Zingiberaceae. The pambil (Iriartea deltoidea) is one of the most abundant species, especially in the Coangos river valley. Other species such as Polydostachia synanthera, Wettinia maynensis, Wettinia sp., Euterpe sp., Aiphanes weberbaueri and Geonoma sp. nov. have an important representation, since they form an unusual association, called “dense mountain forest associated with scrub”, with species of trees and shrubs on a limestone plateau (Fundación Natura 2000). Another important component of the vegetation is the group of Pteridophytes (ferns), the most frequent genera being: Trichomanes, Asplenium, Cyathea, Diplazium, Selaginella, Thelypteris, Polypodium, Elaphoglossum, Hymenophyllum, Microgramma, Oleandra, Huperzia, Cnemidaria, Schizaea, Grammitis, Phlebodium, etc. Most of them have epiphytic habits, others are terrestrial and some have an arboreal habit, such as Cyathea (Fundación Natura 2000). During the field work carried out by Fundación Natura and collaborators (2000), new species were collected such as: Godoya sp., Godoya antioquensis23A (Ochnaceae), Schefflera aff. harmsii (Araliaceae), the latter dominates a plant community found on limestone terraces at 1,400 meters above sea level; Geonoma sp. nov. (Arecaceae), a shrubby palm native to the understory, which grows in tepui-type forest formations on limestone terraces; Chusquea sp. nov. (Poaceae), herb with a climbing habit; and Dacryodes sp. nov. (Burseraceae).


Within the group of ferns, species such as: Schizaea sp. nov. (Schizaeaceae), which grows in the transition forest on humus and leaf litter. In addition, Lomariopsis sp. nov. and Lastreopsis sp. nov. (Dryopteridaceae), species that grow on limestone rock, as well as the endemic Cyathea palaciosii (Natura 2000 Foundation). Among the collected species, some new ones were located that are in the process of being described, among them: Centronia sp. nov. (Melastomataceae), frequent trees in the piedmont forest; and Phainantha sp. nov.24A (Melastomataceae), herbaceous climbing epiphyte, common in the transition forest and in the association of sclerophyllous scrub with grasslands (Fundación Natura 2000).

The Cordillera del Cóndor is part of the so-called “Huancabamba Formation”, and due to its location to the southeast of the eastern branch of the Andes Mountains, it is considered an area very rich in species and with high endemism; Proof of this are: Guzmania foetida (Bromeliaceae), Ocotea rotundata, O. benthamiana, Persea bullata, P. ferruginia (Lauraceae); Zinowiewia madsenii (Celastraceae), Styrax loxenis (Styracaceae) and several species of Symplocos (Symplocaceae), which, among others, are species reported only for the south and southeast of Ecuador (Fundación Natura 2000).

Currently, 60 species of orchids are known to be found only in the Cordillera del Cóndor, of which 90% correspond to the Pleurothalinae subtribe, adapted to permanently humid environments. The genus with the largest number of endemic species is Lepanthes, with 12 species. This is followed by Pleurothallis and in third place stands out Masdevallia (Jost 2005).


There are no specific studies in the Park, however in the Cordillera the following have been identified: 142 species of mammals, 613 of birds, 56 of amphibians.



The fauna is typically Amazonian, however, in the highlands you can find Andean species such as the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and some bats and rodents (OIMT 2005). In the case of mammals present in this area, to date 142 species have been reported, of which 85 belong only to the forests found below 1,500 masl, 13 to the forests that exceed this altitude, and 44 species are shared by the two areas (Mena 2003, cited by OIMT 2005).


With the latest studies carried out, two new genera of mammals are reported in the Cordillera, one of them with a new species of bat of the genus Anoura for Ecuador. However, one of the greatest discoveries in this region is that of a marsupial rat in montane forests, the species Caenolestes condorensis (ITTO 2005). Although the discoveries are interesting, in the same way the populations of mammals that we can find within the Cordillera del Cóndor are: spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth), night monkey (Aotus sp.), pacarana (Dinomys branickii) and river otter (Lontra longicaudis); (Mena 2003cit. by Bajaña et al. 2004a)


Another relevant point, if we are talking about mammals, is that 19 species with some degree of threat have been registered in this area in Ecuador.



