You’ve probably heard of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but have you heard of a UNESCO Global Geopark? Around the world there are 1,154 World Heritage Sites but only 177 Global Geoparks. Ecuador is home to one of them: the Imbabura Geopark.
Ecuador’s Imbabura Geopark was designed by UNESCO on April 17, 2019, because of its unique geological structures coupled with cultural significance. UNESCO seeks to designate Geoparks as places that can “improve awareness and understanding of key issues facing society, such as sustainable use of natural resources, mitigating the effects of climate change and reducing risks related to natural disasters” due to the unique occurrence of natural and human factors. What makes a Geopark special is that the territory needs to be “managed with a holistic concept of protection, education, and sustainable development.”
To become a Geopark, Imbabura had to go through a rigorous documentation and evaluation process. Ultimately, Imbabura was selected because its geological characteristics are unmatched. Imbabura is home to 11 volcanos (Ecuador is home to 84 in total), which include Imbabura, Mojanda, Cotacachi-Cuicocha, and Chachimbiro. Imbabura also contains many lakes and lagoons, waterfalls, water sources, and climates. The geological impressiveness of Imbabura is complemented by ethnic and cultural diversity. In the Andean highlands, there are several indigenous Kichwa communities who work hard to preserve and honor their history and traditions.
On October 28, two PADF staff accompanied members and representatives of Ecuador’s Consortium of Provincial Autonomous Governments to visit a few of Imbabura’s most important sites. The trip began with a visit to the Geopark’s entrance, which serves as a lookout to see the Imbabura volcano towering over lake San Pedro at its base and the city of Otavalo, known for its large market of artisanal crafts, on the shore. Next, the visit brought the group to Cuicocha Lagoon, at the base of the Cotacachi volcano, within the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. The group toured the ecological reserve’s museum highlighting the unique flora, fauna, geological structures, and indigenous cultures that the reserve aims to protect. Next, the group walked along the Sacred Walkway (“Ruta Sagrada”) and learned how the area’s indigenous groups use the lunar and solar calendars to guide their planting and harvesting cycles. Finally, the group went out on a boat to circle the two islands located within the lagoon, Yerovi and Teodoro Wolf, and saw the place where gas bubbles come out of the lagoon, proving that the volcano below is still active. To conclude the trip to the Geopark, the group went to the Zuleta commune to eat a traditional meal of the region and learn about handmade embroidered crafts.
Why was this an important trip for members of PADF’s Green Team? PADF staff made important connections with members of municipal governments and learned about local efforts to advance protection, education, and sustainable development throughout Ecuador. PADF works closely with multiple municipal governments to advance circular economy, sustainability, locally led development, transparency, accountability, and other topics under the UNIDOS and PACE projects. The visit to the Imbabura Geopark sparked ideas for future connection and collaboration in Ecuador in the months and years to come.