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SUSTAINABILITY

The presence of the oil industry in the Ecuadorian Amazon, along with the encroachments of modern infrastructure, serves as a constant threat to the ancestral communities that reside there. For over 40 years, Raúl García, founder and CEO of Anakonda Amazon Cruises has been working to develop a sustainable model of tourism in the region that provides an alternative source of income to the communities and operates in a way that preserves the rainforest.

captain immersion in Amazon culture

As a young man in 1977, Raúl García joined the operation of the first river cruise to navigate on the Napo River through Ecuador’s Amazon region. While working up and down the river exploring wildlife watching activities for the cruise, García came into contact with a number of the region’s ancestral communities. Closest to the river lived the Kichwas; to the north, the Cofanes and Sionas. Farther south resided the Huaoranis in Yasuni National Park and the Secoyas near the Peruvian border.    

“It wasn’t my intention to meet local communities when I started out, but it happened anyway,” says García. As he and his team explored more and more of the rainforest, they began to develop relationships with community members, who shared their insights about the surrounding wildlife. García spent many nights around the fire, eating with the communities, and taking part in their culture. He would bring cans of tuna and SPAM to eat with rice when they didn’t have time to prepare their forest meats over the fire. 

García says, “In those days, things were really different. There were no outboard motors for the canoes or canopies for shade. The canoes were carved out of one tree.” In these crude canoes, García traveled throughout the jungle with different community members. “They would show me little secrets like where a parrot lick was located,” says García. Additionally, he would read books about the rainforest’s ecosystem to supplement what he was learning during his explorations. He says that back then, without TV or movies in the Amazon, reading books was how they would pass the time during evenings aboard the vessel.  

At the same time that Raúl was getting his introduction to the Amazon, the oil industry was infiltrating the region. When oil exploration projects turned up positive, the companies would offer large sums of money to the tribes in exchange for their land. For the indigenous people who accepted these offers, this introduction to the modern economy created a disruption in their culture. These communities had been encroached upon by civilization for hundreds of years—from the Spanish invasion of the 15th century to the modern invasion of infrastructure and oil—these cultures were at serious risk of being entirely snuffed out. Communities that had never needed to rely on money were quickly becoming dependant on the sale of the precious resources of the Amazon. “This changed their way of life,” says García, adding, “because their real life is to go to the river for fishing, washing, and swimming, to go to the field to hunt and get their protein from that.” 

When he first started out in the Amazon, García did not understand the importance of sustainability. He says, “For me, all the birds were black, all were the same thing, but then I learned a lot about the forest and about the diversity of species there.” 

García came to appreciate the delicate ecosystem of the Amazon, each animal, and plant with its role and special design. Conserving both the culture and the environment became a passion of García’s. In 1985, he co-founded Ecuador’s Ecotourism Society, an association he would serve as president for from 1995 to 2003. 

In 2003, García launched his own river cruise, the Manatee, named after the vulnerable river species. García’s vision for the river cruise was much larger than simply bringing in tourists to see the sights. He set up his operation as an alternative form of income for the communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon. By hiring and training community members as crew on board the vessel and collaborating with others to protect different areas of the forest, García developed a sustainable tourism model that helped to preserve the wildlife and provide compensation for the local communities. In 2013, García had another vessel built, the Anakonda, and in the summer of 2017, a new Manatee was launched to replace the older model and create the only cruise line in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest.

García believes that working closely with the communities is an essential part of preserving the rainforest. Ecuador’s protected national parks are crucial for the conservation of the Amazon, but collaborating with the people who live in and around the parks is imperative. “We could do our operation without them, but it would be an operation without spirit,” says García, who is quick to point out the balance required in including the communities but not selling them as part of his product. “I want it to be a collaboration and for them to get part of the benefit. I really don’t want to use them. I always try to make new itineraries that involve the people,” he says. 

García designs his itineraries with cultural encounter activities where guests can meet community members, learn about their traditions, and experience new tastes like prepared yuca, maito with salt and pepper, and non-alcoholic chicha. Each trip to the rainforest is designed with the intent of mutual benefit for the guests, communities, and environment. García says, “The people want to share their culture, and they want to be guides.”  

Looking forward, there is still much work to be done. The oil industry’s presence is still strong within the region, and the threats of outside civilization still linger. When asked about what he thinks a good outcome for the communities would be, García says, “We are hoping that they can survive. That is an important point. Otherwise, they will be eaten by civilization and other cultures. Our main concern is to help them, share more with them, and provide them with opportunities.”

Anakonda Amazon Cruise – Itineraries

4 DAYS / 3 NIGHTS

from $2,845 per person

Operation days:

SUNDAY
TO WEDNESDAY
2024

5 DAYS / 4 NIGHTS

from $3,556 per person

Operation days:

WEDNESDAY
TO SUNDAY
2024

sharing experiences into a community in the Amazon

8 DAYS / 7 NIGHTS

from $5,690 per person

Operation days:

WEDNESDAY TO WEDNESDAY
2024

RED HOWLER MONKEYS

8 DAYS / 7 NIGHTS

from $5,690 per person

Operation days:

SUNDAY
TO SUNDAY
2024

Manatee Amazon Cruise – Itineraries

remarkable encounters that await

4 DAYS / 3 NIGHTS

from $2,294 per person

Operation days:

FRIDAY TO MONDAY
2024

Pink River Dolphin Conservation

5 DAYS / 4 NIGHTS

from $2,865 per person

Operation days:

MONDAY TO FRIDAY
2024

Pink River Dolphin swiming near

8 DAYS / 7 NIGHTS

from $4,585 per person

Operation days:

FRIDAY TO FRIDAY
2024

endemic birds in the Amazon rainforest

8 DAYS / 7 NIGHTS

from $4,585 per person

Operation days:

MONDAY TO MONDAY
2024

We are the Only and Unique Cruises Navigating the Ecuadorian Amazon Jungle