To really get off the beaten track, this reserve, the largest protected area of Ecuador’s western Andean habitats, might be just the place. As altitudes increase from about 200m to 4939m, habitats change quickly from tropical forests to premontane and montane cloud forest to páramo (high-altitude Andean grasslands). This rapid change produces the so-called 'edge effect’ that gives rise to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna.
The lower reaches of the reserve are home to the indigenous Chachi, famous for their basketwork which you might be able to purchase directly from artisans. About 5000 Chachi remain, mostly fishers and subsistence farmers, living in open-sided, thatched river houses on stilts. Over the last few decades, the Chachi have been swept by an epidemic of river blindness that’s carried by black flies, which are particularly prevalent in April and May. Vaccination efforts have stymied the disease locally, but to protect yourself, use insect repellent and take malaria medication.