Diverse is an overused adjective in travel guides. Of course China is diverse, it’s massive. What makes Ecuador remarkable is that it is both diverse and compact. Within an area that is scarcely bigger than New Zealand it packs: Amazon rainforest, Andean highland complete with snow capped volcanoes, tropical beaches and thirteen million people many of whom stay true to their indigenous roots. That’s not even mentioning the Galapagos Islands off the coast.
You can understand why it is so appealing to tourists, especially those from North America who are looking to “do” South America but don’t have a lot of time to do it. In Colombia most travelers we talked to were on a big trip through the continent – months not weeks. Here in Ecuador there are plenty who have just a couple of weeks.
The greater density of tourists is observable in lots of ways: there’s a greater variety of international cuisine, much more English spoken, a predominance of Western over Latin pop, a part of Quito that feels like the US, just a little more seedy. These sorts of things, in turn, make Ecuador a comfortable choice for American retirees. We’ve met a bunch here in Cuenca.
As we’ve mentioned before, this adds up to a very comfortable and obliging travel experience, but one that doesn’t get us especially excited when we haven’t really had enough time to get off the beaten track. But we certainly don’t begrudge Ecuador for maximising what is a massive economic opportunity, especially if it’s one that allows it to preserve its stunning natural landscapes rather than mining them for oil.
The things we have probably found most interesting are less about the tourist trail: the left-wing reformer President who’s taking on the oil industry and asked the West to pay to keep jungle intact, the use of US dollars to try and address economic woes, the jungle drug where you vomit your guts out to get a spiritual experience. We’re policy wonks as much as tourists, after all.