Andrés grew up in Calderón, Quito, in a community full of artisans and craftspeople, which instilled in him a deep love of art. After high school, he moved to Colombia to learn how to paint and perform restoration. He worked within this realm for a while, but at the suggestion of a family member, later decided to embark on a different path, moving to Cuyabeno to guide at a well-known lodge. Although he was initially phased by the change –he arrived in Cuyabeno garbed in a leather jacket and steel-toe cowboy boots– over the years he became one of the most highly-regarded guides on the reserve. And yet, he was somewhat disillusioned by the fact that travel operations within Cuyabeno Reserve did not involve the local communities, which is why he undertook the Waita Lodge project towards the end of 2019. He strongly believes that this project is going to allow for the shared value and conservation of this area within Cuyabeno Reserve.
Favorite Bird: golden-headed manakin
Why Cuyabeno? Because Cuyabeno needs a travel project that involves the local community
Diego grew up in Quito, and was always passionate about nature and history. Although his initial interest was archaeology, he ultimately majored in Historical and Cultural Tourism, which allowed him to learn about biology, history and archaeology. After graduating, he worked for Eco-Andes, a travel company specialized in mountain climbing, but he quickly realized that his lack of foreign language skills put him at a disadvantage. He went on to work at a couple of lodges within Cuyabeno Reserve, initially doing odd jobs and finding ways to have contact with visitors. He made it his mission to learn to communicate with foreign guests, and thus taught himself English with the help of a dictionary and conversation with guests, many of whom were biologists. His inquisitive nature and determination helped him become fluent in the language and become one of the top naturalist guides in Cuyabeno Reserve. He transitioned over to Waita Lodge at the end of 2019.
Favorite Bird: harpy eagle
Why Cuyabeno? His love of peace and tranquility
For many years, Andrés had felt that any tourism project within Cuyabeno needed to involve the local community in order to provide shared value and be successful. In 2019, he began to seriously consider the idea of opening his own lodge, but he needed to find someone who shared his vision and goals. He decided that Diego was the best person to join him in this new chapter, so they banded together and created Waita Lodge at the end of 2019, beginning of 2020.
Andrés began negotiations with 44 representatives of the local community in September of 2019. Not only did he need to lease the current Waita Lodge property, he also wished to get their input on what they wanted and didn’t want for the project. The negotiations came to a close at the end of November, and an agreement was signed between the parties, after which Andrés, Diego and 4 young locals spent the next 5 weeks renovating the Lodge and making it more comfortable for foreign travelers (everything from raising the showerheads to widening the windows for more light).
On January 19, 2020, the first group of visitors arrived at Waita Lodge. We hope that this travel and conservation project will allow the local community to raise up their families in a sustainable way, as well as safeguarding this valuable ecosystem for the future.
- Waita Lodge is the only community-based travel initiative in Cuyabeno Reserve.
- 44 members of the local community work with and for the Lodge, in maintenance, housekeeping, guiding, providing arts and crafts for sale, etc.
- The motor canoes used by the Lodge, as well as their skipper, belong to the local community, and are rented by the Lodge.
- For the local community, working for Waita Lodge is a sustainable alternative to working in the oil fields.