La Hesperia’s history is extensive and fascinating. According to experts and archaeological records, we know that this area was the home of the Yumbos, an indigenous group that lived here more than five hundred years ago. They were hunters, collectors, and traders; they used the culuncos, ancient paths, to transport merchandise and information between the coast to the highlands. In his book Tropical Forest Archaeology in Western Pichincha, Ecuador, Ronald Lippi quotes the Spanish chronicler Cieza de Léon, who wrote of his experiences with the Yumbos in 1553:
There are some towns whose natives are not very servile as are the Indians around Quito, nor are they very subdued; on the contrary they are more unruly and arrogant. This comes from living in such rough terrain which, due to the warmth and fertility, is well endowed with resources. They also worship the sun and are similar in their customs and concerns to their neighbours, because they were subjugated by the great Topa Inca Yupanqui and by Huayna Capac, his son…
So, if the chronicle is correct, we know that the Yumbos lived in this area since before the expansion of the Inca Empire in the 1400s. They also had close links with the Quito native tribes, and Lippi notes that they used a network of culuncos that connected various parts of Yumbo country with the Sierra and the coast. Such culuncos can be seen in the higher elevations of La Hesperia. The discovery of many pieces of ancient pottery suggests that perhaps there was an ancient town or a trade centre here. At the time of the expansion of the Inca Empire, the Incas used the paths for commercial purposes. Their chasquis (messengers) ran along these paths daily with fresh fish for the Inca King Atahualpa. To this day, there could still be a plethora of evidence about the anthropogenic history of the ancient inhabitants hidden within the lush, verdant forest.
During the sixteenth century the Yumbos fell into decline due to a combination of Spanish colonisation and lethal diseases such as smallpox and measles that the conquistadores brought with them from Europe. New inhabitants came to live in the mountains west of Quito. By colonial times, the property of La Hesperia covered a tremendous area of land (from Aloag to Santo Domingo), and was owned by the Marquesa de Solanda, wife of the Mariscal of Ayacucho Antonio Jose de Sucre, a close friend and comrade at arms of Simon Bolivar (responsible for the independence of Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia). The Marquesa did not develop the land where La Hesperia is now located, due to its harsh environment and lack of roads. At this time, as the monkeys, toucans, parrots, jaguars, and other creatures in La Hesperia were living in relative tranquillity, several violent battles were taking place elsewhere in what is now Ecuador to make the dream of Ecuadorian independence a reality. In 1830, Ecuador was born as a republic. As time passed, the borders of La Hesperia were reduced in size and much of its forest was lost to development.
In 1970, the Ecuadorian government passed a law stating that any Ecuadorian family that lived on a plot of land for five years and could prove that they were working on it (in other words, by cutting the forest and farming) could have the property title. A huge amount of forest was destroyed because of this law, and La Hesperia lost half of its land. Instead of cultivating coffee and sugar cane, cattle were introduced. At this time the word "conservation" had not manifested as an actual environmental concept in Ecuador. The first Ecuadorian conservation NGO was not founded until 1978.
In 1988, the decision was made to protect La Hesperia’s forest as a reserve for the good of the wildlife and the benefit of the world. In 1992, the first management plan was written and the fight against deforestation started. Without financial resources, it was difficult to accomplish conservation and social development goals; therefore, several options were considered. Since 1992, we have received students from different parts of the world. Recognizing the importance of La Hesperia for the conservation of birds, the Bird Life International and Conservation International included it in the Río Toachi-Chiriboga Important Bird Area in 2002. La Hesperia has formed a number of affiliations with various foundations and organizations over the years to receive funding for conservation and educational projects.
La Hesperia’s journey has been long and winding, and it is certainly not over. The reserve continues to evolve to ensure the protection of the cloud forest and the perpetuation of sustainable living. However, we could not have reached this point without the researchers, volunteers, and visitors who have supported us, and, as we continue to move forward, the sustained support of those who care about the environment will be integral. After all, as we often say here at La Hesperia, conservation has, and always will be, a shared responsibility.