Last week, a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the South American country of Ecuador, killing more than 500 people and causing billions of dollars in damages. While the country continues to dig out from the rubble, and the search for survivors continues, a second quake – measuring 6.0 – has struck the region as well, bringing new fears of further tremors to follow.
As you can imagine the country is in a bit of disarray at the moment, with search and rescue operations still being conducted and rebuilding projects only now starting to get underway. Travel is of course discouraged in the region that was the hardest hit, but much of the country is safe, open, and continues to welcome visitors.
Both earthquakes hit along Ecuador's Pacific coastline, with the town of Portoviejo receiving the brunt of the quake's wrath, although places like Manta and Pedernales suffered heavy damage as well. These areas, which are most known for being beach destinations or great places to go paragliding, also feature lush forests and remote ecolodges too. They are however, far from the most popular tourist destinations which tend to draw the most foreign visitors.
According to reports from the Ecuadorian government, the three regions that draw the most travelers – the Andes Mountains, Amazon Jungle, and the Galapagos Islands – remain open with little, if any, impact from the earthquake. In fact, most places in those areas didn't even feel the tremors at all, and damage is minimal in the places that did.
Similarly, the capital city of Quito is also said to have experienced minimal damage, with mayor Mauricio Rodas Espinel saying that only about 6 dwellings in the city were impacted by the quake, with three of those falling outside the traditional tourist zones. Certain structures within Quito's beautiful historic district are also being evaluated, and although there is little indication of structural damage in the area, some museums and other attractions may be temporarily closed as well. The rest of the city is reportedly safe, with full power, water, Internet, and telephone service in operation.
The Mariscal Sucre Airport – which is the international hub into and out of Ecuador – is up and running at full capacity, although other airports inside the country may not be back to full capacity at this time. If you'll be traveling internally by air, it is recommended that you check with your airline to get an update on the status of your flights.
Ecuador’s Minister of Tourism Mr. Fernando Alvarado also released a statement to help reassure foreign visitors. A few days ago he said “Visitors traveling to Ecuador or planning a visit to unaffected areas can feel confident that their trip will not be impacted, and can feel secure to continue with their plans to visit the country.” This echoes the information shared above that the country is safe and running normally in the regions where the earthquake has had no impact.
The mountain resort of Tierra del Volcan/Haciend El Porvenir (which we told you about here) is also up and running with no reported damage or injuries as well. The mountain resort, which is located in the shadow of the active volcano Cotopaxi, sits 160 miles from the epicenter of the quake, but remains relatively untouched by the natural disaster.
While the important travel destinations remain open, and are accommodating the arrival of their guests, the region of the country that was hit hardest continues to struggle with the devastation and loss of life. It will take those areas years to fully recover, and the efforts to do so are only now in their early planning stages. Relief aid and funds have been flowing into Ecuador since the disaster struck, but there is still a lot of work to be done. If you would like to contribute to those efforts, fund raising is underway through the Red Cross and the UNDP, both of which are helping to coordinate with other organizations within the country.
What does all of this mean for travelers? If you've already got a trip booked to Ecuador, chances are you won't see any disruption whatsoever. In fact, you might not even know that the earthquake has even struck the country at all. The best way for those of you who will be traveling there to help is to proceed with your plans. Tourism plays a vital role in the economy of Ecuador, and by pressing ahead with your plans you'll be helping the economy to remain strong and grow. That is the best thing that can happen there right now.