Niche tourism in Ecuador

The digital age has changed everyone’s life, as well as people’s style of traveling and how tour operators organize trips. Today’s travelers have to deal with an immense, almost unmanageable amount of online information, which poses new challenges for individuals and tour operators alike. All of this means that concepts of specialization, innovation, efficiency, and creativity are more and more important.

Personalized and tailor-made trips, designed according to the interests of each traveler, are the new trend. This is because tourists are no longer satisfied with brochures providing general descriptions or standard destinations. It’s no longer enough to offer sun and surf or a city tour from a seat on a tour bus. Rather, people are now looking for unique experiences, specially designed just for them, and therefore very specific and, they’re willing to pay for these tours.

Ecuador is one of the places in the world where such tourist operations have become specialized, with offerings that include everything from community and religious tourism to adventure tourism in the mountains, rainforest and on the sea. Each place has different features to offer and different approaches to visits. Let’s take a look at some of these approaches.

1. Community tourism: the difference between observing and experiencing

Community tourism allows the traveler to get involved and interact with local people, and have authentic experiences in which they are transformed by the places they visit. Also called human tourism, this approach encourages an exchange of experiences between travelers and hosts. In addition, it supports the sustainable development of communities and creates sources of local employment.

Today in Ecuador, various types of community tourism are offered. One of the most important has been developed over the past 20 years by indigenous communities of the Amazon. These communities, located in the Sumaco Napo Galeras National Reserve, have found a way to welcome visitors, guide them in the observation rainforest plant and animal life, teach them about indigenous Kichwa culture, and turn these visitors into participants in the life of the communities. Their community ecotourism network (RICANCIE) is based on a self-management model and offers two- to four-day tours in which visitors can visit the following communities:

Alukus

Located in the Llanganates National Park, an hour by car from the town of Tena, travelers can visit sacred sites, butterfly farms and purifying baths at the Amarum, Kachi and Alukus waterfalls. In addition, hiking through the nearby mountains and jungle are some of the options offered during a visit.

Chuva Urku

Rest, scientific research and the possibility of visiting a community located in the primary forest are whats provided when visiting the Chuva Urku cabins and community. An hour by car from the Ecuadorian capital city of Quito, followed by a 45-minute motor canoe ride and then an hour walk along the trail, is the route for visitors who come here. The cabins, which overlook the Cusano River, allow guests to enjoy the silence of the jungle, while organized walks take them to sites such as a lookout point above the Chuva Urku River, to giant Ceiba trees, and to the Supay Uktu cave of supernatural spirits.

Santa Elena

Located within the Limoncocha Biological Reserve, this community is located seven hours by bus from Tena and nine hours from Quito. Nature, alligator watching, and relaxation are some of the options here. In Limoncocha, one can appreciate the rich wildlife of prehistoric reptiles, exotic birds, brilliantly colored poison frogs, and the Black and Spectacled caimans that thrive in this habitat.

Machakuyaku

In this community, located 45 minutes from the city of Tena, visitors can actually live with a Kichwa family and learn about their day-to-day way of life everything from food preparation, agricultural work, their medical practices, oral traditions, handicrafts making and more. The community has a natural pool, whose waters are said to possess healing properties, though another option is taking a healing bath under the Latas Waterfalls or going tubing in the waters of the Napo River. Being in a secondary forest, you can also go on rainforest hikes and observe the wildlife there.

Rio Blanco

This is a community known for its fields in which medicinal plants are grown that are used in the healing ceremonies of shamans. The indigenous Kichwa people allow visitors to participate in agricultural and domestic work, and this community also offers the possibility of staying in cabins overlooking the Humabuno River and taking a purifying bath under the Anaconda Waterfall.

Rua Huasi

Located on the banks of the Napo River, visitors to this community can take walks through the jungle and participate in the daily lives of families, who are often found seated in front of their cabins. Other options for tourists staying at Rua Huasi are visits to the El Amazonico Animal Rescue Center, canoe trips, sports fishing, and tubing in the nearby river.

