Hosting Tourists is Key to Community Conservation in Latin America

Responsible tourism can provide forest communities with a viable alternative to logging, oil and mineral extraction and other less environmentally-friendly options. A well-run eco-lodge, for example, gives visitors an intimate look at the surrounding rainforest while providing nearby communities with a financial incentive to protect their environment and traditions. The Rainforest Alliance is working to help lodge owners, communities and the travelers they want to embrace sustainable tourism.

In Ecuador, we are working with the indigenous Kichwa community of Añangu, who want an alternative to the profitable but irresponsible logging and oil extraction that neighboring groups are allowing to destroy their forests.

In the early 90s, community members concluded that an eco-lodge could provide jobs while conserving Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park. Today the Napo Wildlife Center provides visitors with a high-end rainforest experience and community members with a sustainable source of income and the means to conserve 53,500 acres (over 21,400 hectares) of pristine rainforest. In Rainforest Alliance-led tourism workshops, staff members have learned to install solar panels, treat wastewater and to compost.

Sani women cooking

Sani women cooking

Photo credit: Jungwon Kim

Also in Ecuador, the Rainforest Alliance is working with community members who run the environmentally conscious Sani Lodge. The lodge pays for English teachers at the local school and helps arrange for scholarships for study in the capital city of Quito or abroad. Because the community is so remote, the lodge also invests in a communal store and covers the costs of sending local farm products to the nearest market — both effective means of curtailing hunting. The lodge has also improved local health conditions by building latrines for every family in the community.

In Costa Rica, the Rainforest Alliance has helped the Titi Conservation Alliance conserve forest surrounding Manuel Antonio National Park. The popular park protects 109 species of mammals — including the endangered mono tití (Central American squirrel monkey) — and hosts 150,000 tourists a year. The Titi Alliance’s reforestation, environmental education and sustainable development programs are fully funded by local business owners and community members. “In this community of extremely rich biodiversity, we are reliant on tourism,” explains Titi Alliance director Ingrid Kuegeman. “But in order for tourism and biodiversity to be a happy marriage, we need experts like those with the Rainforest Alliance show us how it’s done.”

Blue-Crowned Motmot on branch

Blue-Crowned Motmot on branch

Photo credit: Deborah Olander, 2010

In Costa Rica’s northern lowlands, located near the Nicaraguan border, Quebrada Grande, is a community-run, 294-acre (119-hectare) reserve that is part of the Costa Rican Bird Route project, which includes 12 tourism reserves and encompasses 12,253 acres (five thousand hectares) of protected land. At Quebrada Grande, local guides lead avian enthusiasts through the reserve’s forest to a three-story observation tower that provides breathtaking views and with luck, a glimpse of the endangered great green macaw. Quebrada Grande residents and other members of the bird route have participated in the Rainforest Alliance’s workshops, where they’ve learned about the long-term damage caused by hunting, capturing wild animals for pets and selling endangered fauna for souvenirs. By taking measures to protect the natural treasures that tourists flock to see, members of the Quebrada Grande community are building the foundation for an economically and environmentally viable future based on sustainable tourism.

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