By Jennifer Finn
Picture yourself in a lush rainforest, away from the stress and strain of modern life. Imagine staring into the empathic eyes of a gorilla. See yourself standing on an unspoilt coastline staring out into the vast sprawling sea. Jennifer Finn introduces us to the most fashionable and in-vogue form of tourism around– Ecotourism
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” It promotes the idea that travel can be much more meaningful than just sightseeing, taking pictures and buying souvenirs. Ecotourism has created the concept of green travel which allows everyone to enjoy their picturesque surroundings without causing harm to them.
Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel. It acts as a stimulus to the host country’s economy whilst also empowering the local working-class people. If you’re looking for more than just a regular vacation, ecotourism can offer you the experience of a lifetime.
It encourages travel in an environmentally-friendly manner. It’s more about appreciating the beauty of nature than exploiting it. It’s a mutually beneficial way of travelling in that you enjoy your holiday and in the process you have contributed to the local economy and helped conservationists in their quest to save endangered wildlife and other species.
Green travel allows an ecotourist to experience life in unindustrialized surroundings. It’s not about camping in a field in the middle of nowhere; it’s about appreciating all that Mother Nature has to offer. You don’t have to stay in a tent either: you can stay in an eco hotel. One such eco hotel is Hacienda Tres Rios which is located in Mexico.
This hotel has five green stars attributable to its environesilkemental awareness. It is an eco-luxury resort situated in the heart of the Riviera Maya. It’s nestled within a nature park for guests to enjoy. The hotel has achieved environmentally sustainable development through the responsible and intelligent use of the world’s natural resources and ecosystems. Apart from encouraging the creation of eco hotels, ecotourism has encouraged a new wave of popularity in skiing, hiking and adventure holidays
Ecotourism is not just for the wealthy: it’s for everyone, including students. Whilst flying to the United States on a J1 Visa is a popular and exciting way of spending your summer holiday, the United States will still be there when you graduate; sadly some ecotourism destinations and endangered species may not.
The Rainforest offers the most natural escape from busy modern life. Whether you travel to the rainforest of the Amazon or the rainforest of Belize, you are sure to find solace under its vast green canopy. This rainforest canopy nurtures many endangered species of plant and animal life. It is a beautiful classroom for ecotourists to learn about diverse species of flora and fauna. Whilst most popular tourist resorts will always be there, one must savour the experience of the rainforest because someday they may disappear.
Costa Rica is considered to be one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world. This label is due to its twenty natural parks, eight biological reserves and countless protected areas that captivate an audience of ecotourism lovers of all nationalities, who come from far and wide to witness these areas. It is home to Tortuguero National Park which is most famous for the sea turtle nesting that takes place there every year.
Costa Rica is also home to “Nature Air”, the world’s first carbon neutral airline. Nature Air enhances your travelling experience by providing panoramic window views and pilots who are trained to point out waterfalls, volcanoes and landmarks along the journey.
The Himalayas: are sometimes referred to as the “Abode of Snow”. They stretch from Jammu and Kashmir in North India to Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India. The Himalayas yield great scope for adventure sports such as skiing, mountaineering and trekking. The surrounding land is sprinkled with luxuriant valleys and idyllic lakes. The Himalayan region is also the place where rare medicinal herbs grow. In the Himalayan foothills, the Terai, there are the tropical forests of Sal, Teak and Shisham. This place encapsulates a paradise for orienteers.
Closer to home, ecotourism is also popular on the Emerald Isle. Irish ecotourism encourages you to take some time out of the pub and to nourish your soul a bit instead.
Gaeltacht areas such as Achill Island off the West Coast, offer tourists a taste of what life was like when everyone still spoke Irish and when you relied a lot more on the land. Home to some of the most breathtaking beaches, towering cliffs and natural land formations, Ireland will certainly not disappoint. Plus you’ll save on airfare!
