Our mission is to provide an elegant and comfortable destination for travelers interested in experiencing biodiversity and culture. Our vision is to participate in a sustainable way of living by working with the community on Mindo and the environment. By practicing conscientious tourism we can join our greatest strengths into one business: offering quality service, local knowledge and a love of the cloud forest.
Our vision is to offer ecological tourism aimed at travelers who value the “Tread Lightly” approach to travel. This will be centered around the use of alternative electricity sources at the lodge using both solar power and water turbines. Our vision at Casa Divina also includes a strong desire to create a Social Responsibility Program on a small scale that will be focused on supporting the local area and community.
Efrain Toapanta and Molly Brown are an Ecuadorian/American couple who form part of the Mindo community and share Mindo’s enthusiasm for the preservation of the Ecuadorian Western Lowlands as well as the benefits of a sustainable economy. They are also working and playing hard at raising a bilingual and bicultural family. Efrain Toapanta is a Mindo native who has lived and traveled in Europe and the U.S. and Molly Brown is a California native who arrived in Mindo as a college student studying anthropology and environmental studies. Since 2000, Efrain and Molly have worked together extensively in the ecological movement and eco-tourism industry.
In 1987 Efrain worked with the local foundation, Amigos de la Naturaleza (Friends of Nature) that, together with the Ecuadorian government, declared 19,200 hectares (51,840 acres) of virgin cloud forest as the national Mindo-Nambillo Protected Forest. Hunting, fishing and logging, the livelihood of the community, was now prohibited. With that declaration, the community was forced to seek alternative economic gain. In the early `90s Efrain helped organize the foundation Pacaso & Pacaso whose main purpose was to motivate the community to shifting its focus from unsustainable practices to the sustainable practice of conservation that eco-tourism supports. At that time there were serious doubts as to whether eco tourism had a future in Mindo.
Slowly, Mindo became known in the international scientific community as an area incomparably rich in biodiversity. Efrain began as a naturalist guide to the scientists and few tourists that passed through. His interest and knowledge in botany and ornithology grew, leading him to guide all over Ecuador. By the late `90s Mindo’s name was more common in international birdwatching circles. Since the declaration made by Birdlife international in 1997 of the Mindo area as an International Important Bird Area (IBA) this town has become an ecotourism destination.
Mindo is not only known for its numerous bird population (around 500 different species in the area) but also its passion for the conservation of its pristine rivers and mountains. In early 2001 the transnational petroleum conglomerate OCP (Oleoducto de Crudos Pesados, or Heavy Crude Pipeline) made their plans public for building a new pipeline from the Amazon to the Pacific Coast that would cross right through some of the most seismically unstable and environmentally bio-diverse stretches of Ecuadorian virgin cloud forest. The community of Mindo was immediately concerned about the impacts that this pipeline would have on the area and armed its protest against the pipeline company. Molly and Efrain, together with a large group of informed and concerned community members, formed the foundation Acción Por la Vida (Action for Life) that headed some of the most successful protests in Ecuador against the OCP.
These days Efrain continues to dedicate much of his time and efforts to the community of Mindo. He is currently involved in the city planning commission, working to ensure that growth and development in the Mindo area continues in a positive and non-destructive direction. As local elections draw near, Efrain is also participating in the formation of a new political movement that holds conservation and sustainable development as a non-negotiable priority.
Efrain is also on the board of “Mindo Salud”, a healthcare foundation that has just opened its doors in Mindo as the first private clinic run by American/Ecuadorian doctors. The crucial planning process for this endeavor to succeed has brought about impressive results, as the clinic will operate at a low cost to the residents of Mindo. The community will greatly benefit from local, affordable, high quality healthcare.
Molly keeps on her toes by running the lodge administration and raising two not-so-little girls. Between staff meetings and applying for (and receiving!) international sustainable certification there is always time to sit and share stories with our globe-trotting guests as well as adding the final touches on tonight’s dessert. An exciting opportunity to participate in the creation of an alternative education primary school in Mindo keeps her well connected to the community, as do her daughter’s constant activities and events.
With a long history of service and local knowledge, Molly and Efrain have spent years making Casa Divina Lodge a comfortable, conscientious and enjoyable destination for those interested in appreciating and learning about this special corner of the world.