Indigenous tourism and jungle adventures at Sani Ecolodge in Ecuador
In the middle of the Ecuadorian rainforest exists a jewel of sustainable tourism. The Sani Lodge, named after the native people that host and run it, is an ecolodge in Ecuador. At the heart of the Amazon rainforest, Sani Lodge offers an up-close look at one of Latin America’s greatest natural wonders, which local indigenous communities are trying to preserve with the participation of international travelers. Last year, we organised a visit for Guardian travel writer Kevin Rushby to Sani Lodge, as part of a longer trip throughout the country. In his article, Ecuador’s Yasuni park: where oil vies with tourism for the rainforest, Kevin illustrates an important crossroads that the Sani indigenous people have arrived at, having to decide whether to continue in an economy reliant on ecotourism or bow to the wishes of giant oil companies and sell off parts of their land.
Though existing oil reserves in the area make for the possibility of quick money into the Sani people’s pockets, it could devastate the impressive ecological beauty and complexity in the Ecuadorian Amazon. As Kevin mentions, the “gorgeous little cluster of cabins” at Sani sits inside the Yasuni National Park and right by Ecuador’s Napo River, which gives life to one of the world’s most biodiverse areas. This now-renowned ecolodge in Ecuador has become famous for bird watching, as it boasts that 565 tropical bird species live around its expansive 40,000-hectare rainforest property. This surreal setting is also home to more than 1,500 types of tree, 13 monkey species, and 1,000 species of butterfly. Knowledgeable tour guides who have grown up in the forest lead the daily wildlife-spotting and canoe tours through the Amazon.
The lodge makes it a priority to operate with the lowest environmental impact possible and takes great pride in its clean water system. With lakeside cabins that can hold up to 38 guests at one time to camping grounds an hour away from the lodge, both sites are completely embedded into the Amazon rainforest and the Sani community. In Kevin’s words: “I had never realised how brutally direct the relationship between conservation and tourism could be. And if I needed a reminder of what choosing oil might mean I’d seen it on the journey downriver from the city of Coca, a few days earlier. [..] The riverbank, eroded by powerful marine engines, has been shored up with metal pilings below scruffy new buildings, and the primary rainforest has been replaced by a thin scurf of secondary growth”.
Attracting global tourists to this ecolodge in Ecuador is one of the major reasons the local people have been able to fend off offers and mounting pressure from the oil companies. Kevin’s local guide at Sani, Victor, told him last year that the ecolodge will need to keep relying on increased guest numbers to keep the lodge alive. “We get an average of 12 guests a day at the lodge, but we need 15,” he said. “The community is split, but at the moment the pro-tourism group has a small majority over the pro-oil group”. Sani also hires women employees to give otherwise unattainable opportunities to the mothers and sisters in the indigenous community. Positive impacts like these that allow for sustainable environmental and economic benefits makes it that much more critical for this precious ecolodge in Ecuador to fend off corporate threats.
The pro-community business model at Sani Lodge allows for all profits from the ecolodge to stay among the people from which it takes its namesake, giving them more money for healthcare and education, among other projects. Sani Lodge is Rainforest Alliance certified and offers a range of hikes throughout the many trails surrounding the guesthouses. While on hikes or other excursions through the dense jungle, sightseers will be able to spot caiman in the rivers, exotic birds through the canopy, and giant otter by the lake. During these trips, travelers will get more and more accustomed to the food, customs, and overall culture of the Sani people. The ecolodge packages include the activities and all meals, which are served in a community dining setting that also features a full bar. Traveler Kate B. wrote on TripAdvisor that Sani has all the great amenities guests are looking for with delicious food and entertaining rainforest activities. “The true magic of this place is the location and the people. The lagoon they are on is spectacular and the canoe ride to get there alone is worth the price of admission.” This adventure is something travelers will remember forever and will directly support the great cause of allowing the Sani people to keep sharing their home with the world.
Make sure to check out more indigenous-run ecolodges as we keep traveling through Latin America.
- An Amazon Adventure – Photos from the Peruvian and Colombian Jungle
- Organic chocolate tour in the Amazon rainforest – An Ecuador Adventure
- Where the Desert and the Caribbean Sea Meet – Indigenous Tourism in La Guajira
- The Mapuche of the Forest – Indigenous Tourism in Chile
- The #AdventureLust Begins with Indigenous Tourism in Mendoza: Meet the Huarpe Community