A Typical Day at Pura Vida House

A typical day of vacation in Costa Rica for our non-tennis or golf playing friends starts just like most; sunlight and crowing roosters, followed by the growls of howler monkeys off in the distance, and then chiming song birds fill your room. The morning symphony, we call it here at Pura Vida House in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

To start your morning, you’ll head out to the terrace for breakfast with the group. Plantains, gallo pinto (a typical dish of rice and beans; fuel for a day full of activity), eggs, fresh fruits and juices. All prepared by Pastora with organic food from her garden or local farmer’s markets. And of course, Costa Rican coffee.

This morning you’re off on a horseback ride with Papun, our local cowboy. He will take you through dry riverbeds around Pura Vida House in Paso Hondo (or not so dry, depending on the time of year!), pointing out all sorts of flora and fauna as you go. Papun doesn’t speak English, but don’t worry, he finds a way to teach and shows you a lot on your ride. He’s also great with experienced or inexperienced riders!

Next, it’s off to the beach, Playa Tamarindo for a surf lesson. Again, you don’t have to worry, no experience necessary! Then lunch at a local soda, a very typical type of local restaurant in Costa Rica. Everything is fresh and local, and they have great prices! A typical dish here is called a casado, or “marriage.” It’s a plate full of rice, beans, salad, a meat or vegetable, a plantain, and sometimes other surprises like an egg or cheese. We call these places, “bueno, bonito, barato,” or, “good, pretty, cheap.”

By this point you’re pretty tired out; it’s hot and you’ve been active all day. And to top it off, you’re stuffed full of typical Costa Rican fare. Off to Playa Langosta for some R&R in the shade or some reading. Here there are private lounge chairs and plenty of shade to relax during this hottest part of the day. Possibly a walk on the beach and a quick dip after. Then head over to the nearby lagoon for some late afternoon bird watching – roseate spoonbills, tiger herons, black necked stilts, and an armadillo will be today’s findings.

To end the day, you’ll head back home for a much needed shower and a glass of wine on the terrace to unwind before dinner. Pastora is back and has prepared some fresh corvina fish with salad, steamed vegetables and some rice. To drink, a typical Latin American horchata with cinnamon and milk. Everything is grown or caught within a few miles of Pura Vida House, except the rice that comes from a bit further south.

A great day has come to a close in Costa Rican paradise. But it’s time to get to sleep, tomorrow holds just as much nature and action and you’ll need your rest!

Four Off-the-Beaten-Path Responsible Travel Experiences in Peru

With plenty of investment in transport and tourism infrastructure it is now possible to see the highlights of Peru, including the relatively remote Machu Picchu, in just a few short days. Spend just a little more time, however, and you will begin to uncover some of the ‘hidden’ Peru – people and places that most visitors don’t get to experience, all while contributing to local livelihoods and communities.

Here are four examples of ethical and responsible slow travel experiences in Peru that foster interaction with local communities, provide stable livelihoods, and enhance the wellbeing of host communities throughout the Andean region.

Tierra de los Yachaqs

Working together with several communities in the Sacred Valley, La Tierra de los Yachaqs preserves the culture of the local people while allowing them to support their economy through responsible tourism.

La Tierra de Los Yachaqa

Crucial to this initiative is that the design and operation of the tourism remains in the hands of the community members, selecting the aspects of their culture they want shown and determining how they want to portray these aspects. Each of the five communities has its own unique experiences, and during a visit guests can pick and choose combinations of the activities depending on their own tastes and interests.

For example, visitors can engage in a textile demonstration or an exploration of herbal medicine and homeotherapy at the community of Amaru, learn about the traditional and sustainable agricultural practices of the Huayllafara community, or participate in the gastronomy experience, trying locally grown and traditionally prepared food of the Huchuy Qosqo community. These are just a few of the opportunities available to visitors of this ethical and sustainable experience.

Luquina Chico

At the tip of the Chucuito peninsula of Lake Titicaca lives the indigenous, Aymara-speaking community of Luquina Chico. The village is relatively small and seldom visited, yet the rural population living here as maintained thousands of years of tradition, apparent in its festivals, the clothing, and their everyday rituals.

Luquina Chico

This Andean community, whose way of life continues to be unaffected by mass tourism in the region, is protected by strict travel regulations with the guidance of an NGO called Swiss Contact. Supporting the local community financially, the Luquina Chico initiative raises money and uses the funds to help alleviate poverty in the region, raise their living standards, and provide basic necessities.

During the visit, travelers will have opportunities to view, and participate in, the daily rituals of farming, fishing, sailing, and cookery that allow this community to retain its self-sustainability. Visitors of the Luquina Chico community also have the privileged opportunity to enjoy the traditional dancing and music during the various festivities celebrated here.

Kusi Kawsay School

Located in the Urubamba Valley, walking distance from the Pisac market in Cusco, the Kusi Kawsay (meaning “happy life” in Quechua) school teaches students ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade. The school was founded by five families dedicated to improve the school system in the area, and through grants, donations, and personal sacrifice, they have raised, and continue to raise, money to fund the school and provide the area’s children with an alternative style of education.

