In recent years, Ecuador has become a leading eco-tourism destination thanks to growing international appreciation for its astonishing levels of biodiversity and rich ecosystems. Visitors to this beautiful country are spoiled for choice in deciding on which regions to visit – not every country is known for having “four worlds,” after all. This decision often starts to get more difficult for those looking to make an environmentally-conscious decision. The international sphere has only recently begun to define what sustainable tourism means, and green standards are not always reliable. In fact, as these types of accommodations grow in popularity, many hotels are simply adding “eco” to their name to attract more tourists. Thus, environmentally conscious tourists are understandably wary when choosing their lodging in Ecuador to ensure that it complies with recognized eco-standards, checking to make sure that the enterprise is true to its name while at the same time making sure that it offers outstanding service and unforgettable adventures.
Choosing Your Ecuadorian Eco-Lodge Experience
For tourists looking for a comfortable but authentic vacation, eco-lodges are becoming an increasingly popular choice thanks to their two-tiered objective of creating a genuine Ecuadorian experience while providing guests with decidedly sustainable and high-end service. These hotels are unique in that they offer guests the opportunity to leave the demands of city life behind and become enveloped in the local spirit and natural beauty that make Ecuador the dynamic and rich country it is. These sustainable hotels not only strive to provide their guests with a comfortable vacation but to also educate visitors about the area where they are staying. Additionally, eco-lodges seek to implement environmentally-sustainable practices and monitor their environmental impact to provide a comprehensive and memorable experience for their guests. This is particularly important these days because there are one-too-many hotels that do what is called “greenwashing,” in which they make the accommodations appear more sustainable than they really are. However, tourists can rest assured that eco-lodges are working to implement modern environmental practices and transparency for the public.
The challenge, therefore, lies in deciding which of the stunning and diverse regions of Ecuador you will want to visit, and finding the lodge that is perfect for you. Many of the eco-lodges in Ecuador are concentrated in the Amazon region, but they are also found among the country’s cloud forests, including its western rainforest known as the Choco Rainforest, and in the Andean highlands. Each of these regions varies significantly in the diversity and life that visitors will come across, as well as their unique climates and geographies. The Choco Rainforest, for example, is strikingly unusual due to the fact that, as it rises into the mountains it transitions into a cloud forest, it makes for one of the few accessible areas in Ecuador that are both rainforest and cloud forest. Making it even more unusual is the fact that the Choco Rainforest was once a part of the Amazon before the Andes Mountains even formed. As a result, this rainforest is home to a stunning collection of endemic life, including over 400 species of birds, 43 species of amphibians, and 65 species of reptiles. Consequently, it’s always a good idea to study each region carefully to choose the area that most aligns with your interests.
The Top 3 Mashpi Lodge “Eco-lodge” Factors that Make it Different From the Rest
Among the eco-lodges that welcome tourists to this gorgeous country, the modern structure of Mashpi Lodge is wholly unique due to the fact that it extends itself out of the dense foliage of the Choco Rainforest, and it does so almost in complete harmony with the environment surrounding it. Built piece by piece over a span of two years, not a single tree was chopped down during its construction, and it was designed to blend seamlessly into the biodiversity hotspot of the Mashpi Reserve. The beautiful contemporary design and decor of earthy tones, steel, stone, and glass provide its guests with an elegant destination – an oasis of peace and luxury in the middle of this exotic destination. The sustainable efforts of Mashpi Lodge have been confirmed through its accreditation as one of the world’s few and exclusive National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World. In order to earn this recognition, the lodge must adhere to National Geographic’s core values and implement innovative sustainability solutions in both its architectural design and in its administration and management (not to mention modern and comfortable accommodations), and Mashpi Lodge is certainly no exception.
1. The Unusual History of Mashpi Lodge
The story of Mashpi Lodge began more than a decade ago when the large swath of land (a part of which is where it now stands) was bought from a logging company in order to save the region and the life it hosts from further deforestation. Unfortunately, the Choco Rainforest suffers from one of the highest rates of deforestation in all of Ecuador, and 90% of the original Choco has already been lost to exploitation. Thus, Mashpi Lodge has become an important force in maintaining this precious ecosystem (particularly because the remaining part of the forest has maintained 80% of its primary growth). The Lodge itself is located on the site where the timber company’s sawmill stood, and the roads leading to this breathtaking site are the old logging roads. Thus, due to the presence of pre-existing infrastructure, Mashpi Lodge was able to significantly minimize its environmental footprint during the construction process.
Furthermore, before construction of the lodge was even completed, a biologist was hired to learn as much as possible about the ecosystem surrounding the lodge, as well as the rest of the 1,200-hectare (3,000-acre) reserve. These findings became part of a continually expanding research project and were fully incorporated into the Lodge’s conservation and resources management strategy. Today, Mashpi Lodge is involved in several research projects that are being done in situ, much of which includes work with butterflies, fish, birds, reptiles, mammals, macroinvertebrates and amphibians. It has signed multiple agreements with national and international conservation groups, and also works with universities to further enable the spread of research and knowledge, continuously working to expand its understanding of the land where it is located and also promote the importance of research.
