Have you ever wandered along Seminyak Beach and thought to yourself, I wish I had gotten in on this place 20 years ago, before it became the upscale, overpriced, hippy haven it now is.
Bali as it was. The surfy, hippy vibe with friendly locals with their beautiful rituals and open-minded religious ideals. The Bali before Balinese people were priced out of the area in favour of the uber instagrammable western style bars and hotels that now dominate the beach line.
If this is you, then my friends, let me introduce you to Ecuador.
Ecuador is preparing itself to become the next wholistic holiday destination. Digital nomads and retirees have already heard the whispers and their numbers are growing by the day.
Women travellers noticeably outnumber male travellers in Ecuador, it is also LGBTI+ friendly and the local people are respectful and friendly. In foreigner hotspots like Cuenca, Vilcabamba, Banos and the UNESCO protected capital, Quito, the rise of attractions for ‘conscious travellers’ has already begun. Restaurants in these places have cottoned on to the power of the words ‘organic’, ‘gluten-free’ and ‘artisanal’. Craft beer has started to really take off and it’s not uncommon to find health food stores and vegetarian restaurants in all the tourist hotspots.
Travellers in the know are flocking to Ecuador for eco-tourism and wholistic experiences like surfing, yoga, massage and energetic healing – all the things you would traditionally associate with Bali – and then Ecuador raises the bar on Bali with it’s own, uniquely South American, experiences like the Amazon jungle and traditional shamanic ritual experiences (read: ayahuasca or san pedro). It seems Ecuador has honed in on our seach for happiness and aims to provide it.
Ecuador’s managed growth
In Bali tourism now feels as though it’s completely over run the island. This is not the case in Ecuador. The growth of tourism in Ecuador is being carefully planned and constructed by a government who, having already reaped the financial benefits of eco tourism in the Galapagos Islands, are now expanding these principles to the wonders of the mainland. Ecuador promotes itself as a clean, green, eco-haven and they are actively managing the negative impacts of tourism on the environment and the society. Westerners are being welcomed to the country to take advantage of a generous retirement visa, which is bringing wealth to the area that is being funnelled into better health services, infrastructure and policing as the influx of western money funds these improvements for both citizens and visitors.
The benefits for travellers are twofold, not only does Ecuador provide quality services, but it is done in a way that is sustainable for the local community, the services are not just for the ‘rich’ westerners.
Highlights of South America
Ecuador is a small country but has huge appeal for tourists. Ecuador is comprised of 3 very distinct climates and ecologies available for exploration, from the beautiful beaches of the Pacific Ocean, to the Avenue of the Volcanoes in the Andes Mountains to the stunning Amazon jungle – each with it’s own climate and ecology, giving you all the best bits of South America in one easily navigable area. Plus, the unmissable Galapagos Islands just offshore… The range of attractions in Ecuador is easily the envy of Bali. While full blown resort style tourism hasn’t taken off here, and is unlikely to, Ecuador makes up for this in true authenticity.
Montañita, the new party capital
Nowhere is it quite as reminiscent of an 80’s Kuta than Montañita on the Pacific coast. Montañita and its surrounding villages are a surfy, beachy enclave currently boasting budget accommodation, Spanish schools, beach umbrellas for rent (with table service of course!), a couple of designer beachfront treehouse style establishments, yoga schools, Spanish classes and surfing schools. Market stalls and street vendors jostle for space to offer their wares to the strong contingent of travellers and holiday makers.
By night Montañita comes alive with several well established nightclubs where tequila and cocktails are the poison of choice. Montañita already attracts Ecuadorians and international guests to it’s warm waters, year round perfect conditions and it’s lively, party vibe.
New buildings are popping up all along this bit of the Pacific coastline, conditions are perfect for this to become the travel destination of choice for the current raft of backpackers and alternative travellers. Those who take their time and stick around.
In some areas the locals are already looking to the future of the area, and are positioning towns for significant growth, while still maintaining their Ecuadorian uniqueness.
Montañita’s neighbouring villages are good examples of this. Ex-pats abound in Olon, the cleaner, more liveable and family friendly alternative to Montañita. While Ayampe, a bit further north is carefully crafting itself as a yoga & surf village with bamboo houses and a well thought out jungle vibe. Ecuador’s most beautiful beach, Los Frailes is accessible only by mototaxi or by hiking. It is protected by it’s isolation and by the security guards who confiscate litter potentials like cigarettes and single use plastics before you even enter the beach.
Baños, where adventure is soothed with hot springs
So Ecuador’s beach parties rival Bali’s, but what about the tranquillity of Ubud? Mountain towns don’t get much better than Baños. Here the adventure tourism really takes off, tours into the Amazon jungle, white water rafting, rock climbing, treks…. It’s a real paradise. The spectacular Ruta de las cascadas culminates in the epic Devils Cauldron, (pailon del diablo), which is absolutely unmissable. Yoga classes can be found around the town, as well as food from all over the world. Swiss, Italian, Argentinian, Indian… it’s all here. The town is tiny, you can walk everywhere and the vibe is chilled and happy. But of course the big attraction in Baños is the hot springs, there’s a pool-like facility in town or other more glamorous, instaworthy offerings just out of town in beautiful spa facilities. Baños will charm your heart and there’s so many tours to take that you’ll want to stay indefinitely to get to them all.
Cuenca, old world charm
Cuenca is a real haven for digital nomads and retirees. For those escaping the extremes of a Canadian or northern US climate, Cuenca is the perfect year-round temperature. The cobblestone streets and colonial Spanish style buildings make for a beautiful living experience.
Bali doesn’t really have anything comparable to Cuenca, it’s in a world of it’s own. The beautiful cathedral rivals Bali’s temples in both size and ambience. The reverberation of hymns being sung in the cathedral is a truly spiritual experience, regardless of your religious persuasion.
The growing number of western retirees in Cuenca in particular means that the culinary experience is truly world class. Check out the excellent food craft beer on offer at Simon 7-84 as an example. If Incan ruins are your thing, the beautiful Ingapirca is only a day trip from Cuenca or there are ruins of an early Cuenca village in the grounds of the Pumapungo Museum…. Just watch out for the horrific tsanta heads displayed in the museum. I guarantee it will twist your mind the first time you see these in real life.
Quito a city of surprises
Whereas downtown Denpasar is nothing to write home about, Ecuador’s beautiful capital city will capture your heart. The history found in Quito is nothing short of breathtaking. The art both in the museums, churches and on the streets is beautiful. Again, the food and drinking culture is of an excellent standard and the people are friendly and helpful.
Much investment is going in to Quito with a new metro system and a new train line taking people from Quito to the west coast is in progress, which will open up a whole new part of the coastline to tourism and trade.
The entire old quarter of Quito was heritage listed by UNESCO, protecting it from over development and giving it a time-capsule feel of Spanish colonialism.
If you’re looking for the next Bali, Ecuador has you covered.
Ecuador has the beautiful beaches and the majestic mountains. It is a country rich in ritual and spirituality, providing a tourist experience that will ignite your soul. Not only that but Ecuador is growing in a deliberately sustainable way both ecologically and financially to make it a top wellness destination for the future. Get in to Ecuador now, before everyone else finds out about it!
Have you been to Ecuador? Are there any other wellness hotspots you recommend?