Chimborazo National Park | Fairtrips

Chimborazo National Park

A stunning wildlife reserve with remote, indigenous communities that rarely see foreigners

This region of Ecuador contains some of the country’s most awe-inspiring scenery, with the volcanoes Chimborazo, Tungurahua, El Altar, Carihuairazo and Sangay providing a magnificent backdrop to a tapestry of rolling Andean slopes dotted with llamas, sheep and cows. While the legendary volcanoes are often wreathed in cloud, when one of these giants does choose to reveal its mighty face, you’ll understand why the local people have for centuries worshipped them as deities.

The Chimborazo region is the heartland of the indigenous Puruhás, who inhabited the area before the arrival of the Incas, and whose descendants still live there today. This is a land where myths, legends and ancient ways of life are still alive; where people maintain a strong connection with the Pachamama (mother nature); where ailments are treated with rituals and medicinal plants; where pilgrimages are made to a sacred cave on the flanks of Chimborazo to ask for blessings; where ice is mined by hand from the volcano and brought down by mule; where shepherd women spin wool by hand as they watch their flocks.

The Puruhás are made up of various ethnic groups, such as the Tomabelas, the Chimbos and the Warankas, each with its own customs and dialect of the native language, Kichwa. Many local people wear traditional dress, such as ponchos, shawls and felt hats with brightly coloured feathers. Most are campesinos (subsistence farmers), raising alpacas, llamas, sheep, cows and guinea pigs; cultivating typical Andean crops such as potatoes, beans, quinoa, melloco and corn. Dairy products are the main source of income, with community-owned cheese factories processing milk brought in daily, sometimes carried by llama. Women artisans make handicrafts with paramo grass harvested during the full moon, and garments with wool sheared from their flocks of alpaca and sheep.

The region is as rich in natural attractions as it is in cultural diversity. Presiding colossally over the whole area is the snow-capped Chimborazo itself which, at 6,268m above sea level, is not only Ecuador’s highest peak, but the planet’s closest point to the sun. The volcano sits at the heart of the Chimborazo Fauna Reserve, a protected area spanning the provinces of Cotopaxi, Tungurahua and Bolívar. Near the summit, just below the snowline, the landscape is barren and lunar. Even at this altitude, some hardy plants and animals thrive, such as the curiquingue, a bird sacred to the Incas; the Ecuadorian hillstar hummingbird with its iridescent blue throat; and the chuquiragua, considered to be the national flower.

Lower down, the rocky slopes give way to pristine moorland or paramo, strewn with wildflowers, where the grasses trap humidity from the air, eventually forming crystalline streams and lakes. Amid the grasslands are ancient polylepis forests, where some of the trees are over a thousand years old. This fragile paramo ecosystem is home to the llama’s delicate wild cousin, the vicuña, as well as wolves, foxes, rabbits and deer.

Descending further, as the land becomes cultivable, we find the quintessentially Andean scenes of rolling patchwork fields, the ponchos of campesinos providing bright splashes of colour against the myriad of greens.

Exploring the Chimborazo region with the indigenous Puruhá people who have lived there for centuries will not only be an authentic and magical experience, but will directly support their struggle to protect their ancestral culture and fragile Andean ecosystems.

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