Latin America has its fair share of sustainability-conscious countries. Costa Rica has been crowned the region’s eco-conscious capital, Brazil wins the award for most endemic species and even Argentina has been adding to its eco-credentials in recent years, with projects that work to protect the country’s natural assets. And while Ecuador is the fourth-smallest country on the continent, it stands proudly among its peers with various initiatives in place that aim to preserve its diverse landscapes and staggering wildlife (the country boasts just over six percent of all species on the planet). The Galapagos Islands are Ecuador’s trump card and Darwin’s ‘little world within itself’ is a shining example of sustainable practices in action. As the urge to travel more responsibly become an irresistible force, we’re championing our concept of Kintsugi Travel (where we aim to build back travel with a more positive impact than before the pandemic). With this in mind, here are several ways to practise sustainable tourism in Ecuador that benefit both the visitor and the destination.
- Undertourism in Ecuador
- Philantourism in Ecuador
- Flight-free Travel in Ecuador
- Community Based Tourism in Ecuador
- Indigenous Travel in Ecuador
Overtourism means too many of us in too few destinations, and Ecuador is no stranger to this. One solution is to travel to lesser-known (but no less special) places that sometimes get overlooked, a practice our collection of Undertourism holidays aim to champion. Another option is to be more mindful when you visit the popular spots. Take the Galapagos Islands. This remote archipelago attracts travellers from far and wide, which sadly puts a strain on the fragile marine and land environment. The government has introduced a systematic programme that regulates how many tourists visit each island daily, but it also helps to be aware of your individual impact; keep your distance from local wildlife, spend time on land eating at local restaurants or staying in local hotels, and as the saying goes, ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints’. Beyond the Galapagos, there are plenty of other places worth visiting including the Andes and the Amazon.
Philantourism, a combination of philanthropy and tourism, is the act of choosing a destination in order to support it with your tourist spending. One easy way of contributing to the local economy is by packing light and stocking up on those all-important souvenirs. Otavalo plays host to one of the busiest and most popular markets in Ecuador, selling everything from intricate jewellery and woven textiles to cosy alpaca sweaters and woolly hats. Other markets worth visiting include Saquisilí (on Thursdays), Ambato (on Mondays) and Sangolqui or El Quinche northeast of Quito (on Sundays). Chocolate and coffee are also worthwhile purchases and by stocking up on Arabica beans in Guayaquil or Robusta in Mindo, you’ll be supporting the communities that produce them. For those with a sweet tooth, sample some Arriba Nacional Cacao, the country’s highest quality cacao export.
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to travel to Ecuador totally flight-free and at least a few flights will be required to reach the South American nation. Yet once you’ve made it to the wildlife-filled land, there are a number of options for traversing the country by train, a great way to practice sustainable tourism in Ecuador. Hop aboard the Devil’s Nose Train from Alausí to Sibambe, which takes you through the rocky slopes of the Andes. Or, for a less hair-rising ride, travel by rail from Quito to either the foothills of Cotopaxi (Ecuador’s second-highest summit), or the town of Machachi, situated in the Avenue of the Volcanoes.
Community Based Tourism is another key component of sustainable tourism in Ecuador. The country’s Chimborazo Province is known for its Indigenous communities, who farm the land to produce corn and potatoes, as well as keeping herds of llamas and alpacas. And the small village of La Moya, situated at the foot of the Chimborazo Volcano and home to about 60 families, has various community-based tourist initiatives including visits to the volcano, tours to observe the local agriculture and Indigenous practices, the opportunity to take part in an Andean healing ceremony with medicinal herbs, and experiences with a local weavers.
Ecuador is well-versed in the importance of honouring Indigenous traditions, thanks to its 14 distinct Indigenous communities, and experiencing these cultures while travelling is an important part of sustainable tourism in Ecuador. Sinchi Warmi Amazon Lodge in Puerto Misahuallí is a shining example of Indigenous tourism. Founded, built and run by a group of Kichwa women, the lodge introduces visitors to their culture through jungle walks, traditional dance performances and chocolate-making classes. Enjoy traditional Kichwa dishes like maito (fish wrapped in bijao leaves), stay in cabañas made from local materials, and immerse yourself in their way of life, content in the knowledge that this traditional community can continue to thrive.
Written by Luisa Watts