By Chris H. – Latin America specialist travel consultant and a community ecotourism consultant in Ecuador.
Ecuador is one of South America's most biodiverse countries, and for such a small country it sees a very large amount of visitors. The fragile ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands are under threat from booming tourism, while much of the mainland is under threat from logging. A conscientious traveler can respect the natural environment and provide benefits to the relatively poor local population at the same time. Here are a few tips on how to practice responsible travel in Ecuador.
Ecuador is at the forefront of South America in terms of community run ecotourism projects. Many visitors to Ecuador choose to spend a few nights in a rainforest ecolodge, and are faced with a huge range of options. Many such jungle lodges are owned by foreigners or rich local businessmen, but there's plenty of excellent choices that are run and managed by local communities. By choosing a community managed rainforest lodge, the local population sees far greater economic benefits, and they're given an incentive to conserve their local forests. The most upmarket community run jungle lodges are found in the Amazon region – examples include La Selva Lodge, Napo Wildlife Centre, Kapawi Lodge and Yachana Ecolodge. By staying in one you're bringing benefits to both the local environment and local community.
The same principle of booking local owned hotels can be applied to regions throughout Ecuador. Why stay at the Hilton hotel in Quito for example, when there's some fantastic, locally owned hotels in the old town?
In addition to staying in locally owned hotels, another excellent way of being a responsible traveler is to buy local products. Ecuador is full of fascinating indigenous markets, the most famous of which is the market at Otavalo, just a short drive from Quito. Do visit, and do buy the local handicrafts – by doing so you're leaving meaningful economic contributions to local people far less well off than you.
The Galapagos Islands are one of South America's most unique tourism
destinations, but sadly the increasing number of tourists are starting to take a toll on the natural environment. While some might argue that a responsible traveler wouldn't even visit the Galapagos, you can take a few precautions to minimize your impact on the local environment and wildlife. Generally speaking, the smaller cruises do less damage to the marine environment than the larger boats. It's also advisable to check what responsible travel credentials the boat operator has before booking – if their website mentions environmental issues and responsible travel, they'll probably practice it when you're at the destination. When you're in the Galapagos Islands, it goes without saying that you shouldn't litter, and shouldn't approach the animals too closely.
Ecuador offers huge potential for the responsible traveler. By considering these guidelines both before you book your trip, and while you are on vacation, you can leave a real positive impact on your host country.
Chris' website, has details of ecotourism projects throughout the continent.

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