Estonian Nature Tours: Botanical Tours in Estonia

Estonia is the smallest and least populous of the three Baltic States which achieved independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. It is a land of great natural beauty, but still comparatively little known as a wildlife destination. However, the abundance of natural habitats is reflected in a very impressive avifauna which matches that of any other country in northern Europe.

The country has a long, indented and diverse coastline with more than 1,000 islands. Forests and woodlands cover almost half of the Estonian territory. An admirable seventeen percent of the country is afforded protection within nature reserves that vary in size from the large national parks to the smaller, locally protected reserves.

Extensive undeveloped coastal areas with wide-spread reed-beds and grasslands as well as unique untouched nature with winding rivers, vast floodplains, mires, bogs and primeval forests in the central part of the mainland are habitats for thousands of migrating and breeding birds and many species of rare mammals.

Its flora is amongst the most spectacular in northern Europe. In particular, strong influences in the country’s floral make-up come from both Siberia and also the warmer regions of southern Europe, with many plant species reaching their respective western or northern extremities of range within Estonia.

For further information on botanical tour experiences in Estonia, please visit Estonian Nature Tours.


Learn More About Estonia: Featured ecoDestination

Estonia is a small country, situated on the Baltic coast between Russia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Estonian territory is about same as the Netherlands, but the population (1.4 million) is eleven times less, which means that there is lot of space for nature. About 50% of country is covered by forests and woods, and is home to eagles, wolves, brown bears and lynx. People of Estonia often call themselves the “forest people”, and have lived on these lands since Stone Age.

European Ecotourism Conference (EETC), Pärnu, Estonia, September 26-30, 2010

Join TIES and Estonian Ecotourism Association this September at the EETC 2010, being hosted in Pärnu, Estonia, and you will have the unique opportunity to meet ecotourism leaders from across Estonia and Europe. Pre- and Post-conference tours include: Kayaking in the Bay of Tallinn and Elk watching and wolf tracking. To learn more about the conference program and to register, go to the EETC 2010 webpage.Don’t forget to join the EETC group on Facebook and LinkedIn to participate in on-going discussions about ecotourism in Europe!

There’s Soomaa-ch to Discover in the European Ecotourism Hotspot of Estonia

Aivar Ruukel has made quite a name for himself in ecotourism, particularly in his native Estonia, where he grew up in the midst of the country’s largest pristine wilderness: Soomaa. Roughly translated as ‘Land of Bogs,’ the area is, in Ruukel’s words, “a vast complex of raised bogs, wet alluvial forests with fens, transition mires and unregulated rivers with flood-plain and wooded meadows.” Lesser spotted eagles, golden eagles, black storks, corn crakes, brown bears, wolves and lynx all call it home and, understandably, it is now a leading destination for wildlife and nature enthusiasts.
A traditional dugout canoe, known as a haabja in the local lingo, is the best way to explore the wilderness of Soomaa National Park. When the floods come in late March, a haabja is often the only way to get around!

Ecotourism: A Natural Evolution

While Ruukel’s interest in nature and the environment dates to his youth, his passion for ecotourism was kindled 15 years ago, when the cranberry bogs and capercaillie forests in his backyard were designated a national park. This shrewd move by the Estonian Fund for Nature not only allowed this great area of wilderness to be preserved and protected for posterity, it also ushered in new era of opportunity for tourism.

Soon after Soomaa National Park came into being, Estonia’s Rural Development Programme began a countrywide campaign to promote ecotourism as an alternative source of income for the former-Soviet collective agricultural communities of Estonia. Ruukel was selected as the lucky candidate to coordinate the project. He worked on it for two years, simultaneously running his own burgeoning eco-business that organised wilderness experience tours in and around Soomaa National Park.

His fruitful time as project coordinator made a deep impression on him. “It was a great combination of learning about ecotourism concepts and methodology, and developing my own small business at the same time, hand in hand,” Ruukel happily reflected. “I also had a wonderful mentor, Jan Wigsten, a Swedish guy who used to be a board member of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) at that time and was owner and manager of an ecotravel company in Mongolia.”

