South America is one of the most ecologically diverse continents in the world. The Amazon, the world’s largest forest, is undoubtedly one of the first places that comes to mind for an eco-tourism experience, but South America is home to much more than just the Amazon. You can find cloud forests, rainforests, temperate coastal forests, isolated island chains full of endemic creatures, biosphere reserves and much more.
In our first installment of this two-part series, we highlight some of our favorite eco-lodges in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
1. Chalalán Eco–lodge, Madidi National Park, Bolivia
Opened in 1995, the Chalalán Eco-lodge supports the development of the community of San José de Uchupiamonas, while providing protection to the natural environment of the Madidi National Park and Lake Chalalán. The lodge has 14 traditional Tacana-style cabins that have been built with respect for the environment, using traditional techniques with local materials (palm leaves, woods), but incorporating modern equipment (toilets, a meeting room with computer facilities). The cabins are powered with solar energy and organic waste is turned into compost.
The hotel is a model of responsible tourism and is a dream come true for the Tacana Indians, who had been living for over 300 years on the site. Conservation International and the Inter-American Development Bank supported the project. The 74 families behind the project hold 100% of the funds and 50% of the revenues generated are reinvested to improve the living conditions of the community and develop complimentary activities (crafts and agriculture).
The Chalalán eco-lodge provides a relaxing and exotic place where you can fully enjoy the rich human, cultural and natural values of the region by fully immersing yourself within in. Surrounded by virgin forest, which resonates with birdsong and the cries of howler monkeys, especially at dawn and dusk, Chalalán is a place of incomparable beauty. The hotel offers varied activities like hiking (30km of trails with observation of the fauna and flora), bird watching, canoeing and swimming.
2. Tomarapi Eco-lodge, Sajama National Park, Bolivia
Tomarapi eco-lodge is located at an altitude of 4300 meters, in the heart of the Sajama National Park, 4 hours southwest of La Paz in the province of Oruro. The lodge was built on the site of an abandoned village at the foot of Mount Sajama (6000 m) and is surrounded by a breathtaking landscape consisting of a vast desert plateau covered with small rivers and low herbs.
Opened in May 2003, the lodge is entirely managed by the inhabitants of the small nearby community of Caripe. Built by community members, with the financial and technical support of MAPZA, a project of the German Development Cooperation GTZ and Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, it has been designed to respect local traditions. The buildings are new and well maintained with comfortable rooms that can each accommodate one to three people. Electricity is generated by solar panels.
Local guides will introduce you to amazing natural landscapes, where lakes, geysers and hot springs provide the setting for peaceful herds of llamas and alpacas. Tomarapi is not accessible via public transportation so you will need to arrange a trip via an agency and either rent a private car with a driver or join a tour group.
3. Hosteria Alandaluz, Puerto Rico, Ecuador
Come to enjoy the coast in a beautiful Ecuadorian eco-lodge built mainly of bamboo and surrounded by organic gardens. Located on the south-west coast of Ecuador, Alandaluz is a private initiative born 16 years ago to help the development of the community in an ecological and socially responsible way. The objective was for the project to be culturally authentic, self-managed, economically viable and sustainable in the long term.
Alandaluz is involved in the development of the village of Puerto Rico. One of its goals is to improve the living conditions of the local communities, generate employment and train people. The construction of the Hosteria was done using “caña guadua”, the typical bamboo of Ecuador. The eco-lodge has 25 cabañas, a sport area on the beach, a camp ground (for tight budgets), an organic farm, a swimming pool (with sea water), a billiards room, a conference center and a bar-restaurant. The cabañas can accommodate between 2 and 7 people, 11 have a fireplace and 3 of them have compost toilets.
Enjoy a beautiful sunset from the porch of your cabaña! Activities offered include Canopy, trekking, bird watching, snorkeling, kayaking, whale sighting (June to August) and horse riding.
4. Shiripuno, Misahualli, Ecuador
If you are in Ecuador, you should spend a few days in the community of Shiripuno, located near Tena (Misahualli). It is located in a natural paradise along the Rio Napo. You’ll simply want to enjoy the enchanting natural settings of the Amazon rainforest while discovering the life of the Amazonian Quichua, or to explore the forest during several days with a guide from the community. A visit to Shiripuno is a great way to live closer to the nature, in close contact with the locals.
The community of Shiripuno is located along the Rio Napo, three minutes by canoe or 20 minutes walk from Misahualli. The eco-lodge is fully integrated into its natural environment. Amidst the beautiful Amazonian vegetation, you can sleep, lulled by the sound of the river, in a hut of bamboo and palm leaves. You can eat local food, using fresh products from the village and spend time with the community members to discover the lifestyle of the Amazonian Quichua. They have private cabins and a large cabin with a double room. All rooms have a terrace with hammock, double beds, mosquito nets, sheets and blankets.
The waste is sorted by the team in charge of the hotel: paper and cardboard are burnt, vegetable wastes are processed into a fertilizer for vegetable crops and plastics are transported to the village of Tena Shiripuno then transported by the Municipality. But the lifestyle in Shiripuno produces little pollutant waste because it is based almost entirely on natural products. The hotel is managed by the community. The income generated goes to a health fund (80% of revenues), and contribute to the purchases of supplies for the school (10%) and daycare (10%). They build a craft house where women go each day to develop their products based on natural elements: strings, seeds, clay, and natural dyes.
To get there, you have to take a bus to Tena, then another bus to Misahualli. In town, go to the agency Teorumi who can organize your boat trip to the community.
5. Posada Amazonas, Puerto Madonado, Peru
Posada Amazonas is located in Tambopata National Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon. Here, you’ll discover the Colpas (clay cliffs). parrots and parakeets of all kinds, the giant otters and caimans in the lagoon near the lodge, or the medicinal plants used by the shaman in the neighboring community.
The Posada Amazonas lodge was built in 1998 and is administered by the ecotourism company RainForest Expeditions in collaboration with the community of Infierno. The lodge is located on the community land. 60% of the benefits of tourism go to the community. A portion is invested in the community projects such as a clinic and a fund to assist patients (to advance the money for medical expenses).
The lodge has 30 rooms with private showers and toilets. These rooms, built of wood, palm leaves, bamboo and clay, are unique because they provide a direct opening to the forest. The beds have mosquito nets. Soap, shampoo green, towels and drinking water are included. Hearty meals are served daily. You can request vegetarian/vegan meals. Fruits and hot water are available all day. All food products used come from the community, Puerto Maldonado and Cuzco. There is no electricity, light is provided by kerosene lamps and candles.
Rainforest Expeditions offer packages of 3 days / 2 nights and 4 days / 3 nights from Puerto Maldonado. You will be taken by bus and then by boat to the eco-lodge in the middle of rainforest. Activities include hiking a forest trail to an observation tower of 37 meters high, on top of which you can admire the extent of the canopy and watch lots of birds at sunset.
To get to Puerto Maldonado, you can fly from Lima (1 hour 30 minutes) or from Cuzco (30 minutes) or take the bus (16 hours).