Kusi Kawsay’s pedagogy aims to promote high self-esteem to its underprivileged youth through the integration of the native and traditional Andean culture into the classroom, allowing students to fuse their education and culture into one empowering identity.

The school welcomes visitors to come see the classrooms, interact with the students, observe the teaching principles, and contribute financially to the improvement of education for children in the Sacred Valley.

Living Heart

NGO Living Heart, a UK registered charity, provides a wide range of services to a variety of communities throughout the Sacred Valley. Founder Sonia Newhouse utilized her entrepreneur and organic gardening skills, compassion, and integrity as a foundation for what later would become a successful organization that would improve the lives of countless women, children, and communities in need.

Among many other services the charity provides, Living Heart donates educational and school materials to local children, organizes art and theater classes with volunteer teachers, delivers nutritional food to children and the elderly, teaches them about sustenance and healthy habits including contraception, and works on water purification projects to eliminate the risk of water-born parasites.

Collaborating extensively with the local communities and assessing their needs, Living Heart provides cost-effective and sustainable solutions that provide safety, knowledge, and a brighter future for Andean communities in need.

Visitors can get involved with Sonia Newhouse’s NGO during their trip by choosing to donate one of the essential items on their Wish List or more directly by volunteering your teaching, marketing, medical, engineering, agricultural, or other areas of expertise.

Seeking Positive Changes: Biodynamic Farm Internship at Finca Luna Nueva Lodge, Costa Rica

Here at Luna Nueva, we are preparing ourselves to be conscientious cultivators, dedicated to the seed, defenders of the soil. Farming in the biodynamic tradition empowers us with tools for healing and restoring the Earth. Walking these grounds awakens one to the vitality of a living Earth and the necessity of maintaining an open dialogue with Her.

In the tropics, life cycles are dramatic and accelerated, like “biology on steroids”. Things are either alive or decomposing, often right before your eyes. The deep ecology of the rainforest reminds the waking mind of its relationship to the real world, not the world of edifices but one that pulses and breathes with organic life.

Far from Eden however, it is more like unplugging from the matrix to discover muscles atrophied from disuse, skills not yet acquired, and an inherent lack of work hardening. The saying goes you are never alone in the jungle, and it’s quite remarkable how many of its inhabitants seem to desire a taste of you. Tiny ants and mosquitoes are so stealthy you are not aware of their presence until they are injecting you with formic acid or botfly eggs. Poisonous spiders, snakes, toads, frogs, and caterpillars abound. Some ants are big enough to see their facial expression as they bite down on your flesh. Is that a smile or smirk?

With biological diversity exceeding any other ecosystem on Earth, the tropics are so much more than the wellspring of oxygen production for the entire globe. Here there is cooperation, agreement, and interdependence. Where there may be risk from natural threats there are even greater offerings of healing and vitality. Healing plants like ginger and turmeric, super, nutrient-dense foods such as coconut, katuk and pejibaye and the milk from cows, goats, and buffalo grazing on lush, verdant jungle grass exist alongside powerful medicinal plants that show promise for treatment of ailments ranging from malaria to rheumatoid arthritis, influenza, and even cancer.

Finca Luna Nueva is the tireless Lorax poised to preserve irreplaceable botanical species through their Sacred Seeds Sanctuary and create a model for coexistence with a landscape that can simultaneously yield bountiful nutritious foods for humans while providing abundant habitat for diverse species of native creatures. It seems we needn’t compromise one for the other. It could be argued there really is no other way to be on this Earth.

Coming here to practice Biodynamics and continuing to learn this esoteric science and art, my ambition remains to imprint myself into the cosmic rhythm of Life. My own circadian rhythm has naturally recalibrated to the cycles of the Sun, and I am noticing waxing and waning physical energy as well as psychic activity that seems to flow with the lunar cycles.

Early upon my arrival, I was bestowed the chance to spearhead a rehabilitation project of Luna Nueva’s small cacao plantation. Suffering from a combination of what Luna’s Chief Executive Farmer Steven Farrell describes as benign neglect, poor soils, pod-eating squirrels, and frosty pod rot (Monilia roreri), it has become a life-affirming exercise in learning the language of the Lorax. We will be employing comprehensive cultural and Biodynamic sets of protocols for treating disease, nutrition, pest management, and overgrowth.

We began with heavy pruning during the second quarter, waning moon in May. It is in this period when tree sap recedes to the roots. We are learning here that the influences of the waxing and waning moon trump those of ascending and descending moon when you are this close to the equator. The opposite is true when one is north of the Tropic of Cancer or south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Observation, so far, is reinforcing this principle.

Next, fellow intern Sara Hartley and I made a huge batch of biodynamic tree paste which includes such nifty ingredients as: Fine Sand,clay,cow manure,wood ash,compost,whey,B.C.,crushed quartz,egg shells. In keeping with the spirit of biodynamic farming, all these were harvested from the farm. After the new moon, when I could no longer prune, I turned my attention to spreading the tree paste on all the cacao trees.

