Yacuma Ecolodge, a sustainable retreat in the Ecuadorian Amazon

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Yacuma Ecolodge sits amidst two rivers… the Napo and the Chontayacu, between the provinces of Orellana and Napo in eastern Ecuador. Here, deep in the jungle, surrounded by hectares of primary forest, lies the ecological project that changed the lives of nearby residents and all those who venture to visit. A place as special as its location, which from the beginning was conceived to preserve the magnificent natural environment that surrounds it.

Navigate along the Chontayacu River, where the community of the same name is located, home to Yacuma.

A dream for conservation

The story of Yacuma Ecolodge dates back twenty eight years, with a chance encounter between Bartolo Shiguango, a shaman from the Chontayacu community, and Hugo Torres… They took it upon themselves to conserve the biodiversity of the immediate area and help the local inhabitants, especially the children. Since then, the ideal has remained intact.

Bartolo and Hugo became close friends, entertained lengthy conversations about the wonders of the jungle and the many needs of this specific region of the country. They agreed that there would be no future without an exemplary present, so they gradually began to plan a lodge that could open its doors to visitors and foreigners and thus sponsor the social programs necessary to improve the lives of the local community. A dream that began small and today stands tall as one of the most important community-based Amazonian eco-projects in the region.

Let us tell you why.

Bartolo Shiguango at his current residence very close to the lodge.

Adventure, customs, and ancestral knowledge

The possibilities for exploration at Yacuma Ecolodge and its surroundings are endless. Some stay for the entire week… we joined an excellent three-day, two-night itinerary and did it all

Daytime and nighttime walks adapted to different levels of difficulty are essential, allowing visitors to delve into the marvels of the Amazon. These excursions are led by expert native guides who know the jungle like the back of their hand, pointing out exotic birds, ancestral medicinal plants, majestic trees, and the diverse fauna of the region. Visit places that seem to come out of a painting. Laguna Oculta (you won’t believe the colors, a nature sanctuary that leaves no one indifferent) is one of these special sites, as is the parrot clay lick, visited daily by large groups of various species of these noisy, colorful birds.

Rolando, a native guide from Yacuma, demonstrates gold panning.

Rolando, better known as ‘Chichico,’ was our guide, a fearless local who was happy to tell us stories of his Kichwa family and friends. Alongside him, we had the opportunity to learn about gold panning on the banks of the Napo, a practice carried out by his grandparents and still done today with antique tools. We also went “tubing” at sunset, a relaxing activity to end the day, but not before taking part in an artisanal fishing endeavor to catch piranha for dinner!

Tip: don’t miss out on the nocturnal walks. You won’t believe the activity. It’s amazing how night in the jungle is just as active as it is by day, perhaps even more so. The sounds envelop us, the movement of branches, flapping of wings in trees… a toad appeared suddenly and posed for our cameras… a true adventure experience immersed in nature!

Nocturnal wildlife hides even in the smallest details.

Comfort and jungle

To offer lodging in 270 hectares of primary forest and live a total immersion in nature requires organization and careful operation. Therefore, every detail has been meticulously thought out, from the rooms to the decoration. In 12 bungalow-style cabins, built in traditional Amazonian architecture, combining modern materials with sustainable natural fibers from the jungle, one feels synergy with their surroundings…

Each cabin has its own private bathroom, the water heated with solar energy and single beds adorned with mosquito nets, offering a riverside retreat with natural symphonies day and night. Countless details surprise you at every turn, from the smallest things like annatto plants or heliconia shrubs surrounding the cabins to the viewpoints that offer unforgettable postcard views.

Comfort and relaxation amidst the jungle.

An ecotourism refuge

What sets Yacuma Ecolodge apart goes beyond even the magical location and amazing comfort. Yacuma is a model of sustainable tourism and community support. Since its inception as an initiative by and for the indigenous community of Chontayacu, it has provided employment based on ecotourism and accommodations in deep nature. Currently, various local families benefit from the project, both directly and indirectly.

In line with Bartolo and Hugo Torres’ dream, the project has already contributed through the local school; the lodge covers all expenses related to the children’s education; it hopes to continue developing to house local students from surrounding communities.

Rolando, better known as ‘Chichico,’ (a local species of monkeys) was born and raised in this environment, fighting to conserve it.

The commitment to sustainability is evident throughout the Yacuma project. In addition to being one of the few places in Ecuador that operates solely on solar energy, the project is consolidating its growing business linked to the community and the environment through strategic alliances with the Amazoonico Refuge Center (among others), to whom they offer an ideal forest for rescued species reintroduction.

Venturing into the Amazonian world of Yacuma Ecolodge is more than just an expedition. It represents discovering an endangered ecosystem in need of protection and providing direct support to the local communities. This experience lingers in one’s heart, inviting everyone to be part of a newfound  harmony between humanity and nature.

Photos and text: Juan Fernando Ricaurte

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