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A gold and fuchsia sunset erupts across the sky above a virgin jungle stretching across the horizon. A rainbow emerges over the eastern Amazonian hills and the gravel-braided Upano River. To the west, the snowy Sangay volcano glows lava-red. As darkness closes in, the song of night flows through the rough-hewn streets of Macas.


Nestled in the eastern part of Ecuador, six hours south of Puyo, the sleepy jungle town of Macas was founded at the end of the 16th century as a missionary outpost. Today, it serves as a center for exploring the natural and cultural riches of the area.


Take an excursion to Sangay National Park, home to three volcanoes, including Sangay itself, which is one of the world’s most active volcanoes continuously spewing ash, stones and fumes; Tungurahua, also presently active; and Altar. The park’s ecosystems range from tropical rainforest to páramo (barren highland) and glacial. Fauna include majestic condor, mountain tapir, puma and ocelots.


Hiking can be very arduous and a good guide is highly recommended. Hiking to the Sangay Volcano will take about seven days. On the way to the Park, near the villages of Santa Rosa and Guapala, is the Complejo Hombre Jaguar archaeological site. Little is known about these ruins, composed of numerous tolas (burial mounds).


Macas is in the midst of Shuar territory. Once known as the “head-hunting” Jívaro, these indigenous people allow visits to traditional villages only with approved guides, in order to learn about their misunderstood culture.


At the confluence of the Kapawari and Pastaza rivers is the Kapawari Ecological Reserve, working in cooperation with the local community. The Achuar-styled complex is set in an area rich in biodiversity, and is reached by plane and canoe.


Tour agencies may arrange short or long treks into the jungle or Sangay National Park, whitewater rafting on the Río Upano, or other adventures. In the city itself, there is an archaeological museum and a recreational park rich in orchids and with great views of the Upano River valley. A few kilometers north, on the Cupueno River, is La Cascada, which offers great swimming, a water slide and a picnic area.


Macas offers an alternative route into the cultural and natural richness of the Ecuadorian Oriente. Whether to visit a Shuar community, or merely to gaze upon Sangay glowing on the horizon, a visit to this town promises to be unforgettable.

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