The Four Worlds of Ecuador

For a country only about the size of Nebraska, Ecuador makes the most of its space. This destination offers something for everyone, whether it's watching the sunrise over a beach along the Pacific Coast or horseback riding along the Andean plateau, rimmed with snow-capped volcanoes. The Andes are known for their glacial volcanoes and snow-capped mountains

At a recent New York exhibition showcasing "The Four Worlds of Ecuador," Travel Agent learned about the country's diversity, offering agents a world of selling points. Evident by its name, Ecuador sits on the equator in the northwest region of South America, sharing borders with Colombia to the north and Peru to the south and east. It is divided into four distinct regions: the AndeanHighlands, the Amazon, the PacificCoast and the Galapagos Islands. Even during a short visit travelers can visit all four regions, experiencing everything from snowy peaks to thick, humid rainforest teeming with life to white-sand beaches.

"When we were trying to figure out how to market Ecuador, I was looking at pictures of the country, pictures of snow and then sand and then the rainforest," says Patricio Tamariz, director of Ecuador's Tourism Promotional Fund. "There it was staring me right in the face—diversity. Is there another country this diverse? That's how we'll market Ecuador."

The nearly 20 vendors at the recent trade show held at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in New York City were promoting the country in the same fashion, displaying information on everything from dolphin, whale and bird watching to bungee jumping and bullfights, from mountain climbing to scuba diving and snorkeling.

But the country's landscapes and activities aren't the only diverse traits of Ecuador. There are 27 different ethnic groups that co-exist in the country. Many, especially those in the Andean highlands and the Amazon rainforest, have had limited contact with modern civilization and still live much the same way as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. Most Ecuadorians are willing to share their traditions and rituals with foreigners, giving visitors the opportunities to participate in cultural practices.

More Flights, Accommodations

The main airport is the GuayaquilSimónBolívarAirport.

Daily flights are offered from both the east and west coasts of the U.S., with flights from New York and Miami, some as short as four hours from the latter city. Nonstop Delta flights from Atlanta are the latest airline routes offered to Guayaquil. Those flights, which began two months ago, are about six hours long.

Quito, Ecuador's capital, is on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano

Some of the best hotels available in the country include the Hotel Patio Andaluz, a converted 400-year-old house in which the first president of Ecuador once lived, says Francisco Baca, hotel manager. The conversion from a historic home to the present colonial-style hotel took four years and was completed in 2004. The best rooms are any of its 31 Deluxe suites, which, like most of Ecuador's accommodations, are incredibly affordable. The Deluxe suites go for about $180 a night, including tax. Their biggest amenity are their ample living room space, Baca says. A 10-percent commission is offered to agents. For information, including booking, call Baca at 011 593 2 228 0830 or e-mail cialcotel@hotelpatioandaluz.com.

The Mansion Alcazar, located 10 minutes from the airport, has 14 colonial style rooms. Booking here will result in a 10-15 percent commission for agents depending on volume, says Mateo Estrella Durán, hotel manager. The best rooms are its four suites, including the Royal suite and the Mirage suite. Both cost $185 per night. The Royal suite includes an antique French queen-sized bed, handmade furniture and a bathroom with a shower and tub. The Mirage suite features hand-painted flowers on the ceiling and on the wall, a king-sized bed and a window with a view to the garden. For more information or for booking contact Durán at 011 593 7 2837 107, or e-mail mestrella@accessinter.net.

Another notable hotel is the Hotel Oro Verde, located in Guayaquil just eight minutes from the airport.

It has 230 rooms, is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and offers a 10-percent commission for agents. The Presidential suite at the Hotel Oro Verde is the best room and goes for $500 a night. It includes a dining room, cable TV, a safety deposit box and a stereo system. For more information on the Hotel Oro Verde, including booking, call Lorena Garay C., tour and travel executive for the hotel, at 011 593 4 2327 999 ext. 7230, or e-mail lgaray@oroverdehotels.com.

These and a host of other hotels are located in general proximity to the airport. But instruct clients not to lounge at their resort for too long, since Ecuador has plenty to see. Essential Links

The Andes is one of the most visited regions of the country. It is home to a large percentage of the population and is well known for its glacial volcanoes and snow-capped peaks. It also has historic cities, Indian markets, old haciendas, ancient Incan ceremonial temples, churches, deep valleys and some of the best goldsmiths and silversmiths in the country, among other attractions.

Located in the Andes is Ecuador's capital, Quito, which offers plenty for clients who appreciate art, nature, mysticism, architecture, nightlife, archaeology, sports or adventure. Quito is 320 hectares and has about 40 churches and chapels and 12 museums. And it was the first city in the world to be declared a "Cultural World Heritage Site" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1978.

In the first century A.D., nomadic communities discovered the region where Quito lies today. It became the capital of Ecuador in 1830 when, after three centuries under Spanish rule, the nation of Ecuador proclaimed itself an independent republic.

For the environmentally conscious client, the Amazon is the country's haven for eco-tourism. Here, travelers can canoe, watch wildlife and take part in guided hikes through forest trails.

Clients who want to catch some rays should head to the Pacific coast. With more than 1,700 miles of coastline, Ecuador is said to have some of the most beautiful beaches in South America, with the mild weather and warm water necessary to fully enjoy them.

Located 620 miles from the mainland, the Galapagos Islands were made famous by Charles Darwin, who wrote about his studies there in such works as The Origin of Species. This island chain, whose land mass is about equal to that of Pennsylvania, is made up of the peaks of enormous underwater volcanoes. Having never been connected with the South American continent, Galapagos' flora and fauna developed in complete isolation.

And to make everyone's lives a bit easier, Ecuador not only accepts the U.S. dollar, the dollar bill is its main form of currency.