National Parks and Reserves
With its amazing bio-diversity, it's not surprising that Ecuador has 44 protected areas, some as large as a province, some as small as a recreation park. 17% of the total land area of the country is protected. If you are looking for nature and wildlife, you should head to the Amazon jungle parks and reserves, or to the Galapagos Islands; for those who prefer hiking and trekking, the Andean region parks are the best; and for marine life and pristine beaches, the coast region as well as the Galapagos Islands offer amazing sites.
Following is a list of the most important protected areas by region and further below is a map and a brief description of each.
- El Angel Ecological Reserve
- Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve
- Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve
- Pasochoa Wild Refuge
- Mindo Nambillo Biological Reserve
- Antisana Ecological Reserve
- El Boliche National Recreation Area
- Cotopaxi National Park
- Los Illinizas Ecological Reserve
- Llanganates National Park
- Chimborazo Wildlife Production Reserve
- Cajas National Park
- Podocarpus National Park
- Yasuni National Park
- Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
- Sumaco Napo Galeras National Park
- Sangay National Park
- Cayambe - Coca Ecological Reserve
- Cofan-Bermejo Ecological Reserve
- Limoncocha Biological Reserve
- El Condor Bi-national Park
- Galapagos National Park & Marine Reserve
- Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve
- Machalilla National Park
- Manglares-Churute Ecological Reserve
- Cerro Blanco Protective Forest Private Reserve
In terms of bio-diversity, the most important are:
Yasuní National Park - Declared a part of the World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1989, this park is considered the most bio-diverse region of the world; here are only some of the numbers: it is estimated to house 2,244 species of trees and bushes; 567 bird species have been found in the park area; 40% of the mammals species of the whole amazon basin live in the park.
Limoncocha Biological Reserve - Known mostly for its beautiful trees, like the cedar, laurel, balsa, pambil, and especially its gigantic and centennial "ceibos" (kapok trees), and for its aquatic systems which, as most of the area is quite consistently under water, are particularly bio-diverse.
Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve - 900 bird species that account for 50% of the country’s make it an excellent location for bird watching.
Sangay National Park - This park has a wide mix of ecosystems, from tropical rainforests to glaciers, and two active volcanoes, Sangay and Tungurahua, and thanks to its isolated location, several rare Andean species have been able to survive here, like mountain tapirs, condors, spectacled bears, margays, and giant otters.
Llanganates National Park - Spreading across four provinces, two Andean, and two in the Amazon, this park comprises the Llanganates mountain range, which owes its name to its highest peak Cerro Hermoso, 4,571 m high, which means "beautiful mountain" ("llanganates" in quichua). Its lowest point is at 1,200 m altitude. Covered with abrupt mountains, grassy moorlands, dense Andean cloud forests, carved out valleys, and serene highland lakes, and crossed by bold rivers, it is one of the least accessible and with the harshest conditions of all the parks, with cold temperatures most of the time, and has very little tourist infrastructure. Because of that, it still is one of the most pristine natural areas in the country.
Podocarpus National Park - Located in both the Andes and the Amazon regions, the park has an interesting range in vegetation. With luck, Andean spectacled bears and tapirs can be sighted here.
Galapagos Islands National Park - With a variety of unique ecosystems, the more than 60 islands of the Galapagos foster hundreds of rare fauna and flora. The endemic species that have survived and evolved through the ages on the islands include 11 different giant tortoise species (each on a different island), Galapagos sea lions, land and marine iguanas, vampire finches, Galapagos hawks, Galapagos penguins, and flightless cormorants. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a dream come true for nature lovers. Check-out our Galapagos Islands Overview for more information on the archipelago.
Machalilla National Park - This is the only coastal national park in the country; it protects 56,000 hectares of dry tropical forest and humid cloud forest, which include several islands, of which Isla de la Plata and Isla Salango are the most important; also part of the park is the marine area within 2 nautical miles from the shore, where a rich marine life can be observed, including humpback whales. 270 bird species have been classified in the park, and 81 mammals species. Isla de la Plata is also home to a number of species found in the Galapagos Islands, like the blue-footed boobies, iguanas, and sea lions, among others. Machalilla National Park is also an important archeological site.
Cerro Blanco Protective Forest - Its 6,078 hectares are one of the few remnants of the Ecuadorian coastal Tropical Dry Forest and are home to more than 700 plant species and 219 bird species, 9 of which are world threatened.