Country has four distinct regions for tourists
Ecuadorian tourism minister Niels Olsen is citing highs and lows when promoting his varied country, with the highs including the lofty Andes Mountains and lows including opportunities for scuba divers to submerge themselves below the surface of Galapagos Islands waters, seeing some of the Galapagos’ exotic aquatic wildlife while doing so.
Olsen said his homeland can be divided into four regions — Amazon jungle, the Andes, coastal lowlands and the Galapagos, each offering a distinct experience.
“Ecuador is Latin America in a nutshell,” he said during a recent Toronto visit.
Among tourism attributes cited by Olsen is the historic center of Quito, which received UNESCO World Heritage Site status before Rome or Prague did, thanks to its colonial architecture.
The Ecuadorian Amazon in turn is remarkably biodiverse, with Olsen reporting that Ecuador ranks third in terms of having the most types of bird species per square meter.
“Each of the regions has something special. If you’re looking for architecture and culture, you visit Quito,” Olsen said. “If you want something more remote, you visit the Amazon. Then there are the Galapagos, which are quite unique.”
The Galapagos are known for unusual wildlife that prompted naturalist Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Smaller cruise ships take tourists to different islands in the sprawling archipelago, which is carefully protected by Ecuadorian authorities, who cap the number of visitors to around 300,000 a year.
Most Galapagos islands are uninhabited and industrial fishing is banned in the area by a government eager to protect local wildlife, such as tortoises, sea lions, iguanas and penguins.
Ecuador last year saw 1.2 million mainland visitors and tourism authorities hope that numbers will rise to 1.5 million this year. Olsen is hopeful that Air Canada will restart Toronto-Quito service next year, something he says would spur Canadian visits.
The event was also told by Klaus Fielsch, product manager of long-running, Quito-based tour company Metropolitan Touring, that “incredibly diverse” Ecuador has over 1,600 bird species; has protected 20% of its land from development; has multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites; is home to much of the Andes, the longest mountain range on the planet; has numerous Indigenous groups; is home to some 25,000 species of flowers and other plants; and has great coastal surfing.
Inca ruins in the Andes are a reminder of Ecuador’s long pre-Columbian history.
Fielsch also noted that the Equator runs through Ecuador and indeed a Quito-area monument invites visitors to stand straddling a line, leaving them with one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere.
Fielsch joined Olsen in praising Ecuador’s diverse landscapes, stating “Mother Nature is almost like a citizen of Ecuador.”
The country’s relatively smallish size means it’s relatively easy to explore its different regions, he added.