Most of the jungle lodges in Central America and South America claim to be running a sustainable travel operation, but how you define that word can make a huge difference in how valid those claims are. Have they eliminated plastic? Are they powered in a way that doesn’t use any fossil fuels? Do they compost waste? Do they grow some of their own food? Are the employees locals who are getting training?
Although each of these elements is admirable on its own, there are a lot of individual parts that make up the whole. A truly sustainable eco-resort is hitting the problem from multiple angles.
One way to ascertain how many of these aspects a hotel or resort has addressed is to look at certification programs. The Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) in Costa Rica, for example, requires detailed answers to 108 questions divided into 28 categories. One has to wonder how demanding the criteria really are, however, when there are dozens of hotels securing the top 5-leaf level. Super-sustainable Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, operating totally off the grid, is at the same level as city chain hotels like Hotel Indigo and Courtyard Marriott.
Perhaps a better bet is who has earned award recognition though, which shows the industry looks to them as a leader. That’s the case with Napo Wildlife Reserve in South America, which this year won an award as Ecuador’s Leading Green Hotel. Considering the stuff competition they were up against just in the wildest part of Ecuador, that’s a big accomplishment. (They were also nominated as South America’s Leading Eco-Lodge, but got edged out by Mashpi Lodge, also in Ecuador.)
This follows other recent awards, including The Americas’ Most Sustainable Hotel at 2017’s World Boutique Hotel Awards and Best Green Hotel in the Conde Nast Awards for Excellence earlier this year.
Big Steps on the Sustainable Travel Path
Napo Wildlife Reserve is a step above most other eco-lodges around the world because of the involvement of the local Kichwa people, who consider themselves stewards of this still truly wild place. The 2.5 million acres of the Yasuni National Park rainforest are some some of the richest and most biodiverse on the planet. With proven oil reserves as well though, the wildlife is under constant threat.
All proceeds from Napo Wildlife Center are re-invested into community projects such as renewable energy, education, and health care. This is not a lodging project that just employs a few locals: they have run it themselves since 2007. Now around 80 villagers work directly for the lodge or in projects developed by the Napo Wildlife Center. The Cultural Center at the lodge introduces guests to the Kichwa community, ancestral customs, and traditional practices. On hikes or canoe rides, local guides who grew up in the rainforest can explain how they live in balance with the plants and animals here.
The lodge places high importance on protecting the integrity and well-being of the natural environment’s water, plants, and animals.
They go far beyond the norm in reusable energy practices:
Aside from employing the use of solar panels to capture the sun’s rays and transform them into useable energy for lights and hot water, we have also taken the initiative to invest in other renewable energy technology. We make a point of serving delicious, organic, and locally-sourced food to our guests in elevated style. By then transforming the organic waste generated by our kitchen into biogas with a hermetic container, we are able to repurpose the unavoidable greenhouse gas byproducts. We harness this energy to use as fuel to cook with instead of contributing to deforestation and oil extraction which are threats to environmental health.
Water for the bathrooms and kitchen at the lodge is taken from the lake and waste water goes through a purification system to avoid lake pollution. There are no single-use plastic water bottles: purified water dispensers fill reusable guest bottles and restaurant glasses.
While you’ll need to ride a motorboat 2.5 hours on the Napo River to get to the Yasuni region, after you disembark at the drop-off point, you go the rest of the way to the lodge on a human-powered canoe, gliding away from the sounds of motors and transitioning into the sounds of nature. The rest of your jungle wildlife activities are by canoe, on foot, or both.
Don’t fear that you’ll be roughing it because of all this though. You will eat well, have access to a full bar, and will have outlets for recharging your gadgets. At night you will settle into a very comfortable bed with nice linens and fluffy bath towels.
For more information on setting up your sustainable travel adventure tour in the Amazon Basin jungle of Ecuador, see our detailed review and visit the Napo Wildlife Reserve Ecolodge website for booking.