Responsible Vacation Feature: Kapawi Ecolodge

Earlier this year, the Achuar people took on full ownership of the Kapawi Ecolodge and Reserve, a responsible vacation lodge in Ecuador. The Achuar people, who've lived in the Amazon Basin as for thousands of years, were one of the last indigenous groups along the Marañon River to be impacted by western contact. They lived in "terra incognito" until missionaries arrived in the late 1960's.  The Achuar resisted the missionaries, though intercultural contact changed their way of living. Approximately 6,000 Achuar live in Ecuador along the Peruvian border, and an additional group lives in Peru.

Each Achuar family has at least one garden plot (called a chakra), where they cultivate bananas, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and so forth. A chakra can be used for about 3 years before the family needs to establish a new one. It's "pioneering slash and burn cultivation" on a micro-scale. The Achuar survive by hunting, fishing and gathering in the rainforest, and chicha is their most important food and drink. To make chicha, the shrub manioc (also called yucca) is chewed and then fermented. The women are responsible for making this drink for the guests who would like to try chicha during their stay at the responsible vacation lodge, Kapawi.

Kapawi consists of 20 huts, built on stilts at the edge of a lagoon, which can accommodate 40 people. Each room is equipped with a solar shower, and electricity from a photovoltaic system.  Garbage is sorted, and plastic, glass and metal are flown to the city. Paper is burned and biodegradable garbage is buried. Sewage is pumped through several drainage systems, and yeast accelerates decomposition. Kapawi is, through and through, an ecologically and culturally sensitive responsible vacation destination.

Activities at the lodge include canoeing (candlelight by request), kayaking, fishing, and observing over 570 species of birds (many of them colorful).  Monkeys, dolphins, jaguars, otters, ocelots and other animals can also be seen.  Kapawi also offers ceremonies, including a spiritual cleansing from the Shaman, a traditional wedding, a Natem ceremony (which involves a psychotropic plant from Banisteriopsis). All other traditional ceremonies are available (provided that the NAE (Achuar Nationality of Ecuador) approves it.

Last month, Kapawi Ecolodge was recognized as a responsible vacation destination by the UN's Equator Initiative Awards Ceremony, and selected as one of the top five projects for their conservation efforts and community development. The Achuar consider the rainforest their nourishing mother, and they maintain an intimate relationship with the natural world, in which plants and animals have their own souls.

Photo Credit: Kapawi