The Sustainable Travel Edit: Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador

By Alexa Scott-Dalgleish

Down a long, winding road in the Ecuadorian cloud forest sits Mashpi Lodge – a futuristic spaceship of a building that really shouldn’t fit with its surroundings. Yet it does. What started as the passion project of Ecuadorian entrepreneur and Quito’s former mayor, Roque Sevilla, has grown into an exemplar of sustainable tourism, far surpassing the boundaries of a traditional ‘hotel’. 

The Story

Mashpi Lodge is all thanks to Roque Sevilla, an economist-turned-businessman-turned-environmentalist-turned-mayor-turned-architect. His CV is impressive but perhaps more so is his love of his country, especially the green bits, which led him to purchase a 2,500 hectare section of the Ecuadorian Chocó forest in 2001 to protect its astounding biodiversity from deforestation and exploitation. The goal had not originally been to build a hotel but it soon became clear that this slice of the world was too special not to share. And so, almost a decade later, construction started on a new concept for Ecuador – a hotel meets conservation and scientific research centre – on the site of a former sawmill.

The Location

Sitting at between 550m and 1,400m above sea level, the reserve inhabits a unique transition zone between coastal rainforests and evergreen, mountainous cloud forests – a location that makes it one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. The lodge itself is perched at a heady 900m in the heart of the reserve and accessed by a 3.5 hour drive north-west from Quito in a shared minibus. 

The drive is an arduous one, to say the least, and not for the faint-hearted, with the last hour comprised of a hair-raising descent down an unpaved track with an alarming lack of any barrier to prevent you from plunging into the ravine to your left. 

N.B. It’s worth the risk. 

Source: Mashpi Lodge

The Space

The rule was simple: damage as little as possible. Built piece by piece over a span of two years, not a single tree was cut down during Mashpi Lodge’s construction with all materials brought in via the existing transport routes and erected on a site previously cleared by loggers. The resulting three-storey creation is all glass, steel and angles, and is home to 24 guest rooms (offering front-row views to the goings-on of the jungle’s inhabitants), a double-height dining room, a Reading & Learning Zone, a wellness area, and multiple viewing terraces.

All are ultra-minimalist, painted in a palette of earthy tones and devoid of the typical creature comforts, so as not to distract from the show outside. The mission was to create a space that invited nature in at every opportunity and the result is strikingly contemporary and an undeniable success, albeit occasionally lacking in warmth when the fog sets in. This is more than made up for, however, by the warmth of the staff, who are the epitome of five-star customer service, plus a little extra.

Source: Mashpi Lodge

The Experience

If you’re not a fan of nature, you’ve come to the wrong place. 95% of the hotel’s offering is centred on the surrounding wilderness with jungle treks, nocturnal safaris, bird spotting, waterfall bathing, orchid photography, eight-storey-observation-towers, gondola rides and sky bikes (a contraption pedalled by two people through the canopy) all on the menu. Most exciting of all, however, is the trailblazing scientific research the lodge offers guests access to via its team of expert botanists, biologists and naturalists. In partnership with leading research facilities including Cambridge University and the Quito Botanical Garden, it investigates the behaviour and lifecycles of the flora and fauna plus the effects of human activities using a combination of state-of-the-art technology and painstaking observation. Its research has resulted in the discovery of multiple endemic species including a new variety of orchid from the Lepanthes genus, the Magnolia Mashpi (an iconic tree species) and the Mashpi Torrenteer, a nocturnal tree frog.

Other delights include the food, which is local, light and exceptionally presented, and its wellness centre, which comes equipped with massage rooms, an outdoor jacuzzi and a yoga deck.

Source: Mashpi Lodge

The Sustainability

Mashpi Lodge taps into three key pillars of sustainability: the use of eco-friendly materials, the preservation and support of the local community, and the protection of the surrounding area.

It was built using the Emmedue technique, which employs specific materials that counteract hot summer temperatures and cooler winter temperatures to vastly reduce its energy consumption. It recycles, composts and effectively disposes of its wastewater thanks to a modern and biological wastewater treatment plant, and sources as much as possible locally to keep its carbon footprint low. This includes both its energy, which comes from the public hydroelectric grid, as well as its staff, nearly 75% of which are from the local area. Providing opportunities for locals aside from resource exploitation such as illegal mining and logging is key to the protection of the reserve, and Mashi Lodge goes one step further with its programme that makes employees stakeholders of the business itself, affording them a percentage of the Lodge’s earnings and a serious incentive for ensuring its continued success. 

The Takeaway

This is not your typical luxury hotel. You can forget the gilt taps and the infinity pools. This is for the nature lovers and the intrepid explorers: those who will appreciate the exceptional access they are being granted to this isolated part of the world, the wealth of knowledge they are tapping into, the pioneering research they are forming a part of, the cutting-edge technology that makes it possible, and the ambitious vision behind it.

Mashpi Lodge is as wild as it is unique, and it seeks a guest to match. 

Rates start from $1,340 per room per night based on two sharing, including activities, meals, guiding and return shared transfers from Quito.

Source: Mashpi Lodge

By Alexa Scott-Dalgleish

Alexa is the Content Director at Talia Collective. Previously, she worked for a top travel PR firm with a focus on sustainability in London, before moving to Madrid to learn Spanish and cut her teeth as a freelance travel copywriter and PR consultant.