By Dayana Vinueza
Quito, May 9 (Andes).- Gazing at the vicuñas run freely in the field, looking how chuquiragua plants bloom in the white snow, bumping into an Andean fox or admiring the beauty of the Andean landscape painted with all rainbow colors… this is how walks to the Fauna Production Reserve in Chimborazo are like, a special place to connect with nature.
With an area of 58,560 hectares, this reserve is located in three provinces of the Ecuadorian Highlands: Chimborazo, Bolivar and Tungurahua. Its greater attraction is undoubtedly the Chimborazo volcano, the closest point to the Sun with 6,268 meters above sea level; however, there are other special attractions.
Among these are Carihuairazo volcano, 4,650 masl, and one of the easiest mountains for mountaineers. Its three summits, Josefinos 4,650 masl, Central 5,116 masl, and Mocha 5,028 masl, turn it into an attraction to visit, especially by foreign tourists who are attracted by the soft snow slope.
Carihuarazo volcano is one of the main attractions of the reserve. Photo: Andes /File
“I love it when I’m travelling by bus and I can see volcanoes just as those I've seen on TV. The first time I saw it, I was like wow, Am I really seeing this,” said Jonas Karlsson, a Swedish tourist that climbed Cariguairazo along with German tourist Andreas Wagner with the help of a local guide.
They left Chimborazo Lodge at 04:30, it is a hotel located in the sides of Chimborazo where many tourists arrive to acclimatize before their ascent to Cariguairazo. This mountain is easier to climb and in fact it is like training before climbing Chimborazo, but it is always recommended to go along with a local guide in order to avoid any accident.
Walks to admire the Andean landscape
People can go to Chimborazo’s first hut by car and then walk to the next one. Photo: César Muñoz/Andes
Inside the reserve, which has eight types of ecosystems, there are also many routes for walks where you can see the wonderful natural scenes of the place.
One of the most common and tough routes is Mocha-Mechahuasca, it takes two days to complete spending 8 to 10 hours a day; it crosses between Chimborazo and Carihuairazo and amazing glaciers from both volcanoes can be seen.
Through these walks, it is also possible to visit places like Templo Machay, an ancestral place in honor of Chimborazo, Chorrera, a great canyon where a river under the same name is born, also showing a unique landscape composed of two big rocks with vertical and pointy walls.
The Andes’ moorland beauty can be admired in the icemen route. Photo: César Muñoz/Andes
“We can get to Templo Machay and Arbol Solitario from huts (located in the sides of Chimborazo). This is an option for those who like walking, nature, vicuñas, bird species and some forest remnants too,” Maria Elena Guaña, reserve administrator, told Andes Agency.
The icemen route is located in the San Andres side, it is properly signposted for tourists, the mine where ice from Chimborazo is extracted is at the end of the route, it is a tradition that has been lost in time except for Ushca family.
“You can see a totally different landscape there, it’s more humid, grassy, you can see deer, and get to the mine where Baltazar Ushca (the last iceman of Chimborazo) still gets ice to prepare natural ice cream, so it is an experience that connects the natural and cultural,” Guaña explained.
It is common to find indigenous people along with their sheep, horses or llamas in the entrance of the icemen route. Photo: César Muñoz/Andes
During walks, there are sectors completely covered by grass with forest species valuable for conservation. Among the representative flora are the houndstongue, a plant with long leaves and covered by hair that covers it from the wind. Gentian, with blue or azure flowers, and rosemary, chuquiraguas, sour grape and pampas grass grow here.
Concerning fauna, the camelidae family lives in this area with species such as: vicuñas, alpaca, and llamas that also live in other parts of the Ecuadorian Highlands. Moreover, you can also see Andean wolves and foxes, deer, chucuris, skunks, rabbits, rodent, among others.
Research and connection with communities
The Ministry of Environment has a program for vicuñas preservation. Photo: César Muñoz/Andes
Not only necessary services for tourism are maintained in the place but also research activities are carried out in the moorland, especially on native camelid to obtain technologies in breeding.
One of the programs the Ministry of Environment (MAE) is working on is vicuña protection. They estimate there is a population of 6,000 vicuñas with which they work on conservation and reproduction because this species is part of the natural beauty of the Andean moorland and is essential for its preservation.
MAE has also agreements with four communities close to Chimborazo: Casa Condor, Chorrera Mirador, Urcu Wayra and Culebrillas, with whom they work on community tourism and handicrafts sales.
One of the beneficiaries of the program is Carmen Guamán, who makes scarves, gloves and hats she sells in a store located in the entrance of El Arenal Service Center.
She told Andes Agency that thanks to this program she is earning some money for her daily life, her husband also works as a local guide, helping tourists in their walks through the reserve or in their ascent to the second hut.
Chimborazo is the greatest attraction of the Chimborazo Reserve
Visitors usually walk from Carrel hut to Whymper hut.
In fact, the most common walk for tourists is the route between Carrel hut and Whymper which ends with a visit to Condor Lake, located at 5,100 and formed by melting of snow.
Huts provide cafeteria services and accommodation for mountaineers who wish to acclimatize before heading to the summit, Myriam Piray, expert from MAE’s program, explained.
“We provide cafeteria services in huts; we have a restaurant and accommodation for our mountaineers too. The Carrel hut has a capacity for 36 people who stay at night to head to Chimborazo’s summit,” he indicated.
The Andean fox lives in the Reserve. Photo: Foto: César Muñoz/Andes
Huts have been designed with the idea of combining it with the natural environment; this is why these have solar panels to produce its own electricity and they also use recycled and environmentally friendly material.
“We invite tourists to preserve the protected areas since water is produced here for different counties like Guano and Riobamba in the province of Chimborazo, Guaranda in Bolivar and Ambato in Tungurahua,” Piray clarified.
According to the expert, tourists pay 30 dollars for a night in the hut; they can also stay in Casa Condor, a community place which costs 15 dollars.
Another place where you can be close to the volcano is Chimborazo Lodge, a country hotel located in the sides of Chimborazo which perfectly combines with the environment. It costs 65 dollars a night with dinner and breakfast included.
From Chimborazo Lodge hotel you can admire the beauty of the volcano since 5:30 when the sky is completely clear. Photo: César Muñoz/Andes
The volcano’s beauty can be admired from here since 5:30 when the sky is completely clear. Likewise, you can admire its beauty from different places in the reserve and from the road that connects tourists with the entrance.
Another route from where Chimborazo can be clearly seen is from Tren de Hielo, a train route that goes from Riobamba to Urbina, tourists can go horseback riding here and meet Baltazar Ushca who shows the technique to cut ice pieces and even prepares ice creams with snow taken directly from the volcano.
Chimborazo’s Fauna Production Reserve is one of the special places with which you can be in touch with nature, walk, breathe pure air, admire its Andean flora and fauna but specially where you can enjoy the world’s beauty.
Urbina’s train station. Photo: César Muñoz/Andes