in Ecuador

Ecotourists walking in forest in Ecuador
Ecotourist with local homeowner
Ecotourism accommodation: rustic signboard advertising a cabin in Ecuador
Ecotourists at the crater of volcano Pululahua in Ecuador

Ecotourism and sustainable tourism resources which
do not charge for listings:

Big Volcano Ecotourism

Orchid in Ecuador
Woman in traditional costume of Otavalo, Ecuador
Booted racket tail hummingbird

Small community-based and charity eco-tourism projects
in Ecuador:
Eco-Friendly Farmstays
Piedra Blanca Community Ecotourism Project

Open-sided bus in Ecuador with people and luggage on roof
Butterflies on large yellow flower, Ecuador
Small green tropical frog in Ecuador

Sustainable travel and ecotourism sites
which charge for listings:
www.sustainabletravel international.org

Ecotourism in Ecuador

Eco-tourism is used with various meanings, but one of the most widely-accepted definitions is from the World Tourism Organization: "tourism that involves travelling to relatively undisturbed natural areas with the specific objective of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as existing cultural aspects (both of the past or the present) found in these areas."  Many people feel that eco-tourism should also include a significant educational element, so that visitors learn more about the environment and their impact upon it.
Eco-tourism consultant Claudine Nagiah states: "The key elements of eco-tourism include a natural environment as the prime attraction, an optimum number of environment-friendly visitors, activities which do not have serious impact on the eco-system and the positive involvement of the local community in maintaining ecological balance".  For the purposes of this website, ecotourism is defined as tourism which has a neutral or positive impact on the natural environment and the local population and is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.  For a wider and more academic discussion of eco-tourism, further definitions and a literature review, see C. Hardyment's article "Ecotourism Definition" on the Piedra Blanca Community Ecotourism website.
Currently various attempts are being made to draw up standardised ecotourism guidelines or best practices but there is not yet an internationally-agreed rating system.  In reality many potential ecotourism ventures are still at the stage of trying to neutralize negative impacts and very few, if any, have achieved total sustainability, especially in Ecuador.
The Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association's website sets out their own certification process, but many of the links are broken, the English version of the site does not work at all and nothing seems to have been updated for several years.  For quite some time this was typical of the state of ecotourism in Ecuador - some good intentions and beginnings, most of them bogged down in bureaucracy and inertia with a lack of easily-available information for would-be ecotourists.  Things have improved recently with the Smart Voyager sustainable tourism certification program, which originally applied only to boats in the Galapagos Islands, extending to include Smart Voyager certified hotels in mainland Ecuador.  The Smart Voyager program is a collaboration between the Rainforest Alliance and an Ecuadorian NGO, Conservación y Desarrollo (Conservation and Development).
There are some really inspiring ecotourism projects in Ecuador, including award-winning accommodation such as Kapawi Ecolodge, the Black Sheep Inn (now only open as a conference centre), Huaorani Lodge and the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, which is noted for being an excellent birding destination.  Many more small community ecotourism projects are making progress and deserve your support.
There is often a need to compromise between different aspects of aspiring but imperfect ecotourism projects.  Do you choose a socially-inclusive community project with little in the way of environment-friendly infrastructure or a thoroughly 'green' set-up with composting toilets and solar power that is owned by foreigners or a large business?  Is it more or less eco-friendly to stay in a normal hotel you can reach by public transport as opposed to an eco-lodge requiring a special journey in a private vehicle?  Are the CO2 emissions from your flight to the rainforest eco-resort offset by the fact that ecotourism revenue is saving the forests from being cut down for timber?  The issues are not black and white and there are no easy answers.  To a certain extent your decision will depend on the ecotourism options available that suit your itinerary, interests and budget.
Ecuador's most famous and successful ecotourism ventures have usually required outside resources and/or foreign expertise to get started.  For example, the award-winning Black Sheep Inn is owned and run by North Americans.  The highly-respected Kapawi Eco Lodge required huge investment in infrastructure and training and was built up and improved for 12 years before, as planned from the beginning, it was handed over to the Achuar people who now have the skills and experience to manage it.  Small family businesses or community projects, even with the best intentions, may not be able to implement eco-friendly improvements until they have made some money from tourists supporting them through their early not-quite-ecotourism-yet stage.  Also, several of the many ecotourism directories and associations charge hefty fees for listings or membership, which excludes the projects with the smallest budgets, i.e. those who perhaps most need your help.
Regrettably, some operators simply label hotels or tours as 'eco-friendly' with the most spurious justification ("there's a tree in the garden") or without any real understanding of what ecotourism means.  Just because a building is made of wood or is an unusual shape does not necessarily mean it is eco-friendly.  It's worth remembering that eco-tourism is not the only type of responsible tourism; community-based tourism and pro-poor tourism also have their merits.  Community-based ventures are not automatically "ecotourism" unless they are also at least attempting to be environmentally responsible, but they may still be achieving worthwhile improvements.
To ensure you're supporting a venture which is genuinely trying to make a difference rather than just 'green-washing' a hard-nosed commercial business, ask a few questions before you book.  Enquire about waste management or energy use and ask them to explain what they are doing to justify the ecotourism label.  Having said that, Ecuador is a developing country and most small businesses are trying to survive with very few resources.  Don't expect perfection, but do make it clear that the issues are important to you and encourage would-be eco-tourism ventures which are moving in the right direction.
Regardless of where you stay, other decisions also impact on Ecuador's society, economy and environment.  For example, you can buy local products rather than imported ones.  Hire a local guide where relevant.  Carry a re-fillable bottle for drinking water rather than buying a new plastic bottle every time, and buy beer in returnable glass bottles rather than disposable cans.  Don't insist on having sheets and towels washed every day.  Minimize the amount of packaging you buy and thus throw away.  Ecuador has an extensive bus network, so take public transport wherever possible.  Not only is it cost effective and environmentally friendly, but also a great way to see the spectacular scenery and interact with local people.  Don't litter and remember the old adage to "take only photographs, leave only footprints" for the protection of the environment, especially in sensitive eco-systems such as the Galapagos Islands.
Ecuador's rainforests are home to several different indigenous tribes, some of whom welcome visitors on ecotourism and cultural tourism programmes while others prefer to be left alone.  If you visit, it is essential to ensure that your tour operator and guide have the tribe's permission and that the community will benefit from your visit.  Look for community-run tours which allow you to spend time with your indigenous hosts and understand something about their way of life whilst respecting their privacy.  Treating native tribes like exhibits in a zoo does not fit with the spirit of ecotourism.
If you intend to be an eco-tourist in Ecuador, you will want to be able to communicate with local people.  It's probably not feasible for most travellers to learn indigenous languages such as Quichua, but learning some Spanish would be a good start.  Try a self-study course before you go, or take Spanish classes in Quito at one of the many language schools.
The decisions you make on your holidays in Ecuador will depend on your budget, the state of your health and various other factors, but they will make a difference and it is up to you whether the impact of your trip is positive.  You don't have to be a 100% deep-green eco-tourist; even a few small changes are better than nothing.  As you experience the beauty of Ecuador's natural wonders and see the poverty of so many of its friendly people, you might be encouraged to do more to unleash the potential of ecotourism.

Sustainable tourism, responsible travel, eco-holidays and the everyday actions you can take to ensure that your holiday in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands has a positive impact.  Definition of ecotourism, suggestions of some ecotourism resources.