Set in pristine primary rainforest deep in a remote corner of the southern Oriente, Kapawi Ecolodge combines the most comfortable accommodations and service available in the Ecuadorian rainforest with the highest principles of ecotourism.
The lodge was begun in 1993 on the Río Pastaza within a stone’s throw of the Peruvian border in the heart of the 8,000-square-kilometer Ecuadorian Achuar territory.
After securing permission from OINAE, the indigenous group’s political organization, in 1996 the lodge was able to provide local communities with jobs and ongoing economic support in the form of rent paid for the land. Most of the employees who work for the lodge are Achuar, and Kapawi passed into Achuar management in 2008. The lodge has won several international ecotourism awards.
The lodge itself was built entirely with native materials and methods—incredibly, not a single metal nail was used in the construction. Walkways link bungalows that can accommodate 50 people, who may find it easy to forget they’re more than 100 kilometers from the nearest city of any size and a 10-day hike from the nearest road.
The lodge is as eco-friendly as possible: One of the largest private solar projects in South America powers the lights, all the trash is recycled, and even the soap is biodegradable.
Two main buildings house a small library, a boutique, a meeting room, and a dining hall, which specializes in exotic rainforest fruit and local delicacies. Activities begin after an early breakfast. Silent electric motors power dugout canoes that take you down narrow black-water streams, where long-nosed bats and Amazon kingfishers launch from waterside branches. Flocks of blue-and-yellow macaws claim sandbars in the wide Río Pastaza, and this is the only place in the country where you might spot an Orinoco goose.
Hikes ranging from easy to difficult are led by indigenous and biologist guides. Electric-blue morpho butterflies dance down forest trails, while troops of squirrel monkeys make huge leaps from branch to bending branch along the river. Indigenous guides demonstrate how forest dwellers knock on buttress roots to signal over long distances, and point out countless plants put to good use by the Achuar.
One of the highlights is a visit to an Achuar settlement. After a traditional greeting by your guide and a brief chat with the owner, your group will be served nijiamanch, a sour beverage made from chewed-up yucca fermented with human saliva. At least pretend to drink—to refuse would be considered an insult. A tour of the small chakra, where various medicinal plants are cultivated, follows.
Four-day ($799 pp) and five-day ($999 pp) visits to Kapawi include accommodations, meals, and excursions (supplementary charges for singles apply). Not included is the round-trip flight from Shell ($306); private van transportation from Quito to Shell ($60), if required; and a $20 contribution to the local Achuar community. Reservations can be made through the Quito office (Foch E7-38 at Reina Victoria, tel. 2/600-9333, fax 2/600-9334, www.kapawi.com), or in the United States, contact Canodros (U.S. tel. 800/613-6026, www.canodros.com).
© Ben Westwood and Avalon Travel from Moon Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands, 5th Edition