Born in New Hampshire and raised in the state of Maine, Katie completed her B.A. in Environmental Recreation and Tourism at the University of Maine at Machias in 2008. After graduating, Katie moved to Quito, Ecuador where she now calls home. She is now Head of Business Development for La Selva Amazon Eco-lodge & Spa. The greatest aspect of working for La Selva is knowing that she is making a difference in sustainable travel, something she’s always been passionate about. English is her native language but she now also speaks Spanish fluently.
How do the experiences you offer at La Selva Amazon Ecolodge & Spa give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?
When guests arrive to La Selva they are assigned a Naturalist Guide and a Native Guide. Our Native Guides are originally from the local communities, as well as most of our staff from La Selva. During excursions guests get to witness how in tune these Native Guides are. They know the jungle like the back of their hand because this is their backyard, this is where they grew up with generations of ancestral knowledge. Apart from that, we offer a Cultural Activity where all guests are invited to visit an indigenous community to learn more about their culture and heritage. The Pilchi Community greets the visitors as they would their own and will show them around their community, medicinal plants and gardens they grow, and many other surprising views into their life. For these natives of the Kichwa nationality, it is a way for them to protect their home and send a message that will reach places around the world. They actually created this project themselves and asked La Selva to be a part of it.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
The experiences we offer have evolved greatly! We are now more sustainable and conservative than ever. We have a new observation tower that was built in 2015 38 meters high, reaching views over the forest canopy, offering fantastic bird watching opportunities, we have more local community members of the indigenous communities working with us, and we have even aided in creating new conservation regulations protecting the wildlife eliminating hunting and fishing in the area. In turn, the Kichwa communities want to do more to protect and conserve the area. With the school that La Selva helped organize and construct, education is readily available and the children from the community are more interested in also learning how they can use their education to protect the Amazon.
Furthermore, we’ve turned our focus more towards wellness at La Selva including more detailed packages for spa treatments and yoga retreats by the private lagoon we are situated on, Garzacocha. In addition to that all of our meals are made from scratch with whole foods and as many local products from the region we can get our hands on such as different fruits and produce.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
We feel the experience of pure nature can go by unnoticed. Don’t get us wrong, many guests come to our lodge for the sole purpose to experience the wilderness of the Amazon and see the unique and endemic wildlife, but somehow they are still distracted and maybe so overwhelmed by pure nature that certain things pass them by. This distraction is caused by tech devices, stresses of daily life, or just being used to the city. For example, in all of our suites the windows are replaced with screens. This is so that that the pureness of the air and the jungle sounds can linger into our guest’s rooms, while keeping the jungle out. During the night our guests are literally lullabied to sleep and woken up by the sounds of the jungle, whether it be the hundreds of different bird calls, troops of howler monkeys, or the fish jumping in the nearby lagoon. At night the stars in the sky are so clear, as if you could reach out and touch them. Materialistically, the bathrooms are all equipped with L’Ocittane products. This is a bath product company that originated in the South of France and creates their products with plant extracts and has won numerous awards for their innovations. It is a quality and luxury product we provide as an amenity.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
This is a great question. Sometime we receive guests who think they are participating in a safari similar to those in Africa or other countries where they can get up close with the wildlife. The animals in the Amazon are very shy and unfortunately live in threatened environments in some areas of the jungle. Where we are located we are very privileged because we are located within the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve and just across the Napo River from Yasuni National Park where two indigenous tribes that have no contact with the outside world still remain. Over 500 different bird species have been documented just at our lodge, some never before seen. On excursions it is very important that guests are quiet and do not wear bright clothing as this can frighten the wildlife. We also suggest visiting La Selva and the Amazon before going to the Galapagos. This is because the Galapagos wildlife are not threatened by humans and you can come within one foot of many of the species. In the Amazon, you need binoculars, good eyesight and hearing, and you may only see the animals from far. But even then, you have to remember that in the Amazon, just to be able to see these amazing creatures, it is something magical and once in a lifetime due to the fact that they are so shy and because they cannot be seen anywhere else.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
We are very excited that sustainable and eco-travel is becoming a new trend in travel. We work closely with the local communities and one of our principal objectives at La Selva is to implement renewable energy and become the leading eco-lodge in South America, not just Ecuador.
What sets La Selva apart from other, similar, jungle lodges?
Many other lodges claim to be “eco-lodges”. You only have to ask them how they dispose of their garbage. Some burn their trash not far from their lodge, which is a huge no no for many reasons. La Selva for example brings everything in via motor canoe on the Napo River and via paddle canoe the rest of the way to the lodge, and carries everything out the same way. All our disposable trash is taken back to Coca, Ecuador and disposed of properly and recycled. We ask guests to dispose of batteries with us so that we can recycle then and we compost everything we can to use in our gardens with natural flora from the area.
When it comes to guest services, no other lodge can compare to how we go above and beyond for our guests. If luggage is left behind, we find a way to bring it. All diets you can think of are possible to be prepared, Kosher, vegetarian, gluten free, vegan, dairy-free, fish free, you name it we will accommodate our guests. Food hugely sets us apart and we can guarantee you won’t find better anywhere else in the Amazon. Apart from that, we try to surprise our guests with small details like chocolates at turn down services at night made with cacao from the Amazon, guides who are actually from the local community and have grown up in the same part of the jungle their entire lives, and so much more.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation.
At La Selva it is most important to disconnect and feel the energy of the Amazon. We have wi-fi at the lodge but when you can disconnect and listen to the jungle sounds and learn from its people, you leave a different person with a much better connection to nature and a very open mind, which we believe, can change lives.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow.
Listening to our customers and hearing their feedback. We use comment cards and TripAdvisor. We are always attentive to what our guests have to say and use their feedback to make our services better. At the end of the day, how our guests feel about their experience is all that matters. Secondly, is communication. With so much logistics at stake between inventory of food, supplies, and arrivals/departures, it is important that our staff, operations team, and sales team are all on the same page and know what they need from each other.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Being organized and open to constructive criticism. There is no one person in this world who can do things perfectly. We all make mistakes, but we must learn from them and from that become a better professional. Learning to be organized and how to prioritize is critical, in any profession.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
This is going to blow your mind. We had a family that arrived with two children, one boy and one girl. To give some insight, the father of the family was telling the guide and lodge manager his main objective was to try to reach out and connect better with his family. His biggest concern was his children. From the moment they arrived his son was glued to his phone and his daughter to her tablet and couldn’t possibly give one whoot considering the fact that they were actually in the Amazon Rainforest. Would you believe that by the end of their trip, on the day they left they were both crying because they didn’t want to leave. During their time they saw almost each type of monkey that lived in the Amazon, parrots, macaws, tucans, all kinds of snakes and insects, they fell in love with their guide Rodrigo and get this…they forgot their cell phones and tablets when they left. Before they left, the father told the lodge manager that this was the best trip of his life and he was so grateful to have finally experienced a bond with his children. The Amazon did that for his family, nature reconnected his family, which is such a beautiful thing that we are so proud to have provided that experience for them. And we certainly hope that it is not the last!