Back before Chile was the go-to place for adventure and thrills, in the heart of the Andes Mountains close to the city of Santiago de Chile, two kayakers were paddling down the roaring streams of the Maipo River. Their names - Yerko Ivelic and Javier Lopez; two friends so passionate with the outdoors they decided to devote their lives to it. After meeting and becoming friends during their time at university studying to be civil engineers, the duo were no strangers to taking risks and tackling challenges head-on, such as the time Yerko was swept away by the current during his first time white-water kayaking. Failing to do the Eskimo roll that would have helped right him, he finally managed to haul himself ashore two kilometers away, hypothermic, his kayak taken away by the raging current.
For a few years, fear stayed Yerko’s hand, preventing him from returning to kayaking. It wasn’t until Javier came onto the scene that Yerko overcame his fear and the two of them started teaching kayaking in the pristine rivers of Chile. Soon, they were joined by Nani Astorga, a kayak instructor who soon became Yerko’s wife. This was the birthplace of Cascada, as a small kayaking company which quickly grew to be one of Chile’s most renowned adventure travel companies.
Fast forward to 1991. Cascada had grown to be the biggest rafting operation in Chile, with tours and trips on the Rio Maipo by San Alfonso near Santiago, at Liucura in Pucon, and on the Bio-Bio River.
The first heartbeat of Cascada came from Chile’s epic flowing rivers - an homage to its origins can be found in the company’s current logo. But in the 1990s, bad news came for the rivers of Chile: a mega-dam project, HidroAisen, was constructed on the Bio Bio River, forever altering the river’s biodiversity and the ecosystem of the area. Javier, Yerko, and Nani opposed the dam and were directly affected by its environmental impact, so sustainability quickly became one of the company’s core pillars. Yerko, Javier, and Nani had always been attracted to the mystic immensity of Patagonia. Their hope to connect travelers with the unique wilderness of Chile materialized in 1995 when they began offering trekking operations in Torres del Paine National Park, the crown jewel of Chilean Patagonia.
Over the following years, Cascada grew, expanding its trekking programs to cover all over Chile and even parts of Argentina. Guests from all over the world became part of this experiment for Chile’s budding tourism industry – Cascada Expediciones invited them to escape their comfort zones and connect with each other while experiencing the amazing nature surrounding them. Considering that guests encountered some of Chile’s most spectacular landscapes, ranging from the driest desert in the world to the biggest ice fields on the American continent, it wasn’t hard to provide guests with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
During those years of growth and challenges, Yerko and Javier started to ponder something. They want to build accommodations for their trekkers, but having experienced Torres del Paine’s demonic winds and “four seasons in a day” weather, they could not figure out what kind of accommodation would be comfortable, weather-resistant, and eco-friendly – an option they would have loved to have had on their trips. Then, one day they came across old photographs of some of Torres del Paine’s ancient indigenous inhabitants: the Kaweskar. Kaweskars were nomads, traveling in small groups and building semi-spherical tents insulated with guanaco skin to stay in. They would “undo” and take down the tents when they moved from place to place, therefore traveling without leaving a trace of their presence afterward. Bingo! Yerko and Javier had found a revolutionary idea.
Thus, in 2001, EcoCamp Patagonia was officially born.
EcoCamp was built as a tribute to the ancient Kaweskar culture
The Kaweskar model inspired Javier and Yerko to craft domes all the way at the world’s end, in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park, almost at the foot of the park’s iconic granite spires.
The Cascada founders had accomplished something unprecedented: they had just built the first geodesic hotel in the world, and the first eco-lodge south of the Amazon. The Cascada philosophy for sustainability was evident in every detail of EcoCamp’s design and running. Use of renewable energy, valorization of local culture, and support of the local community: EcoCamp had to be the most inspiring representation of sustainability in South America. But why not expand that vision to include the whole world? With cozy domes, a stunning view of the surrounding mountains, and a perfect location for hikers and nature lovers, EcoCamp became and remains today an invitation to the outdoors. The ecolodge quickly gained international recognition. The Community Domes are a unique social hub where travelers connect with each other (with no WiFi, of course), and share stories after days of exploring the park. When people leave EcoCamp, they go back home with something powerful inside, something that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.
Transformational travel is paramount to Cascada Expediciones and its team.
The hundreds of people who are currently working for and who have worked for the company in the past – whether guides, marketing staff, travel specialists, porters, cooks, or accountants – all know firsthand that Cascada is about transformation: personal and environmental. This transformation is led by a common passion for nature, people, and life in general (not to mention dedication to service excellence)! 25 years of transforming people’s lives is a treasure. To celebrate this achievement, the Cascada team recently came together in the pristine landscapes of the Chilean Andes for an autumn hike through a peaceful changing forest, reminiscing about the past and talking about the present. Everyone agreed that there’s still many years ahead to transform people through life-changing trips in some of the most magical landscapes in the world. Happy Birthday, Cascada!
Oh, by the way, did you count the years EcoCamp has been open? 2001 to 2016? Yes, you’re right. EcoCamp is 15 years old! Looks like there’s a lot to celebrate this year, and why not enjoy the celebration on a trip to visit the best of Patagonia or experience the famous W Trek at the world’s end? If you are looking for something different, something to inspire and transform you, come find us: we’ll help you find find an adventure you’ll never forget.
Greetings from the Cascada Expediciones family!