TORONTO — Travellers to Ecuador can experience “four worlds in one country” by exploring its diverse regions, according to Ecuador’s Minister of Tourism Sandra Naranjo.
Speaking to a gathering of travel industry professionals at Crush restaurant in Toronto this week, Naranjo said the advantages of visiting Ecuador are that its main regions, which include the Galapagos Islands, the Pacific Coast, the Amazon and the Andes, offer incredible variety and are relatively close to each other.
The audience heard that Ecuador is home to 18% (or 1,600) of the world’s bird species, more than North America and Europe combined; that the country has more orchid species than any other nation (4,500 species); and that Ecuador’s chocolate makers are winning awards around the world (the oldest traces of cacao found in Ecuador date back 5,000 years).
In the capital Quito, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and also a finalist in the New Seven Wonder Cities of the World contest, there are new convention centres, and boutique hotels, and a boom in new restaurants.
Among the new attractions is the Tren Crucero (Cruise Train) – a four-day luxury train journey (one or two-day options are also possible) that runs between Quito and Guayaquil. The vintage train dating to 1908 ceased operation in 1997 and was restarted two years ago after a $260 million investment that included new stations, rails, engines and carriages. The 456-kilometre scenic journey through the Andes, along the coast and the ‘Devil’s Nose’ switchbacks, stops in indigenous communities and markets and cocoa farms and includes overnight stays in exclusive hotels and haciendas.
On the Pacific coast, known for its pre-Columbian cultures, cuisine, beaches and chocolate plantations, the government has invested in new infrastructure and safety improvements in Guayaquil and a new pedestrian bridge to Santay Island.
Ecuador, which is a major producer of flowers thanks to a sunny and warm year-round climate, is home to 14 nationalities and 18 indigenous groups.
It’s also the country that invented the famous Panama Hat, which is hand made of Toquilla straw and gained popularity among workers building the Panama Canal.
Naranjo explained that Ecuador, which straddles the equator, has “one of the most dynamic economies in Latin America”, and has experienced a sustained growth of international arrivals, outperforming the region and the world.
The number of Canadian visitors alone increased by 14% this year. Ecuador is also a popular retirement destination.