The Ever-Changing Face of Ecuador
Airport Updates: The long-awaited new Quito international airport is scheduled to open in October 2010. Further improving air travel to and from the city, the airport will be located at a lower altitude of 7,874 feet, expanding the air traffic area which will be able handle some five million passengers a year to begin with and up to 7.5 million by 2030. Additionally, Ecuador’s first duty-free zone will be established in Quito’s new airport. In other developments, the José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil won the number one spot as Latin’s America’s top airport by www.businessweek.com. The annual survey, called the Airport Service Quality Awards, polled 200,000 passengers in 90 airports around the world on 34 indicators ranging from the availability of luggage carts to restroom cleanliness. The brand new 400,000 square-foot international and domestic passenger terminal in Guayaquil’s renovated airport is now recognized by domestic and international passengers as a wonderful start to a trip in Ecuador.
Tourists flying into the José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil will also find a new initiative of a cacao plantation growing next to the airport. The 3,600 square foot cacao plantation includes its own irrigation system. Ecuadorian cacao reigns supreme in Latin America and produces some of the world’s finest chocolate. Cuenca’s municipality is also financing a project for the renovation of the city’s airport with an approximate budget of 4.5 million dollars. Visit www.quiport.com, www.tagsa.aero, and www.municipalidadcuenca.gov.ec
Hotel Developments: Yachana Lodge, a Geotourism Lodge and School, won the National Geographic Geotourism Change Maker Contest. Yachana LodgeYachana Lodge provides practical, hands-on education for Ecuadorian youth in the Amazon. As the country’s only school offering a degree in eco tourism and sustainable development, it is deeply involved in cultural programs, the newest being the Amazon Culinary Tour, where guests and students harvest and prepare Amazonian foods together. Visit www.yachana.com
Travelers to Quito will find a new 141-room Holiday Inn Express located in the buzzing Mariscal quarter, steps away from a myriad of restaurants that suit every pallet and wallet in addition to variety of music venues and nightlife. The new Holiday Inn Express is 12-stories high with a total of 137 rooms and four suites with amenities such as a business center, meeting space, fitness center and indoor swimming pool, and underground parking. Rooms at the new Holiday Inn Express Quito start at $110 with breakfast, wireless connection and free local calls. Visit www.hiexpress.com
New Convention Centers
Originally built between 1917 and 1933, the former Eugenio Espejo Hospital, a beautiful Neo-Classical set of buildings in Quito, has been rebuilt and given a new life. Since March 2008, FONSAL has restored three additional pavilions and a chapel which has created more space for cafes and offices. The complex holds a capacity of 1,200 which includes seating for 250 in each pavilion. Visit www.quito.com.ec
Guayaquil unveiled the city’s new Simón Bolívar convention and tradeshow center, also called Expoguayaquil in July 2008. The convention center is 225,000 square-feet making it one of the five largest centers for conventions in Latin America. The new convention center was previously the international terminal at the Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport. Visit www.expoguayaquil.com
Training through the Andes
For those interested in experiencing a taste of Ecuador’s Andean culture and history, a trip on the vintage Guayaquil and Quito steam train is not to be missed. The re-opening of the 68-mile stretch from Quito to the provincial capital of Latacunga is expected at the end of 2008, which will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the completion of the entire Quito-Guayaquil line in 1908. The rehabilitation of the railway was the long-standing wish of Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa. In April 2007, he declared a ‘Railway Emergency’ and began the plan to restore Ecuador’s steam train to its former glory and reinstate the line stretching from the Andes to the Coast.
The creation of the Guayaquil and Quito Railroad marked a beginning of a new era in 1908, uniting the country, and expanding trade and tourism. The track climbs some 11,811 feet in elevation, from the Pacific coast to the snow capped Chimborazo Volcano in the Ecuadorian highlands.
Travelers to Ecuador can arrange for steam train charters along the historical railroad from July to January. Visitors will be able to enjoy the experience of riding the rails along the Avenue of the Volcanoes while discovering a rich part of Ecuadorian history.
For news updates, visit www. purecuador.com
January 2008 Feature
Traveling Mindfully in Ecuador
By Maria Lisella
The winds of change have caught fire in Ecuador . From taxi drivers to guides to hacienderos [hacienda owners] to chagras [cowboys] to the condors being rehabilitated at Hacienda Zuleta– there is a common knowledge that this is a special place that demands to be protected.