Hot sun, torrential rains, insect bites, bending and squatting at awkward, uncomfortable angles top the list of challenges to this task but the chance to saturate the cambium with invigorating nutrients and vital forces is too good to pass up. Added benefit: every day my relationship with the orchard grows more intimate. What began as the implementation of a series of tasks has evolved into a running dialogue. Now, I incline myself to contemplate the gesture of each tree and attempt to understand what it wishes to tell me. My profound aspiration is fluent tree-speak.

Earlier this week Steven ordered 35 hybrid trees bred by CATIE (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza) that are the only varieties in the world which have shown resistance to Monilia. As such, we will be thinning the orchard and replacing aged and/or diseased trees with this new variety. I spend some of my time among the trees distinguishing gestures of vitality from gestures of morbidity. This challenges me to develop the skill of reading subtle, etheric energy. I am pushed every day into new frontiers. It is a project I pursue with rapt enthusiasm. Biodynamics is indeed a formula for positive change, even in ourselves.

Pura Vida!

Farm Internship Opportunity at Finca Luna Nueva

Finca Luna NuevaFinca Luna Nueva is inviting applications for farm interns. They are an organic and biodynamic farm and eco lodge, located next to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest in northern Costa Rica. This is a wonderful opportunity for those interested in studying and expanding knowledge about tropical biology, farming rhythms and practices and Costa Rican culture. As a farm intern there, you will engage in biodynamic and sustainable farming, rainforest ecology/gardening, medicinal plants and animal husbandry.

Responsibilities and expectations are to learn the current rhythm of the farm by working with the farmers every morning, to facilitate a smooth and rich experience for visitors by supplementing the staff with your knowledge and your ability to do farm tours, work with the administration on projects to improve the tourism component of the farm and design and carry out independent research of your own choice.

It is very important that you are a SELF-DIRECTED learner and willing and competent to work hard exhausting, but rewarding farm hours (in rainforest climate). A work day typically begins at 6 am and ends at 3 pm where you have time to relax and use pool or jacuzzi, take hikes in the trails, computer time or catch up on personal or academic reading. In return for volunteering and a commitment of at least three months, all interns are given lodging, three hot meals a day, internet, and laundry services.

There is no monetary compensation. It is a good life. Perhaps the highest quality of life you’ll ever live, but it’s an adventure, and it requires flexibility and a zest for exploring the unknown.

Intern applications are accepted at any time. Please contact us at stevenfarrell[at]gmail.com with your interest in the opportunity. You can also visit http://fincalunanuevalodge.com/ to find out more.

Meet a Sustainable Adventure Pioneer: Bodhi Surf School, Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

Much Better Adventures Pioneer Series

We set up Much Better Adventures to promote adventure choices from people like us, who saw a problem with the world, but also saw an answer. This is an answer that begins with an adventure, but doesn’t end there. These particular adventures go on to advance local conservation and sustainable development, educate, change perspectives, and improve lives. These are our muchbetter Pioneers – world leaders in sustainable adventure.
Bodhi Surf School offer a fantastic surf school in Costa Rica, where not only can you learn to surf on some amazing breaks, but also take part in their yoga programs.

Who are you and your team?

Our team consists of 5 individuals: 2 husband and wife combos, and one baby:

Travis, 31, San Diego, USA
Pilar, 34, San Jose, Costa Rica
Gibran, 31, San Blas, Mexico
Adrianne, 24, Vancouver, Canada
Maya Paz, 1, San Jose, Costa Rica

Travis and Gibran both attended the University of San Diego and met during a semester abroad in Spain in 2002. They had both been surfing since they were kids, and found that they had much in common aside from just that. Gibran and Adrianne got married in 2007, and Travis and Pilar got married in 2009. Travis and Pilar had a daughter, Maya Paz, in 2011 and the team was fully formed.

Bodhi Surf School Locals

What inspired you to start, and how long have you been doing it?

Travis joined the Peace Corps in 2005 and was placed in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica. He immediately fell in love with the community, and that same year when his friend Gibran came to visit, they spoke about some day starting a business together. When he finished with the Peace Corps in 2008, Travis saw that there was still a market for a surf school, so he and Gibran began discussing different possible scenarios. By the end of 2009 it was decided that the 4 of them would give it a shot, and by mid-2010 Bodhi Surf School was in existence.

While Bodhi Surf School is just that – a surf school, all 4 of the members have very strong inclinations towards environmentalism, social awareness, and responsible/sustainable business practice. The word “Bodhi” is Sanskrit for “awareness” and was chosen for that very reason; while the company aims to teach surf, yoga, and provide its clients with a fun and fulfilling vacation, it also strives to promote awareness about the spheres within which it operates (marine conservation, sustainable tourism in Costa Rica, and community outreach, to name a few). We aim to be more than just a surf school, to provide an experience that is unique to the area and our personalities.

Bodhi Surf School Team Building

Why did you choose Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica?

We chose Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica, for several reasons. First, during his time stationed in the community with Peace Corps, Travis became very well acquainted with the community, many of its members, and some of the issues that it faces. He decided he wanted to start a business not just for personal benefit, but also for the benefit of the community; to be able to give back to a place he had fallen so in love with. Second, he realized that the community’s main beach was perfect for learning how to surf – a long, flat, sandy beach with beginner-to-intermediate-friendly waves all year round. Third, we all knew that due to the beauty of the area, it was just a matter of time before it would become as popular as other areas of Costa Rica, and so we wanted to help the trend of sustainable tourism take off in the region.

