A multimedia tour of Ecuador's highlands
By Cara Goodman and Diego Ochoa
Vea también en español
Awash in tall, amber grasses and bathed in the clear, white light of the alpine sun, the Ecuadorean páramos (high Andean grasslands) and the staggering volcanoes that puncture them look much the same today as they have for thousands of years.
And Jorge Perez, director of Nature Conservancy partner Fundación Páramo, intends to keep them that way.
At 19,347 feet, Cotopaxi is currently the world’s highest active volcano. By promoting adrenaline-fueled ecotourism activities such as ziplining, horseback riding, climbing and mountain biking on sustainably run ranches, Jorge Perez and other landowners are determined to support conservation in the area and protect highland cloud forests, páramos and wetlands in the Andes.
“I think, ‘Wow, I grew up here!’ I want the grandsons of my grandsons to see what I’ve seen,” exclaims Perez. “It’s one of my motivations for protecting it. I want other people to see this too — this beauty, this nature, this space.”
Cotopaxi and the montane forests and grasslands that surround its base are protected by Cotopaxi National Park and Fundación Páramo — a local organization of private landowners whose properties are located in the buffer zone and help insulate the park from encroaching threats like deforestation, overgrazing, illegal poaching and pollution.
“We founded our organization because we realize that to keep people coming, we have to keep the nature unspoiled,” says Perez. “Ecotourism is one of the ways we’re conserving this place.”
“The Conservancy is a big believer in innovative conservation solutions,” explains Veronica Arias, the Conservancy’s policy representative in Ecuador. “Our work isn’t about protecting nature from people and putting it off limits.”
“Fundación Páramo has a similar vision,” she continues. “Together, we’re working to make nature meaningful to people so that it’s in their own interest to protect it.”
Since 2002, the Conservancy and Fundación Páramo have worked together to conserve Ecuador’s highlands in a variety of surprising ways:
Perez’s tourism adventure activities on the private lands in the park’s buffer zone give thrill-seeking tourists a great ride — and a lasting impression of some of Ecuador’s most striking wilderness. But equally important to Perez are his tourists’ visits to neighboring Cotopaxi National Park.
“The tourists pay money to visit the park,” says Perez, “so it’s significant that they learn about its importance and feel they’ve had a rewarding and enriching experience. It’s important they see where their money is going. It makes them want to come back, not just to Cotopaxi, but to national parks all around the world.”
Innovative ecotourism activities with partners like Fundación Páramo and Tierra del Volcán in places like Cotopaxi National Park are being supported by the US Agency for International Development and the Global Sustainable Tourism Alliance.February 08, 2011
Cara Goodman is a marketing specialist/writer and Diego Ochoa is a marketing manager for The Nature Conservancy in South America.