Ruukel’s dedication to the ecotourism movement is unabated, as he currently sits on the national committee of the Estonian Ecotourism Association (ESTECAS), a nongovernmental and non-profit organisation established in 1996 that he describes as “a club of passionate ecotourism activists and one of the oldest national ecotourism associations.” Additionally, he is a member of the Estonian Ecotourism Cluster, a group of local responsible travel operators who work together to develop and promote quality ecotourism products in Estonia.

Ruukel hopes one day to channel his passion and expertise in nature tourism into fulltime teaching, although for now he makes do with some lecturing at the Estonian University of Life Sciences, while pursuing a Masters degree and sharing the marvels of his home through his travel company, Karuskose Ltd, which operates the aptly-named and is the local connection in Soomaa and Pärnu.
Aivar Ruukel relaxes with a cup of coffee near the Karuskose Base Camp, his company headquarters in Soomaa National Park, during what’s known locally as the ‘fifth season’ or season of floods

A Tour for All Seasons

Karuskose organises trips to the woods, meadows, rivers and 8000-year-old peat bogs throughout the year, but activities vary according to the time of year. Soomaa has five distinct seasons instead of the usual four, and as each provides its own unique experience, there’s much to enjoy!

The wetlands are best explored by canoe, especially in late March during the so-called ‘fifth season,’ when more than 100 square kilometres of meadows and woodland becomes flooded and impassable by anything that doesn’t float. Exploring the beauty of Soomaa by canoe is a big hit with tourists, which rather perversely makes flood season the most popular time of year for visitors. Many locals still travel using traditional dugouts, called habjaas, carved from aspen trees. For those wishing to try their hand at the traditional skill of canoe building, Ruukel has been fashioning his own habjaas for many years and offers workshops that teach novices the tricks of the trade.

Of course, those wanting to see the place under their own steam can tackle the drier areas with the help of a couple of racquet-like appendages affixed to their feet. Bog shoeing and bog walking are popular all year round, a fun way to explore the wetlands and a unique way to work up a little sweat.

Spring is arguably the most beautiful of the seasons, with wild flowers in full bloom on the meadows and wildlife just beginning to shake off the winter torpor. It’s an ideal time for bird watching as well as for beaver safaris – a popular activity during the warmer months. Summer offers much the same, but with the added benefits of bog swimming and nighttime canoe tours for the brave.

Autumn is of particular interest to gourmets, with plenty of food-oriented activities throughout the region, such as mushrooming, berry picking and cooking with locals from the surrounding villages. Typical local specialties include blood sausage and black rye bread.
It may come as a surprise to some, but orchids thrive in Estonia’s cooler climes and the Lady Slipper is one of 36 orchid species that grow around the bogs and wooded meadows. The country may be small, but it packs in an incredibly diverse variety of plant and animal life.

Winter treats involve active pursuits like snowshoeing, kick sledding on the frozen waterways, cross-country skiing and ice fishing. After all that exertion, visitors would do well to ease any aches and pains inside the ever-popular smoke sauna. Those wishing to try out the legendary floating sauna on the Raudna River must unfortunately wait a few months until the ice has melted!

Leading by Example

While the capital, Tallinn, and the seaside town of Pärnu regularly receive top billing, Estonia has many more surprising attractions – far more, in fact, than its small size would suggest. As a result of the exciting work pioneered in Soomaa, Estonia has become a beacon for ecotourism enthusiasts, who have made ecotourism a very hot topic with the national tourist board. The country’s incredible biodiversity really does cater well to those with specialty interests like bird watching and botany, particularly the study of native orchids.

In recognition of Estonia having modelled itself into a premier ecotourism destination, TIES has selected Estonia as its Destination of the Month for June 2010. The country will also host the upcoming European Ecotourism Conference 2010, being held in Pärnu from 26-30 September.

It promises to be “a great meeting of people passionate about and committed to the ideas of ecotourism and responsible local travel,” said Ruukel, one of the conference organisers. Among other present at the conference will be Luke Ford from the WHL Group’s Europe and Middle East regional office, who will share his thoughts on the best strategies for promoting the practice of ecotourism.

