When you travel responsibly, what do you look for? Do you look for philanthropic opportunities, organizations that preserve and respect nature, or something else? Ecotourism has been a word recently pumped through the zeitgeist so much that it has almost lost its meaning for many travelers. Don’t get disillusioned by the hype! Ecotourism has a very specific meaning and a special place in the world.
Ecotourism began as an opportunity to preserve nature and culture, but it has grown into something so much more. It’s about stepping outside of yourself and having a connection with something greater than the world that you knew before. Whether that’s about nature or local communities or the struggles that a country is going through, the personal connections are what make ecotourism worth the experience.
If you ever get to join us on our tours, this is the reason why we involve the community in our experiences so much. The jewelry that is made, the music that is played and the food that is provided all come from the cultures that we are visiting on these trips. The connections that mean the most to us in our definition of ecotourism happen through human interaction that occurs when we seek out new cultural experiences. Not just to experience nature, but to understand why that area is important to the people there and how they interact with the nature. Not just to hear music but to be taught how to play an instrument by someone who has been playing it for years.
Many times big companies and hotels will claim to be giving you a “cultural” experience. The problem is that they don’t spend any genuine time in the community first to know exactly what a day in the life is really like for the local people. Far too often these cultural experiences are full of things that the locals would never interact with or traditions that are misrepresented to appease Western cultural norms. They bring big groups in, then back out and that’s it. There’s no lasting impact, there is just the story of a fun day and that is the opposite of what ecotourism is for.
Ecotourism is a growing industry that is designed to build bridges across the globe. Not as a way to pity local communities or to exert cultural dominance, but a way to realize how small our individual roles in this world really are and to see that you can find a commonality between you and any culture on this earth if you are only willing to search for it. Ecotourism is not just about appreciating nature but understanding why it’s important to keep it where it is and as it is. To learn what forces are trying to destroy it and what challenges the local community is facing in their fight to preserve it.