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The Black Sheep Inn

 A High Life

By Naomi & Rick Coleman
© Permaculture International Journal 
Issue No. 73 - December 1999 - February 2000

Black Sheep Inn
Highlights of the Area
Day Hikes & Activities
Links & Recommendations
For Reservations:
Black Sheep Inn


High in the Andes mountains, in the small village of Chugchilán in Ecuador, a young American couple have established a wonderful example of an ecologically friendly tourist venture

In 1998 Naomi and Rick Coleman visited Ecuador’s Black Sheep Inn, at the invitation of the owners, to conduct a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) for local villagers and assist with site design. They found a couple committed to applying permaculture principles and providing an example of ecologically friendly tourism.

Michelle Kirby and Andres Hammerman first visited Chugchilán in 1993. As there was no lodging for travelers ( it was well off the beaten track) they stayed with a local family, who liked them so much they offered to sell them land. Michelle and Andy had been working in tourism in the States, and wanted to start a project of their own outside of America. The idea of establishing a guest house in the heart of the Andes, where they could realize their ideals and create a comfortable environment for weary travelers, as well a working model of sustainable practices, really appealed.


The idea was born and Michelle and Andy returned to the States to organize finances and plan their dream. They named their project The Black Sheep Inn (La Posada Oveja Negra) because it sounded great in Spanish and English, and because many travelers of the world are black sheep, in that they have strayed from the flock. The notice in each room welcomes all The Black Sheep of the world.

They purchased three hectares and building began in 1995.  Using local labor, and in many cases local techniques, they refurbished the two existing houses, and added many others. By the time we visited in 1998, Michelle and Andy had established a great deal of infrastructure. This included an adobe communal kitchen and private office, composting toilet, showers and laundry and water reuse system, adobe guest houses, organic vegetable gardens to supply their cooking needs, an integrated greenhouse/chicken house that was nearing completion, orchards, native tree plantings, and swales on the very steep slopes. They had a diverse range of animals including sheep, llamas, ducks, chickens, two dogs and two cats.

A thriving backpacker business was evident.


The region is stunning in its sheer beauty. At 3,100 meters (10,200 feet), The Black Sheep Inn is situated on the edge of the Western cordillera of the Ecuadorian Andes. The guesthouse overlooks the Rio Toachi Canyon, a magnificent series of plateaus and cliff faces. The views from the composting toilets are incredible, and every time you visit, the scenery is different… sometimes clear and crisp, sometimes covered in cloud, and on occasions you find yourself looking down on the cloud cover. If you are lucky, you will see the lone Black Sheep grazing amongst its white companions on the plateau.

Apart from the interest travelers may have in the permaculture features of the site, there are numerous tourist attractions to entice visitors. Day hikes and trekking opportunities are endless: through the canyons, the grassy plains above the tree line known as the paramo, the cloud forest, or the patchwork fields of the high sierra. A local man runs a horse riding business which Michelle and Andy helped him establish, and guests enjoy riding through the paramo. Nearby is the famous Laguna (Lake) Quilotoa, an active emerald volcanic crater featured in much of the local art.

A local cheese factory specializes in the production of European cheeses, the result of a Swiss aid program in the village. Many campesinos (peasant farmers) were producing more milk than they could use, and the isolation meant that much of it was going to waste. The cheese factory was established as a cooperative to provide a market for excess milk.  At 3,600 meters, cheese can be aged without refrigeration due to the cold climate. The successful coop produces four types of delicious cheese; mozzarella, tilsit, andino and parmesan. These pasteurized cheeses provide an income for an otherwise impoverished community. The Black Sheep Inn is a significant supporter of this enterprise, purchasing large quantities for catering purposes and encouraging guests to visit the factory and purchase cheese.

Local markets are another attraction. The Sunday market at Chugchilán is small, but the nearby Saturday morning market in Zumbahua is reputed to be one of the finest indigenous markets in Ecuador. The Monday market at Guantualo shows how these remote rural communities have been trading for hundreds of years.

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Chugchilán is extremely rural, a five hour drive from Quito, and three hours from the nearest bank, post office or gas station. Only this year was the phone line connected to the town and recently to The Black Sheep Inn itself. The mod con which most of us take for granted has made a difference to Michelle and Andy and The Black Sheep Inn. They now accept bookings rather than standing at the top of the hill at four o’clock each afternoon to see if any tourists are getting off the daily bus. They keep in touch with friends and international news online, and although they are still physically isolated, this has reduced their feeling of isolation immensely.

In choosing Chugchilán for their venture, Andy and Michelle were aware of the remote nature of their site, and the implications it could have not only for tourists but also for the local community. For tourists it meant a long bus trip without certainty of prior bookings, making it a more difficult to attract clients. For the locals the implications could be quite profound. Historically, Chugchilán, located on an old trade route to the coastal lowlands, was a market town. In modern times it has been by passed by new roads and isolated. Ecotourism is a new financial lifeline to the people of Chugchilán. Michelle and Andy have opened the area up to tourism, and feel this responsibility quite keenly. They feel that they are providing education and a model of sustainability for local villagers, and are doing all they can to assist locals in their own enterprises or through employment, which should serve to improve quality of life. Michelle also teaches twice a week in the local high school.

In a region where up to 70% of the local populations suffers from tuberculosis, their impact is positive rather than negative. When there is a crisis amongst the villagers, the first port of call is The Black Sheep Inn. Michelle and Andy have established a reputation for helping others, whether it be through transporting the sick or injured to the nearest hospital of lending money to ensure appropriate health care is attained. In the days before the phone arrived, they would drive people to the nearest phone to alert relatives of illness or death.