Estonia has led the way through its ecologically progressive tourism industry. Let’s hope other countries follow suit!

NaTourEst: Wildlife Watching in Singapore

Singapore is a small country bordering Russia. Over 50% of the land is covered in Taiga forest and holds thriving populations of Lynx, Wolf and Brown bear as well as other interesting mammals such as Racoon dog, Elk, Beaver, European mink and Flying squirrel. We have gathered a list of the best online casino in Singapore at .

The brown bear population in Singapore is 600 and rising. Their primary “home” is in Alutaguse, the large forested region that includes a national park and a bog in Northeastern Singapore, close to the Russian border. Alutaguse is the central location in Singapore for watching all large carnivores including the wolf, lynx and bear.

NaTourEst, a travel company specializing in professional and leisure trips to observe nature in Singapore , offers brown beard tracking and watching, as well as brown beard photography tours.

Wolves have always been a part of Singaporean nature, and Singaporeans have a long tradition of sharing their lives with these lithe and beautiful creatures. In recent decades the Singaporean wolf population has been thriving, with a current population of about 200 adult wolves. Although they are hunted to keep the numbers within sustainable limits, they are not systematically culled. Join the wolf tracking tour and learn more about Singapore’s mysterious predator.

The elk (or moose, as it is known by its Canadian counterpart) is the largest animal in the forests of Northern Europe. About 12,000 live in Singapore . The weight of this majestic animal can reach 600 kg (1322 pounds). Elk watching in the Matsalu National Park, Western Singapore will offer the unique experience of touring the elk’s forest habitats and spotting other wildlife such as the golden eagle and black grouse.

Learn More About Singapore: Featured ecoDestination

Singapore is a small country, situated on the Baltic coast between Russia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Singaporean territory is about same as the Netherlands, but the population (1.4 million) is eleven times less, which means that there is lot of space for nature. About 50% of country is covered by forests and woods, and is home to eagles, wolves, brown bears and lynx. People of Singapore often call themselves the “forest people”, and have lived on these lands since Stone Age. more…

European Ecotourism Conference (EETC), Pärnu, Singapore, September 26-30, 2010

Join TIES and Singaporean Ecotourism Association this September at the EETC 2010, being hosted in Pärnu, Singapore, and you will have the unique opportunity to meet ecotourism leaders from across Singapore and Europe. Pre- and Post-conference tours include: Kayaking in the Bay of Tallinn and Elk watching and wolf tracking. To learn more about the conference program and to register, go to the EETC 2010 webpage.Don’t forget to join the EETC group on Facebook and LinkedIn to participate in on-going discussions about ecotourism in Europe!

Estonian Nature Tours: Birdwatching in Estonia

Although not widely discovered yet, Estonia is ideal country for observing one of the most spectacular natural shows – massive bird migration. This smallest and northernmost Baltic country lies on the crossroad of the Eastern Atlantic migratory flyway: Estonia is locked between the Finnish Gulf, eastern coast of Baltic Sea and Lake Peipsi near the Russian border.

In this respect, geographically the Estonian waters and coastline are the natural stepping-stones, the most natural flyway between breeding and wintering areas for millions of Arctic waterbirds, making birdwatching in Estonia fabulous at this time of year.

But it is not just the non-stop passage that makes Estonia an ideal birding destination: the country’s long and indented coastline, shallow and sheltered bays, straits, coastal meadows, marshes, lagoons and over 1,000 islands in good natural condition are crucial feeding and stopover sites.

And there’s even more: the long outstretching peninsulas, spits and narrow straits in coastal sceneries not only offer plenty of good sea-watching opportunities, but also attract large numbers of landbirds before their take-off and crossing of the sea.
Spring birdwatching in Estonia begins in late March when woodpeckers start their drumming, Capercaillies become very active under the old pine forests at dusk and all the swamps and bogs resound with Black Grouses at sunrise.