What makes you “muchbetter?”

Our excitement for what we do makes Bodhi Surf School “muchbetter”. We have the great advantage of doing something that we not only totally and completely believe in, but also love with a great passion. We have been told by former clients that while the surf and yoga does indeed live up to (or exceed) their expectations, it is actually eclipsed by our very-apparent enthusiasm and joy for what we do.

Any insider tip for your area?

If you come to Marino Ballena National Park, keep in mind that you will have to pay a $6 USD fee as an international tourist. To get the most of your money, bring a lunch and make it a full day: you can surf, boogie board, and swim at high tide, read a book and do some sun-tanning during mid tide, and do the unforgettable walk down the whale’s tail during low tide.

There are a whole host of great surf holidays on Much Better Adventures – check them out!

Go Local Iceland: Grassroots Efforts to Promote Responsible Rural Tourism

Local Travel Movement in Iceland

In July 2010, I published an article on the Local Travel Movement website about how I saw tourism in Iceland at the time. I’ve always been particularly interested in regions off the beaten tourist track, which in the past would often be overlooked and overshadowed by the more commonly promoted highlights and ‘must-sees’ of Iceland.

In this context, I’ve been thinking about the different types of experiences tourists can gain while traveling, based on what kind of travel they choose. Over the years I’ve come to find that there are many people all over the world who are ready to travel mindfully and give themselves enough time to explore local culture and nature in a respectful manner. In light of this, I felt empowered and inspired to dedicate my time and efforts to promoting this type of travel in Iceland.

Initially, I had many questions about how to move forward with this. After a year of working on the Go Local Iceland initiative and exploring Icelandic tourism even further, I have arrived at some answers to these questions. In my quest for answers, I have also come up with some new questions and concerns.

Uniting Tourism Providers in Iceland

Tourism in Iceland is a young industry, and therefore is relatively uncoordinated. For example, in Eyjafjordur (the longest fjord in Iceland), there is not one institution that is responsible for promoting the fjord as a whole. There are seven municipalities included in the area of Eyjafjordur, although each municipality finds it more important to focus on their own designated area rather than on the fjord as a whole.

While Eyjafjordur represents great potential for local travel, it is not promoted as a destination in a cohesive manner and is every year losing thousands of potential visitors, who visit the touristic magnet of Grimsey Island, which is located in Eyjafjordur but don’t take the time to also explore the whole fjord with all of its beauty.

The Go Local Iceland initiative focuses on solid cooperation with local tourism providers who are interested in improving ethical standards of tourism. By uniting these people and organizations under one common platform we will be able to connect them directly to mindful travelers all over the world.

There are many rural destinations in Iceland that don’t get as much attention from mainstream tourists as do the typical Icelandic highlights. However, these relatively untouched places are dream destinations for the mindful traveler. It is important that such travelers find their way to these rural places. With some local assistance and guidance, you can find ways to reach any hidden fjord in any part of Iceland, whether you choose a destination in nature that is near or far from populated towns and settlements.

As of May 2011, I’ve carried out a total of 28 interviews with local tourism providers in Eyjafjordur. This research was a very important step for me, and has helped me to understand how local tourism providers see themselves and others, as well as what their visions for the future are. The results of the interviews varied quite a bit. However, a unifying concept was the desire to be advertised under one common image. These interviews, based on appreciative inquiry, contained some great material; the results of the study have been borrowed for use in further research within the tourism department of one of the universities here in Iceland.

Go Local Iceland continues to support local tourism providers, such as Iceland Hiking Tours, and our team continues to write about current offers in tourism in Eyjafjordur and the Troll Peninsula, regardless of municipal borders. You can view these Iceland Travel Tips here.

About the Author: Lenka Uhrova

Lenka was born in Slovakia, but has since spent many years in Iceland volunteering, working in the tourism industry, and forging sustainable tourism initiatives across the country. She has an educational background in tourism, although upon attaining her degree she was rather unmotivated to work in the tourism industry due to issues and controversies of the time. Something did not feel right. It was at this time that she discovered a deep passion for volunteering and community development, and a wish to work for an NGO. This passion for volunteering has been a constant over the years, and so as soon as she had the opportunity, she set off for a year-long volunteer project in Iceland. Having been working as a freelance trainer in non-formal education and facilitating various projects, she was lucky enough to return to Iceland a few years later, where she met the man of her life and settled in a small fishing village in North Iceland. At this point, she began to recognize both the potentials and threats of tourism in Iceland. She set to work conducting research on the subject, and volunteering in the field. Before long she started her own initiative, GO LOCAL ICELAND, with the aim of improving ethical standards in tourism.

ecoDestinations Scandinavia

From unique traditional foods to cutting-edge green technologies, to amazing natural wonders from across the region, Scandinavia offers a Smörgåsbord of eco-travel and adventure opportunities! Check out the ecoDestinations Scandinavia feature, and Explore various opportunities available for travelers and destinations from around the world, and support our efforts to protect and promote amazing travel experiences. Share your photos, stories and tips, and spread the word!

