An estimated 600,000 Ecuadorians will take to the roads for the four-day Carnaval weekend, from Saturday to Tuesday. Along with Cuenca’s independence holiday which combines with the Day of Dead in October, it is the longest holiday of the year.
The holiday is also significant as the first one in two years without many Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. In 2021, most holiday activities were suspended. The country’s highways are open with no provincial border closing and most outdoor activities are being allowed with no capacity limits.
“This is the holiday with the least rules since the pandemic began in March 2020, so it is expected that there will be a high volume of movement around the country as well social interaction,” says Ecuador Emergency Operations Committee (COE) President Juan Zapata. “All signs tell us that the coronavirus is winding down and it is important that people gather for traditional activities and have fun. We are all tired of the restrictions.”
Deputy Minister of Health José Ruales told the COE Friday that Covid infections continue to decline and that conditions at hospitals have almost “returned to normal.” Last week there were 13,600 infections, all of them of Omicron variants, down from 40,569 and 51,300 the two previous weeks. “We are on the road to recovery,” he reported.
He said the health ministry expects a small increase in infections after the holidays but adds that the country’s health system can manage it. “Our vaccination program has protected the vast majority of Ecuadorians from serious illness and many others have protection from natural infection. We think we are in a good place in terms of our health.”
According to officials, the most popular tourist destinations this weekend will be the beaches, Cuenca and Quito and small towns in the Andes known for their Carnaval festivities.
Tourism officials in Guayaquil and Manta, cities that have traditionally attracted large Carnaval crowds, worry that news of drug-related murders will keep their numbers down this year. “We are worried about the perception since it is scaring people away,” says Paul Gomez of the Guayaquil tourism board. “It is very hard to get the message out that most of the city is safe. The U.S. government is telling tourists not to come here and people in Ecuador read about the murders every day.”
He adds: “When I ask people where they will be for the holidays, they all say to the beach or to Cuenca.”
In Cuenca, hotel and restaurant owners believe they will see the most business in two years. “Our bookings are at 80 to 90 percent and we expect to receive more reservations on Saturday,” says Ana Ramos, spokesperson for the local hotel association. As Gomez indicated, she said that visitors from Guayaquil have become a major source of business for the Cuenca tourism industry. “During the pandemic, many Guayaquileños have discovered Cuenca and we believe they will continue to come even after Covid-19 is gone. They love the historic district, the tram, the craft shows and all the restaurants.”
The COE continues to urge Ecuadorians to observe health protocols such as masking and social distancing indoors. They also recommend that businesses that remain under capacity limits check vaccine cards of those entering their premise but say this is no longer a requirement.