This 2710-sq-km national park contains three of Ecuador’s most magnificent volcanoes – the mightily active Sangay, the remittently active Tungurahua and the extinct El Altar. Because the park ranges from glaciated mountain tops to tropical rainforests, it offers flora, fauna and terrain of immense diversity. The Ecuadorian government established the park in 1979, and Unesco made it a World Heritage Site in 1983.
From the páramo in the park’s western heights, which climb to over 5000m around each of the three volcanoes, the terrain plunges down the eastern slopes of the Andes to elevations barely above 1000m. In between is terrain so steep, rugged and wet (over 4m of rain is recorded annually in some areas) that it remains a wilderness in the truest sense. The whole park is home to some 500 bird species and 3000 plant species, and the thickly vegetated slopes east of the mountains are the haunts of very rarely seen mammals, such as spectacled bears, mountain tapirs, pumas, ocelots and porcupines.
Only two roads of importance enter the park: One goes from Riobamba to Alao (the main access point to Volcán Sangay) and peters out in the páramos to the east. The second is the Guamote–Macas road, which despite the protected status of the park, runs right through it, inviting the negative environmental impact of colonization and hunting.
Most access to the park is from the north and west; access from the south and east is difficult. If starting from Macas, make your goal the alpine lakes, including the scenic Lagunas de Tinguichaca or the popular Sardina Yaca lagoons, which are teeming with wildlife.