Vol 4 No 2 2019 – 1


Imbabura: The First UNESCO Geopark in Ecuador.

Yaniel Misael Vázquez Taset and Andrea Belén Tonato Ñacato
Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.21931/RB/2019.04.02.1
The UNESCO Global Geoparks were created in the 1990s as a European regional initiative to respond to the increasing need for enhancing and preserving the geological heritage of our planet1. These geographic sites highlight and celebrate the 4600 Ma of Earth’s geological evolution. The Geoparks initiative is based on three essential pillars2: preservation, education and geotourism. All of them designed to reach sustainable economic development of these areas based on harnessing geological heritage. These are the main guidelines to manage Geoparks, and give the communities a possibility to develop sustainable economic and touristic activities. As a consequence, income of the communities increases and their life quality is positively affected.


At the beginning, the Geoparks Network was solely occupied by European members (France, Germany, Greece and Spain) 2. As the initiative gained fame around the world, other regions also showed interest in being part of it, and joined the initiative. Among these is South America, which only had four Geoparks (Araripe in Brazil, Grutas del Palacio in Uruguay, and Comarca Minera and Mixteca Alta in México) until the last week. On 17th of April, 2019, the Executive Board of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) decided to give the nomination of Global Geoparks to 7 locations from the 23 initial candidates. The accepted new Global Geoparks include three from Latin America: Valle del Colca and Volcanes de Andagua in Peru, Kütralkura in Chile, and Imbabura in Ecuador.  With these new additions, there are currently 147 members of Global Geoparks Network distributed in 41 countries3.


Geoparks compose of specific geographic areas that show particular and relevant geological features of our planet’s history4. In South America, and principally in the Andean zone, the evidence associated with the convergence and subduction of the Nazca Plate and South American Plate is well preserved. For this reason, there is a wide variety of natural and geological attractions (rocks of varying ages, valleys, volcanoes, geothermal systems, sedimentary basins, faults, rocks, minerals, fossils, etc.). The beauty and the magnificence of the region have motivated the launching of various Geopark proposals, for example: Napo – Sumaco in the Amazon Region, Península Santa Elena and Jama – Pedernales in the Coast, Galápagos in the Insular Region, and Volcán Tungurahua and Imbabura in the Sierra Region; all of them, in Ecuador5.


Imbabura Geopark occupies all the surface of the homonym province (4,599 km2), and is located in the northern part of Ecuador. Imbabura is surrounded by the Carchi province to the north, Pichincha to the south, Sucumbíos to the east and Esmeraldas to the West. Inside Imbabura Geopark, it is possible to recognize the two mountain ranges, the Cordillera Real and Western Cordillera, separated by the Interandean Valley, all oriented in a general NE – SW direction. These are the principal geological structures that typify the Andean orogeny. The units of the Cordillera Real and Western Cordillera occur to the east and to the west of the Geopark, respectively. The Interandean Valley is the depression located between both ranges. The Geological heritage of the Imbabura Geopark is equally distributed in the ranges as in the Interandean valley. Prominent geoheritage sites are volcanoes (Imbabura Fig. 1, Yanahurco, Cubilche, Cotacachi – Cuicocha), lagoons and lakes (San Pablo Fig. 1, Yahuarcocha, Piñan, Cuicocha), valleys (Chota and Intag), Geothermal complexes (Chachimbiro, Timbuyacu, Nangulví), mineral resources, archeological sites (Urcuquí, among others) and sedimentary basin (Chota), among others. Due to their scenic beauty, these geosites are mandatory visiting points in the province. For example, Cuicocha Lake (Fig. 1) is one of the most visited geosites in Imbabura, and in northern Ecuador. The rich geological history makes Imbabura a potential area to develop touristic and educative activities, which will guarantee the increase of geotourism. Additionally, it is important to mention that many of the geosites are areas where students and investigators from the School of Earth’s Science, Energy and Environment of Yachay Tech, and from other Ecuadorian universities develop academic activities and fieldwork. This academic work is a key component supporting the Unesco Imbabura Geopark.

 Photo Taken On: January 13th, 2015 ID 98378284 © Kseniya Ragozina | Dreamstime.com

Figure 1. Western view of Imbabura Volcano and San Pablo Lake. Both constitute geosites of the Imbabura Geopark, and are located in the Inter-Andean Valley. The Imbabura Volcano is a compound stratovolcano that reaches 4621 6 meters high, on the summit of Taita Imbabura. In its foothills settle major populations, such as the cities of Ibarra and Otavalo. San Pablo Lake is located south of Otavalo city and its origin is not yet clear. As hypothesis, the glacial origin and the damming by a debris flow from the Imbabura Volcano have been proposed. (Imbabura inactive stratovolcano under San Pablo Lake in northern Ecuador).


Figure 2. Panoramic view of Cuicocha Lake taken from the north. It is located in the eastern part of the Western Cordillera, 10 km west of Cotacachi city, Imbabura. It is a lake of approximately 180 m depth, and 3.5 km of diameter 7. It was formed through a crater collapse of the Cuicocha dome which is part of the Cotacachi – Cuicocha Volcanic Complex. Inside the crater lake, NE – SE directed, are two camel-back domes Yeroví (left) and Wolf (right). Cuicocha is one of the most important and beautiful geosites of Imbabura Geopark, and it receives the greatest inflow of tourists per year in this area.




The presence of mountain ranges, volcanoes (Imbabura, Cubilche, Yanahurco, Cotacachi, etc.), valleys (Interandean, Intag and Chota), geothermal systems (Chachimbiro, Nangulví and Timbuyacu), lagoons and lakes (San Pablo, Cuicocha , Piñan, Yahuarcocha, etc.), the Chota sedimentary basin, a stratigraphic record that covers ages ranging from 252 million years to the present, a fossil record, and metamorphic, sedimentary and igneous rocks have allowed Imbabura to achieve recognition as a UNESCO Global Geopark. In addition to become part of the 7 areas recognized as Geoparks in South America. All these geological elements as well as the beautiful landscape are the result of the geological evolution of the Andean orogeny, which allow us to get huge knowledge, and to exploit each geosite in a touristic way.
Yaniel Misael Vázquez Taset and Andrea Belén Tonato Ñacato, Escuela de Ciencias de la Tierra, Energía y Ambiente, Yachay Tech
Corresponding author: yvazquez@yachaytech.edu.ec

Vol 9 No 2 2024