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Amazon & Ecuador – Supporting local communities

Ok – so this is hands down one of my best vacations ever! Ecuador will amaze you. Not only do you get to experience the Amazon jungle in the west, volcanoes in the center and beaches in the east of the country – you can do it in a way that is infused with local interaction.

I ventured deep into the jungle and were greeted by amazing people across our journey who love life, nature and family. A trip to Ecuador is not complete without visiting the Amazon. I believe in travel with purpose – having an awesome time while making the world a better place by contributing into the lives of the communities we visit. There are plenty of travelogues on the amazon so we won’t repeat the details. Instead, below you will find some very practical tips, a snapshot of the amazing people I met and the beaten path opportunities that will hopefully inspire you to plan your own adventure:

Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Instead of taking a circular route in and out of Quito, consider flying into Quito and flying out of Guayaquil in the south. This will allows you to make you way down from the incredible colonial city of Quito, visit the jungle to the east, spend some time high in the Andes amidst waterfalls at towns like Baños and finally relax on the beaches like Montañita and Salinas that attract tourists from around the world.
  2. The amazon starts roughly 5 hours’ drive from Quito. There are basically two options to enter the jungle – one is through Coca which attracts a high number of tourists and the other one through Tena known for white water rafting across Latin America. We choose the road less travelled and went to Tena and it was an incredible experience.
  3. The highlight of our trip was a jungle stay at the amazing Yacuma Lodge http://www.yacuma.travel/en/ . This lodge is truly authentic. To get here, we drove two hours on a dirt road from Tena and then a motor boat up the Napo River. The management and hosts of this place are truly amazing and go out of their way to make you feel welcome. David Torres is an incredible host whose team sets an example for the world on what sustainable tourism can do to benefit local communities. After this trip, we are good friends as I am inspired by his vision of how travel can transform lives both for the visitors and the local communities! It is refreshing to see such a ‘human first’ perspective in an industry that has become very commercial and apathetic. They define the place as “A beautiful place created by those who love the amazon jungle” and we couldn’t agree more! The lodge supports the local community of 60 and we were fortunately enough to get an invite to join in the holiday festivities. It is an experience not to be missed. You can contact David at http://www.ecoandestravel.com/en/
  4. Deep in the jungle, we saw the difference adventure travel can make. The one room school was the center of the community of 60 and had been built by a UK based travel company some years back. It fundamentally changed options for the children in the region who now have the window of opportunity opened to them through education and through the employment and support of their families by Yacuma lodge. Hopefully in the years to come, Experience Your Life can sponsor a similar project! We have invited Yacuma lodge to join us at the Expo in September and hopefully you will all get to meet this amazing team on September 25th at Delta Toronto.
  5. Only a few hours away from Tena is Baños which is the gateway to amazing waterfalls and active volcanos – we recommend Hotel Puerta del Sol here. The hotel is owned by Ernesto who was once the #1 squash player in Ecuador. You truly feel welcome in this hotel with views of a waterfall and he will happily take you up for a game of squash – if you take him up on that challenge – be ready to be schooled!
  6. No trip to Ecuador is complete without a visit to the beach towns in the west. Montañita is an eclectic mix of backpackers, yoga lovers, street artists, larger than life people, party goers and sun worshippers! The mix of people give Monatina its unique identity and we were fortunate enough to stay at an amazing place that represents this town well. Kundalini Hostal (named after Kundalini Yoga) is run by a lovely family that has found an amazing balance between following their dream, inner contentment, making the world a better place, and doing it all from a beach front. The structure embraces nature with bamboo and thatched roofs while the cuisine takes you on a journey of its own. We made some amazing friends in this place and hopefully you will see some of them at the Expo http://www.hostalkundalini.com.ec/

In summary, Ecuador exceeded our every expectation. We highly recommend going off the beaten path and take every opportunity you can to connect with the local people. You will find warm, friendly and relaxed folks who are embracing life and living it! Make sure you don’t just take pictures but rather create memories by being a part of lives of the local people and helping out where you can. The strength and smiles of these people certainly inspired us to keep moving forward with the Experience Your Life vision to make a difference in lives.

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