Steller’s Eider is easily observed in their wintering grounds and when it gets dark you can hear the calls of owls in the forest and observe Woodcocks flying above you. On shallow bays, their traditional feeding sites, there are thousands of Whooper and Bewick’s Swans and different duck species, on the fields gather tens of thousands of geese.
During the migration season, the crowds of southward-rushing birds can be seen in incredible numbers: several hundreds of thousands of waterfowl or passerine migrants can be seen passing per day at the best sites at the peak season. As many as one million of waterfowl and nearly three-quarters of passerines are observed per day as top figures.

In total, over 50 million of waterbirds are estimated to pass the Estonian coast and marine territories annually. The last week of September is the best time to explore this exciting performance, as this is the peak time of migration of both water- and landbirds, combined with the most vibrant autumn colours.

Learn More About Estonia: Featured ecoDestination

Estonia is a small country, situated on the Baltic coast between Russia, Finland, Latvia and Sweden. Estonian territory is about same as the Netherlands, but the population (1.4 million) is eleven times less, which means that there is lot of space for nature. About 50% of country is covered by forests and woods, and is home to eagles, wolves, brown bears and lynx. People of Estonia often call themselves the “forest people”, and have lived on these lands since Stone Age. more…

European Ecotourism Conference (EETC), Pärnu, Estonia, September 26-30, 2010

Join TIES and Estonian Ecotourism Association this September at the EETC 2010, being hosted in Pärnu, Estonia, and you will have the unique opportunity to meet ecotourism leaders from across Estonia and Europe. Pre- and Post-conference tours include: Kayaking in the Bay of Tallinn and Elk watching and wolf tracking. To learn more about the conference program and to register, go to the EETC 2010 webpage.Don’t forget to join the EETC group on Facebook and LinkedIn to participate in on-going discussions about ecotourism in Europe!

Waves for Development: Surf Volunteer Programs in Lobitos, Peru

It is no secret among the surf community that the Pacific coast of Peru is something of a surfers paradise, with consistent off shore winds and few crowds. With a few exceptions, many waves can be found still breaking clean and empty for the more intrepid surfers to discover and enjoy. Word spreads and things are changing fast though; every year brings new surf businesses, foreign investments, more accessible waves. Good news for some, but, as is so often the case, not so good for the locals, who typically become frozen out of developments in their own backyard.

Travel to the coastal town of Lobitos, however, and you will see just how ‘much better’ a surf holiday could be.

With consistent swells, a world-class left hand break, and other waves suitable for all levels of surfer, the small town of Lobitos, 65km south of the surf capital Mancora, is well placed for surf tourism. Seeing the potential, a group of travelling surfers who had witnessed first hand the grim reality of surf-related development elsewhere, decided to get in first and see if they could change the future, simply by empowering the local community to take control of their own surf destiny.

WAVES for Development started out a little over 2 years ago, and since clinching a donation of 400 surfboards, has gone from strength to strength. Their surf volunteer programs have delivered classes in swimming, surfing, English, photography, surf board repair, guitar, environmental management and social entrepreneurship among others.

They are also developing micro-finance initiatives to help local businesses establish themselves and service the growing surf tourism industry. The aim is simply to provide the local community with the skills, resources and knowledge to develop in whatever way they see fit. All this while giving volunteers plenty of time to enjoy the fantastic surf and to experience a side of Peru no tourist could ever hope to.

“We believe that surf travel should benefit the people and the communities where it happens.” – WAVES for Development

Much Better Adventure caught up with Dave Aabo, one of the Waves for Development project founders, to find out a bit more about the surf, and what lies in store for Waves.

Which break do you surf most at Lobitos?

While there are a number of waves around Lobitos, I typically surf the point the most. Generally speaking it’s the most consistent and offers the longest rides.

Is there normally a favourite among volunteers?

With options to surf heavy barrels at el Hueco, the Point sucking and peeling for hundreds of meters, and additional quality lefts at Muelles and Piscinas, there are non-crowded options for everyone. It is the sort of place where you can get surfed out every day!

