(BPT) – Mention South America, and most travelers envision the mysterious Amazon, the majestic Andes, the unmatched Galapagos Islands and the magnificent Pacific beaches. What many don’t know is you can enjoy these experiences and more, conveniently packaged in a country roughly the size of Colorado — Ecuador.
This fall, 16 artists from the USA, Canada, UK and Germany discovered just that as part of the Feel Again Project, led by the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. The project invited international teams of artists to find inspiration in the diverse landscapes of Ecuador’s four main climatic regions — the Amazon, the Andes, the Galapagos Islands and the Pacific Coast.
“The amount of different landscapes and microclimates in such as small area really surprised me; the variation is quite staggering,” says Team UK artist, Conor MacNeill. “There’s so much to do across a manageable amount of landmass.”
Throughout the journey, the artists uncovered a wide range of inspirational Ecuador experiences, painting the country as a destination that appeals to travelers of all types.
Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, as reflected in the famed Amazon basin. The lush landscape offers visitors a chance to encounter an exotic range of land, water and arboreal life, including pigmy marmosets, two-toed sloths, scarlett macaws, pink river dolphins, piranha and jaguars.
For Team UK artists Jason and Keiko Hindley, the greatest inspiration came from the people working to preserve that biodiversity — particularly the indigenous Kichwa Añangu community, which runs the Napo Wildlife Centre. The Centre is a great destination for families, they say, with so much to see and do, and guides that adjust treks accordingly for different ages and fitness levels.
Ecuador’s Andes region offers awe-inspiring highlands, dramatic valleys, colonial towns and breathtaking views. Team Germany members Steve Hanisch, Rocket & Wink, and Michelle Phillips and Johannes Conrad of Studio Yukiko recommend visitors immerse themselves in the colors of the region — from vibrant fashions and decorations in mountain villages to the creamy orange and green of locro de papa, a classic Ecuadorian potato and cheese soup garnished with avocado.
Their picks for the region’s most inspirational experiences are riding the luxurious Tren Crucero, a bright red, four-coach train that winds its way through the mountains, and taking a moment to just breathe while overlooking the still blue waters in the Quilotoa volcanic crater, more than 12,800 feet above sea level.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Galapagos Islands are a living museum of evolution. The region includes 13 major islands, each with unique offerings. For Team USA artist Scott Pommier, uninhabited Española Island was the true stand out.
“We saw such incredible animals at such proximity,” he says. “You’re greeted by sea lions, brightly colored crabs and lava lizards all over the shore. You have to step over marine iguanas to make your way down the trail to one of the only places you can see the mating dance of the waved albatross. On the way there, you pass hooded and blue-footed boobies.”
While seeing the famous Galapagos tortoises was an awe-inspiring experience for Team USA artist Andrew Norton, he suggests also making time to meet the people of the islands.
“I was most inspired by the market in Puerto Ayora,” he says. “I felt like it really gave me a sense of a side of the Galapagos that many people don’t see in travel videos. It was great to see all the food being made, the local produce and to get to talk to some of the people.”
The Pacific Coast
Forest, mangroves and beaches line Ecuador’s picturesque Pacific Coast. Here, travelers can catch a wave at more than 50 beaches, try the region’s African-influenced, seafood-based cuisine or sample chocolate made from locally grown cocoa, considered the world’s best.
Team Canada artists Rick Leong, Jesse Louttit and Jeff Bartlett each came away with unforgettable experiences to inspire their art. Louttit and Bartlett’s must-do lists include boating with dolphins, exploring the coastal town of Montañita, visiting a cocoa plantation and, of course, trying the chocolate. For Leong, it also was rewarding to take part in traditions unique to the local culture, like an “herbal cleansing” in the local market — a refreshing rub-down with fresh plants, herbs and flowers.
“I think that the coast can offer different things to different kinds of travelers,” Leong says. “The luxury traveler will find places to relax and try amazing cuisine, and the budget traveler can head to Montañita to surf and hang out. I think it’s ideal for adventurers, who want to explore and discover.”