The waters of Kimsakucha (three lagoons, in Kichwa) supply thousands of families in the cantons of San Fernando, Santa Isabel and Girón in Azuay province with clean water. Yet they lie in the eye of a hurricane. Conscious of the importance of this resource, the inhabitants have become fervent agents of paramo conservation. And one of their most effective tools is ecotourism.
One would think it a no-brainer: gold, silver and copper… who doesn’t want gold, silver, and copper. As we look out into the distance, taking in the spectacular view of Kimsakucha’s three lakes, it’s easy to forget that some people are more interested in what lies underground.
“The idea of spreading environmental awareness is powerful,” says George Zenteno. “people bring a new mindset back to their homes, and spread a new vision, becoming true guardians of their own territory.” George is a tour guide impassioned by nature conservation. Together with Andrés Illescas, he founded Vive Kimsacucha, “Kimsakucha lives”.
It all began with a training program for guides, where George and Andrés proposed various tourism activities to involve the communities of El Chumblin, La Sombrerera and El Chorro del Carmen in Girón, all located south of the city of Cuenca. After some brainstorming, the program came up with a series of possible activities to boost local production, as well as a novel tourism program.
The route is a veritable ‘awareness tour’, a way of showing newcomers what still exists today and what perhaps tomorrow will no longer be if we persist, as George says, “blinded by what we can’t even see.” The emblematic highlight is, without a doubt, the ‘three lakes’ of Kimsakocha itself, located only 70 kms from the city of Cuenca. The 30-minute hike to the windy elevations where these lakes lie —a site that mining companies have eyed for many years— hits home. Why would anyone want to turn the beauty and splendor of these paramo grasslands into a desert?
The descent to El Chumblin is another experience where visitors get to come close and personal with the locals, learn about the community’s sustainable farming and their cuisine. The communities provide services, offer a warm welcome to their lands. Lunch is prepared with fresh ingredients harvested from local farms in an eco-friendly manner.
Another must-visit site awaits, a true monument of water that speaks symbolically to the locals and can leave visitors deeply impacted: El Chorro, in Girón. The surroundings offer outdoor activities such as ziplining and Tibetan bridges, but the true energy lies plummeting steeply downslope through three spectacular waterfalls and a lush surrounding forest. The locals say these cold waters contain healing properties and spiritual powers, which is why many bathe in them past midnight during the Corpus Cristi festivities. Just to be witness to the powerful surge tumbling wildly downward seems to provide clear testimony to why most people here are so deeply opposed to the mining activities that greedily lurk about these mountains.
George sums it up dramatically: “To let extractive activities take place here… it’s like ripping one’s heart out.” His vision is that of a sustainable, just and regenerative economy, which uses nature, and offers its healing powers, for long-term subsistence.
The day tour begins at 7 am with pickup at Calderon Park in Cuenca or the South Control Gate of Kimsacucha itself. You can organize it any day of the week, confirming ahead of time.
$30 (with lunch and snacks) – 7 am thru 4 pm