Addicted to Chocolate and Motorcycling? Here are Five Places in Ecuador That Satisfy.
Ecuador's climate and the different textures of the terrain bring new flavors to a motorcycle adventure here. Each region hides routes through the pristine cloud forest, coastal views from hidden coves, the jungle's fantastic creatures, and the towering volcanoes in the highlands.
The country’s eco-system is a game-changer. From the Galapagos Islands' intricate balance to the incredible diversity found in the jungle, Ecuador tops the bucket list for nature lovers from around the world.
Chocolate is often lost amid the vast culture and the myriad of highlights to check off the list while on a motorcycle adventure here. Cacao trees, the origin of the delicacy, thrive in the country's different climates and have supplied some of the best chocolate makers in the world for centuries.
Cacao Amazónico-which dates back 7000 years. Nutty Criollo and Trinitario are all grown in Ecuador and found in stores in the States and Europe. The country’s prize cacao bean, the Nacional variety, is now being revived on the coast and in the jungle-after thought to have been extinct for a hundred years.
Keep reading for five places to visit for those who love motorcycles and chocolate.
The discovery route into Ecuador’s different regions and the places where “x” marks the spot as an intersection between adventure and culture often starts in the cloud forest. About two hours northwest of Quito, accessed by a cobblestone road rife with incredible views, is Mindo. The small town is home base for birdwatchers and those escaping the capital for the weekend.
A southern outpost for the Choco Cloud forest region, Ecuador’s cloud forest is located between the humidity of the coast and the dry air of the mountains-creating an environment that fosters more than 500 kinds of birds, a bevy of species of orchids. It produces some of the finest cacao trees in the world. It was home to a puzzling pre-Inca civilization known as the Yumbos.
The ramshackle town is continuously under a mist of thick clouds-but around the corner from the main square is Yumbo Chocolate - one of Ecuador’s unsung chocolate makers.
Yumbos Chocolate endeavors are revealed during their daily chocolate tours, where you are taken through the entire process from harvesting and preparation to the many varieties of chocolate found on the shelves of their gift shop. Our one-day "Chocolate and Cloudforest" self-guided tour will take you to Yumbos Chocolate with many other amazing stops along the way.
Located to the west of Mindo in the Mashpi Shungo Reserve, the Mashi chocolate farm is owned by Alejandro Solano and his wife, Agustina. Alejandro is one of the region's expert birders, able to recognize calls from a distance and zoom in to find the bird before it moves on.
The farm grows Nacional trees, and through an elaborate process, creates Mashpi Artisanal Chocolate bars. Alejandro and Agustina combine their passions-tending to cacao groves in the cloud forest shade to preserve the land and natural habitats of the rare species of birds here. The final product captures the richness of the climate, and like shade-grown coffee, has a depth of flavor not found using other growing techniques. Tours of the farm, included in Ecuador Freedom’s Offroad Pacific Discovery tour, are an enlightening immersion into chocolate production and life on a rural farm in the cloud forest.
Manabi -Toak Chocolate
After the cloud forest, take a breathtaking trip to the coast, descending through patch-worked hills until the route gives way to coastal palm trees and sweeping views of the sea.
Folklore tells that this is the origin of chocolate-while scholars argue that Mexico and the Amazon Basin have their claims to the title.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Ecuador’s chocolate was in high demand by Europe’s premier chocolate makers. In 1916, the country’s Nacional cacao bean was wiped out by a natural plague called Witches Broom. The trees that did survive were paired with stronger species, making the pure Nacional cacao bean a thing of the past.
The founders of To’ak Chocolate stumbled upon a 150-year old grove of the Nacional tree while starting an ecological reserve. After many years of developing a process dedicated to elevating the art of chocolate making, they introduced the world to its most expensive chocolate bar.
The flourishing reserve and nearby property where the cacao beans are roasted are Ecuador’s hidden gems. Seeing the company's interworkings at their roots is worth the journey to get here, and hearing about the strides that the cacao farmers here have made in recent years is inspiring. A chocolate and art tour curated by To'ak is available to visit and is just a few blocks from Ecuador Freedom's Quito headquarters. That's a great way to spend your time in Quito before or after your motorcycle adventure.
Tena-Pacari and Kallari Chocolate
Tena is one of the gateways to the jungle, where the sheer number of plants and animals down to the species of birds and insects-dwarf those found in all but an elite group of places in the world.
Santa Rita is a small Kichwa community close to Tena, where over a hundred members tend to Nacional cacao trees that supply the Pacari brand. Pacari makes around 20 different chocolate bars and has beat out European brands year after year in international chocolate award competitions.
The company has strong ties to the communities it works with, helping families refine the growing process to bring out the beans' subtle flavors and paying sustainable prices that give the people in the jungle a better option for making a living than logging.
The tour starts with a traditional lunch, continues to a cacao farm, and finishes with the group jumping in and preparing a chocolate dessert from scratch using a mortar and pestle. Along the way to the cacao trees, keep a look out for petroglyphs dating back 1300 years.
Visiting the village is akin to stepping into times forgotten in the world abroad. Experiencing the communal spirit and collective efforts brings pause, piecing together a puzzle where another side of life comes to light. This tour can be easily added to our self-guided Avenue of Volcanoes, Quilotoa Loop & Amazon Basin Tour.
The Kallari Association, the people behind Kallari chocolate, is a collective of over 850 Kichwa families living in the Amazon basin. The collective is a success, producing 15 chocolate bars sold internationally with flavors like chili, lemongrass, ginger, cinnamon, and banana chips.
The cacao is grown organically around Tena-where tours are available that walk you through the chocolate-making process.
In Quito, the Kallari Café is the place to find chocolate in all its forms, from bars to brownies. The small menu also has traditional items from the jungle, including yucca. The collective also produces guayusa tea in the jungle-a staple known for its energizing effects, vitamins, and antioxidants. A tour of Kallari Chocolate can be added to our self-guided Andes, Amazon & Pacific Tour.
Salinas- El Salinerito
There are three cities and towns named Salinas in Ecuador. One in the northern Andes where Afro-Ecuadorians settled after migrating from the coast, another on the southern coast where high rises and crowded beaches greet throngs of sun-lovers each season. The third- high on a mountain vista- is Salinas de Guaranda.
The hamlet community has bonded together to create a collective that produces some of the country’s best cheese and chocolate. It is also home to ancient salt flats, a marvel of engineering that puts the modern world into perspective.
El Salinerito is the name of both the chocolate and the cheese in town, and the former and the latter are well worth trying. Tours of both factories take place daily, and the respective shops selling their products mean making more space in your bags on motorcycle adventures in the southern highlands of Ecuador. We visit Salinas and their chocolate making facilities on our self-guided and guided Offroad Ecuador ADVenture, Offroad Ecuador Excursion, High Andes, Deep Amazon and Cloudforest, Coast & Craters Tours.
What takes Ecuadorian chocolate to the next level is the environment where the cacao trees are grown. The nutrients in the soil, the rainfall each year, and the sunshine each day contribute to the complex flavors that traditional chocolate bars forgo.
To find out more about taking a motorcycle adventure in Ecuador that includes stopping to experience the roots of chocolate at its source, contact a team member to start planning a trip to the middle of the world.