Ecuador provides a brilliant backdrop of geography, culture and ecology for those travelers looking to get off the well trodden tourist path and explore a country still considered a virgin on the tourism front. Not yet mollified by the Cancun-esque pollution that accompanies exploited tourism destinations, this ecological wonder is considered a mega-diversity hot spot on the planet. If its culture you seek, you will have your hands full. From the coastal fisherwomen of the Mangroves, the indigenous tribes of the Amazon such as the Shuar and Huarani, to the ancient Quechua peoples of the Andes, Ecuador is comprised of a stunning diversity of cultures. All this wrapped up in a country the size of Colorado which makes it possible to explore the Amazon Jungle by morning and be sitting beachside by evening, passing through the breath taking volcano views as you head west over the Andes.
Not only is this a country rich in natural resources but it is never short on international distinction capturing the eye of environmental research and controversy alike. Ecuador seems to be at the epicenter of key global issues with international mitigators such as Amazon Watch (who is leading the fights against Chevron oil contamination in the Amazon) stepping in to do their part in global conservation, focusing on topics such as: mining in Andean bear country, deforestation, climate change phenomena of melting glaciers in the Andes, ecologically sensitive Andean paramo grasslands, the struggle of indigenous peoples, desertification, medicinal research in the Amazon, and key biologically sensitive niche habitats- home to many threatened and endangered species. The tourism draw to this country on the conservation/volunteer front is growing by leaps and bounds as many flock to be a part of these ever important issues and witness first hand the beauty and uniqueness of this yet unspoiled international travel destination.
Adventure sports enthusiasts are not far behind, eagerly venturing into Ecuador for the extreme mountaineering, climbing, kayaking and, of course, surfing! An ever present enticement as a mountaineering destination, the country’s Andean range serves as a hard earned training grounds for those who are able to top off the killer peak of the world’s highest active volcano, Cotopaxi, within the enchanting Cotopaxi National Park. Just a short hour and half drive from the capitol city of Quito means you can be strapping on your crampons and ice axe shortly after touching down on the tarmac. Other sought after peaks are Ilinizas North and South and the behemoth of Chimborazo topping out at 20,702 feet.
The Andean range is considered a head waters to the Amazon River. The holding grounds for this precious water is a unique ecological wonder known as the paramo. These are the equivalent of giant sponges covered in 10 foot tall grasses, which feed the hungry souls of kayakers seeking out the class 4 and 5 river running that Ecuador has to offer.
Climbers are never short on supply and easy access to back country rock. With a geologic history based in this land of volcanoes the stunning views of columnar jointing apparent in San Juan Canyon would make any hard core trad climber drop their rack on the spot. These classic traditional routes are juxtaposed by the developed sport climbing oasis of Sigsipamapa, again just a short 45 minutes outside of Quito.
Another big draw into Ecuador is the Andean culture- a photographer’s dream with their calliope of colored traditional garb. the Quechua people in their festive wear are sprinkled into the commons of Quito which makes for a colorful and nice surprise when touring the capitol city. One of the largest outdoor markets is located in the high mountains of Otavalo, which explodes on the weekends with booths and tables selling locally grown and made wares. Here you may find alpaca sweaters, paintings, carved masks and hand woven hammocks. The festivals are rock hard south america style which means you either put your game face on or stay home, these are usually a blow out for photographers, egg throwers and off the chart, strange traditions that are culturally confounding and sure to delight!
Recently featured on National Geographic’s No Reservations with Anthony Bordaine, the country’s cuisine is highlighted on the Travel Channel’s documentary which doesn’t skimp on the skewered guinea pigs roasted as a delicacy and readily available in the open markets or roadside restaurants. Ecuador receives 5 gold stars as a travel destination due to its easily accessible transportation. Local bus transportation can get you to the most remote areas of this tiny country in any given direction at any given time. Airports provide daily commuter flights between the major airports of Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca and Manta. This country is still considered to be at its inception on the tourism scene which means you reap the benefits along with a few down turns. However, booking a package tour, where all the kinks have been worked out of the logistics planning which translates into a timely schedule, no hassles and you don’t even have to speak Spanish fluently in a world where few locals speak English.
The benefits are exceedingly obvious when you the hit the coastal zone where you will NOT find: Resorts, high rise buildings and traffic congestion. What you WILL find is: an expressive flamboyant culture, caiparinas (the local cane sugar cocktail), friendly locals, great prices, excellent sea food including cebiche and encocados (made from a coconut sauce), empty beaches as far as the eye can see and a consistent beach break which is just dawning on the surf scene. Novices and moderate surfers alike are discovering the friendly breaks without rock, reef and plenty of space for everyone to ride some waves. Be sure to check out the Lonely Planet’s ever expanding section on Canoa, Ecuador.
There are many online resources available to you regarding travel in Ecuador such as Viva Travel Guides, the Lonely Planet and Virtual Tourist 360.