Experience Ecuador: The Amazon Rainforest

If you ever doubt the necessity of ecotourism or supporting environmental efforts, visit Ecuador. This beautiful Central American country boasts a share of the Amazon rainforest that extends over 40 percent of its land. Home to not only an incredible array of exotic flora and fauna, Ecuador’s several indigenous nations have carved their lives and traditions into rivers, lagoons, creeks, and towering trees. The sheer variety of life that the area sustains demands respect for the environment; it also presents unique opportunities for eco-friendly travel.

Half of the world’s bird species, 1,200 butterfly species, thousands of mammals and reptiles, jungles, and deep, life-filled waters combine to create incredible biodiversity. The nearby Galapagos Islands host their own spectacle of natural beauty and endemic species. Unfortunately, this diversity is threatened by logging, oil exploration and drilling, and a disregard for the environment that is slowly, slowly changing for the better.

In all of Ecuador, over 21 percent of the forest has been depleted, but there are examples of how ecotourism, preservation, and local community activism has helped the forests survive – and even thrive. Mindo, for instance, has actually managed to regenerate forest. Over 15 percent of Ecuador is protected now, though logging continues to be common. Visitors not only mean increased awareness of the plight of rainforests, but also dollars necessary to fund ecotourism ventures.

The Smart Voyager sustainable tourism certification program, which is a collaborative project of the Rainforest Alliance and Coservacion y Desarrollo, an Ecuadorian nonprofit, is a proactive and effective force in the ecotravel industry. Accommodations like the Black Sheep Inn, Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, and Kapawi Ecolodge also offer a terrific experience and help reduce impact on the land.

In an interesting twist, indigenous tribes are also becoming active in ecotourism. Angel Etsaa of the Achuar tribe of southeaster Ecuador, for instance, is a guide for the Kawai Eco-Lodge; eventually, the Achuar people will be the sole owners of the guide business, and hopefully, able to keep the ancestral homes pristine and free of developers.

When booking eco-friendly tours and accommodations, make sure that you choose companies that do not simply “green wash” their businesses in order to capitalize on eco-conscious tourists. Ask questions about their energy and waste management and their green initiatives. Smaller, locally owned businesses are also beneficial. No matter where you stay, do your part to keep your impact minimal.

The motto Ecuadorian travelers might adopt is “Tread lightly on the earth. And have a great time.” You can bird watch, enjoy the scenery, mountain bike, horseback ride, tube, or raft – you shouldn’t leave anything behind of yourself, but the rain forest will leave much of itself in you.