After months of being pent-up inside, adventurous travelers are feeling the urge to travel the world more than ever. At the same time, these intrepid explorers seek to venture out in a manner that ensures their health and safety. For this, outdoor adventure sports are ideally suited, as social distancing and plenty of fresh air help to safeguard their wellbeing.
For this, Ecuador presents itself as an ideal adventure-sports vacation destination, as the country is now open to safe tourism, with strict Covid bio-security protocols having been put in place. All of this makes this tiny South American nation idea for managing social isolation and providing safe family travel while offering comfort-filled 5-star facilities for relaxing after full days of exhilarating physical exertion.
Here, we outline five Ecuadorian adventure-sport vacations that check all these boxes:
1. Amazon rainforest adventure
Deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon, you can discover Yasuni National Park, consisting of nearly 2.5-million acres of lush tropical rainforest. For the intrepid traveler, this UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve is a mysterious world of mindboggling mega-diversity.
All of this can be discovered while being accommodated at a luxury jungle lodge or on an upscale riverboat cruise. While the idea of “luxury jungle experiences” may seem counterintuitive at first blush, one can indulge in such upmarket adventures through stays at a few well-vetted bases, such as the following:
Napo Wildlife Center
One of the finest lodges in the Ecuadorian Amazon is unquestionably the Napo Wildlife Center. Situated in the northern part of the country’s Amazonian region, this lodge is the only Napo River lodge located within Yasuni National Park. The lodge is reached after a 40-minute flight from Quito to the town of Coca, followed by a scenic 2-1/2 hour motorized canoe trip down the majestic Napo River (a major tributary to the Amazon River). Sporting-minded travelers will find no end of activities, from black-water boating, kayaking, learning to use a blow-dart gun, and swimming alongside Pink river dolphins, not to mention forests treks on which you’ll like hear the Amazonian rainforest pulsing with life in all directions. In fact, you’ll likely hear the eerie roar of troupes of howler monkeys overhead.
Picture yourself paddling across a lake to sight Giant river otters, climbing up to an observation deck at the very top of a giant kapok tree, piranha fishing in a rainforest lagoon, and trekking through the jungle in search of the world’s tiniest monkey. You’ll find these exclusive experiences, plus many more, at Sacha Lodge, situated within a pristine 5,000-acre ecological reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Consisting of 26 smartly appointed cabins — each with its own shaded terrace and chic-rustic décor— all fit seamlessly into the surrounding forest.
The Anakonda Riverboat
Named after the gargantuan snake that Hollywood has managed to misrepresent in so many movies, the 40-passenger Anakonda is the only truly luxury riverboat that cruises the Ecuadorian Amazon. Winding its way through these waters, the Anakonda really is like its graceful serpent namesake; but in this case, she’s a beautiful – almost spiritual – vessel to behold as she winds through the depths of the Amazon rainforest, allowing you to participate in some of the Ecuadorian Amazon’s most exciting adventure sports.
2. Horseback riding in the Andes
In Ecuador’s highlands, you can get way off the beaten track for a wind-in-your-hair, exhilarating horseback riding experience. Mounted on a sturdy Andean steed, your journey will take you into pristine valleys surrounded by imposing summits. If you can imagine yourself riding the range of Ecuador’s own “big sky country,” then consider stays at the following working haciendas:
This stunning 17th-century hotel and working-farm possesses natural warmth, hospitality, and community ties. The hacienda is blessed with beautiful antique rooms, delicious home-grown Andean cuisine, and spectacular horseback riding tours. Canter past mountain lakes, find hidden trails with centuries of history, and take in the vistas on Zuleta’s own breed of horses.
Hacienda La Alegria
This family horseback riding farm is situated in the heart of Ecuador’s “Avenue of the Volcanoes,” just 45 minutes south of Ecuador’s historic capital city of Quito. Offering traditional hospitality with a touch of luxury, this beautiful hacienda caters to independent travelers and can tailor a package for most requirements.
