Eco tips for travelers
Whilst traveling in a foreign country, it is important to minimize your impact. Here are some tips and information that you should try and remember. We acknowledge that some of this advice may be more difficult to take on board whilst traveling than it would be to incorporate into your daily lives at home. However, even if you only put into practice three or four of our suggestions, be it whilst on the road or whilst at home, it will certainly contribute to reducing our impact on the planet.
- Whilst plastic bottles are now to some degree recyclable in Ecuador, it is not a widespread practice – in fact only around 10% of used plastic bottles will actually be recycled. Try to use glass bottles (returnable) for sodas, etc.
- To avoid buying more disposable bottles, carry a water bottle and always check if there is somewhere to fill it up at your hotel/restaurant (most hotels and restaurants have purified water in large 20 litre bottles called botellones or bidones). These places also sell water in small bottles and so they might be reluctant to begin with as they think they are losing a sale – of course you will need to pay for the refill as you would a new drink. The concept of reducing garbage is new for Ecuadorians, so don’t be surprised if you have to explain it, but if more travelers request it, the more commonplace it will become. Telling vendors that you want to drink water without causing contamination is often effective in aiding understanding, and helps spread the message.
- If you have to buy bottles, buy the biggest you can and just refill from there, especially if you plan to be in the same place for a while. Consider purifying your own water to avoid creating garbage.
- Try to avoid excessive wrapping and plastic bags which are all too readily dished out for each small purchase. Tell the shop keeper why you give the bag back!
- If you shop in a local market take your own bag or have them place everything in one large plastic bag instead of numerous small ones.
You can also reduce the amount of garbage you produce as a result of traveling by :
- Using biodegradable sanitary wear or even better, a plastic tampon which can be used time and time again (other reusable products are available e.g. reusable cotton pads, the keeper).
- Using a reusable container for your soap so that you can use your own and avoid half using the small hotel soaps which come individually wrapped (if you use hotel soap, use one and take the remainder with you! It will just be thrown out).
- Avoiding the use of excessive cosmetic products; E.g. Hairspray, mousse, aftershave, perfume (most containers for these products are non recyclable). If you must use them, try to find effective environmentally-friendly alternatives; E.g. Biodegradable shampoos, crystal deodorants which last ten times longer, etc.
- Avoiding the use of disposable products e.g. plastic razors, single-use contact lenses.
- Try to use re-chargeable batteries or eliminate use of batteries entirely; E.g. Use a wind up or solar torch or radio.
- Where available use recycled paper for letters home, trip diaries, toilet paper, etc.
- Buy in bulk if you are traveling in a large group – this reduces packaging.
- Remember to recycle whatever you can in the country you are traveling. However, some products that can not be recycled in the host country can be recycled in your home countries, so please take them home if possible.
Food and Health
- Avoid eating foods that you know are from endangered or threatened species (research these before you come to the country) E.g. in Ecuador, lobsters are often caught undersized (tail should be longer than 8 cm), and Spondylus shellfish are excessively harvested and are horribly endangered.
- Buy and eat locally grown and locally processed foods wherever possible, rather than food products shipped from long distances, which use more energy (fossil fuels for transport and generally more packaging).
- Consider using alternative natural medical products for common travelers illnesses; E.g. Grapefruit seed extract for diarrhea, etc. This may be healthier for you as well as avoids leaving behind pharmaceuticals in the local water and soil (this is becoming a detectable problem in first world countries, thought to affect aquatic organisms like fish and frogs).
Nature, Flora and Fauna
- Avoid buying souvenirs of local fauna; E.g. Many stores sell cases of bright colored butterflies, spiders and insects. These are caught by the hundreds in the Amazon and the sales people will tell you that they are not caught but that they raise them – it is not true!
- Avoid buying souvenirs that are made with endangered species or species that have to be killed to be made into a craft, support crafts made from renewable resources.
- Don’t collect insects, flora and fauna without a permit. Leave them for everyone to enjoy.
- When walking, stay on the trails and close gates behind you.
- Take your trash home. Better still, try to pack snacks that don’t have individual wrappers; E.g. Bulk dried fruits and nuts, or fruit that comes in its own biodegradable wrapper. Or pack your lunch in a reusable box.
Camping and Water
- Use toilets where they exist, if not bury human waste in a hole 20cm deep. Human waste should be buried at least 50m from water sources.
- Use biodegradable soaps/detergents. In Ecuador, local “Perla” detergent claims to be biodegradable, and now there are some locally-made natural soaps available in places like the Camari fair trade store by the Santa Clara market in Quito.
- Don’t wash shampoo and detergent off directly in rivers, but as far away as you can (4 m minimum).
- Avoid making fires.
- Use a T-shirt when snorkeling as sunscreen is harmful to the marine life.
- Use public rather than private transport (E.g. Bus instead of rental car) where possible to reduce fossil fuel use. Share rental cars and taxis with others. If possible, walk or use a bicycle. It not only helps the planet, but it keeps you in shape as well!
- Lights, fans, TVs, radios, computers – turn them off when you are not using them!