By going on safari in a place like Kenya, you are putting yourself out there and venturing into the wild. You’re allowing yourself to witness lions, tigers, zebra, elephants, leopards and buffaloes in their natural habitat. A safari is also a popular option for bird watchers due to the vast array of bird species to be seen. When returning home from your safari, you are sure to have with you a photo album resembling an issue of National Geographic.
Mount Kilimanjaro: if you’re the adventurer-type, climbing Mount Kili-manjaro could be just the right ecotourism activity for you. The Njari Lodge and Campsite is situated in the surrounding area of Mount Kilimanjaro, making it a popular place for keen adventurers to stay.
The area is fed by a constant supply of fresh drinking water from the glaciers of Kilimanjaro. Upon rising at sunrise, the view that greets you from your veranda is that of the snow-capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. A percentage of income from this campsite goes towards helping village projects such as the local primary school.
Unlike popular tourist resorts on the continent, this campsite does not have electricity. However, your hosts will go out of their way to provide you with an electricity generator if you request it. Ecotourism in a place like this is not difficult to cope with.
It’s a way of saying goodbye to mod-cons and living without them for the duration of your stay. It’s a way of detoxing your mind, body and soul in a natural way whilst boosting local commerce at the same time. Your presence in eco destinations is valued by the local people and they will welcome you, cater for your every need and treat you well. You are on holiday after all and you should enjoy it.
Rwanda is home to the Virungas, the endangered mountain gorilla. These gentle giants are tolerant to human visitors. So you can feel safe in the presence of the Virungas and your mountain guide. Nyungwe Forest National Park sprawls across the majestic hills of southeast Rwanda. Rich in floral diversity, it encompasses over two hundred different types of tree, as well as being home to humankind’s closest living relative, the chimpanzee.
The Seychelles is one of the pioneers of ecotourism. It has gained worldwide recognition as an environmentally-friendly destination. Described as “a luxurious retreat for the discerning traveller”, the Seychelles is a protected area that strives to preserve the beautiful but fragile ecosystem there. The Seychelles is the epitome of a hidden treasure and a tropical paradise.
It is said that after God had finished creating the world, he had a handful of diamonds left over. And so he decided to create something marvellous just east of Africa. He scattered the remaining diamonds in the ocean and thus the “Seychelles” were born – a divine place that thrives on ecotourism.
It’s true. Ecotourism is so hot right now. But wait! Before you shell out your life savings, be sure to know what exactly you’re getting yourself into, because “ecotourism” is a buzzword used by heroes and villains alike. Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself before heading out into the wonderful, yet sometimes idealistic world of ecotourism.
Just what exactly are you paying for?
Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution to start eating healthy, but had to give up once you realised just how bloody expensive it was to eat healthy? That’s kind of how ecotourism is. After all, couldn’t you just be environmentally responsible on your own? What exactly does this organisation, which you’ve just shelled out your summer savings to, do that costs so much?
Read the fine print, because you may be being taken for a ride. Many companies survive on the fact that you know nothing about the area, especially in the developing world.
Don’t trust the white man
Alright, alright, the white man isn’t all bad. But whether its consciously or not, western tourists always trust a white tour guide, often more than they should. The white man may even try to persuade you by slithering sweet nothings into your ear, warning you of the trickery of the locals. Again, the white man is not all bad, but keep notice. Just because they have one token “local” on staff doesn’t make them automatically “legit”.
Do I really get to dance with gorillas?
No. You don’t really get to dance with gorillas. Seeing an actual gorilla is not even guaranteed, and should you run into one, they’re not likely to ask you in for tea. Sound ridiculous? Some ecotourism companies will conjure up idealistic images that will have you reaching for your wallet, but make sure to ask the right questions of your guide so as to make sure you’re not left disappointed.
Oh, Guerillas, I thought you meant Gorillas
Truth be told, Western media does not give as much attention to civil wars in the developing world as you might think. If you can name two or less wars going on in the developing world, its possible you may need to do some more homework, particular to the region you’re considering exploring. It may save your life.