Ecuador: A sustainable destination for chocolate lovers

I have always been fascinated with the stories, the aroma and the flavour of the Theobroma cacao, also known as cacao tree.  My dad used to work in a large cacao farm located in the coastal area of Ecuador.  I remember his pride in taking care of the ancient trees called Arriba Nacional cacao.   The Arriba Nacional variety is considered the finest quality of cacao bean in the world and it is only possible to be cultivated under agroforestry systems.  When I was child, one of my favorite activities on the weekends was to make artisanal chocolate with my dad.  We used to make this chocolate for our favorite morning beverage, which is not coffee but instead a delicious cup cacao with some notes of chili and cinnamon.  As you can tell, I come from a country where chocolate means something else than an income, it means culture, tradition and connection to the land.

For a long time, the cacao and chocolate tradition in Ecuador was negatively impacted by a trend in the world chocolate market that preferred quantity over quality.  This trend has also created slavery and unfair conditions for small-scale farmers, especially in Africa.  In the case of Ecuador, cacao farmers were pushed to replace the ancient Arriba Nacional variety for the high yields CCN-51 variety, which is considered as a non-sustainable variety by the chocolate experts. The low price that farmers were paid by their heirloom Arriba Nacional was the main reason behind this transition. Farmers did not receive any incentive to keep farming heirloom cacao and using sustainable practices in their farms.

Drying Cacao

Luckily, a growing demand for fine and more ethical chocolate has raised hope to the Arriba Nacional cacao and its farmers in Ecuador.   More than a decade ago, the Ecuadorian government realized the multiple benefits that conserving and growing more Arriba Nacional cacao can bring to its economy. The Ecuadorian government has invested in projects to restore this variety and to increase the participation of Ecuadorian farmers and makers in the global value chain of chocolate.  These actions have made Arriba Nacional the symbol for sustainable agriculture and rural development in Ecuador.  Moreover, In 2018, Ecuadorians happily received the news from the Nature Ecology and Evolution journal that a group of scientists proved the origin of cacao did not start in Mexico as everybody believed. Instead, they stated the true origin of cacao, and therefore chocolate, is in the Amazon region of Ecuador.

The enthusiasm and appreciation of Arriba Nacional and artisanal chocolate among Ecuadorians and tourists are growing in this country, which now is known as the Land of Chocolate. The chocolate boom in Ecuador is happening now. Private investors and communities, especially Indigenous famers and campesinos, are creating chocolate related businesses. No matter in what city of region of Ecuador you are, you will for sure find a chocolate boutique, a cacao farm tour, or an artisanal chocolate workshop experience. The aroma of roasted cacao is covering the downtown areas of big cities such as Quito or Cuenca, and the cacao farms in Guayas, Manabí, and Napo.

I am a person who loves heirloom cacao and fine chocolate, for this reason I have exploring and researching about the best destinations for sustainable chocolate in Ecuador. Here, I share with you my favorites.

Napo: Chocolate and Tourism in the Amazon region of Ecuador. Something crazy (in the chocolate industry) is happening in this province. Indigenous Kichwa farmers are not only restoring and growing Arriba Nacional using their traditional ecological knowledge, they are also crafting bean to bar chocolates in their shops. Their story is very inspiring. You can read more about them in this article that I prepared.

In Napo you will have the whole chocolate experience in one place. You visit their farms, learn their traditional knowledge on growing cacao, participate in a bean to bar experience with them, and finish this chocolate experience with a delicious plate of local fruits covered with chocolate or an original chocolate dessert made by Kichwa chefs. Plus, you have a lot of tourism options there, such as birdwatching, hiking, cultural tourism, and more.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

http://www.hacienda-victoria.com/Chocolate routes in Guayas and Los Rios – If you want to combine chocolate experiences and the beach, there are several haciendas (big farms) that have been growing cacao for centuries in the coastal region of Ecuador.  These chocolate haciendas offer tourism packages to experience the life in a big cacao farm, learn more about the history of cacao in the economy of Ecuador, and spend your time in an elegant and comfortable hacienda. One of the most famous cacao haciendas in Ecuador is La Victoria. Check their website here.

Chocolate festivals – are another great option to experience the Ecuadorian chocolate traditions. Most of these festivals happen during summer and are hosted in the big cities such as Quito and Guayaquil. 

La Ronda Chocolate

Chocolate Shops – There are several chocolate shops in the main cities.  Some of the award-winning chocolate makers like Pacari host chocolate tastings in their shops in Quito.  You should definitely stop there to try all the amazing flavours that they carry.

If you want to learn more about the history of chocolate and what makes Ecuadorian cacao unique, I invite you to join my virtual chocolate tasting that I host at Airbnb Online Experiences. There you can learn about chocolate and ask about chocolate and tourism in Ecuador before going there.

I am sure that after reading this blog, your mind is telling you to get a ticket to Ecuador or at least a bean to bar chocolate made using cacao beans from Ecuador.

If you want to know more about Ecuador or chocolate tourism, please send me an email to verosantafet@gmail.com

Veronica Santafe