Though largely untouched by human activity in its (geologically) young lifetime, the Galapagos archipelago is no stranger to environmental threats. In fact, less than 15 years ago the United Nations declared that the Ecuadorian islands were in danger, pointing to ecosystem degradation caused by modern-day activities such as deforestation, pollution, overfishing, mass tourism and more.
Luckily, an environmental steward was as inspired by the Galapagos Islands’ possible decline as was Charles Darwin, nearly two centurias prior, by the area’s unique and evolutionary wildlife.
Born and raised on mainland Ecuador, Reyna Oleas would not head west 625 miles to the Galapagos until she was an adult. Newly arrived and equipped with a degree in Ecology and an MBA, she instinctually began to observe the relationship locals had with their environment—more specifically, to issues concerning unreliable and unsustainable sources of water, electricity, waste and food.
Deciding to take action, Reyna and her husband Roberto Plaza joined a team of intellectuals offering expertise in various areas to create the Montemar project: a set of eco-luxury villas built with the vision of becoming a benchmark in construction by using materials mostly sourced from the islands and with minimal use of energy.
Located upon part of the Galapagos Giant Tortoises Territory in the highlands of Santa Cruz, the 43-acre property has two private villas, both of which are named after native wildlife—Tortuga (Tortoise) and Lechuza (Owl). Spacious and full of natural light, each space within Montemar was built upon the foundation of the following components: construction with local materials; efficient generation and use of energy and, finally, harvesting and consuming of local food.
Considering that some 70% of imports to the islands are used for construction, that much of the food and energy is brought from the mainland, Reyna and her partners were creating what would become a model for sustainable tourism and hospitality in the Galapagos Islands.
Made of bamboo, lava and cedar, the buildings are not overly sophisticated, as the Montemar aimed to inspire onlookers who could, if desired, replicate the designs and use of materials. By using elements of the natural surroundings, the villas maintain the ecosystem’s natural balance. So in tune with the natural world are the houses, that they were strategically placed in the path of the sun and in the direction where wind would allow free flowing ventilation (an incredibly important component considering that the humidity levels on the Galapagos can reach 97%).
Inside, the private rooms are heated by solar panels, as is the water—100% of which is harvested rainwater. Nothing about the latter technique is new, as the first settlers to the Galapagos did much the same. However, Montemar is recovering and proving the validity of such eco-friendly and cost-effective efforts.
Similarly, Montemar promotes eating local by producing a portion of the food. Chickens, pineapple and banana trees, coffee (of which Latin Excursions founder Eric Sheets believes is the best tasting coffee in all of Ecuador) and a variety of other foods thrive on-site as Reyna and her team turn the organic waste of neighbors into 100,000 pounds of black gold (fertilizer) a year.
Now, years since the doors first opened to conscious travelers, Montemar is at the forefront of sustainable tourism in the unique archipelago. With experiences that include wellness, gastronomy and even adrenaline activities both on and off shore, Montemar is the ideal host for a unique family getaway that can be life changing in so many ways. An exclusive and privileged place, guests soon discover that sustainability does not have to be met with sacrifice. Not only that, but they just may be inspired to make a few green changes to their lifestyle back home.
To craft a bespoke and private Galapagos tour and/or cruise it is essential to know what experiences await. Dive deeper into Ecuador’s remote islands here.