By Nicolas Caram
Like many travelers, the first time I visited Ecuador, my itinerary included Quito and the Galapagos. Fifteen years later, in November 2022, I returned to the country – this time as an Adventure Travel Trade Association representative joining a selected group of tour operators and media members on AdventureWeek Ecuador.
The Ministry of Ecuador has been working to decentralize tourism around the country and showcase regions that many travelers miss – all while strategically focusing on low impact, high-return adventure tourism and emphasizing environmental, economic, and social sustainability. The effort has paid off. In the last ten years, Ecuador has been named the “World’s Leading Green Destination” seven times by the World Travel Awards, most recently in 2021.
The AdventureWeek itinerary included a wide range of adventure activities throughout less-traveled regions of Ecuador, including Mindo, Cotopaxi, Papallacta, Napo, Tena, and Nanegalito. After seven exciting days of rafting, horseback riding, hiking, birdwatching, biking, and cooking traditional cuisine with an Indigenous community, we all realized the wealth of cultural and natural treasures Ecuador has to offer adventure travelers. It was time to spread the word.
Upon arrival in Cotopaxi, expect to feel breathless. The stark landscape is punctuated by a lone volcano rising above the páramo, wearing its snow-covered peak like a crown. This breathtaking scenery paired with high elevation makes you want to walk slowly, step by step, without any big movements. Being in this mental and physical state – awe and awareness – allowed us to contemplate the scene in a fully present way, and focus on little details. This is how our guide led us through the trails of Cotopaxi National Park, at a slower pace than we were used to, which gave us time to appreciate the deer that walked right by us and the herd of wild horses that galloped fast enough to make the ground tremble.
Next, our group visited a very special place within the Amazon – Sinchi Warmi, a lodge in Tena that is owned and operated by Kichwa women. The Kichwa community shares its customs and traditions through community-based tourism, where visitors like us can learn about their culture. Melissa and her group of “strong women” – which is what Sinchi Warmi means – received us and cleansed our spirits and energy before we entered the lodge. I felt both invigorated and a sense of an internal peace after this ritual.
Inside the lodge, we joined the women in a cooking class to prepare fish they had caught that morning from the Napo River. Melissa showed us how to season the fish and wrap it with two big banana leaves before putting it on top of the fire. While our meal was cooking, Melissa’s mother demonstrated making a bracelet using the fiber of a leaf, natural dyes, and adding different types of seeds. Then it was our turn to make our own, each of us guided by a woman from the community. Beyond the delicious meal and lovely wristband, Sinchi Warmi was an experience of connection and sharing ancient traditions.
From there, our group journeyed into the heart of Tena’s Jatunyacu River. We enjoyed a rush of adrenaline as we paddled through Class III rapids. I had been in other rivers before, but rafting through the jungle of the Ecuadorian Amazon was something completely different. We could see the mountains in the distance where the different tributaries of the river were born, and simultaneously splashed through choppy waves where all the water had converged.
And finally, we traveled to Mindo and the cloud forest, which was my favorite spot. Here, the mix of pristine flora and fauna reminded me of the beech forests that my father used to take me to near the city of Valdivia, in southern Chile, when I was a child. Nowadays it is more challenging to find places like this, where nature is relatively untouched, and humans entering the wilderness must abide by its rules. I can still hear the melody of birds that woke me up very early to let me know a new day was here, and the noticeable absence of cars, people, or factories. Just pure wildlife and nature brought an immense calm and happiness to my mind. I felt home.
AdventureWeek Ecuador gave us the opportunity to visit the country’s wildly diverse landscapes that exist in a fairly compact space, enjoy a wide variety of activities, and experience it all with a local perspective and through connection with the people of Ecuador. The abundant variety of natural landscapes were so different at the páramo, in cloud forest, and in the Amazon. Remarkably, all of these regions are located just a few hours’ drive from each other. Yet, what really stayed with me was how everyone we met received us so kindly, welcoming us to their country and to their homes.
AdventureWeek Ecuador showed us that Ecuador is a destination full of natural beauty and cultural heritage, and the door is open to share with the adventure travel community!
Credit: Adventure Travel News