Ecotourism: what is it and where to go?
What is ecotourism? Are these volunteer trips to nature, where people spend volunteer days and plant trees? Or maybe is it living in natural thatched huts on the ocean? Or is it an independent trip to the reserve with a backpack, a tent and a minimum of comfort? Someone thinks that not littering in the forest and not killing animals is ecological tourism already. Let’s look at this issue.
If things are more or less clear with “tourism”, then with “eco” now there are much more discrepancies. The fashion for everything “green” and “eco-friendly” is slowly capturing the world, and our perception filters have already tuned in to code words, sometimes not noticing very strange “artifacts”. Wherever they do not put green leaves and the inscription “eco” – on disposable dishes, aggressive chemical products, plastic bags and other non-environmentally friendly items. So believe the word advertising is not necessary.
Experts have their own opinions about ecotourism: this is a responsible trip to natural areas that promotes nature conservation and improves the well-being of the local population. This definition gives the International Society of ecotourism. Similarly defines ecotourism World Wildlife Fund WWF. Here are the main criteria from these serious comrades to check their own routes for environmental friendliness.
- The direction of travel – places with relatively untouched nature or preserved authentic life. These are, for example, nature reserves, national parks or such ancient villages and villages, where the bell tolls, go to the bathhouse on Sundays, and in the square grandmothers sell homemade cakes and milk from under the cow.
- The purpose of such travel is to study the natural and cultural characteristics. These are not galleries and shopping, but acquaintance with the traditional way of life of the locals, or acquaintance with wildlife, in order to feel part of it for some time and then disappear, leaving no trace behind.
- The tourism process does not harm natural ecosystems. Everything is clear: we just do not harm nature.
- It is economically beneficial for local residents to preserve nature and traditions. The trick is that the benefits and revenues from such tourism should not be received by corporations and not by the head office somewhere in the capital, but locals, who themselves opened a cafe, hostel or boat rental. And so that the traditions of the region are preserved and raised to the rank of cultural heritage, and not replaced by faceless “standards of service.”
In fact, it is not an easy task to make mass outdoor recreation not destructive for ecosystems, and the local population to benefit from the care of nature. But there are already good examples of projects implemented in this area. You can try for yourself.
For several decades, there have been international projects WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), that is, the World Opportunities on Organic Farms. In such programs, you can combine leisure and travel with work in organic agriculture. One of the founders of WWOOF, Wendell Berry, said: “Today’s minors already know where their children come from, but not everyone knows how potatoes grow.” Well, we are fine with potatoes, but to try yourself as a banana gatherer in Ecuador or as an environmentalist in Madagascar, to feel like a winemaker in Argentina or a gardener in Norway sounds really tempting.
There are several directory sites where you can choose the direction and project (wwoofinternational.org, woof.net, workaway.info, helpx.net). As a rule, on these sites, the participant is required to pay a registration fee of about € 20 in order to gain access to the host database. And then – the whole world is in your hands. If you want to go to Australia, and you want to go to Armenia. This holiday is not for the lazy, but impressions and new knowledge are guaranteed. The host, as a rule, provides you with food and accommodation in exchange for your work, plus there is free time.
An unusual tourist project in Russia: Alturizm is a travel company of a new format, although the word “firm” is too dry and soulless for such a spiritual project. The guys develop routes in which travelers, or “altourists,” as they are called, can break free from the bustling metropolis to dive into the depths of rural life, work with their hands, drink tea from a samovar, swim in the river and discover new happy people after the bath. On such trips, the Altourist team can take part in the restoration of an old wooden tower, collecting and drying willow tea, restoring a jetty on the river or some other locally important projects. In this way, travelers get acquainted with rural life and immerse themselves in nature, while local residents get support for their projects.
Toloka in nature
Belarusian environmental organization “Bagna” invites to volunteer camps on Yelnya bog and in the reserves of Polesye. Toloka is a joint help to nature: repairing dams, hanging artificial bird nests and enjoying the cosmic landscape of these places. Toloka in the Yelnya swamp turned out to be international: it is conducted jointly with the Estonian Foundation of Nature. Next in line are Turovsky Meadow and Middle Pripyat. In addition to helping nature and communicating with caring people, you can get to places where ordinary tourists do not always get there, and experts from the team will tell you the most interesting things you should pay attention to.
Finally, a few tips on how to ecologize any trip:
Transport: prefer hitchhiking, bicycles, trains and buses.
Food: choose establishments that prepare seasonal or organic-certified products and support local farmers.
Shopping: do not go to shopping malls, but to local artisans, to secondhands and to flea markets.
Sights: Do not forget to attend the “green” urban initiatives.