2. Fostering Knowledge for the Greater Good
This extensive research and environmental work are made readily available to Mashpi Lodge’s guests, both in terms of sharing the knowledge acquired and using it to further improve the experience for those who come from all over the world to enjoy this pristine place. Research findings are eagerly shared with guests during informative tours through the Choco cloud forest. Guests are welcome to explore the surrounding ecosystems at their leisure with the guidance of local and interpretive naturalist guides who seem to know just about every leaf of Ecuador’s vast cloud forests. Mashpi Lodge has also developed several unique interactive experiences for its guests to further explore the area they are staying in, including the innovative Sky Bike, an Observation Tower and a gondola known as The Dragonfly that offers spectacular 360-degree views of the forest below. The Life Center also provides guests with the opportunity to learn about the many butterfly species that inhabit the forest and observe the colorful toucans and hummingbirds that visit the area.
The extensive information gathered by Mashpi researchers is also used to ensure that Mashpi Lodge is implementing modern and sustainable practices properly. This includes keeping an eye on how waste is handled, how food and water are sourced, and how efficiently the Lodge is using electric energy. Mashpi Lodge makes an effort to source its food locally in order to reduce its carbon footprint by importing less from large and distant cities, instead opting to support sustainable, local businesses. This also helps to preserve the surrounding environment by decreasing resulting traffic flow as much as possible. Along these same lines, Mashpi uses water from the nearby Torrenteer Waterfall and its numerous streams. The water is channeled from the source into a holding tank and then passes through a filter and a UV purifier before flowing into the Lodge.
Waste removal is also an extremely important issue, especially in areas like the Mashpi Reserve, which already suffers from illegal mining, logging, and deforestation. Mashpi Lodge recycles, composts and effectively disposes of its wastewater thanks to a modern and biological wastewater treatment plant. Thus, the Lodge significantly strives to reduce any potential harm to the surrounding ecosystems that may result from the presence of humans. In addition to all of these efforts, the Lodge has further worked to decrease its waste production through the unique paths it has built for its visitors. The trails that snake around the lodge and through the cloud forest are reinforced with small, recycled plastic crates.
Lastly, energy efficiency plays an important factor in determining the sustainability of an eco-lodge and how well it complies with environmental standards. Ecuador has recently advanced its use of hydropower, and with its stunning mountain ranges and complex river systems, it has considerable potential to further implement this technology. Not far from Mashpi Lodge, one of the public hydroelectric plants generates electricity from the natural river system, eliminating the need to build an ecosystem-altering dam. The Lodge connects to the public hydroelectric grid for its energy supply but continuously strives to reduce its use of energy on its premises – for example, nearly 100% percent of its facilities use energy-efficient light bulbs.
The design and structure of the lodge itself also play an important role in the Lodge’s energy efficiency. During its construction, the architectural design team opted to use the Emmedue technique, which employs specific materials that counteract hot summer temperatures and cooler winter temperatures. This allows the facility to maintain comfortable temperatures all year round without having to depend on external heating or cooling systems, something that is certainly important in a tropical area that sits so close to the equator!
3. Community Involvement
Mashpi Lodge has worked hard to cultivate an excellent relationship with the local community while supporting its economy and sharing knowledge about the surrounding ecosystem. The people living close to Mashpi have historically devoted themselves to trade and agriculture, which is largely true to this day. Mashpi Lodge has worked hard to encourage sustainable practices within the community and provide more opportunities for locals aside from resource exploitation such as highly destructive illegal mining and logging, and slash-and-burn farming. Nearly 75% of Mashpi Lodge employees are from the local area, which not only helps to boost the local economy (while expanding knowledge of sustainable practices and a sense of pride for the environment), but also provides an added bonus for guests at the Lodge – who better to teach you about Mashpi’s unique ecosystem than the people who have lived there for generations! The guides employed at Mashpi Lodge are extremely knowledgeable of the Reserve and the wildlife that lives there, and will eagerly share stories about the history of the location. In the Ecuadorian cloud forests, these stories are often intricately interwoven with the practices of the indigenous communities that have lived off the land for thousands of years, providing guests with rich and unique stories to share with those back home.
Not to mention, Mashpi Lodge is highly unique in the sense that it has made its employees stakeholders of the business itself, providing them with a certain percentage of the Lodge’s earnings.
Mashpi Lodge works fervently to distinguish itself and provide its guests with an authentic experience in one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world. Visitors are welcome to relax in harmony with nature or actively explore its trails leading to natural pools and waterfalls, completely hidden from the exterior world and stresses of daily life. The warm, comfortable, and modern interior of the Lodge invite people of all ages to continue to expand their knowledge and understanding of nature as they live amidst this forest. Rest at ease in knowing that Mashpi Lodge strives to preserve the environment that it is a part of and minimize the ecological footprint that it leaves on the environment through its focus on research and conservation, together with its extensive work with the local community.