Traveling with Children and Babies
- Try and teach your child about the local environmental issues. Point out good and bad practices.
- Encourage your child to snack on fruit rather than sweets, explain that fruit has a biodegradable wrapper!
- If traveling with a baby, why not use cotton diapers? Disposable diapers are becoming a major waste issue in developed countries and are becoming a desirable product in the developing world. Using cotton will set a good example to others and reduce the promotion of disposable diapers. If cotton diapers are simply not an option, you can always use biodegradable diapers.
Local Environmental Issues
- Try to find out what are the important environmental issues in the country. Good environmental practices (E.g. Reduce, reuse, recycle!) are often the same in different countries, but the specific issues are often different (E.g. Different recycling options, different endangered habitats and species, different laws and policies, etc.)
- Talk about these issues with people you meet, environmental care is talked about a lot in Ecuador but not practiced very much!
- Think about where you are eating and staying, and support the more environmentally friendly businesses. If you stay in an Ecolodge, talk to the owners/managers, ask how they manage their garbage (including human waste), do they recycle, do they use grey water systems to be able to reuse their water? Where do their building materials, food, and power come from? Do they practice or contribute to conservation? Do they support the local communities in any way? These questions can also be asked of any hotel or lodge (although you are more likely to get answers from Ecolodge owners). See Eco Hotels.
- Be constructive, rather than critical if you don’t get a good response; Some people truly think that it can be called an ecolodge just because it is built with natural materials.
- Many countries have interesting volunteer opportunities with environmentally-oriented organizations. If you have time and interest, support these efforts by volunteering, though do your research carefully! Talk to other travelers to find the best ones.
- The South American Explorers Club (in Quito) keeps a binder with travelers’ comments on some ecotourist volunteer opportunities.
Río Muchacho is a member of ASEC Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association who, together with the Ministry of Tourism, carried out a pilot project in ecotourism certification in 2003. The farm was selected to participate as one of the most “eco” establishments in Ecuador.
We follow the Association’s ecotourism standards, which apply to every aspect of the operation; Materials used in construction, transport of visitors, waste management, resource use (water and electricity saving devices), cleaning products, information for visitors, staff training, cultural sensitivity, etc. – it is very complex and detailed.
Following the success of the pilot project, the Ecotourism Certification process was begun in earnest. Below you will find a list of certified eco-hotels in Ecuador, which you may like to use to plan your travels around the country.
Black Sheep Inn – Cotopaxi, High Sierra, Chugchilan
“Top 10 Eco-lodge in the World” – Outside Magazine. Spectacular scenery, world class day hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, sauna, ziplining, permaculture tours, hiking maps and more. Black Sheep Inn offers affordable lodging in the heart of the rural Ecuadorian Andes.
Tierra del Volcan – Cotopaxi, Machachi
It has three haciendas in the foothills surrounding Cotopaxi, each with its own ecosystem and distinctive climate. A broad range of activities are available: Horseback riding, mountain biking, trekking, hiking, mountain climbing, rappelling, bird watching, camping, cultural experiences and more.
Bellavista – Mindo, Cloud Forest
A Private Reserve in the Cloud Forest associated with Fundacion Siempre Bosque (Forever Forest Foundation). Bellavista manages over 600 hectares (1500 acres) of reserve land. Beautiful trails and fantastic birding.
Yunguilla – Mindo, Chocó Bioregion/Cloud Forest
Yunguilla is a community located in the Andes, about two hours away from the capital of Quito. 45 families have formed an association to produce some products such as marmalades, cheese, organic products, recycling paper, and Ecotourism. They also have a great volunteer program.
Maquipucuna – Mindo, Chocó Bioregion
Just 50 miles northwest of Quito exists the unique opportunity of experiencing exotic species of birds, moths and butterflies, and flowers in bloom such as orchids and bromeliads. The Ecotourism Centre is a small but modern lodge built in accordance with its natural surroundings. The open-air design allows intimate contact with nature and the soothing sounds of the rushing river.
Cerro Blanco – Guayaquil, Coastal forest
The Cerro Blanco nature reserve is a privately owned and operated, 3500 hectare park, encompassing a dry coastal forest. The park is administered by Fundación Pro-Bosque, a non-profit organization, supported by La Cemento Nacional, the company which donated most of the land of the reserve.
Puerto Hondo – Guayaquil, at km 17 on the Guayaquil-Salinas highway
A community effort for the conservation of the remaining mangroves in the area has formed this Ecological Club, which among its projects offers eco-tourism opportunities.
E-mail contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kapawi – Amazon
Kapawi is the largest community-based project ever developed in Ecuador. Kapawi was created to provide high service in one of the most remote and pristine areas of southeastern Ecuador, away from oil exploitation and other destructive practices.
Other Important Links :
Moving Ecuador : For low-cost volunteering opportunities and travel tips in Ecuador.
Ecoturismolatino : Your ecotourism guide to the protected natural areas of Latin America.
Bicycle Beano Veggie Cycling Holidays
Ecuador Travel Guide : Advice on hotels, jungle lodges and travel throughout Ecuador.