Magazine article Geographical

A Refuge in the Rainforest: Situated Deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Kapawi Eco-Lodge Is Surrounded by Vast Areas of Pristine Jungle That Teem with a Staggering Diversity of Wildlife. It's Also Entirely Owned and Operated by the Indigenous Achuar People, Providing Them with Income from Tourism and Helping to Protect the Resource-Rich Region from Exploitation

Magazine article Geographical

A Refuge in the Rainforest: Situated Deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Kapawi Eco-Lodge Is Surrounded by Vast Areas of Pristine Jungle That Teem with a Staggering Diversity of Wildlife. It's Also Entirely Owned and Operated by the Indigenous Achuar People, Providing Them with Income from Tourism and Helping to Protect the Resource-Rich Region from Exploitation

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

When the founders of the Kapawi Eco-lodge were searching the Amazon for somewhere to set up their operation, the story goes, a pod of pink dolphins surrounded their canoe and 'led' them to the ideal spot. It's fitting, then, that before I've even reached it, I'm treated to a similar display.

The sight of freshwater dolphins leaping from the muddied waters is clearly significant to our Achuar guide, who seems amazed by their antics. 'They are usually very shy,' he explains. 'Someone in the group must have very good energy.'

Only accessible via a tiny airstrip--more a small bald patch in the jungle than a runway--and some 320 kilometres of unbroken forest canopy from the nearest settlement, Kapawi lies in one of the remotest and best-preserved corners of the Ecuadorian Amazon. It's a region blessed with biodiversity, home to some 600 species of bird and 20,000 species of plant, and who knows how many species still unknown to science.

But what sets Kapawi apart from your average eco-lodge is that it's entirely owned and run by the local indigenous people, the charismatic Achuar tribe, who have inhabited these forests for thousands of years.

JUNGLE IDYLL

Arriving by canoe at the lodge, you could be mistaken for thinking that you're visiting an Achuar village. Conical thatched cabins, built in the traditional way and connected by wooden boardwalks, sit on stilts over a placid lagoon. The arrangement provides a sense of both privacy and community. Each cabin has its own veranda complete with hammock, perfect for viewing the wildlife that seem to be flitting perpetually past the fluttering net curtains.

Out in the lagoon, a white egret elegantly stalks among lush elephant-ear-shaped leaves while chirpy yellow social flycatchers hop from perch to perch. The eerie calls of a troop of howler monkeys rise with the afternoon mist and a large jewelled beetle sways, as though it has overindulged at lunch, across the balustrade. And all of this can be enjoyed without being harassed by a single mosquito--surely the greatest tropical luxury ever provided--thanks to the planting of an Amazonian grass that hinders their breeding.

A pre-dinner canoe trip offers an enticing preview of wildlife to come. Woodpeckers, hoatzins, parrots and monkeys appear utterly unperturbed by our slowly drifting presence, nor by the sudden violent downpour that instigates a clattering of lens caps as we retreat under some plastic sheeting, silently watching as the force of the rain turns the water milky.

Kapawi was the brainchild of Carlos Perez, a Galapagos-cruise millionaire, and Daniel Koupermann, an environmentalist and honorary Achuar, who dreamt of establishing a sustainable-tourism project in symbiosis with the communities of Amazonian people. Their intention was to set up a lodge and then gradually work over a 15-year period towards an official handover. However, their plan was foiled by Perez's death in 2004. His family, reluctant to continue pumping money into the scheme, handed it over five years ahead of schedule.

Environmental and indigenous-rights activist Zoe Tryon of the Pachamama Foundation, an NGO dedicated to assisting indigenous peoples in Amazonia, has lived with the Achuar for several years, working closely with them on the project. 'The withdrawal [of funding] presented the Achuar with their biggest challenge to date,' she explains. 'The transfer period hasn't been a bed of roses. Fortunately, with support from organisations such as the Pachamama Foundation, Kapawi became a successful, financially independent operation.'

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

All profits from Kapawi are split between local communities and the Nacionalidad Achuar de Ecuador (NAE), which governs a population of about 6,000 individuals living in 64 communities in a territory of 6,800 square kilometres. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.