VisitSápmi: Promoting an Authentic Sámi Experience Through Sustainable Tourism

VisitSápmi: Dispelling Stereotypes and Empowering Sámi Communities

VisitSápmi is the Sámi initiative to create and develop sustainable tourism in the land of Sápmi, in northern Scandinavia. Meeting the Sámi people and experiencing their traditional lifestyle is often considered by foreign visitors to be one of the most interesting and things to do in Scandinavia. As such, Scandinavia is frequently promoted with images of Sápmi – Sámi people in traditional clothes, reindeer, lávvu, and traditional food, for example.

Sápmi (or Lapland) has long attracted visitors from all over the world, and today it is visited by millions of tourists every year. In spite of this bustling tourist activity, and even though Sámi traditions are frequently portrayed through various media, today we can see very few successful Sámi tourism companies. This means that the images of the Sámi people are being put on display in the worldwide market, but the revenue from tourism ends up in other people’s pockets. The Sámi community wants to change this, and wants to be more involved with decision making in the Swedish tourism industry.

From a Sámi perspective, we want to share our knowledge. We want people to visit us, learn from us, and to become ambassadors to the rest of the world. We want to develop an efficient and responsible tourism model that will ensure that revenue from tourism is channeled back into Sámi communities. We want to shape tourism into a more respectful, more sustainable industry than what it is today. We’d also like to coordinate partnership with organizations and networks which share our belief that sustainability is the right path for the future.

Sápmi Experience Quality Mark: Ensuring a Genuine Experience

Quality, sustainability, safety and credibility are the guiding principles for companies awarded the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark. Companies that have been awarded with this mark demonstrate a holistic approach to the Sápmi living environment, are knowledgeable about this region and its residents, and can offer professional arrangements to people visiting Sápmi. Visitors can be sure that companies bearing the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark offer genuine Sámi experiences and coordinate activities with local hosts.

Tourism activities recognized by the Sápmi Experience Quality Mark are based on the common heritage of the Sámi living environment. Sámi tourism must be conducted in a way that is sustainable in the long term. This means that tourism must be accepted and established, culturally and socially, in Sámi society. Furthermore, hosts must be able to communicate Sámi values and their way of life to visitors. Sápmi Experience approved operators strive for social, cultural, ecological and commercial sustainability.

They are companies that respect the integrity of the Sámi culture and work to prevent its objectification. These companies also work constructively with other businesses, public agencies and organizations that respect the values of the Sámi tourism sector in developing Sápmi as a successful destination.

Sápmi Tourism Past and Present: Creating a Sustainable Future

From a Sámi reindeer herding perspective, tourism is mainly another intrusion and problem. Activities such as forestry, mining, hydro-power damming, wind mill plants, carnivores, and tourism have created substantial problems which today threaten the very survival of reindeer herding.

Since reindeer herding in Sápmi is based on the natural migration of the reindeer, the Sámi people don’t occupy all of the land all the time. Generally we are in the mountains of western Sápmi during the summer season, and are in the forest areas of the east during the winter. If tourism is planned and performed in cooperation with and respect for Sámi needs and requirements, tourism can be a non-threatening industry to Sámi culture and land.

Therefore, one objective of VisitSápmi is to help reindeer herding communities to create a tourism management plan, which will help these communities understand how best to use their land, and how to decide what types of developments might help or harm the Sámi land and culture. This way, they will know what prospective tourism activities to accept, and what to protest against.

The Sámi people recognize that we cannot stop the tourism industry, and that therefore we must get proactively involved with its development to ensure that benefits are received by the Sámi. We must demonstrate that Sámi tourism can be a positive thing for the community; it can help to spread knowledge about Sápmi – the land and its people – and can generate income which will help preserve traditional know-how and values.

Latest News from VisitSápmi

While VisitSápmi is currently launching the Sápmi Experience program, the first companies in Sápmi have already been approved! Within 5 years, we hope this will be a well-known brand within Sámi tourism, with at least 75 service providers expected to be approved from across the Sápmi region.

We will soon launch our website for visitors, which will highlight approved Sámi service providers, share Sámi knowledge, and inspire people to choose sustainable tourism options during their visit. We will also provide helpful information about travel in Sápmi, and suggestions on what to do when visiting the region.

We are also in the process of creating marketing partnerships with both national and regional tourism partners. The Sápmi Experience will be an important part of the Scandinavian brand, but in a more credible way, avoiding portrayal of Sámi tourism with stereotypes. Our common goal is to promote Sápmi with a focus on quality, sustainability, safety and credibility.


