Huaorani Ecolodge Invests in EcoTourism
as Tool to Preserve
By Sara Widness
Huaorani Ecolodge is pioneering
indigenous community tourism with the Huaorani people of the Amazon of Ecuador,
providing a viable business model that has evolved from a commitment to and an
investment in ecotourism as a tool for conservation of both the environment and
This indigenous peoples’ thousands-year-old culture, made aware to the
so-called civilized world in the mid-20th century, is today threatened by oil
interests that in their quest to remove oil would create an infrastructure that
could ultimately force the Huaorani from the region.
This David and Goliath narrative is about preserving a people in nature
by keeping oil in the ground.
Roads, settlers, deforestation,
the introduction of cattle and non-native plant species, pipelines, leaks and spills are just the beginning. But perhaps most important is that indigenous groups with their own conservation efforts should be
a source of national pride.
Since 1994 Tropic Journeys in Nature
has partnered with and promoted
tourism initiatives targeting
the survival of threatened,
indigenous cultures. These
include the Siecoya, Cofan, Siona,
Achuar and Quichua. Its operation is dedicated to tourism based on respectful
cultural exchange designed to strengthen local cultures.
To avoid cultural contamination of any kind, visitor groups are kept purposefully small and
facilities are built to an intimate scale. The goal is to provide visitors with
an intimate experience and to inspire them through educational experiences to
become active conservationists and supporters of indigenous communities.
Essential to Tropic’s tourism policy is ensuring that any community and community representative with whom it engages will
receive fair economic benefits from the tourism operation. A major portion of
the benefits from operations remains within the communities. Care is taken that
income is distributed equitably to the various families and service providers involved in the project.
An innovative partnership with the
Huaorani people led to the promotion
of a new form of ecologically-friendly development sensitive to Huaorani traditions in the form of Huaorani Ecolodge.
This ecotourism project is co-managed
by Tropic and the Huaorani themselves. The permanent structure was opened in January 2008 after a tourism association was formed by the five indigenous
communities involved in the project. In order to consolidate the project,
community members were trained and plans made to produce and sell crafts. After
consultations a site was chosen and a lodge planned and built. Community members work in the Ecolodge and
participate in its management.
They also provide the
associated services such as
laundry, carpentry and supplying
local produce for meals.
Another level of community engagement
was a Huaorani commitment to give part of their territory as an intangible
reserve zone to conservation and
tourism, and to participate in mapping
the sites. Today a
55,000-hectare Forest Reserve is linked
to Huaorani Ecolodge and located in the territory of five Huaorani communities
involved in operating the Ecolodge. The Reserve and Ecolodge are in the buffer
zone of Yasuni National Park, recognized as one of the planet’s most biodiverse areas and is presently under threat from illegal logging and
The project, designed in conjunction
with Tropic Journeys in Nature and the Conservation in Action Foundation, is
supported by a number of national and international organizations, such as the
United Nations Development program (through its small donations fund), the
Wildlife Conservation Society and the IUCN.
An environmental management plan for
the Reserve has been developed and is the subject of a number of community workshops. In addition to introducing local tribes to 21st-century mapping techniques, a camera trap project analyzed and catalogued the region’s wildlife.
The Huaorani now have a reason to protect their own local environment
as distinguished by the Reserve and the Lodge.
Their standard of living has risen due to employment provided by the Lodge and opportunities to
sell handicrafts to guests.
Other micro businesses are being implemented and will further
assist the five communities involved.
Another positive impact is the
experience gained by the members of the community in the planning and operation
of the lodge and its related activities. The positive feedback they receive
from guests helps to build their confidence. They are also shored up by the attention and support the initiative has received from the wider public).
An interesting and often overlooked aspect of this venture is that in
the contact between visitors and
the local community, the community members are more than equal members of the exchange. Their
culture is valued and appreciated. They witness first- hand the excitement of
guests viewing the beauty of wildlife across their conservation area.
Established in 1994, Tropic Journeys is an award–winning ecotourism
company specializing in responsible, community-based tourism in Ecuador.
Programs combine life-changing,
experiences focusing on nature, conservation, diversity and sustainability in
three distinct areas:
• Huaorani Ecolodge at the headwaters
of the Amazon in Yasuni National Park.
• Floreana Lava Lodge a beachside accommodation in the Galapagos
Islands, on Floreana Island.
• Journeys in Nature – Sustainable
guided nature and culture-focused tours throughout Ecuador in collaboration with conservationists groups and local communities.
For information and reservations contact:
Tropic Ecological Adventures LLC. Phone: (888) 207-8615 or visit: