Sustainable Development Project

Piedra Blanca Environmental Analysis


A Brief Description of Piedra Blanca (Ecuador) and its Community Ecotourism Project in terms of current and future environmental impacts, conservation issues and development potential.

1.0 Summary of Development to Date

•  A community based ecotourism project in rural Ecuador with the aim of providing to the local population an economic alterative to logging in the subtropical forest.

•  The project is an environmental showcase, demonstrating ecologically sound design and intermediate technologies, while emphasizing the use of local and reclaimed materials.

•  Visitor activities include hiking, wildlife tours, birdwatching, horseback riding, trekking, shamanic healing services, aguardiente farm tours, visiting local markets and traditional rafting.

•  An elected committee of local people is to be formed to carry out the management and development of the project.

•  The eco-lodge sleeps 20 people and is built using traditional Ecuadorean construction techniques with materials such as wood, bamboo and palm roof.

•  Kitchen built using same design principles, including wood burning oven with combined water heater.

•  Potential for biogas collection and cooking in the future.

•  Ecobaños toilet block in the process of being constructed consists of two composting toilets and two hot water showers.

•  Homestay accommodation and camping also available.


2.0 Mitigation of Adverse Environmental Effects

•  Economic benefits of project provides financial incentive to conserve 300 hectares of forest.

•  Six local men and women have completed training to become tourist guides (training provided by Ayuda en Accion).

•  Maximum number of visitors of 30 (ecolodge can accommodate 20).

•  Locally sourced materials used for construction, including symbolic palm roof.

•  Ecological treatment of grey water wastes, utilising nearby leachfield/bog area.

•  Locally available foods used for cooking as far as possible.

•  100% renewable energy for hot water, through reclaimed oven heat and solar hot water.

•  Energy efficiency and water minimization measures in place.

•  Plastics collection for future recycling scheme in place.

•  Other rubbish collection recently introduced for a “Limpio Piedra Blanca” or Clean Piedra Blanca project.

•  Composting of biodegradable wastes.

•  Potential for locally produced soap to be used in the ecobaños.

3.0 Background to Piedra Blanca, Ecuador

3.1 Socio-economic

•  There are twenty eight dwellings in Piedra Blanca at altitudes of between 400m to 900m. Of these 24 are occupied, the other families having left for economic reasons. Population is 69 people.

•  Local families live in simple wooden houses, often on stilts, with near flat metal roofs. Foundations are concrete or simply resting on stones. Local carpenters or “maestros”, construct in such as way as to accommodate seismic activity.

•  Principal economic activities are rearing of livestock (cows, pigs and chickens), growing of crops (oranges, sugar cane, baby bananas, plantains, maiz and manioc/yuka) and logging of the forest (including teak, cedar and balsa).

•  Typical foods are rice, plantain, munioc, potatoes, oranges, mangos, milk, cheese, chicken, pork, beef and fish.

•  Local market every Sunday in San Luis de Pambil (one hour on foot) where people of Piedra Blanca and other surrounding communities go to buy and sell produce.

•  Primary school has 1 teacher and 22 pupils aged 7-12. School holidays from February to April.

•  The population is multi ethnic consisting of mestizo and indigenous families.

•  Electricity was recently installed in the valley. There are no telephones or municipal sewage systems.

3.2 Geography, Climate and Access

•  Piedra Blanca lies at the western foot of the Andes in Ecuador. 30km to the West the altitude is 4000m, 150km of flat land separates Piedra Blanca from the Pacific coast.

•  The valley is an area of 2000 hectares ranging in altitude from 400 to 1400m.

•  In the higher regions of the valley the slopes are extremely steep, as much as 70 degrees.

•  This conservation project aims to conserve 300 hectares of primary subtropical forest.

•  This part of Ecuador is subject to a dry season and a wet season. In the dry (June to December) temperatures range from 18 - 26 °C and in the wet (January to May) from 22 – 30°C with an increased relative humidity of around 80%.

•  The access road to the school follows the River Guayas down the valley. The road ends less than 1km further up the valley and becomes a footpath, providing access to the families who live higher up.

•  River flow varies from 1 m 3 /s to 10m 3 /s depending of season and rainfall. The river rises and falls quickly due to the proximity and steepness of the hills.

•  Annual precipitation is 1250mm.

4.0 Project and Site Specifics

•  Lodge is in lower reaches of Piedra Blanca (450m) located next to the village primary school.

•  Site footprint- Lodge 10 x 7m, Kitchen 8 x 5m, Ecobaños 4.5 x 4m

•  Wastes from project with lodge at full capacity estimated as follows – grey water and urine mix 600l/day, 5kg/day of biodegradable waste, some quantities of plastics (packaging, medical wastes etc).

•  Grey water to be drained to bog/wet land after treatment.

•  Landscaping potential exists to improve aesthetics of lodge and area in general.

•  Positions of elected committee to include treasurer, general coordinator, coordinator of activities and lodge administrator.

•  Natural materials given first priority for the development of tourist facilities. Where plastics and metals used an attempt was made to use reclaimed materials where possible. For example the plastic pipes and radiators used for the solar hot water collectors are second hand. Concrete used for foundations to ensure longevity of buildings.

5.0 Potential Environmental Impacts

5.1 Population

•  Development limited to a maximum of 30 visitors at any one time. Full capacity unlikely to be met on a regular basis.

•  Potential for locals who have left the area due to financial difficulties to return to their unoccupied houses once a feasible economic alternative is established through the ecotourism project.

5.2 Flora and Fauna

•  The overall aim of the conservation project is to provide a financial alternative to the deforestation of the primary sub tropical forest.

•  The following are common: toucans, egrets (known locally as cow birds), parrots, monkeys, wild boar, armadillos, squirrels, butterflies, snakes (3 species), anteaters, woodpeckers, swallows and pigeons.

•  A study of one hectare of forest identified 544 different types of plants and trees.

5.3 Soil and Erosion and Access

•  Access from San Luis on the main track to Piedra Blanca becomes muddy and eroded during the wet season. During this period access is only on foot or by horse. Tourist activity is concentrated in the summer months of June to October hence will not severely effect the quality of the road.

•  Tourism activities such as trekking and birdwatching. Access to be on signposted trails which serve to contain the impacts of tourism of the terrain and protect less developed areas of the forest. Potential impact greatest in wet season.

•  Environmental carrying capacity is currently only threatened by the large groups of National tourists who have occassionally arrived in the past, at times in groups of over 100 people. Soil erosion and graffiti have previously occurred. This type of large-scale domestic tourism should be strictly controlled by the management panel.

5.4 Water

•  The bog behind the school will serve as a leechfield/ natural reedbed for dealing with grey water from the ecobaños.

•  Currently the bog is slightly polluted by oils used in agricultural activity higher up in the valley.

•  Potential contamination of bog by shower grey water. To be minimised through use of straw filter, trench arch digesting system and in the future locally produced ecologically sound soaps.

5.5 Architecture

•  In keeping with this showcase project the traditional design, materials and construction techniques demonstrate an important aspect of local architectural heritage. As such the lodge, kitchen and ecobaños have been developed in keeping with the local landscape.

•  The promotion of such building skills to the local young people involved with the construction serves to preserve a working knowledge of traditional materials, while incorporating some modern additions such as hot showers and ecologically sound treatment of wastes.

•  The use of manmade materials has been minimized where possible.

6.0 Logging

•  A fund is to be set up which will in part be used to share out profits from the Community Ecotourism Project. Those who own more of the forest receive a greater share of this money, but only if they have not been involved with deforestation activities. This system therefore provides an incentive not to continue logging activities, the overall aim of the conservation project. The remainder of the fund is used for administrative purposes and for future sustainable development projects.


Through providing an economic alternative to deforestation this Community Ecotourism Project presents an opportunity to conserve the forests of Piedra Blanca. Development to date has focused on establishing minimal impact practice and it is hoped that this good progress can be continued into the future. To ensure that this is carried out it is essential that an elected committee of local people is formed to carryout the day to day running of the project and to take responsibility for the community fund. The success of this project has the potential to publicise and promote the environmentally sound design principles and technologies used to a wider audience within the local area. This in combination with other grassroots level rural development projects, such as those carried out by CRACYP, serve to improve the quality of life for local people.


  • Comunidad de Piedra Blanca, Ecuador- Data de familia, Raul Cabrera, Julio 2004.
  • Elecciones - Panel Directivo de la Empresa Ecoturistica Comunitaria, C.L. Hardyment, Agosto 2004, Ecuador.
  • PPD Eco-Turismo Piedra Blanca, CRACYP/ Ashoka Octubre 2003.
  • Tesis de Grado, Tema: Composición y Estructura de una Hectárea de Bosque en Cerro Piedra Blanca, San Luis de Pambil, Bolivar, Ecuador. Nestor Orlando Saltos Cedeno, 2004.

Piedra Blanca: Adventure Ecotourism in rural Ecuador