The site has been developed using permaculture principles from the start. Avid readers of all things permacultural, Andy and Michelle had been experimenting with the concepts they had read about when a letter in PI J caught their interest. Two permaculturists from Australia were about to travel the world and were interested in hearing from people who would like to exchange food and accommodation for their teaching and designing skills. Michelle and Andy responded, initially asking us to come and assess their site design and implementation, and assist in further design strategies. They also mentioned that they dreamed of one day teaching the local campensinos about permaculture, but that at present they were still learning about permaculture and too busy building the business and site.

We wrote back with interest, suggesting that they think about organizing a course for local farmers, in which the design task would be to work on the design of The Black Sheep Inn. Andy and Michelle took this task on, and in April 1998 a Permaculture Design Course was conducted on site for 20 local campensinos. Michelle and Andy closed the Inn for the first time ever, and focused solely on permaculture. They sponsored the whole course, providing free food and equation for the participants, teachers, and even paying for a translator.

The site already had a number of useful features, but needed an integrated design to make more connections between the elements in the system. The PDC focused on simple strategies that local campensinos could take on board cheaply and easily. Chugchilán has two seasons: wet and dry, but always cool. The main crop is corn, intercropped with beans and chilacoyote (winter squash), a guild known as the three sisters. The mountaintops the farmers crop on were literally 1,000m of volcanic ash, which had a good mineral content but drained like sand and eroded very easily. Farmers were reliant on the rainfall for their crops and had no capacity for storing water. Holding water in the soil and preventing soil erosion during the wet season were two main focuses of the daily practical session.

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Teaching people how to find contours and building swales was at times amusing, with large groups of people struggling to anchor themselves on such steep slopes. We concentrated on the erosion problems and designing the landscape to push water out of the valleys and back up the ridges. All earthworks had to be done by hand so we encouraged community support, with farmers assisting each other to construct swales and plant trees together. The positive, constructive and multifunctional uses of tress in permaculture design was accepted most enthusiastically by the students, who could see the benefits of windbreaks, firewood, nitrogen fixing , fodder, and soil stabilizing.

Teaching diversity in vegetable production using no-dig gardens was another important part of practical sessions. The local diet is limited in nutrition making this an important health issue. A kitchen garden was constructed using chilacoyote leaves as the weed mat and sheep and llama manures with straw for the garden bed. Leaves were used to mulch the garden and a variety of herbs and vegetables were planted out as a demonstration.

One of the issues that came out of the course was that permaculture is not just about designing the land. People needs are also important and quality of life needs to be designed too. Both Andy and Michelle were feeling the strain of working intensively for over four years to establish a business, and then their first closure ever was spent even more intensively learning, cooking and playing host. Designing the way The Black Sheep was run was important for future sustainability!

Many students who gradated from the PDC are now trusted employees of the Inn, which was given much needed freedom to the young couple. They now spend more time on implementing the site, while running of the Inn is done by local staff. By hiring graduates of the PDC, the staff also shares the vision for the site.

As with most permaculture sites, The Black Sheep Inn is in a constant state of evolution. The greenhouse/chicken house that uses passive solar for heating and collects rainwater off the roof for a tire pond is now functioning. No-dig gardens have been added to Zone 1. This year a common room/lodge has been a welcome addition. It is a two story adobe block structure and Michelle described it as beautiful, not just in appearance, but also for the space it has provided. The kitchen office are now truly private. The lodge houses a reception area with maps and tourist information, a living room, small library, games area, dining area and small self serve kitchen for drinks and snacks, and a wood stove to take the chill off cold afternoons. The second floor of the lodge is a loft with a high post and beam ceiling and large windows that take advantage of the magnificent views. Roof water is collected in a cistern to irrigate gardens during dry season. Solar panels, a chicken tractor, ponds and more cisterns are in the works. Next on the agenda is a separate house for Andy and Michelle.

The Black Sheep Inn has five private rooms, each room with a capacity for three or four people, as well as a bunkroom, which sleeps six. Averaging five guests a night all year, they are usually full with 15-20 guests, depending on how the rooms fill up. All meals are provided and the vegetarian cooking is delicious. Sunday morning breakfast of pancakes and jazz is a highlight of the week. The target clientele of the Black Sheep Inn has changed as it has become more upscale and comfortable. The price reflects this. The local community has taken advantage of tourism by opening their own guest houses that cater to budget travelers. However, The Black Sheep Inn is still very affordable. The unforgettable experience is well worth the small outlay for any traveler, especially one interested in permaculture.

The Black Sheep Inn
All prices include two meals: dinner and breakfast or lunch, tea, coffee and purified water.

Prices were $15 to $30 and they are now $18 to $38 per person per night including 2 meals, and unlimited tea, coffee and purified water.
Contact The Black Sheep Inn at PO Box 05-01-240, Latacunga, Cotapaxi, Ecuador, South America.
Tel (+593) 3 281-4587
Email:  Website:
Naomi and Rick Coleman can be contacted at Permaculture Education and Design Systems,
7710 Bass Highway,
Leongatha Sth, Vic 3953, Australia,
Tel (+61) 3 5664 3301

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SKY Magazine
Top 10
* May 2009 *

Eco Club Eco Lodge Award
2006 & 2008

Ecotourism Award Skal International

Responsible Tourism Best in Mountain

Smithsonian Magazine Sustainable Tourism Winner

Tourism for Tomorrow Destination Finalist


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© Copyright 2000-2009 ~ Black Sheep Inn, Ecuador. Site Map
Photos by Black Sheep Inn, Ecuador except when noted.
Last updated: September 21st, 2009