Adventure vacation Guide 2012: Ecuador

Most Norteamericanos are hard-pressed to locate Ecuador on the map. Those familiar with this South American country the size of Colorado usually associate it with the (admittedly) spectacular Galapagos Islands. Yet Ecuador has so much more offer besides the Galapagos, and 2012 is the year to get your hardcore on. Why? Because the country’s adventure travel industry is blowing up–but it’s still affordable, especially if you opt for independent travel or book certain activities through domestic outfitters or U.S. travel companies that work directly with Ecuadorean guides.

Whatever your recreational interests, budget, or experience, odds are Ecuador has it: mountaineering, glacier climbing, and volcano bagging; trekking on foot or horseback; Class III to VI whitewater kayaking and rafting; sea kayaking, scuba diving, and snorkeling; surfing; remote jungle lodges and endemic wildlife, and agritourism. Need more convincing? Ecuador’s adventure tourism increasingly has an emphasis on sustainability. When it comes to protecting its fragile ecosystem and indigenous communities, Ecuador has become quite progressive for a developing nation, which hasn’t always been the case.

If you like a cultural or culinary component to your travels, there’s that, too. You can opt for an active, educational trip to indigenous-owned and -operated Amazonian eco-lodges, or play in the Pacific regions, which retain a strong Afro-Ecuadorean influence.

Agritourism is also hot in Ecuador, most notably at centuries-old haciendas, although there are also coffee and cacao plantation tours. Ecuadorean food is a diverse melding of indigenous and outside ethnic influences that’s regionally influenced: be sure to patronize markets, roadside restaurants, and street food stalls for some of the most memorable eats.

[flickr image via Rinaldo W]

Japan wins World Rafting Championship

The World Rafting Championships were won by JapanAs we mentioned last week, the World Rafting Championship took place in Costa Rica over the weekend, with 48 teams (29 men, 19 women) competing against one another on a wild stretch of the Pacuare River. The competition, which began on Friday and finished on Monday, consisted of a variety of events that rewarded teams for their speed, agility, and endurance on the water.

After four very long days on the water, the Japanese men claimed victory over the field with an impressive showing all around. They finished ahead of the Czech and Slovenian squads who were two and three respectively. In the women’s competition, it was the Czech Republic that took home the crown, with Japan finishing second, and the Netherlands in third. Both the American men and women finished in seventh place.

To win the WRC, teams compete in four distinct rafting disciplines, earning points for how they place in those individual competitions. The team with the highest score at the end of the four days is then declared the champion. On the fist day of the event, the teams take part in the Sprint, during which they simply try to cover a certain length of the river in the fastest time possible. Day 2 brings the Head-to-Head competition, during which the teams are paired up tournament style based on their standings following the Sprint. Teams that win advance in the bracket, while losers are eliminated, until a Head-to-Head champion is crowned. The third day of the competition brings the Slalom, during which the teams navigate around a series of flags as quickly as possible, and the final day is the reserved for the Down River, a long distance test of endurance.

While crowds at the WRC don’t exactly rival those at the Super Bowl, there was an enthusiastic and dedicated group of fans from across the globe on hand. The “stadium” wasn’t bad either, as the Pacuare is a wild and beautiful river, surrounded by lush rainforests and towering mountaintops. It served as the perfect backdrop for event.

Congratulations to the winners.

Gadling gear review: Sierra Designs Jive Jacket

The Sierra Designs Jive Jacket is a perfect companion for inclement weatherThere is an old adage amongst outdoor enthusiasts that says “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.” I had the opportunity to see that adage in action this past weekend while attending the World Rafting Championship in Costa Rica, where afternoon thunderstorms are a common occurrence. We’re not talking a light drizzle either. We’re talking torrential downpours that reminds you exactly why they call it a rainforest. Fortunately, I remembered to pack my trusty Jive Jacket from Sierra Designs, which proved to be an excellent choice for this adventure.

Hikers, backpackers, and adventure travelers will find a lot to like in this jacket. With its high quality, waterproof zippers, adjustable cuffs and hem, and patented water-rappelling fabrics, it is clear that the Jive was designed by someone who has been caught in an unexpected squall while out on the trail a time or two. And little touches like a helmet-compatible hood and zippered pit vents shows that Sierra Designs knows and understands its target market very well. Pockets designed to be accessible while wearing a backpack, and an interior pocket for keeping your most important items dry, underscore this point even further.

