The Cayapas-Mataje Mangrove Reserve is one of the most luminous in Ecuador. The abundant and brilliant waters of this protected area – part of the biggest and best conserved estuary in the Southern Pacific – and the lush greenery of its landscapes will truly dazzle the visitor.
Located in the Province of Esmeraldas (the Green Province) in the extreme north west of the country adjacent to Colombia, the Reserve’s wetlands were declared a site of global importance (RAMSAR) in 200; here the tourist will find the highest mangrove trees in the world, some reaching up to 30 metres in height. The trees are the Reserve´s most distinctive feature. The five species found here play a vital role in the protection of the region: they recycle nutrients, maintain the quality of the water, protect the shoreline against erosion and disperse the impact of strong waves. Their roots host a unique salt and freshwater ecosystem, and are home to home to 66 species of mollusks, crustaceans and fish.
But the mangroves are not the only interesting plants that grow in the area. Here the visitor will also find the Tagua, a giant palm whose seeds (known as vegetable ivory) are carved to make jewelry; the Guaba, whose long green sheaths have fruits with a vanilla flavour; and the Rampira or Toquilla whose leaves are used to make the famous “Panama” hats, that are in fact Ecuadorian.
Amongst the attractions of the Cayapas-Mataje Reserve is its abundant wildlife. Fifty two species of mammals, 173 species of birds, and 36 species of amphibians and reptiles have been registered here. Opossums are common around the beach, while sloths, ocelots and armadillos can be found further inland. The Reserve’s reptiles include snapping turtles, boa constrictors, caimans and alligators.
The area also has an important part in the history of the country. According to the oral history of the Reserve´s Afro-Ecuadorian inhabitants, their forefathers arrived here after the slave ship that was carrying them was shipwrecked off the coast. Having survived the wreck they established themselves and began to collect shellfish, and cultivate coconuts, bananas and cocoa. There are presently 31 Afro-Ecuadorian communities within the Reserve and 12 in its buffer zone, and in this enchanted place their music’s unique sound – the marimba – is always in the air.
What is more, archeological remains from the Tolita Culture (500 B.C. to 500 A.D.) have been found around the village of la Tolita, a short distance to the south of the Reserve. The group’s cultural creations show high levels of beauty and complexity. A sample is the golden funeral mask
made in the form of the sun, which besides being recognized as an icon of Ecuadorian pre-Inca culture, is presently used as the symbol of the country’s Central Bank.
There are many opportunities for canoe rides through the mangroves, birdwatching, and community encounters, as well as long stretches of unspoiled beach at San Pedro y Cauchal.
Visitors to this region will enjoy the unique sound of the Marimba, and the lively dance that accompanies it. The marimba is a magnificent show of rhythm, music, color and seduction and is of the area’s major attractions in the area. An international Marimba festival is held every June in San Lorenzo with representatives from several neighboring countries.
Native Awá and Chachi communities can also be found on the borders of the Reserve.
How to get here:
The most important center in the region is the town of San Lorenzo, where visitors can plan their excursions to the mangroves the communities around the area. To get to San Lorenzo you can travel from Esmeraldas, capital of the Province of the same name, where it is also possible to make a connection by air with Quito.
From Ibarra, capital of the province of Imbabura it is also possible to travel to San Lorenzo by bus, and the highway is in very good condition for travel.
The climate is hot and humid year round, with more rain occurring from December to June. The temperature ranges from 23-35°C.
What to bring:
Insect repellent (minimum 30% DEET).
Light, protective clothing (long sleeved shirt and long trousers).
Rain poncho or light, waterproof jacket.
Plenty of drinking water.
Anti-malarial tablets may also be necessary, seek medical advice before entering the area.
The area by numbers:
• 1,260: The number of plant species endemic to northern Esmeraldas (20% of the total number of species).
• 173: Species of birds identified in the Reserve.
• 52: Species of mammals that inhabit this region.