What makes Ecuador rich is its mix of indigenous and European cultures, its vestiges of feudal, colonial pasts juxtaposed with a passion and a commitment to preserve what is, in the face of what is to come.
Split by the Andean Mountain range, with a piece of coastline dotted with the dazzling Galapagos Islands and their peculiar population of sweet sea lions and tortoises traveling with their prehistoric homes on their backs, a colonial capital city that is three hours from a steamy landscape of snow-capped volcanoes and thermal pools such as the Termas de Papallacta, a week in Ecuador can enhance one’s life.
As the dollar weakens in Europe, Latin America stands as an incredible alternative. Ecuador bears some familiarity – Spanish is the official language, English is widely spoken, the U.S. dollar is its currency. The dollar goes a long way here – long enough to take visitors to lunch of shrimp ceviche and pernil at the Hotel Plaza Grande for about $10-$15.
This year, Quito celebrates its 30th anniversary as the first World Heritage Site city. “Quito is the Latin American city that invests the most in its cultural heritage – $40 million in 2006. With the dramatic changes for the better we’ve seen in our historic center – the largest in the Americas – tourism infrastructure has grown in leaps and bounds. There are great new boutique hotels, restaurants for every budget, restored churches, fascinating museums and intriguing street life, according to” Cristina Guerrero de Miranda, Executive Director of the Quito Visitors’ Bureau. Quito has been called “The Florence of Latin America.”
A New Generation of Tour Operators
The spirit behind Ecuador’s marketing line, La Vita Pura or Life at its Purest, has spawned a new generation of tour operators with a consciousness far beyond making a profit. Gentian Trails is among those operators that offer authentic visions of the culture by getting travelers as close to the life of an Ecuadorian as is possible during a week-long visit. Staying often at Haciendas -- Zuleta, Cusin and Pinsaqui among the most well known -- each of which plays a part in the Sustainable Tourism theater.
“For 2008, we are promoting art tours that include visits to the home and workshop of the best painter in Ecuador, Osvaldo Viteri; our clients love the place, as Viteri also owns one of the finest colonial art collections in Ecuador,” said Santiago Martinez, president of Gentian, who along with Eleanora Ortiz are tourism veterans who decided to deliver their own vision of what is most important in Ecuador and for now, that includes more than the Galapagos.
Martinez’s knowledge trickles down to the smallest detail as a recipe for quinoa soup or the differences among the potatoes at the Otavalo food market to the myths of saints and sinners depicted in portraits at San Augustin to the rites of the Afro-Andean cultures to the joy of being a weekend chagra.
This year, Gentian will also add visits to the Workshop School of Quito, which is housed in the Old Maternity Hospital, where students between 16 to 23 years old learn traditional stone and wood carving (old colonial style), furniture making, artistic gardening, tailoring and embroidery.
On a recent visit, visitors rode horses to the Condor Huasi Project at Hacienda Zuleta. The riders included the descendant of no less than two former Presidents of Ecuador, against the backdrop of the paramo, high-altitude grasslands for a visit with semi-captive condors. A scuffle in the cage announced the arrival of five condors with six-foot wide wing spans lifted by the breezes below. Once nearly extinct, today there are about 75 Andean condors dipping and gliding in Ecuadorian skies.
Call the Ecuador Tourist Board at 800-328-2367 or visit www.ecuadortouristboard.com
August 2007 Feature
Ecuador: Fragile and Focused
By Maria Lisella
Recently the Ecuadorian government conducted an all-day seminar and workshop for the travel trade in the New York area. TheGalapagos Islands are clearly the headliner attractions in Ecuador, but Quito, its captial city, should not be overlooked nor should its other regions: the Amazon, the Northern and Southern Andes, and its Coast. Below are a few developments announced recently.
Be a Good Visitor, Be a Good Host
Because Ecuador is gaining popularity each year, the Ecuadorian government, the nation’s private sector, and a variety of conservation groups, including Rainforest Alliance, and Conservacion y Desarrollo (C&D) established an independent, nonprofit, non-governmental organization in 1992 to “promote sustainable development and the rational use of natural resources, and to raise public consciousness about resource management.” The SmartVoyager certification program is among the efforts to certify which companies abide by its practices to safeguard the site.