Sinchipura

In this community, visitors seeking adventure can participate in extreme sports in the river. Tourists stay in ecologically friendly cabins located next to Kichwa families on the banks of the Jatun Yaku River. Also, visitors can go on walks to the Puma Rumi petroglyph (rock carvings) and to the natural Pasu Urku lookout point, from where you can see the stunning Sumaco Volcano in the distance.

Wasila Talag

In this community, the waterfalls and the blue lagoon of Waysa Yaku are beautiful sites that can be accessed after short walks through the jungle. Other options are climbing the Wasila Ridge and walking along the banks of the Napo River. In addition, a visit to the Bilingual Community Educational Center allows you to familiarize yourself with the writings of the Kichwa people, to participate in sports with the young people of the community, and to live for a few days with an area family in a hut located on the bank of the Talag River.

2. Religious tourism: Quito at the heart

Ecuador’s capital city of Quito boasts one of the largest historical districts in Latin America, with this area’s narrow cobblestone streets, block-long colonial mansions, houses typical of the Republican age, and its remarkable cathedrals and Catholic monasteries. This district of Quito covers an area of close to 1-1/2 square miles and houses 130 monumental buildings. In many of these museums, churches and convents are found various examples of religious sculptural and pictorial art. Because of all this, in 1978 UNESCO declared the Ecuadorian capital a Cultural Patrimony of Humanity. For those who love religious art, or simply the various expressions of human spirituality, this city is a fascinating destination. In Quito you can witness several jewels, including the following:

Basilica del Voto Nacional

The largest neo-gothic structure in Ecuador, and one of the most important in Latin America, this Catholic church reaches a height of 115 meters and houses 24 chapels, which represent the number of Ecuadorian provinces. For its majesty and style, this structure in the form of a Gothic cross has been compared to other great cathedrals in the world, including Paris Notre Dame and Saint Patrick Cathedral in New York.

Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito

Located next to the city’s Independence Square and adjacent to the Palace of Carondelet (the seat of the nation’s government) and the Municipal Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral was built of stone using the “minga” system for hauling, carving and masonry. Its construction began in 1560, though an eruption of the Pichincha Volcano forced the rebuilding of the temple in 1660.

La Compaa Church

Constructed and furnished over a period of 160 years (1605-1765) by designers of the Quitea School of art, this church is one of the most important representations of Latin American baroque. Its arches, altarpieces, sculptures, altar and picture frames are all covered with gold leaf. Considered by some as the best Jesuit temple in the world, the La Compaa Churchs facade is carved entirely out of gray volcanic stone.

Church of San Francisco

One of the largest religious complexes in Latin America, this structure includes a church, the Pedro Gocial Museum of Religious Art, a Franciscan convent and the great square one of the most emblematic spaces in Quito’s historic district. The church was built between 1536 and 1605, and is another example of the art of the Quitea School.

3. Galapagos and the jungle: excellent honeymoon destinations

Honeymoon travel is a specialization in itself and is the perfect chance for couples to deepen their bonds as they begin their new lives together. For that reason, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and its Amazonian rainforest are excellent destinations.

A Galapagos honeymoon tour

A fantasy honeymoon can be experienced in the Galapagos Islands, a place where you will find the maximum expressions of life, bright crystalline waters, exotic and curious creatures, picturesque lands with unique plant life, and luxurious accommodations revealing a commitment to conservation and sustainability. For honeymoons in the Galapagos Islands, we have two lodging suggestions: one based in hotels situated on inhabited islands, and the other onboard a luxury catamaran that cruises the archipelago on 5, 6 and 7-night tours.

Pikaia Lodge

Given its central location in the Galapagos archipelago, Pikaia Lodge has developed the concept of daily island-hopping tours to nearby islands. This means that you spend nights at this luxury hotel and travel during the day to close-by islands where you will discover white sand beaches and exotic wildlife.

These combined hotel-yacht trips have the advantage of being very flexible throughout the tour, as they can be customized according to the client’s interest. This means that couple can go on boat excursions aboard the lodges luxurious 30-meter (100-foot) yacht, as well as go on land excursions around the lodge on Santa Cruz Island. For honeymooners, these land and sea excursions allow the couple to explore everything from amazing lava tunnels, playful sea lions, and white sand beaches. In addition, Pikaia Lodge has its own tortoise reserve, where you can come face-to-face with the famous Galapagos giant tortoises.

