It’s estimated seven out of ten Ecuadorians use medicinal plants. Ethnobiologist Omar Vacas has spent 15 years researching local flora used for centuries to cure diseases. He published an article about traditional medicine used by the Kichwa people in the Napo jungle province. He says the Kichwas are often unaware that this info can be useful in developing pharmaceutical drugs. For example, balsa can reduce labor pains. There are 23 conditions including toothache and rheumatism that can be cured by plants used by the Kichwas. These include uña de gato (cat’s claw), ortiga brava, achiote de venda, palo de tortuga, sábila (aloe), ruda, dulcamara, sangre de drago (dragon’s blood), chancapiedra, chaya, valeriana, boldo, condurango and zarzaparrilla.
Alpacas roam the slopes of the Cotacachi Volcano. They belong to the indigenous community of Morochos. José Flores, vice-president of the community, says the alpacas are the best friends of the highland moors (páramos). He explains the animals don’t affect the topsoil because their legs have pads and their teeth cut the grass like scissors. That’s why the community decided to introduce Peruvian alpacas (currently 57) to replace cattle whose hooves eroded the surface of the moor. The area near the top of the volcano is considered an important buffer zone to the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, settled cultures in what is now known as Ecuador were guided by deities. The Incas believed condors were the messengers of the gods. Sociologist Dimitri Peñasco says the condor is believed to lead the dead into an upper realm, called Hanan Pacha. This realm included the sky, sun, moon, stars, planets and constellations. The condor is also said to be able to morph into human form. This has been the inspiration for many legends.
It is Ecuador’s national bird, depicted on the flag and coat of arms as a symbol of bravery and power. Andean condors are one of the largest birds, with wingspans of up to 10 feet. Females lay their eggs in steep, rocky areas to protect them from predators. They can mainly be found in five areas of the country: Antisana Eco Reserve, Cotacachi-Cayapas Eco Reserve, Zuleta in Imbabura province, the Nabón region in Azuay province and Cajas National Park.
Though dwarfed by its larger neighbors, Ecuador boasts one of the planet’s densest volcanic regions, including over a dozen craters on the Galapagos islands. One of Ecuador’s top volcanic areas is Imbabura in the north: lagoon country. It’s a favorite for active people, as well as anyone seeking relaxation or solitude.
Here are three easy and excellent hikes, ideally allocating at least one whole day for each. Regular hiking boots are sufficient, while camping gear and a week’s worth of food & water is recommended for the adventurous. Get out into the wild, and savor every second of the high-altitude, diverse and captivating experience!
Ecuador really does boast the highest peak in the world, when measured as it should be — from the Earth’s core. Those who wish to stand on the planet’s closest point to outer space must come to the Andes in South America, close to the Equator line.
In this ultra-volcanic region is Mount Chimborazo, a giant inactive volcano over 20,000 feet tall which impresses not so much with its height as its sheer bulk. Its four peaks (from west to east) are Veintemilla, Whymper, Politécnica and Nicolás Martínez.
The tallest of these peaks is Whymper, named after the Briton Edward Whymper who ascended Chimborazo twice in 1880, and spent a night on the summit of Ecuador’s second most famous volcano: Cotopaxi. His resulting book is entitled Travels amongst the Great Andes of the Equator.