QUITO – Surrounded by valleys and mountains, Ecuador’s capital has turned to rural, sustainable and cultural tourism to offer, during these coronavirus pandemic times, wide natural spaces, fresh aid and adventure, all the while following strict biosecurity protocols.
The gradual flexibilization of mobility restrictions put in place because of the pandemic from June 2020 onward has allowed a progressive resurrection of the tourist sector and has enabled the country to develop a series of its more hidden rural paradises very close to Quito itself.
Rural spots with distinctive cultural and human tourist interest, along with nature parks, today constitute the focus of the country’s tourism strategy.
“It’s an immediate disconnect just 30 minutes from Quito, like going back in time,” Andres Rodriguez told EFE in the parish of Nono, a “very picturesque and tranquil” village that recently has welcomed hundreds of tourists immersing themselves in rural Ecuador as an antidote to the pandemic quarantines.
Just 18 kilometers (11 miles) from northwestern Quito, Nono is accessed by narrow roads amid lush vegetation in the mountains of the Ecuadorian Andes.
Rodriguez, the manager of the Estancia de la Campiña ranch, said that the new normal forced him to move his dining room seating outdoors so that the guests can get more contact with nature and to provide them with the proper amount of social distancing.
In Ecuador, some 312,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been registered and more than 11,000 people have died, although the country this year launched a vaccination campaign to inoculate more than half of its 17 million people.
Originally focusing on equestrian tourism, the activities at Estancia de la Campiña have been diversified to include other options for visitors: camping, hiking and even “romantic tourism,” as a result of which at least one couple who met at the site has now married.
In its desire to push rural tourism, the capital’s Quito Turismo company has launched the so-called “Ruta Escondida” (Hidden Route), which opens up to visitors the charms of towns such as Puellaro, Perucho, Chavezpamba, Atahualpa and San Jose de Minas.
Throughout the region, there are extensive green areas, protected forests, farms and ranches, inns, fruit orchards, waterfalls and a unique cuisine based on grains, all less than two hours from Quito.
Along the Ruta is another nature area, the home of spectacled bears and where one can see a huge variety of birds.
Covering about 4,200 square km (1,600 square mi.), about 90 percent of the area of the Quito Metropolitan District is rural and the city has stepped on the accelerator to complement its urban tourism offerings such as the city’s historic center.
Well aware of the importance of preserving nature, the tourism promoters have developed their new activities paying particular attention to the management of waste and caring for the flora and fauna.
“We don’t cut down a single tree, we try to take care of the trees 100 percent so that the birds, squirrels and owls have their natural habitat intact,” said Rodriguez before noting that there are also hummingbirds, magpies, peahens and mountain lions in the area, although the latter are not easily spotted.
Another aspect of rural tourism is that it benefits local communities when the visitors buy local products and creates jobs for local residents.
“People come here to relax, to share things as a family, as a couple. They come to chat among themselves, leaving their cellphones to the side,” Rodriguez said.