A Labor Of Love Inside Yurak Allpa Animal Refuge

A Labor of Love: Inside Yurak Allpa Animal Refuge

A trip to Yurak Allpa Animal Refuge is a remarkable, family-friendly experience. My wife and I recently visited with a tour group from La Yunta Restaurant. In this article, I’ll share a bit of what I learned and what we experienced there. We plan to return in the future. Maybe we’ll see you there.

A Man on a Mission

Yurak Allpa Animal Refuge, located about 25 minutes south of Cuenca via the Carretera Panamericana (E35) in picturesque Tarqui, is a magical animal sanctuary. There visitors can commune with over 200 animals from 40 species, about 50% domestic and 50% wildlife. 

But Yurak Allpa isn’t just any animal refuge, it’s a labor of love started by a man who saw a problem and decided to do something about it.

Prior to the early 2000s, it was common for Ecuadorian families to own exotic pets like monkeys, birds, or boa constrictors that had been captured in the Amazon. When the laws changed, and it became illegal to own these types of animals, it caused a problem. Many of the owners could not return the animals to the wild or, if they did, the animals, which had become domesticated, would not survive long.

This is where Alberto Vele comes in. He had lived in the United States for twelve years and, upon returning to his home, decided he could help. His compassion for the people and the plight of the animals prompted him to start a refuge for them on property he owned near Tarqui. In 2003, he founded Yurak Allpa Animal Refuge, and it has been a labor of love for Alberto and the people who work with him. It is an independent project with no government funding.

The name, Yurak Allpa, is Quechua for “White Earth” or “White Land.” The name was chosen because the color white is often associated with help, sanctuary, and refuge. He hoped to provide those things for abused or neglected animals. He provides animals with proper food, shelter, and veterinary services.

After years of funding it out of their own pockets and with some donations, Alberto and his family began allowing public visitors and charging a modest entrance fee in 2008. With the help of locals who make donations or folks like Sole at La Yunta who organize trips for groups to the refuge like the one we took, Yurak Allpa has continued to serve the community and help the animals.

Ostriches, Llamas, Monkeys, and More

When we visited Yurak Allpa on the La Yunta tour, we were welcomed by Sole, Alberto, and a woman named Heidi. They gave us some background information about the refuge and what to expect during our visit. Each of us was given a small bucket filled with fruits and plants to feed the animals. Most of the animals were fond of grapes, but some were quite picky.

In one enclosure, a couple of llamas turned their nose up at any food offered. One took a slice of apple from me as if he was doing me a favor. Several of the monkeys would only eat grapes and showed no interest in any of the other offerings. 

We were told that some of the monkeys love grapes but hate the pits. They sometimes peel the grapes and, if they encounter a pit, they get very upset. It was entertaining to learn about the quirks of these animals.

One of the unique experiences at Yurak Allpa was the ostrich massage. People could climb up on the table next to the ostrich enclosure and lay face down with their faces and heads covered by their arms. Alberto threw corn onto their backs, and the ostrich ate it, its pecking causing a “massage.” It was a unique way to interact with these beautiful birds. YouTube Video of Ostrich Massage.

Some of the enclosures had warning signs about the animals being dangerous. For the most part, though, you can touch and pet the animals and feed them by hand.

Up Close and Personal

Yurak Allpa also works with rescued birds. They provide an educational program that allows visitors to learn about and even handle birds of prey such as hawks and eagles. Injured birds are nursed back to health and undergo rehabilitation so they can eventually return to their natural habitats. This aspect of the experience was unavailable when we visited, but we plan to return and hope to participate in this.

La Granja

Aside from exotic animals like monkeys, ocelots, and water buffalo, La Granja is also interesting because it gives people, especially children, who live in the city a chance to see animals like donkeys and pigs that they may never have encountered before.  They refer to it as an “interactive farm” and you can read more about it in El Mercurio.


The walk around the refuge is pleasant, and the animals are fascinating. The staff is happy to answer any questions you have about the animals, their stories, their diets, or any other information you seek.

Each animal in the refuge has its own unique story of how it came to live there. Most of the stories are sad, sometimes a bit humorous. All the stories are touching.

For example, there is a little monkey that was an alcoholic and, after many years, is now recovered. A couple of blue-yellow macaws arrived without plumage due to liver damage caused by the food they were fed in the house where they lived.

Wrapping Up

Visiting Yurak Allpa is a unique experience, as well as a way for you to support a local, independent animal rescue that has been doing amazing work for nearly two decades. 

You will encounter and learn about a variety of exotic animals, and meet the compassionate people who work at the refuge.

If you’re looking for a heartwarming and educational adventure, a visit to Yurak Allpa Animal Refuge should definitely be on your list.

Visiting Yurak Allpa

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