Discover Ecuador’s sustainable ecotourism experiences

Discover Ecuador's sustainable ecotourism experiences

From the lungs of the earth to the founding place of evolution, little Ecuador packs a big punch, exceeding expectations in nature-based sustainable travel. Leading the way as a global change-maker, Ecuador marries dense rainforests, untamed rivers and prehistoric volcanoes with community, culture and conservation.

It’s worth noting that ecotourism and sustainable travel aren’t exactly the same thing – ecotourism can be unsustainable. Sustainability refers to the broader concept of creating travel that is not environmentally or culturally damaging. Ecuador combines these two brilliantly; here’s a list of some of our favorite sustainable ecotourism experiences.

The rise of ecotourism in Ecuador

Ecuador may be the smallest contender to make the list of the top ten most biodiverse countries, but that doesn’t stop it from inspiring and educating when it comes to ecotourism. Ecuadorian tourism entrepreneurs are leading the way regarding sustainable ecotourism, creating the awareness and attracting the financial support necessary to protect the environment around them. Rather than harvesting land, flora and fauna for short-term gain, many are employing sustainable models designed to generate revenue for generations to come.

Sustainable Travel in the Galapagos

In a place that is wild, raw and always lives up to expectations set by film documentaries, the Galapagos National Park is a poster child for high standards of environmental protection. 97% of the volcanic archipelago has been protected  – people live on the other 3%. And while the number of visitors allowed per yacht tour license hasn’t changed in 25 years, the islands have seen an increase in the standard of service, boat efficiency, rules on marine pollution and the allocation of yachts per location. The National Park Authority identifies variables such as how much wildlife lives on each island and how close they are to pathways in order to determine how many people can be on each given pathway and at what time of day.

Train rides through the Avenue of Volcanos

In an area punctuated with rolling hills, glacier-capped volcanoes and cloud-piercing mountains – all evidence of past tectonic activity – it’s hard to imagine a better backdrop for train travel. These types of trips, however, are usually costly and generally don’t put sustainability first. Tren Ecuador, on the other hand, prides themselves on “breaking with the traditional model of luxury train rides” to offer an affordable experience where everyone wins.

Departing from the old city center in Quito, the Tren de los Volcanes tour travels through the “Avenue of the Volcanoes,” passing the iconic Pichincha and Cotopaxi volcanoes. The train makes a three stops along the way; including Cotopaxi National Park, where visitors disembark and take guided hikes through the temperate forests. At the final stop in Machachi, passengers enjoy a meal from Café del Tren, a locally owned and operated business working with Tren Ecuador via the company’s social responsibility program.

In addition to operating under the United Nations’ Global Code of Ethics for tourism, Tren Ecuador invites nearby communities to take a leading role in product innovation, which in turn results in several community-operated restaurants, artisanal markets, museums, lodges and indigenous dance group presentations along the tracks.

Bicycle adventures in Baños

Located on the edge of the Amazon and in the middle of Ecuador’s enchanting cloud forests, Baños is a mountain and freshwater adventure hub that immerses travelers in experiences that have low environmental impact.

White water rafting, mountain biking, zip lining, mountaintop swinging, relaxing in hot springs, kayaking, hiking – the list goes on. Most travelers don’t set aside enough time for it all, but if you want to make the most of Baños, prepare to get an early start and participate in more than one activity a day.

The best way to see the area’s beautiful waterfalls is by biking the Ruta de Cascadas (Route of the Waterfalls). It can get busy, so wake up early to catch the cascadas before the crowds. Several gondolas, hiking trails and boardwalks take you to the cloud forest-shrouded waterfalls. Bike rentals in Baños can vary in quality and condition; we recommend Wonderful Ecuador for rentals and cycling tours.

How to select sustainable operators

Sustainable travel can be broken down into a few key elements that all relate back to purpose and picking the right operators is an essential part of shifting tourism development patterns. When choosing a lodge or operator, pay attention to the connection between their values of community, culture and environment. The profits and benefits should go to the local communities, not corporations or chains. The environment should be protected and utilized as an educational asset, creating awareness and demand to keep it intact. And in Ecuador in particular, local indigenous culture should honored and preserved through realistic and stable employment opportunities. If these three attributes align, you’ll have a purpose-driven, sustainable adventure to remember.