While using the Jive in Costa Rica, it seemed that it had been tailor made for that environment. Not only did it keep me dry in one of the hardest rainstorms I’d ever seen, it was also highly breathable, something that is much appreciated when you’re traveling through a steamy rainforest. I was very impressed with how well the jacket managed to keep the rain out, while not becoming unbearably warm to wear, something that has eluded a lot of rain jackets in the past.I was equally impressed with how lightweight and packable the Jive is as well. Weighing in at just 15 ounces, the jacket is a dream for those who like to travel light. Before setting off to the Central American paradise, I stuffed the Jive in my daypack, and practically forgot that it was there. When the afternoon rains started to fall however, I was glad that it was with me, and while other rafting spectators ran for the meager shelters, I stayed in place, enjoying the event, which wasn’t about to let a little tropical shower slow down the festivities.

Potential buyers of the Jive should be aware that it runs a bit on the large size. Presumably this is to make is a more versatile part of a layering system, allowing you to mix and match what you want to wear under it. That allows travelers to use it in a variety of seasons and environments, which is sure to make it an even more popular choice to take on any outing that could potentially see inclement weather set in.

If you couldn’t tell already, I’m a big fan of the Jive Jacket and feel that it’ll make an excellent addition to any outdoor enthusiasts gear closet. It is a well built and versatile rain jacket that will serve you well in the rainforest, on the mountain, or simply strolling the streets. You won’t even need to be caught in a tropical thunderstorm to appreciate how well the Jive performs.

The World Rafting Championship is underway in Costa Rica

The World Rafting Championships in Costa Rica The World Rafting Championship begins tomorrow in Turrialba, Costa Rica, where teams from 35 countries are already busy preparing to compete against one another in a variety of races. Both male and female competitors will challenge each other, not to mention some of the wildest whitewater on the planet, over four days of events that will culminate with a new champion being crowned next Monday.

Over the past few days the teams have been arriving in Turrialba, a small jungle town located not far from San Jose that is a popular destination for whitewater adventures. They’ll spend some time getting acquainted with the course, and tomorrow’s opening ceremony will officially kick-off the event, with the races beginning on Friday. Those races consist of the Sprint, Head-to-Head, the Slalom, and the Downriver, with each team earning points based on their placement in those individual competitions. At the end of the Championship, the team with the highest score will take home the trophy.

The rafting competition takes place on the Pacuare River, a fast-running and pristine waterway that has its origins on nearby Mt. Chirripo. The stretch of river that the teams will be running includes Class IV+ rapids that pass through a lush jungle environment that is home to a variety of wildlife, including monkeys and jaguars, as well as an amazing array of colorful birds.

By all accounts, Turrialba and the Pacuare are an adventure traveler’s paradise, with plenty to offer visitors. I’m looking forward to seeing it for myself, as I’ll be attending the Rafting Championship for a few days, and will get the opportunity to experience it first hand. Look for updates not only on the event, but also the amazing destination that is hosting it, very soon.

Switzerland moves to make adventure travel safer

Adventure travel in Switzerland has just gotten saferSwitzerland has made a move to improve safety in the country’s adventure travel sector by requiring all tour operators to employ licensed guides and carry insurance to cover their clients. The new law doesn’t go into effect until January 1st, 2013, but operators are already taking steps to comply with the mandate. Until then however, anyone can still lead mountaineering, rafting, or canyoneering expeditions.

The new law is in response to a 1999 accident that left killed 21 people, including three guides. The group was cayoneering in Switzerland’s Interlaken region when a sudden storm caused a flash flood through the gorge they were explorering. A wall of water washed the travelers down the narrow canyon, where they eventually drowned. The guides’ lack of experience and training was partially blamed for the fatalities.

Two years later, six employees of the company that organized the excursion were convicted of manslaughter because of the accident. During their trial, it was revealed that they didn’t have any official safety guidelines and that the guides had not been fully informed about the dangers of the weather conditions in Interlaken. For most of the guides, it was their first season working there.

Following the very public trial, the Swiss government tried to pass legislation to improve safety in the travel industry, but the members of parliament were unable to come to an agreement on what exactly should be done. Now, ten years later, they’ve finally been able to address the issue properly.

Over the past decade, the adventure travel industry in Switzerland has implemented its own requirements for outfitters who voluntarily joined a “Safety in Adventure” program. But the new law requires all operators to meet the standards, which include a specified amount of training for employees and insurance that covers the clients while under their care.

These moves should make for a safer environment for travelers looking to get an adrenaline rush, and should help the Swiss tourism industry as a whole. As the adventure travel market grows, and matures, these kinds of regulations are likely to become more common and important, and it is good to see Switzerland lead the way in this area.

[Photo credit: Terra 3 via WikiMedia]