Started by the community of San José de Uchupiamonas, a Quechua-Tacana ethnic group, Chalalán Ecolodge lies in the vast Madidi National Park in the Bolivian Amazon, which is so big the altitude varies between 200 and 6000 meters above sea level.
This tropical Andean hotspot is host to some 45,000 different plant species and over 1,000 tropical bird species, a world record. Thirteen cabins, which range from the more luxurious en-suite doubles to twins with shared bathrooms, have been built under thatch in the traditional Tacana style and lie near the edge of the magnificent Chalalán Lagoon.
The half dozen lodge dugouts lined up on the shoreline take you on adventures through the jungle waterways like the Tuichi River. Thirty kilometers of paths have been designed to show off the tropical rainforest and its ecological processes, natural history, medicinal plants, hardwood trees, birds, mammals, amphibians, insects, and a variety of fungi.
There are ecolodges, there are sustainable lodges, and then there is Chalalán, a place that seems to embody what good-hearted tourism is all about.
In the 1990s two major concerns for the remote community – it’s a five-hour boat ride from the town of Rurrenabaque – were poverty and the government’s lack of interest in health, education, basic services, and access to the region. Seeing tourism as their potential savior, several locals started to learn about lodge management, guiding, logistics, and other skills needed to be able to run tours for medium- and high-end travelers.
Starting with no money, they soon started receiving donations from individuals impressed with their vision and then from, among others, Conservation International. The lodge and its activities were developed with a respect to local culture, traditions, and the amazing natural surroundings.
The cabin walls are made from the copa palm and covered with matting, the roofs woven with asaí palm leaves, and the floors made of fine hardwood. There is solar power, water is purified, and they have a waste-management system, features that are only the more incredible because of the remoteness of the lodge and the relative inexperience of the community.
The lodge is owned, managed, and staffed by the community of San José de Uchupiamonas, and all profits go entirely to them. Besides benefiting 450 families, it protects the thousands of hectares of rainforest inside their territory.
In Their Own Words
“Our indigenous community is committed to the integral development of ecotourism in the Madidi National Park, aiming our efforts at the sustainable use of natural resources in the Chalalán region by offering highly competitive ecotourism services that improve the living conditions of the people of San José de Uchupiamonas, by generating direct and indirect benefits, which will also guarantee the sustainability of the territory and the Quechua-Tacana culture for the wellbeing of future generations.”