613 bird species have been reported, of which 44 inhabit the flat plateaus of the Cordillera del Cóndor and are not found in montane forests (Agreda 2004), 14 are globally threatened or near threatened (Freile and Santander 2005) and 6 are globally threatened. endemic species of the Cordillera del Cóndor and the southeast region of the Andes (Agreda 2004). New records of bird species have also been found for Ecuador, such as the Andean Tyrant (Knipolegus signatus signatus) and the Scale-breasted Parakeet (Pyrrhura peruviana).



In the case of the toads and frogs (anurans) of the Cordillera del Cóndor, 56 species are currently known (OIMTO 2005). According to Morales-Mite (2003), the montane forest, upper and lower montane forest belts of the cordillera (1 300-3 000 masl) are the habitat of endemic, vulnerable and/or little-known species of anurans, such as Centrolene croceopodes, Eleutherodactylus condor, and species of the genus Eleotherodactylus, indicating that new species have yet to be discovered for science (cit. by ITTO 2005).



The territory of the Cordillera del Cóndor is home to indigenous tribes, being the Shuar and groups that inhabited mainly the basins of the Zamora, Nangaritza and Pastaza rivers; and the Aguaruna and Huambisa tribes, in the Cenepa and Santiago river basins.


The Indigenous Groups

Before the religious missions, the ancestral groups of the Cordillera del Cóndor lived in small villages located in the lower valleys, usually closer to water sources. They practiced the slash-and-burn technique for farming, hunting, fishing, and gathering. The men specialized in cutting and burning the forests, while the women cultivated, in these spaces, plants such as cassava, with which they prepared the masato or chicha; plantain, sweet potato and other tubers.


They were expert hunters of birds and terrestrial animals (Brown 1984). For hunting, bows and arrows and the blowgun with curare darts (poison made by mixing various plants) were commonly used. Fishing was an important activity that provided a stable source of protein. In the forests it was possible to collect a great variety of fruits of high nutritional value, as well as larvae, honey, mushrooms, and different types of leaves. That is, these human groups had a traditional use of the resources in the Cordillera del Cóndor, following a pattern of low population density, scattered settlements and a practice of diversified subsistence activities (CI 1997 cited by Fundación Natura 2000). Currently the Shuar occupy around 300,000 ha. In the most remote areas, the properties are commonly large, exceeding 200 ha, while in the areas with the highest population density, the surface area of ​​the properties is around 50 ha. In Shuar territory, the sale of land is prohibited except between them and under the authorization of FICSHA (CI 1997 cit. by Fundación Natura 2000). The religious missions had a notable impact on the region, particularly in the interrelationships between the Shuar and Andean settlers, and in their incorporation into the economic and cultural system of the Ecuadorian State.



The so-called Colonists (settlers from the Andes) began to settle the region for cattle raising, which caused the introduction of epidemics among the Shuar, who were forced to migrate to the northeast.


The Missions

The first evangelical mission was established among the Aguaruna in 1925; 25 years later, the Summer Institute of Linguistics sent a group of evangelicals to live with them. In 1949, the Jesuits established the Catholic Mission in Chiriarco. Since then the Aguaruna have access to education and have redefined their cultural beliefs, influenced by Western culture through the missions.



Wood extraction: The intensive, clandestine and disorderly exploitation of forest products, together with the presence of fires and the opening of penetration routes into the Cordillera del Cóndor, cause the gradual and accelerated depletion of these resources, in addition to the destruction of vegetation and, therefore, the loss of wildlife (Fundación Natura 2000). This disastrous activity is concentrated in the southwest (towards the south of the mountain range) on the lower slopes towards the Zamora and Nangaritza rivers, but the greatest impact occurs in easily accessible areas and close to the headwaters of the cantons (OIMT 2005).


Expansion of the agricultural frontier: This threat is a consequence of inappropriate practices and technologies, such as extensive livestock production and intensive cultivation (Fundación Natura 2000). The most threatened regions are in the western and southern Cordillera del Cóndor, especially in the towns of Paquisha and Los Encuentros (OIMT 2005).


Hunting: In the northern zone of the Cordillera del Cóndor, subsistence hunting has increased due to demographic growth, the ease of access to previously isolated areas, the change in technology used for hunting (shotgun instead of blowpipe), Lack of alternative protein sources. The pressure of hunting in the southern zone of the mountain range is distributed throughout the area, but the foci of this activity are concentrated on the roads and human settlements, especially in the surroundings of military posts (OIMT 2005). The meat most coveted by the local communities is that of the large monkeys, collared peccaries, peccaries, deer, tapirs, guantas, agoutis and armadillos. Cats are also persecuted, but because they eat domestic animals (ITTO 2005).

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