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Amy Parker

Beverly Hills, California Travel Agent

Eco-Tourism and the Rewards of Giving Back

The best adventure and cultural experiences usually go hand-in-hand with responsible eco-tourism. Lodges, hotels, and tour operators who establish close relationships with the communities where they operate and give back, not just with a check but in a real authentic way, usually provide opportunities for life-changing encounters with the people and environment for their guests.

One of the companies I especially like is &Beyond, which offers safaris and tours in Africa, Asia, and South America. &Beyond contributes to local communities in powerful and meaningful ways. The contrast with less in-touch companies is striking. One company donated computers to a school without electricity when paper and pens were what they needed, while &Beyond is on the ground, learning what can be most helpful.

As a result, the experiences they create for guests are meaningful, respectful and generally two-way interactions. For example, in some remote places, the only professionals that kids are exposed to are doctors, police, soldiers, and teachers. Sometimes &Beyond invites their guests to talk personally to a class about their jobs. Talking about what you do opens students’ minds to other possibilities. Similarly, school-age travelers might be invited to talk with local kids about their favorite classes, typical day and activities. There is always a dialogue. &Beyond is an example of a company that integrates eco-tourism with a strong social component and makes sure that it is positive for the community and that creates a more real, authentic experience for the traveler.

Many eco-lodges are quite remote. For example, I recently sent someone to the Pantanal region of Brazil, the world’s largest wetlands. There are a handful of small eco-lodges there and tons of birds, jaguars, caiman, and birds. It’s expensive because everything has to be brought in, but these are very low-impact high immersion hideaways. 

One of the most accessible eco-tourism destinations, both in terms of cost and travel time, is Costa Rica. Despite its popularity, great air connections with the U.S., and a growing number of accommodations, the country remains protective of its natural treasures. It has amazing jungle lodges where you can be totally immersed in nature. Here you might wake up to the sound of howler monkeys and spot sloths and agouti as you go river rafting through rapids and zip-lining through rainforests.

I’ve experienced eco-adventures and eco-lodges everywhere from Africa and Asia to South America and the South Pacific. They vary greatly in terms of settings, style, and level of luxury. If you’re looking for guidance, give me a call!

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