My SachaJi Wellness Eco-Lodge, Otavalo, Ecuador
Maria Teresa Ponce, Owner
Born in Ecuador, Maria Teresa Ponce moved to the United States as a child, eventually carving out a career in photography focused on social and environmental issues. But two coinciding incidents would change her professional path. First, Ponce hit a rough patch in her life that led her to question her motivation. Then, she inherited a scenic and sprawling piece of land in her native country that presented a host of possibilities—and the answer to Ponce’s spiritual search.
“I got very involved in Kundalini Yoga,” Ponce says. “My priorities changed and I decided to have a mission of creating a space that was for the Earth and for people seeking tranquility, wellness and connection—what had saved me.” She decided to fuse her passion for architecture and meditation in a retreat that would be both beautiful and healing, a space that would be as sustainable as possible and where the design vocabulary presented an homage to the land. My SachaJi Wellness Eco-Lodge opened in 2013.
“I realized that there weren’t many places to relax—to come in contact with the great natural environment of the Andes—or a space that could show visitors how sustainable living is possible in an aesthetic, comfortable way,” Ponce says. Gay women, including Ponce and the head chef, make up 20 percent of My SachaJi’s staff.
My SachaJi’s wellness programs are focused on meditation, yoga, massage and other therapies that promote stress management, healing, forgiveness and “refinding yourself” in a balanced space inspired by feng shui principles. Ponce said the Andean altitude, at almost 10,000 feet above sea level, also has beneficial effects on one’s circulation and metabolism.
Ponce offers guests the chance to help indigenous women grow medicinal plants in the local orchard and care for children in a community orphanage. “We are located in an area mostly populated by indigenous people, who are more traditional in the way they think, but greet all types of visitors with open arms,” Ponce says.
In addition to offering yoga sessions and meditative activities, My SachaJi is situated near challenging routes for trekking and horseback riding, and guests can take walks toward the Cusin volcano with the retreat’s rescued dogs. Visitors shouldn’t miss the Otavalo market where local artisans sell crafts and the Andean region’s famous multicolored textiles.
Ponce also suggests activities such as photography courses for those on their way to the Galapagos Islands. “It’s an amazing destination where you can come into contact with animals in a way you cannot in other places,” she says. Overall, she says Ecuador is a peaceful country with kind people, and that it’s “becoming more and more LGBT-friendly each year with more tolerance and activism.”