For sustainably-minded tourists who curate their trips wisely, travel is often a vehicle for self-transformation, regeneration, and the uplift of local communities. But only once in a lifetime can such a trip fulfill ancient Inca prophecies for the Earth’s future. Sustainably-minded tourists who visit the remote Amazonian Kapawi Eco-lodge may find themselves doing just that – opening their perspectives for the future of the planet.
The ancient Inca prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor foretold that humanity would split into two societies – the northern people of the Eagle and the southern people of the Condor. The people of the Eagle would go on to dominate and exploit Mother Earth, blind to her pain and suffering, while the people of the Condor would live in harmony with the land, using intuition to live in peace with the Earth. After 500 years, humanity would reach a crossroads of destiny. There would be two choices – one to further the suffering inflicted by the Eagle, the other to transform society by tempering the dominance of the Eagle with the compassion of the Condor.
The History of Kapawi Eco-Lodge
Kapawi Eco-Lodge, 100% owned and operated by the Achuar people of the southeast Ecuadorian Amazon, works to ensure that humanity follows the latter path. As early as the 1990s, the Achuar communities began to seek activities to help provide an income for their people, preserve their heritage, and protect the Amazon from extractive industries like mining and logging. The vision of Ecuadorian eco-tourism pioneer, Daniel Koupermann, to build an eco-lodge that honored the Amazon and provided modern accommodations, could not have come at a better time.
With Koupermann’s help, the Achuar found a partner in the tour company, Canodros. The established tour company worked primarily in the Galápagos at the time, but was looking to expand into the Amazon. After some negotiating, Canodros signed a 15-year lease agreement with the Achuar starting in 1996. Canodros would establish and run the Kapawi Eco-lodge for 15 years before transferring operations to the Achuar themselves.
In 2008, the company transferred full ownership and management to the Achuar communities of the area. The transition was not an easy one, as administrative and financial management are not part of the traditional Achuar way of life. But after some trial and error, Kapawi became a model for community-based tourism in the region. The space covers over 250,000 acres in the lower Pastaza river basin, which is part of the Amazon River’s sacred headwaters.
Where Indigenous Meets Modern – the Kapawi Experience
In terms of a remote getaway, there’s remote and then there’s Kapawi Eco-lodge. Surrounded on all sides by primary rainforest, the lodge is only accessible by small plane or a 3-day canoe trip. Fun fact: for this reason, many tribes of Achuar remained uncontacted until the 1960s. For safety and practicality, most guests typically fly in from the nearby town of Shell Mera, close to an hour flight total.
A stay at the lodge is an all-inclusive experience – the price per stay includes meals, local flights, guided activities, and rain gear. Many of the activities are typical for rainforest getaways, particularly those in the Amazon, such as hiking the rainforest and paddling the Amazon river. Beyond the usual outdoor activities, Kapawi offers wellness experiences like yoga and meditation retreats.
Kapawi goes above and beyond other Amazonian experiences in that it is authentically connected to the people of the land – it intentionally centers cultural immersion and education at the heart of guest stays. Guests have the opportunity to try local dishes, participate in customs like a pre-dawn Wayusa tea ceremony, learn about medicinal plant species, and even spend the night with one of the Wayusentsa, Tiinkias or Sharamentsa communities – a few subsets of the greater Achuar people.
In short, the Kapawi Ecolodge is a part of the real life of the Achuar people it supports. This gives it unparalleled integrity as a destination for sustainable, community-based tourism. However, it also means that it is not a “luxury” resort in the traditional sense; it simply cannot support unsustainable amenities or experiences. However, Kapawi is a luxury experience, as what it lacks in luxury it makes up for in authenticity and sustainability.
This is not to say that the lodge is not comfortable. Kapawi was renovated in 2019 and the bungalows throughout the lodge, crafted by the community with Achuar architecture, are akin to glamping tents with an Amazonian twist. Any guest familiar with an eco-lodge experience will feel at home during their stay, relishing modern comforts while learning about the Indigenous Achuar way of life.
Community Development & Sustainability
At all levels, Kapawi is a role model for community tourism and sustainable tourism enterprises. They are 100% owned by the local Achuar communities and staffed by almost 100% Achuar individuals. Any non-Achuar staff and partners are chosen for their capacity to promote the business to western tourists in ways that locals may not be able. Beyond providing income to the staff and local communities, the lodge also supports the only local high school.
In terms of the environment, the management at Kapawi has a keen eye for navigating sustainability deep in the Amazon, which can be tricky given the remote nature of the lodge. Despite this, Kapawi has some big accomplishments. It is fully powered by solar energy and uses all local sources of water, which is abundant in the rainforest. Moreover, toiletries like soaps and shampoos are all biodegradable.
On the other hand, the remoteness of the location necessitates the use of fossil fuels for bringing in guests and shipping some supplies like vegetables and grains that may not be grown in the Amazon. The lodge does its best to curate a local menu with traditional Achuar dishes and local sources of protein, but cannot rely on 100% local sources. For planes and motorboats, they use the most fuel-efficient vehicles possible.
Yet the biggest triumph of the Kapawi Eco-lodge is its mere existence. Its presence alone proves that there are profitable, modern industries that can benefit local communities and honor the Amazon. Kapawi’s success as a sustainable tourism enterprise prevents extractive industries like mining and logging from encroaching on their corner of the Amazon, threatening to destroy the Achuar way of life. Moreover, it educates “modern” and often western tourists about the challenges and threats facing Indigenous peoples in the area and the Amazon rainforest itself.
This meeting of worlds, where Indigenous people educate modern minds about respecting and connecting to the Earth, is where guests to the lodge will find themselves fulfilling the prophecy of the Eagle & Condor.
Fulfilling the Prophecy of the Eagle and Condor
Many who follow the Prophecy of the Eagle and Condor believe that humanity has reached the crossroads foretold by the prophecy many ages ago. Society at large can either continue on the road of the Eagle – exploiting the Earth until she is no longer able to support life, or wake up to the way of the Condor, reducing extractive industries and learning to live in collective harmony with Mother Earth.
Whether or not you believe in prophecies, headlines about natural disasters and social unrest prove that there is major upheaval in the world due to climate change and shifting global power. It can be hard to envision a world in which modern life protects and uplifts our people and our planet. But, a visit to Kapawi Eco-lodge might help weary travelers envision and believe in a future of “global unity & collaboration for the survival of all people.”
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Want to learn more?
The Eagle and the Condor Prophecy – Pachamama Alliance
Kapawi Eco-lodge and Reserve – United Nations Development Program Equator Initiative
Kapawi Journal; Ecuador Indians Fend Off Oil Companies With Tourism – New York Times
People of the Condor and Eagle – UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
History of the Kapawi Eco-Lodge – Kapawi Eco-Lodge Website
The Achuar Nation – Achuar Nation of Ecuador (NAE – Nacionalidad Achuar de Ecuador)