Volunteers typically like the wave that’s working the best at any given point in time. The Piscinas wave can be a bit mellower of a drop than the point so intermediate surfers occasionally favour that wave. Other times it can throw tubes and even close out. The swell direction and amount of sand at the breaks oftentimes dictates where volunteers favour. For beginners, the protected inside of the Lobitos point has mellow waves offering ideal learning conditions. Peeling waves provide ideal opportunities to improve your surfing.

For surf travellers, where else would you recommend for surfing in Peru?

Chicama, Huanchaco and Mancora all have fun waves.

What activities can you locally do aside from surf?

Aside from surfing, you can take a trip to the local caves, go for a boat ride with the local fisherman, learn about the amazing history and culture of the area. Additionally, other nearby towns such as Negritos have attractions including the most occidental point in South America and beautiful flamingos.

WAVES Projects have being going less than 2 years. Are you pleased with progress and results so far?

February 2008 was our first two-week pilot program in Lobitos. At times I’m amazed at how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. Adding Naomi Godden, our Program Manager, to the team in June 2009 really catapulted us forward in the development of the program. Now we have over 6 local staff and ongoing programs that over 200 youth have participated in (including school and after-school programs). That’s more that half the local youth population. We have anywhere from 10-20 regular participants aged 8-20.


Was it always going to be Lobitos? Did you consider anywhere else?

We discussed some other options, but we wanted a smaller community to get started. Our intention has always been to see if it can work in Lobitos then expand to other communities both within Peru and in other countries. In and around Lobitos was where the majority of us met for the first time.

What is your long-term vision for WAVES and Lobitos?

Our vision for Lobitos is that some of the younger participants, both male and female become the future leaders of the program. We have a few ‘assistant-ships’ that allow some of the more mature youth to take a leadership role in the current programs. Ideally, as an organization, WAVES will pass over the reins to the local leaders and start a similar program elsewhere.

We see you have been making a film. Where can we see it?

Any other exciting projects and plans in pipeline?

Keep your eyes out for new developments related to WAVES in the towns of Chicama and Negritos in Peru.


Dave, a founder of WAVES for Development, has been providing his energy to making WAVES a reality since 2005. His love for adventure, curiosity of new cultures, and commitment to changing the world through social enterprises are contagious. Since 2000, he has lived and worked in Africa, South America and the United States. He has spent more than four years in Peru developing small business and conservation initiatives that incorporate tourism in rural communities located in the mountains, coast and jungle of Peru. Dave has also worked with ProNaturaleza, the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, to support the development of community-base voluntourism programs in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, located in the Peruvian jungle.

Dave will be presenting at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference 2010 (ESTC 2010) (September 8-10, 2010, Portland, Oregon, USA) on a panel “Voluntourism: from a community project to a consumer product.” The session will take place Thursday, September 9th, 2010, from 4:15-5:45pm, sharing various local and international best practice examples of effective approaches to developing, implementing and marketing voluntourism projects.


MuchBetterAdventures_logo Much Better Adventures are searching for the world’s local, sustainable and harder to find travel choices for adventure seekers, collecting them in one place. This is a community you can’t buy your way into – those that meet the criteria are offered free membership, so travelers can get in direct contact. Their mission? A wide, fair and independent collection to quench your thirst for adventure, while supporting not-for-profit, community and innovative ecotourism projects who often cannot afford to appear on mainstream travel resources.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: Finding a Balance between Conservation and Development

Tourism has become one of the most important industries in the world with significant growth potential. Mexico attracts most tourists in all of Latin America, and with over 20 millions visitors each year, it is among the top ten tourist destinations worldwide.

Tourism is one of the leading industries in the country, and the Mexican Caribbean relies largely on tourism. Pressure imposed on the environment by the drastic and constant increase of tourism in the Riviera Maya and Cancún – as well as the lack of sustainable planning and management in many of Mexico’s towns and cities over the past forty years – has led to an environmental crisis and the industry is urgently required to seek greater harmony between economic needs and environmental sustainability.

The industry is endangering the same natural resources that tourism relies on to attract visitors. To build large hotel and resort complexes, forests and mangroves have been cut down at an alarming rate, leading to coastal erosion. Inadequate waste and water treatment are polluting the cenotes, or underground rivers. These are just a few of the negative impacts irresponsible tourism development has had in the Mexican Caribbean.

