Casa Divina Lodge: responsible tourism example in Mindo
Ecuador is one of the countries with the greatest diversity of bird species on the planet and Mindo is one of the best places to practice bird watching. Located two hours northwest of Quito in the cloud forest, Mindo is one of the regions where you can see more birds, being in first place in 2016 with 456 species according to the Christmas Bird Count (CBC).
Here we were lucky enough to collaborate with Casa Divina Lodge, an initiative from Molly Brown and Efrain Taopanta, an American-Ecuadorian couple, who since 2008 receive visitors eager to learn about the rich biodiversity of the region. The lodge has 7 rustic cabins, perfectly integrated with the environment and capacity for up to 29 people. There are 2.7 hectares of secondary cloud forest that guests can walk through two self-guided trails. Likewise, Sabina Tour, the sister company created by the founders of Casa Divina, provides all kinds of excursions to explore Mindo, specializing in bird-watching tours, with Efrain being an expert guide. Molly and Efrain have always contributed to the conservation of the cloud forest, as active members of different organizations that promote the sustainable development of the territory. Recently, the Andean Chocó region of Pichincha, of which Mindo is a part, has been declared by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, becoming part of the Global Network of Biosphere Reserves.
We spent a few days at Casa Divina Lodge, working with its owners and employees on new distribution channels to incorporate and possible certifications and sustainable tourism awards to which to apply. Casa Divina already meets the main sustainability criteria and has the international certification TourCert that guarantees its commitment. The lodge was designed with the aim of generating the least impact on the environment. The cabins were built in wood and stone by Efrain, with large windows to maximize the use of light and natural ventilation. They do not have air conditioning or television in the rooms, favouring a true connection with nature. The beauty products and insect repellent are biodegradable, have their own water tanks, which filter from natural springs to supply the hotel and the grey water is reused to water the gardens. Their commitment is also social, ensuring that their team is satisfied, receives a fair payment and regular opportunities for training and professional growth.
Mindo has great potential to become a green destination and for this it is necessary to join forces with different actors, to maintain a controlled development. Companies play an important role, since most of the attractions are privately-owned initiatives, aimed at adventure activities for the family and visits to coffee and chocolate farms were recently incorporated into the circuit. The promotion of the destination is thanks to all these private initiatives, which have been grouped together at the NGO Mindo Turismo, of which Casa Divina is a founding member. Among their projects there are the creation of a tourism plan for the destination and the promotion of cultural activities.
“It is necessary to create awareness among the entrepreneurs of the sector about the importance of developing tourism in a responsible manner, recognizing the value of their own tourism product, charging fair prices that allow to maintain the infrastructure and environment in good conditions”, explains Efrain. Part of the challenge is to educate the Ecuadorian tourist, who often does not value the conservation efforts of hotel entrepreneurs and it’s only after the lowest price. “We must work to attract a tourist who stays longer in the destination and consequently spends more, generating more benefits for the local community” concludes Efrain.
Our experience at Casa Divina Lodge was inspiring and we want it to be for other businesses as well. They demonstrate that tourism can go hand by hand with biodiversity conservation, as well as becoming an important source of income for the local community, being Mindo a destination that today lives from tourism.