About the Author: Lennart Pittja

Lennart Pittja grew up in a reindeer herding family in the Unna Tjerusj Sámi community. At 25 years old, Lennart founded his tourism company, Vägvisaren/Pathfinder-Lapland. The idea was to offer genuine Sámi experiences to visitors, and also to attract guests who wanted more than just a two-hour visit to a Sámi camp. After interviewing elderly Sámi people, Lennart learned more on how the Sámi traditionally used reindeer as pack-animals during both winter and summer. Four years later, the first reindeer supported trek took place – this is still to this day one of Lennart’s greatest and proudest moments in his career. More trips followed, and over the years guests from all over the world have experienced the springtime migration, reindeer sled expeditions or reindeer treks. Pathfinder-Lapland was one of the first 12 companies approved with the Nature’s Best quality label, and in 2004 was awarded the best eco-tourism company in Sweden. The Pathfinder-Lapland trip has been chosen among National Geographic Traveler’s “50 Tours of a Lifetime”, and BBC Books’ “Journeys To Take Before You Die”, as well as being featured in Lonely Planet among many other publications. Lennart currently works for VisitSápmi, and still strongly believes that sustainable tourism is an important way to spread knowledge, create local development, and to preserve traditional Sámi knowledge for future generations. Lennart lives in Gällivare – a small town in the north part of Sweden with his 3 daughters.

ecoDestinations Scandinavia

From unique traditional foods to cutting-edge green technologies, to amazing natural wonders from across the region, Scandinavia offers a Smörgåsbord of eco-travel and adventure opportunities! Check out the ecoDestinations Scandinavia feature, and Explore various opportunities available for travelers and destinations from around the world, and support our efforts to protect and promote amazing travel experiences. Share your photos, stories and tips, and spread the word!

Gothenburg Natural Scene: 300 Square Feet of Green for Every Resident

One of the more memorable moments during our family tour of Northern Europe last year was during our stay in Gothenburg (Göteborg). While Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden, it certainly has not taken on a diminutive status to Stockholm. Instead, the city has a standing of its own including having largest seaport of all the Nordic countries, a sizable student population, a diverse music community and beautiful open spaces of forests, meadows, lakes, parks and gardens peppered throughout the area.

Gothenburg City Center

According to the Gothenburg city council, each resident enjoys 300 square feet of green space, which explains how one can readily reach these open spaces. With an extensive tram network that is the largest in Scandinavia and bus line system that covers the rest, there is no reason, frankly, to use a car at all. And, one of the more popular ways to get an informative introduction to this city is by taking a Paddan boat tour.

The tour offers morsels of the city’s history, sites, neighborhoods and bridges. Some bridges are so low you need to duck to avoid injury and one, aptly named the Cheese Slicer, necessitates that everyone prostrate themselves on the floor of the boat to pass underneath. It was at this point that the dumbfounded group including my parents, my 5 year old son, my husband and I along with approximately 60 other people all laid as flat as possible all the while wondering, do I hear the locals laughing at us?

Biking around Gothenburg

Gothenburg Nature Activities
Perhaps it’s the idea of a city that doesn’t take itself too seriously or one that doesn’t want to dispose of historical treasures for the sake of convenience (or safety). I would prefer to think that preservation and conservation of culture, heritage and space is more important to Gothenburg as evidenced by other nature activities found throughout the city.

Slottsskogen is a vast park southwest of the city that is covered in forest and offers sweeping views of the city from its three high vantage points. Have a picnic or enjoy a concert while you spot diverse wildlife such as elk, deer, seals, penguins, or flamingos alongside other tropical birds. Another fun activity for children is the zoo where they are allowed to play with some of the animals.
Delsjon Nature Reserve in the east of the city has two adjoining lakes (one named “Big Lake” and the other “Small Lake”) with tree-lined rocky cliffs and plenty of forest to enjoy as you hike or jog along the path. Other activities include sunbathing on the beach, fishing, canoeing and golf. If you up to it, you can even go camping within the nature reserve.

Botanical Garden in Gothenburg
Gothenburg Botanical Garden in the south of the city is one of Europe’s largest and best. It features 20,000 species of plants, flowers and trees and unlike most other gardens where all are instructed to see but not touch, guests are encouraged to picnic and enjoy. The two most popular attractions include the topiary garden and the Ulf Nordfjell’s Linnaeus Garden, which won a gold medal at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in 2007.
Horticulture Society Park is one of the best preserved 19th century parks in Europe with the rose garden having been awarded two stars by the Michelin Green Guide. Throughout the summer, concerts and children’s theater shows can also be experienced.
Finally, you can purchase a City Guide at the local Tourist Office and use it to walk, bike or even sail along the canals that run throughout the city.

Photo Story: Twelve Scenes from Patagonia’s Most Threatened Terrain

Aysén is Chile’s third-largest region, about the size of Tennessee, and the most sparsely populated. It’s among the most remote and undisturbed areas of Patagonia, and could be changed forever by the largest hydroelectric project in the history of Chile. This is not just another forest. This is the largest river in Chile. These are among the most powerful rapids on the planet. These are the wildest and most pristine rivers within the wildest and most pristine area left on earth.

If the five proposed dams are built along the Baker and Pascua rivers, about 15,000 acres of these Patagonian lands will be underwater, gone. A 400-foot-wide swath will be cut across 1,500 miles – equal to the west coast of the United States. The 200-foot-tall transmission lines will bisect 64 communities and 14 protected areas. Once in place, the transmission lines will provide incentive to build even more dams to produce greater energy at lower cost.

