Linking Cultures through Sustainable Tourism

Published: September 2011

Join us in celebrating World Tourism Day! This year's theme "Linking Cultures“ highlights the power of travel to connect people from different walks of life and parts of the world.

We have even more reason to celebrate this year -- SustainableTrip.org, the Rainforest Alliance's directory of sustainable tourism businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean, turns one year old today! Take a look at a few of the hotels listed on the site -- each providing tourists with unique opportunities to interact with local people and learn more about their cultures.

Hacienda Temozón is a restored sisal hacienda -- a colonial mansion -- on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Guests can explore nearby colonial cities and ancient Mayan ruins like Uxmal and Kabah. The hotel’s Haciendas Foundation supports community artisans that work with pre-Hispanic materials such as horn, sisal, embroidery, hammocks, Jipi Japa palm, stone and filigree silver. Visitors can buy their authentic handmade crafts and know that the proceeds will directly benefit local families.

Surtrek Ecuador & Galapagos Tours organizes sustainable tour packages to Ecuador’s four regions: the Amazon, the Andes, the Pacific coast and the Galapagos Islands. Local guides with intimate knowledge of these regions will lead you on cultural and natural adventures. Sutrek has a pilot project in the Cajabamba community, where they helped build a greenhouse to supply hotels in the region with fresh, organic vegetables. This initiative is 80 percent community managed.

Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel is a luxury hotel located at the foot of the famous Machu Picchu ruins. Its rooms reflect Incan culture and architectural style. Guests can take a Peruvian cooking and bartending class from the resident chef, or learn how to prepare a traditional Andean meal in an underground stone oven. Visitors can also experience a traditional “Pay to the Earth” ritual in which a shaman performs a ceremony giving thanks to Pachamama, or “Mother Earth.”

Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve in Ecuador is the property of the indigenous Achuar people. Guests can experience the natural beauty of the Amazon rainforest while learning about the culture and daily life of the Achuar people, who have inhabited this region for many thousands of years. Kapawi employs members of the local community, and the main cabin and dining hall are also used as a community center. Income from the hotel goes to local communities to support health and education projects and to set up an emergency fund.

Four Directions specializes in cultural and archeological tours in the Mayan world: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Visitors can buy crafts made by local artisans at the colorful markets of Guatemala, or visit the beautiful colonial cities of Nicaragua. They can also walk through spectacular Mayan ruins and learn about ancient customs from the people who still practice some of them to this day.

Nizag is owned by the indigenous Kichwa people of central Ecuador. The 370 families in this community work hard to preserve their customs. Visitors have the opportunity to meet members of the local community and learn about their customs and way of life. This community-based tourism initiative provides income that is reinvested in education, health and training projects.

Asuaire Travel is a Costa Rican tour operator offering travelers a chance to discover the cultural and natural beauty of this Central American country. Guests can discover the history of Costa Rica at the Pueblo Antiguo Show, which tells the story of the origins of Costa Rica in a lively and colorful performance. Asuaire Travel has created several programs that support rural communities and protect cultural and natural resources.

Turismo Aventura offers travel packages in Guatemala, Belize and Copán, Honduras. Travelers are immersed in local culture with opportunities to visit famous archaeological sites such as Tikal, Palenque and El Mirador and a chance to witness the Day of the Dead celebration in the highland village of Todos Santos. They can also purchase local crafts at Chichicastenango, Guatemala's largest and most colorful indigenous market or experience the kite festival at Sumpango. This company creates local jobs and supports the creation of rural community ecotourism products that provide economic alternatives for Guatemalan rural families who care for and protect their natural resources.

Andean Travel Company offers tours throughout Ecuador and the Galapagos. History buffs and architectural enthusiasts will love visiting museums and cathedrals in Quito and Cuenca, or traveling to the ancient site of Ingapirca -- the only Incan ruins that remain in Ecuador. Visitors can also interact with local artisans and buy their handmade crafts at one of many indigenous markets, including the country’s most famous market in the city of Otavalo.

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