San Agustín De Callo
Just a little over an hour from the Ecuadorian capital city of Quito stands this beautiful but little known colonial hacienda. A family-run horse farm, San Agustín De Callo offers personalized horseback riding vacations, while the guest quarters at La Alegria have traditional country-style décor and solid wood furniture.
3. Cloud-forest exploring
On the slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes, you can discover an ethereal world where the sky meets the earth. Once in the mist-filled cloud forest, get ready to trek down hidden paths, splash through rivers, rise at dawn for some serious birding, or fly high above it all aboard canopy gondolas.
The perfect spot for these sporting activities is the renowned Mashpi Lodge.
This five-star Ecuador cloud forest lodge is one of National Geographic’s “Unique Lodges of the World.” While located close to the Ecuadorian capital, the lodge is situated in an exquisite location that’s a world apart – through it strictly follows the most demanding health and safety protocols.
Deep within the 5,000-acre Mashpi Reserve, this luxurious lodge is the dream of every active nature lover, offering a range of adventure sports activities. One of these highlights is the lodge’s “Sky Bike,” an original and exciting way to explore the forest canopy up close. Designed for use by two people at a time, one person pedals the bike along a cable stretched between two points in the forest, crossing a beautiful gorge above a river flowing between rocks and trees below, providing guests the chance to fly over the natural world and even spot its denizens.
Another highlight of any trip to Mashpi is the lodge’s “Dragonfly” – an exciting, open-air cable car system that carries you over, across, and sometimes even directly through the forest canopy, offering guests a relaxing way to enjoy the reserve from overhead. The entire roundtrip takes about 40-minutes to complete, with these gondolas carrying up to four guests (plus a guide).
4. Quilotoa Loop mountain biking
The Quilotoa Loop is one of Ecuador’s most famous routes, taking travelers across deep valleys, along dusty paths, around rolling green hills, and through small traditional settlements of the country’s highlands. The route either starts or finishes at the azure-colored Quilotoa crater-lake, which was created around 600 years ago by an enormous eruption. The spectacular lagoon sits at the height of 12,467 feet (3,800 m), offering a striking view of the Andean mountains.
Cycling this picturesque three-day route, you’ll travel the heart of the Ecuadorean Andes on a breath-taking mountain biking trip past the Cotopaxi Volcano (the second-largest active volcano on Earth), and the Chimborazo Mountain (whose summit is the closest point on earth to the sun), as well as Quilotoa Lake. On top of the physical exhilaration and natural beauty, you’ll also have the chance to mingle and share time with indigenous Andean communities, and sight llamas, vicunas, and possibly condors along the way.
On this tour, several luxury accommodations offer themselves as supremely comfort-filled refuges after a full day of true mountain biking:
Hacienda El Porvenir
Set in a traditional Andean house with adobe walls and thatched roofs, Hacienda El Porvenir is the ideal spot for both starting your Quilotoa cycling expedition and exploring the nearby Cotopaxi Volcano. This working ranch is dedicated to sustainable agriculture and cattle farming, as it produces milk, cheese, and some of the vegetables offered in its restaurant – all of which will fuel you for your following day of cycling.
San Agustin de Callo
Travelers can also begin or end their Quilotoa Loop cycling journey with a stay at this beautiful but lesser-known colonial hacienda. Just an hour from Quito, this working farm was built on the site of an Inca palace, one of the two most important archaeological Inca sites in Ecuador.
5. Trekking tours
Ecuador is known for offering some of the world’s best trekking tours, in addition to hiking even climbing expeditions. The country’s trekking and hiking trails lead travelers to exotically named mountains such as Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Cayambe, Antizana, and Illinizas, as well as to historic routes such as the Inca Trail to Ingapirca, Condor Trail, and the Camino route.
These Ecuadorian trekking tours and vacations are so varied that everyone’s taste and energy levels can be met. In addition, these tours can be easily organized as single-day excursions or multi-day expeditions through gorgeous paramo grasslands and mountainous landscapes. And not only will these adventures get your juices flowing, but these are also perfect ways to take in superb scenery and spot native wildlife – from llamas and alpacas to wild horses, deer, and the elusive-but-majestic Andean condor.
Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America.