There are a lot of numbers involved in this discussion. But the most telling evidence is seen in pictures like these twelve scenes below, courtesy of iLCP (The International League of Conservation Photographers), taken for their RAVE campaign to show just what will be lost forever if the dams are built.

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
1. The site of the headwaters of the Rio Pascua where 3 dams are proposed. Before the rapids, the river widens, framing a lake with a view of Mt. Krueger and the Genelas (Twin) peaks in the distance. A tiny tributary winds its way toward the Kreuger range and the main stem of the rive

Juan Jose Soto (age 4) playing in the icy glacial waters of Lake O’Higgins
2. Juan Jose Soto, age 4, playing in the icy glacial waters of Lake O’Higgins. The dams will flood the entire area, and the spot where Juan is playing will be lost.

3. These flamingos native to the Chilean Aysén region are among the many species threatened by the dams’ impending presence. P

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
4. The last remaining Gaucho, Erasmus Betancur ‘Beta’ Casanova, and his family herd the sheep and cattle that feed the staff at what was once one of the largest ranches in Chilean Patagonia. It’s now becoming the new Patagonia National Park, the creation of which involves removing fences and most of the animals from the property to allow these grasslands to heal. With an influx of tourists and employees of the dam, Beta’s waning future seems clear.

Rio Pascua headwaters
5. At these headwaters of Rio Pascua, lanky Cohiue trees hang over the gorge.

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
6. Here in the tiny town of Tortel, residents can cut the remaining cypress forest for fire wood, or as seen here, they can collect the plentiful, renewable resource of drift wood from the many beaches just a short boat ride away. Most people spend at least 1 day a week making the trip to a beach by boat, harvesting wood to heat and cook with. This isn’t a way of life “born necessarily of ‘eco-awareness’ but just the simple fact that their families have lived and tended small subsistence farms here for generations.”

glacier lake
7. Looking out between Lake Colonia and Cachet One, where glacial melting will rapidly increase if the area receives more water from the dam’s flooding

8. One of five dams will be built here, where the Rio Baker splits through and feeds the rocky valley into the horizon.

Peter Hartmann, activist
9. Peter Hartmann, activist leader, standing above massive rapids. “The biggest problem is that [the project] implies destroying everything, taking everything out of the region without leaving much behind…These projects are immense, on a scale that is absolutely unmanageable for this region. They’re unmanageable because this region is very fragile, ecologically, geologically as well as culturally. For example, in the area where they want to build the HidroAysén mega-project, there are as many people living there as the company is going to need to build the dams. So imagine what that means – practically doubling the area’s population.”

lake, Patagonia
10. Aysen’s Lake General Carrera possesses a blueness matched only by the sky reflecting above.

Tortel, Chile
11. 500 people live around the port and town of Tortel, Chile, at the delta of the Baker River, downriver of where the proposed HydroAysen dams would be. Such a huge development will bring a large, rapid influx of new people, threatening the slow and peaceful way of life they maintain. There is little fishing in these waters, and boats are mostly used for transporting goods.

Sunset in Patagonia
12. The sun sets over Aysén, taking one last glimpse before nightfall. Photo: Jeff Foott/ iLCP

The expedition team included Pulitzer Prize winner and National Geographic photographer Jack Dykinga, two-time World Press winner and Prince’s Rainforest Project Award winner Daniel Beltra, award-winning filmmaker and photographer Jeff Foott, award-winning photographer Bridget Besaw, and Emmy-winning videographer Edgar Boyles.

Accessible Ecotourism: Brazil Eco-Adventures for Everyone

Ecotourism for people in wheelchairs? You may wonder what that looks like, how it’s done. You’d be pleasantly surprised to learn that in many destinations there are efforts in place to improve tourism infrastructure to better serve people with disabilities. Brazil is one such example.

Accessible Tourism
Travel and Tourism is recognized as the largest service sector industry, and as such it is imperative that people of all ages and abilities are allowed access to its activities. Accessible Tourism is a movement that has evolved to represent this important concept, as well as to represent a group which is too often denied desired travel experiences due to inaccessibility and a lack of knowledge at many destinations worldwide. Groups such as the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) promote extended travel opportunities for people with disabilities by establishing partnerships, networks, educational material and certifications/guidelines pertaining to the accessibility of service sector facilities and operations.

Accessible Tourism recognizes the universal right to participate in tourism by having access to “independent travel, accessible facilities, trained staff, reliable information and inclusive marketing,” and notes its wide-spread benefits. “Accessible tourism benefits everyone. More individuals enjoy the opportunity to travel; the tourism industry gets more visitors, longer seasons and new incomes. Society as a whole benefits from new job opportunities, more tax revenue and an accessible environment for both inhabitants and visitors.” (ENAT, 2011)

Virtual Accessible Tourism Project
Thankfully, these days one can find many accommodations and operators in Brazil that have adapted their facilities to receive individuals with decreased or limited mobility. Recently the Brazilian company Acessivel – Turismo Adaptado (Accessible – Adapted Tourism) has developed a new project featuring an online tour guide for travelers with reduced mobility.

