Community-based Travel in Ecuador

Eco-Travel, Wildlife & Animals — By on April 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm
By Liz Whiteman 
Special to Lost Girls 

Careening down a mountain road, watching the cloud shrouded peaks fall away, descending into humid forest, it´s easy to understand what draws so many travelers to the small South American country of Ecuador. The vibrant Latin culture and well preserved historical sites, along with the combination of Pacific beaches, picturesque volcanoes, Amazon rainforest and the famous Galapagos Islands make it the perfect destination for thrill-seekers, sunbathers and everyone in between. In recent years, tourism has become Ecuador’s most lucrative industry pumping millions of dollars into the economy annually. Unfortunately, like many other third world countries, the benefits of this booming industry do not reach Ecuadorians who continue to live in poverty. As of June 2010, 33 percent of Ecuadorians lived below poverty line. (CIA Fact book) Much of the money spent by travelers ends up in the hands of wealthy corporations or channeled back to the western countries where it originated, at the expense of Ecuadorians.

Fortunately, there exists a small, but fledgling industry of community-based tourism, where local residents run their own tourism based businesses and, in turn, they reap the benefits. The conscientious traveler need not look far to find activities and businesses that help support local communities and ensure that the beautiful and captivating places we came to see endure. Here are three great options for travelers looking to give back while abroad.

Santa Lucia’ Cloud Forest Reserve

The forests of Ecuador are overflowing with natural beauty. At Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve, the community works to protect and conserve over 1800 acres of forest that are filled with hundreds of animal and plant species. The reserve boasts over 300 different types of bird. At the Forest Reserve Lodge, guests can stay in cabins with sweeping views of the forest scenery. Guests can partake in volunteer work, or spend their time hiking through waterfall-flanked pathways, observing the incredible wildlife or exploring the ancient ruins that dot the protected land.

Bosque Seco Lalo Loor

Located just minutes from the Pacific Ocean, this dry forest reserve protects one of the world{s most diverse and threatened ecosystems. Created through a unique agreement between a local cattle rancher and the US based Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation, the preserve is now run and staffed by Ecuadorians and plays a crucial role in environmental education in the area, as well as serving as a model for recycling and zero waste programs. Visitors can take a guided hike on one of the reserve{s many trails and search the canopy for howler monkeys. Back at the environmental center, visitors can participate in reforestation efforts by planting a tree and try fresh yogurt from the landowner´s ranch.


Possibly the original community based tourism in the country, Otavaleños are known for their handicrafts, and have been producing woven goods since pre Incan times. Now, Saturdays are the best day to explore the sprawling market, which is considered the largest artisan market in South America. Each vendor hawks their own crafts, and many make a formidable living from their goods.


Photo Credit: Julia Rubinic

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