Our mission at Casa Divina Lodge 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.
Who We Are
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. In addition, both Efrain and Molly are active members in the local chapter of the Northwest Tourism Council of Ecuador. They support the council by developing strategic relationships with international tourism groups in order to promote tourism in the Andean Choco Region in northwestern Ecuador.
Molly, the administrative pillar of Casa Divina Lodge continually seeks to guide the business towards excellence while upholding the highest standards of sustainable practices as shown by several international sustainable certifications bestowed upon the lodge.
In spite of being a busy mother of two, Molly always finds a moment to share anecdotes with her guests and add the finishing touches to the menu of the day.
In addition, Molly has been instrumental in the creation of El Manantial, an alternative education primary school in Mindo which keeps her well connected to the community.
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 unique place in the cloud forest.