Yasuní is a unique but sensitive ecosystem recognized by UNESCO

The Sani community, consisting of around 750 members of the Kichwa culture today, populates the Yasuní national park in the Ecuadorian Amazon basin since hundreds of years. The national park was designated by the Ecuadorian government in 1979, in recognition of its scientific status as one of the global biodiversity hot spots. It is renowned for its exceptional biodiversity – including numerous endemic, rare and in some cases highly endangered or even critically endangered species. The national park accomodates 600 species of birds, more than 300 of amphibian and reptile species, 170 species of mammals, more than 1,200 species of trees, 10,000 species of plants and more than 100,000 species of insects. In 1989, UNSECO declared the Yasuní national park a biosphere reserve, underlining its importance as a globally unique nature reserve.

Since 1990, the region has been the focus of international oil companies for oil extraction, which have increasingly burdened the sensitive ecosystem. The failed Yasuní-ITT initiative launched by the Ecuadorian government in 2007 failed to relieve the national park from oil extraction, meaning that the problem persists to this day. For the indigenous population, ecotourism is therefore an important pillar for standing up independently for nature conservation, preserving the financial autonomy of the people and their culture and resisting the oil companies’ offers for extraction rights.

The Gualinga family became involved in nature conservation

The father of the Gualinga family, Edwin Senior, finished his education as a carpenter in the 1980s and supported his community in building houses and infrastructure in the following decades. When ecotourism emerged in the region, he worked as a guide for Selva Lodge and, in the early days of oil production, also for the oil companies. There, he realized the negative effects of oil production on the Amazon ecosystem while doing hard, unfulfilling work and receiving poor pay. As a result, he decided to dedicate himself solely to the preservation of the national park for future generations and to sensitize tourists to the immense value of the ecosystem.

In the following years from 2000, Edwin Senior worked for Sani Lodge as a guide and was a driving force in the construction and maintenance of buildings and infrastructure, including the NGO-supported project for the empowerment of women in the Sani community. With his tireless commitment to the indigenous population and nature conservation, he was elected president of the community.

In 2017, as an engineer and master carpenter, he initiated and managed the construction of his family project, the Sinchi Wayra Lodge with five private rooms, a dining area, kitchen and sanitary facilities. He spent six years building the lodge with his wife Margarita, his nine now grown-up children and friends, using wood from the other banks of the Napo River. A foundation of cement pillars supports the cleverly constructed lodge made of hand-crafted beams and planks, which the family made using traditional canoe-building skills. The roofs were made from woven palm leaves from a swamp region 2 km away and the furniture was also largely handmade from rustic natural materials.

Sinchi Wayra is the family’s result of tireless commitment to people and nature at Yasuní

With the opening of the lodge in 2023, his son Edwin Junior took over the operational management and was already able to record considerable success in the first 12 months with over 600 overnight stays. He is supported by a Swiss volunteer in online marketing for direct bookings, so that expensive commissions from tourism agencies are avoided and this cost advantage is passed on to the guests. Edwin has been working as a guide and in ecotourism since 2010, advises indigenous farmers and fishermen, was director of administration in 2022 and vice president of the Sani Community in 2023. He still loves his work as a guide and inspires tourists for the diversity of birds, mammals, plants and his culture in the Amazon.

All revenues from the lodge go towards fair wages for the staff, the further development of the lodge, school and infrastructure projects for the Sani community and a training program for prospective guides.

We invite you as our guests to be part of this cross-generational family project and bring you closer to the beauty and wonders of the Yasuní National Park with a lot of passion, heart and soul.

The Gualinga family