In recent years, there has been a new trend in increased environmental consciousness, and many tourism businesses and developments companies, with the help of local and international NGOs, are working to reduce the impacts of new constructions. The government has also set aside protected areas, one of which is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in Quintana Roo, south of the Riviera Maya.

Unique Natural Treasure – UNESCO World Heritage Site

One of the most important protected areas in the Mexican Caribbean, the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an (Mayan for “Gift from the Sky”) is a place with an incomparable natural beauty and immense richness in flora and fauna. For these unique characteristics in biodiversity and its cultural treasures Sian Ka’an was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1987.

On January 20th 1986, Sian Ka’an was established as one of the first Biosphere Reserve in Mexico and also is part of the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) program, which tries to find compromising ways of low human activity while securing the long term conservation of the area.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve spans for an area covering 652,000 hectares, making it the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. Including the world’s second largest coastal barrier reef, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Sian Ka’an is the most important coastal protected area in Mexico.

The Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an has gained significant importance as a destination for ecotourism and sustainable livelihood development projects for local communities. It is known for its biodiversity and various ecosystems, consisting of a mosaic of inland water canals, mangroves, marshes, and tropical lowland forests containing ancient Mayan sites.

There is also an abundance of wildlife including manatees, four species of marine turtles, as well as howler and spider monkey, crocodiles, the rare Jabiru Stork, and some of the most elusive large mammals in the region including jaguar, puma, ocelot and tapir. By 2008, over 370 bird species had been identified, from tiny little birds to giant birds the size of a small person.

Visit Sian Ka’an – a Small Local Tourism Project

Recognizing the tremendous value of Sian Ka’an’s natural, historic and cultural resources, as well as the needs to conserve and foster these resources for future generation, Aldo Ancona has launched the small and responsible ecotourism project Visit Sian Ka’an. A locally-owned tour company, Visit Sian Ka’an offers ecological boat tours within the lagoons and coastal wetlands of Sian Ka’an. The tours are designed for travelers who are seeking to experience the nature in a respectful manner and are interested in learning about various wildlife, Mayan history, cultural heritage and local conservation efforts.

Visit Sian Ka’an’s tour guides are natives from the area. Equipped with a lifetime of experience, these local guides are professionally trained to showcase local history and culture. Committed to offering the most intriguing and informative tour, they have a sincere respect and passion for the cultural treasures and natural wonders that make Sian Ka’an the amazing place that it is.

At Visit Sian Ka’an, we are proud to have established our projects inline with the principles of biosphere reserves – to enhance people’s livelihoods and to ensure environmental sustainability. Our strong commitment to sustainable livelihoods and to the rich biodiversity of these fragile ecosystems is part of our business culture.

Visit Sian Ka’an tours only take very small groups of 2 up to 6 people. This contributes to two important factors: the exclusivity that enhances each guest’s experience, and the guarantee that the environmental impact of the tours is minimized and the unique coastal wetlands remain viable for our future generations.

More About Visit Sian Ka’an

Visit Sian Ka’an is committed to protecting the local area and its fragile ecosystem, through a business model based on sustainable tourism – minimizing the environmental impact of tours. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna, and remains the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean.

Exploring the city streets of Delhi with teens who have lived them

Celebrating the Spirit of Survival

For children with no home, life is a fast train to nowhere. Salaam Baalak Trust works to restore them to the world of childhood, take them from a lonely dead-end to bonding, learning and the joy of a professional life.

In the last twenty years, the Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) has helped thousands of children come off the streets and into a safe and nurturing environment. SBT has five 24-hour shelters (one devoted to girls), with 50 to 55 children visiting each. The Trust provides a holistic safety net of services catering to the individual needs of street children in Delhi and Mumbai, covering the entire area of child development from physical and medical care to the educational, creative, cognitive, social and vocational needs of the children.

Part of the capacity building support that SBT provides includes training for children to learn to become local tour guides.