This unique guide, only in Portuguese yet, is posted online through oviajanteespecial.blogspot.com and will soon become a website with information about Brazilian accessible tourism destinations. The aim of this guide is to enable people with disability and reduced mobility to travel throughout Brazil. Adriana Braun, who uses a wheelchair herself, is responsible for coordinating this project.

Accessible path Brazil

In 2001, Adriana was the first person in a wheelchair to travel to the Fernando de Noronha islands, a popular ecotourism destination in Brazil. Adriana realized that with a little guidance and specific training for local guides and service sector employees, accommodations could improve their offerings so that people in wheelchairs may travel more. Thus began her instrumental work in accessible ecotourism. For Adriana, ecotourism and responsible travel experiences represent an excellent tool for rehabilitation to people in wheelchairs.

wheelchairs on the beach in Brazil

Accessible Ecotourism in Brazil

Fortunately there are many ecotourism destinations in Brazil that can be visited by people in wheelchairs, yet there is one that deserves special mention: the beach settlement of Itacaré, in the region of Bahia on the eastern coast of Brazil.

Itacaré is revered as one of the most beautiful places on the coast of Bahia. It is synonymous with beautiful beaches and relatively few people, protected Atlantic forests, pristine rivers, amazing waterfalls, and a very lively town during the summer. Nowadays this small town of Bahia is very popular with visitors, and especially surfers, who are attracted to the local beaches and their famously rough waves.

If you are a traveler in a wheelchair and want to visit Itacaré, you can be assured that there are many opportunities for accessible tourism and recreation in the area. Many local service operators have met with trained ecotourism guides and consultants in order to enable them to better cater to the needs of travelers with special needs. Because of this, it is possible for people in wheelchairs to go hiking in the local forests, to visit the beautiful beaches, to walk in the mangroves, to visit stunning waterfalls, and even to enjoy adventure sports such as rafting.

Zanzibar LIVE Project: Developing the Fascinating Kiwengwa Caves as an Ecotourism Destination

The Kiwengwa caves in the Kiwengwa-Pongwe Forest Reserve are part of ancient history of the Zanzibar Island. The locals have visited the caves to worship their ancestors, bringing gifts to the holy stones in the caves. In the old days, the villagers kept leopards in the caves as a status symbol of the owner. Forest guard found these longest caves of Zanzibar in 2002, and there is now an initiative to make this natural wonder available for tourists to visit and enjoy. In 2005, the Department of Commercial Crops, Fruits and Forestry of Zanzibar, in cooperation with the Turku Geographical Society of Finland and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), started the Kiwengwa Ecotourism Project to develop these unique caves as an ecotourism destination.

The Cave System and Rich Biodiversity

The cave system is divided into three parts. Only the North cave and South cave are accessible for tourists. These are 230 and 205 meters long respectively. The East cave is 50 meters long, is darker, has a lot of bats, and can only be entered by crawling. The stalactite caverns have formed from water dissolving calcium carbonate from coral stone. There are many insects and also five species of bats, of which two are considered to be rare in the caves. The naturally formed holes in the ceiling of the caves let sunlight in, creating an exciting atmosphere. Another curious feature is the roots that have forced their way through the ground and look like electric wires connecting the ceiling and the bottom of the caves.

The caves are surrounded by three natural trails; a short 0.2 km, a medium 0.4 km and a long 2 km trail. The Kiwengwa-Pongwe Forest Reserve is the only large remaining high coral rag forest area in the Northern Zanzibar. There are endemic species, for example Red colubus monkey, duikers (big antelopes) and mini antelopes, which you might see when walking the trails. There are also 47 bird species such as Fisher’s Turaco and a lot of butterflies in the forests.

Most of the trees and other plants along the trail have interesting traditional medicinal purposes, and you can ask your guide about the usage of these plants. There are some endemic and rare species of trees such as Uvarioendron kirkii and Pittosporum viridiflorum and tree climbers such as Vernonia Zanzibariensis and Monodora grandidieri. They are used commonly as local medicine, which is part of the reason why they have become rare.

Developing Ecotourism and Livelihoods of the Communities

The Forest Conservation by Livelihood Development Project (LIVE Project) aims to conserve the forest areas and biodiversity in Zanzibar by supporting alternative livelihoods for the local communities. LIVE Project supports 40 groups in 11 villages around the Kiwengwa-Pongwe Forest Reserve, including Kiwengwa. There are also ten Village Conservation Committees involved in the project, working to develop sustainable use of forest resources. By visiting the caves, visitors will also be able to support the project, as well as experiencing one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the island.

Kiwengwa-Pongwe Forest Reserve is located in the Northeastern region of Unguja Island, and you can get there by taking a dala-dala from Kiwengwa to Mchekeni. The distance from the Stone Town is approximately 35 kilometres. The last journey of the road (about 500 meters) is in a bad condition, but the LIVE Project is seeking funding for fixing the road.

This is a site not yet known to tourists. A reception center has been built, with a café and a souvenir shop, although the center does not have the capacity to provide services for visitors yet. For now there is no entrance fee, while later when the services are more developed, visitors will be required to pay US$5-10 to enter the site. LIVE Project welcomes visitors interested in being among the first to experience this unique attraction.