Ecuador’s chocolate is renowned as being one of the best in the world. The country’s chocolate-makers have won growing recognition over the last years with their bars, prized for their amazing flavours and aromas. And, it turns out, the source of the cacao plant is not Mexico, as is commonly believed. It’s in fact the Ecuadorian Amazon. Now travellers can get closer to the source of the world’s favourite treat with chocolate experiences across three out of four of Ecuador’s worlds.
“Ecuador: Land of Chocolate” is a new initiative led by the country’s Ministry of Tourism to promote the exciting experiences that await visitors to this small yet incredibly biodiverse nation in South America. “Chocolate tourism has agrotourism at its heart, benefitting rural communities while enabling tourists to explore more of the country, experiencing its culinary heritage, natural wonders and adventure opportunities,” explains Dominic Hamilton, Ecuador’s Deputy Minister of Tourism Promotion. “We want to associate the country with a gourmet product that’s already positioned on the international stage, creating a virtuous cycle between consumer and tourist. People who have tasted chocolate while in Ecuador will return home better consumers of Ecuadorian products, while chocolate-lovers will associate their favourite bars with our destination.”
You don’t have to be a chocolate connoisseur to enjoy the best bars in the world. Travellers can visit chocolate shops and emporia – including one located inside the Equatorial Monument just north of the capital, Quito – where assistants can help them choose their favourite (single-origin dark chocolate and bars flavoured with tropical fruits or Amazon “super leaves” are among the most popular); they can sign up for a chocolate-tasting session (like wine-tasting but without the hangover) with a specialist maker, such as Pacari, winner of numerous World Chocolate Awards accolades; enjoy a dinner themed entirely on the cacao pod and all its components, twinned with the perfect wines; or even get wrapped in warm chocolate during a spa treatment.
“Land of Chocolate” is also about encounters in the rural worlds of Ecuador. Cacao trees grow in tropical climates on both sides of the Andes: in the Pacific coastal lowlands and amid the towering trees of the Amazon rainforest. Both make fascinating places to find out more about this tree and its fruit, whose Latin name translates as “food of the gods”, theobrama.
Within just a few hours of the country’s two main cities of Quito and Guayaquil, visitors are immersed in rural lifestyles as they wander cacao tree plantations, learn about the growing process, fermentation, drying, and even trying their hand at making some home-made, artisanal chocolate for themselves. In the case of the Amazon, several of the chocolate farms are run by indigenous Indian communities and women’s cooperatives, who also combine their farming with tourism, giving the visitor added insights into their intriguing lands.
The Ministry of Tourism has worked hand-in-hand with the country’s chocolate and travel trade over the last months. At WTM, two dozen tour operators, Galápagos cruise operators and accommodation suppliers will be offering products that include chocolate – whether a full-blownfarm tour or a tasting, for instance. These include the Ecuadorian Railways (Tren Ecuador), who will offer chocolate experiences on two of their products: the new coast-plus-Andes route of Duran-Bucay-Alausí, and aboard the award-winning, four-dayTrenCrucero upscale train journey.