Roses in Ecuador: $1 a dozen

My young guide in Quito put it well: “There really is no excuse not to buy your girlfriend roses when they cost so little…”

In the Cuenca flower market, for example, roses are $1 a dozen—a fresh bouquet will be made for you, while you wait.

In Quito, in the lobby of the J.W. Marriott, an enormous bouquet that must include at least eight dozen perfectly-matched white roses beautifully dominates the lobby.

And in Zazu, a seafood restaurant in Quito, roses on stems nearly six-feet long welcome the sophisticated diners. I ask the hostess where these spectacular long-stemmed roses come from. “Here, of course,” she says. “Not far from Quito, in fact.”

I ask if she knows where else they may be sold. “Wealthy Russians fly them into their country,” she said. “That is what I have heard.”

The flower trade, dominated by roses, is big business for Ecuador. It amounts to about $600 million for the export market, mostly to the United States, Italy and Russia. More than 5,000 acres are dedicated to cut flowers.

A few days later, we are driving to Otavalo to shop at its world-famous indigenous market. About an hour out of Quito, we pass high fences made of bamboo. Property after property has similar enclosures, designed to break the wind before it can damage the flowers being grown in greenhouses behind the bamboo walls.

This area is like heaven for roses and other flowers. It is about 9,300 feet above sea level, and the soil is volcanic, enriched by thousands of years of eruptions. This spot is within a few miles of the equator, so the sun is directly overhead. That means that roses grow straight up. So, Ecuadorian roses have thicker, stronger and longer stems, and their flowers have brighter colors.

In the U.S., you can buy Ecuadorian roses at attractive prices: 25 for $49.99, for example, or 6,000 rose petals for $139.99 (including shipping).

Those prices are reasonable… but not nearly as attractive as they are in Ecuador.

Editor’s note: It’s been two weeks since we opened up registration for our Fast Track Ecuador Conference in February… and already more than 200 places have gone. Find out more about this conference here. Remember, this will be the only Ecuador event that International Living holds in 2013.