Seasoned and responsible travelers have relied upon such sustainable tourism certification programs as SmartVoyager to find tour boat and tour operators in Ecuador that meet strict conservation standards and actively participate to protect the environment, wildlife, the well-being of workers and local communities.
In an effort to protect this national treasure, Ecuador is re-evaluating the implementation of further measures aimed at protecting the Galapagos Islands from all activities that are deemed non-sustainable.
Among its efforts to protect the Galapagos, the Ecuadorian government is reviewing additional measures to further limit tourism arrivals to the archipelago, by decreasing the number of tourism permits according to a special law developed for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of the Province of the Galapagos.
Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism is currently developing Plandetur 2020, a master plan that will set guidelines regulating the tourism activity in all of Ecuador in order to guarantee a sustainable development of the tourism industry in the country.
At the same time, The International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA) has said it concurs with the latest findings from the United Nations stating that the Galapagos Islands is being threatened by tourism, invasive species and migration. These factors, the IGTOA said, “are causing unprecedented pressure on the islands and that urgent action is needed."
In May, it said, "The Galapagos Islands are at a critical turning point, and decisions taken now will determine whether its fragile terrestrial and marine ecosystems can survive human impact.”
Mindalae Museum Offers a glimpse into Ecuador’s rich artistic tradition. Funded by the government of Belgium and the municipal government of Quito, the new Mindalae Museum opened its doors to the public in late 2006 in Quito’s Mariscal district. The word “Mindalae” comes from the word Mindala, a term used for merchants in pre-Colombian civilizations in the Americas. The new museum consists of five floors, with a large collection of archaeological artifacts, tools, and handicrafts from indigenous highland, Amazonian, Afro-Ecuadorian, and coastal cultures. Visit www.sinchisacha.org
Villa Colonna: Opened January, 2007, this two-story 19th century bed and breakfast is situated in the historic center of Quito. Each of its five suites has its own design, along with antiques, fireplaces, lofty ceilings, and polished wood floors. Villa Colonna also offers a patio, living room, meeting room and an outdoor terrace, where guests can take in the spectacular views of Quito. Breakfast includes a variety of tropical fruits, yogurts, fresh croissants, juices, coffee, and tea. Visit www.villacolonna.ec
Luna Runtun: Inaugurated a new Presidental Suite, two executive suites and five thermal pools surrounded by 63 acres of lush rainforest. A beautiful hacienda, Luna Runtun is nestled above the town of Banos. The two new executive suites have their own kitchen, living room, and jacuzzis as well.
Located three hours from Quito in the shadow of the Tungurahua volcano, Luna Runtun has a number of activities such as hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, canoeing, and rafting.
Guests can choose from a menu of spa treatments using natural medicinal plants, fruits, and vegetables from the hacienda’s orchards, and therapeutic volcanic stones and ashes from the nearby Tungurahua volcano. Visit www.lunaruntun.co
The Manatee Jungle Explorer, a floating hotel, was named among the First SmartVoyager Certified Properties in the Amazon.The 90-foot-long riverboat accommodates up to 30 guests in cabins outfitted with a private bathroom and air conditioning. The Manatee Jungle Explorer offers four and five-day programs escorted by multilingual naturalist guides, and tours that include hiking, animal and bird watching, canoeing, and visits to local indigenous communities to learn about the native anthropology and ecology of the area, fish, swim and camp. Visit www.manateeamazonexplorer.com
Spotlight: the Galapagos
Located some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are unlike any other environment on earth.
This UNESCO World Heritage site boasts a spectacular landscape of volcanic rock and barren vegetation, and a variety of exotic and rare wildlife including giant tortoises, iguanas, sea lions, and blue-footed boobies.
Considered an outdoor laboratory, this archipelago of the Pacific Ocean has 125 islands; five of which are inhabited, and small barren islands of volcanic origin that emerged from the bottom of the sea about three to five million years ago. Its total surface is a little over 3,000 square miles, 97% of which comprise the National Park Galapagos.
For more information on Ecuador visit www.vivecuador.com; for the Galapagos, visit www.galapagostour.org