Athala motor-catamaran Galapagos cruise

This luxurious 16-passenger catamaran has eight spacious cabins, four of them with private balconies. All of the cabins have large windows and double beds, while the upper deck has a bar and an open area for relaxing or dining al fresco. The Athalas spacious terrace is the ideal spot for spotting dolphins, whale-watching or simply relaxing. Plus, the Athala II is one of the fastest boats in the islands, allowing you to see more in less time.

A newly-wed tour in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Visiting an eco-community in the Amazonian rainforest is a fascinating and perfect experience for a honeymoon. Of the handful of Amazonian lodges that provide high-quality facilities and services, we suggest two: the Hamadryade Lodge, which is easily accessible from Quito; and the Napo Wildlife Center, which while a little more remote, is well worth the effort to reach it.

Hamadryade Lodge

This French owned and operated lodge offers an excellent opportunity to combine an Amazonian experience without sacrificing comfort. Located just a 3-1/2 hour drive from Quito, its the perfect place for a couple to experience adventure in the heart of the jungle while enjoying the pleasures of an exclusive private lodge with spacious, comfortable and attractive bungalows.

This adventure provides unique opportunities for discovering the Amazon rainforest through a host of activities from walks under the primary and secondary canopy to specialized tours (ornithology, etymology, and others), as well as visits to indigenous Kichwa and Waorani communities, trips to jungle lagoons and waterfalls, night-time safaris for observing nocturnal wildlife, river tubing, and rides in canoes, kayaks and rafts.

Napo Wildlife Center

This spectacular lodge, situated on the majestic Napo River, is located within the Yasun National Park, in northeastern Ecuador. The award-winning Napo Wildlife Lodge an eco-lodge owned and operated by the local Aangu Kichwa indigenous community was built according to the principles of traditional architecture, though possessing all of the modern advantages. The Napo Wildlife Center Lodge has 20 luxurious thatched bungalows, as well as social areas that include a large open-air restaurant, a reading room and a well-stocked bar. In addition, there are two observation towers: one that’s 15 meters (50 feet) high, and another stainless steel structure that reaches a height of 36 meters (120 feet). Both of these allow travelers to observe wildlife from above the rainforest canopy.

4. Adventure tourism in the Ecuadorian Andes

Trekking, horseback riding, mountaineering, rafting, birdwatching and countless other activities can be shared in one of the most beautiful regions of South America. The two experiences that we recommend are Hacienda Rumiloma (perched above Quito, at an altitude of two miles above sea level), and San Agustin de Callo (a working hacienda, located at the foot of the worlds largest active volcano).

Hacienda Rumiloma

Situated on a 100-acre estate, high in an Andean cloud forest on the slopes of the Pichincha Volcano and facing the city of Quito, Hacienda Rumiloma is known for its smart fusion of Ecuadorian traditions and sophisticated international flavor. Indeed, these qualities that are incarnated in everything from its amazing menu to its eclectic interior, not to mention the personalities of its owners and the warmth of the staff. The lodge has a number of comfortable guest rooms, perfect for relaxing after a long day of sightseeing in the capitals historic district (just 10 minutes away by taxi), or for enjoying an after-dinner drink while appreciating the city lights down below. Travelers can choose from seven spectacular suites, each provided with a unique blend of antiques, artwork, and handicrafts from the farthest corners of Ecuador. Bathrooms feature antique tubs and hand-painted bronze basins, while all of the suites have large beds, lounges, interior gardens and/or terraces and of course the best views of Quito.

Hacienda San Agustin de Callo

Just an hour from Quito, near the entrance to Cotopaxi National Park, Hacienda San Agustin del Callo is a country estate whose main house was built on what was an Inca temple. Where else can newlyweds dine between walls of an Inca temple and next to niches that contain statues of their ancestral gods? This hacienda is the furthest point north of Cusco (Peru) where you can find a structure built in the style of the Inca Empire. In the main building (Casa Inca) are the dining room and the living room that looks onto a beautiful garden, while the rooms are located around the courtyard or in separate, nearby pavilions. In addition, there is a charming little chapel where weddings are held.

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator.

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