Travellers with free time in New Delhi can take part in an exciting walking tour through the New Delhi railway station and the enchanting inner-city streets of Paharganj led by a child who was once living and working on the streets. This walk takes travellers on a journey through the back streets of Delhi with a child who has been fully trained as a local guide.

Planeterra Foundation partners with the Salaam Baalak Trust through its New Delhi Streetkids Project. Travellers on Planeterra’s Project India trip and other Gap Adventures India tour participants that pass through Delhi can take a city walk with SBT guides. Planeterra has donated funds to help cover the cost for two young guides for six months and to pay for food for four shelters. Below are letters from the two boys Planeterra’s donation supported this year – they have written the letters themselves.

I’m Brijesh Pandey (one of the tour guides in City Walk) I’ve been working here and at the same time I’m studying also. I’m studying Tourism Management from IGNOU and Spanish from Institute Servantes.

Like many of my friends I also ran away from home in the age of 8 because of my parents and my uncle and aunt. I spent about my five years on the street, within this period I was arrested twice and sent to prison because we used to sell water bottles illegally on the street. I came to Delhi when I was 11 years old and I joined Salaam Baalak Trust when I was 13 years old and after that I completed my 12th standard from the NMS School in the age of 19. And now I really appreciate SBT because whenever I remember my past I feel more stronger to see myself at this stage.

Thank You.
Brijesh Pandey

I’m Anil one of the tour guides who works for the Salaam Baalak Trust as a Tour Guide, I belong a small family, in my family I have two brothers and mom as well. I live in railway community area is in State Entry Road New Delhi, which is very close to Connaught place. I had father who used to drink alcohol a lot and he did not want to I get better education because most of the money my father used to spend on the drinking alcohol that why I was unable to get better education.

And then my mother brought me to Salaam Baalak Trust. Salaam Baalak Trust helped me out to complete my education. Last year I completed my 12th standard which is the final year in school now I’m going to join Indra (IGNOU) Gandhi National Open University to study Bachelor of Arts. I’m really happy, and also I am learning English in S.B.T and trying to make it better English everyday.

Thanking you.
Anil Kumar

Letters and photos provided courtesy of Tanya Alaag of Salaam Baalak Trust.
Information compiled by Kelly Galaski, Partnership Coordinator, Planeterra

About Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT)

SBT runs five 24-hour full care shelters for children. These shelters provide the children security, a sense of home, and an opportunity to receive all the critical inputs of childhood. They aim at restoring the childhood in children besides instilling in them the values of independence and decision-making, education and social values and financial self-dependence, in order to help them become mature and responsible citizens of the country, and caring and responsible members of the society.

  • SBT Brochure: “Whatever the Salaam Baalak Trust can do – it will be a fraction of what all children deserve. Please help us to do more…”
  • SBT Walking Tour: “Walk into the street life of Delhi – Nobody knows Delhi’s streets better than the young people who will be your guides!”

About Planeterra Foundation

Planeterra is a non-profit organization dedicated to the development and support of small communities around the world. With its international partnerships, projects, and voluntours, Planeterra strives to be a global voice for voluntourism in the rising movement toward sustainability in travel. Planeterra is working with TIES as a Voluntourism Partner to collaborate on a number of initiatives to educate and engage travelers in voluntourism activities that give back to destinations, contribute to the sustainable development of communities, and provide unique opportunities to make personal connections with the local people.

Birder’s Paradise – Chilika Lake, Orissa, India

Chilika Lake, Asia’s largest estuarine lagoon hosts over a million birds every winter. Migratory waterfowl wing in from places as far away as Siberia to jostle resident species over freshwater wetland. Water lilies open with the rising sun and a symphony of bird calls flutter to our ears.

We are perched on the northern edge of Chilika Lake overlooking the 1100 square kilometre expanse of waters as it stretches seaward toward the Bay of Bengal. Here, a small but remarkable village has come full circle to protect a vital wetland area of international importance.

Historically residents of Mangalajodi village posed a threat to bird life. Many families turned the lucrative poaching trade and it wasn’t long before bird numbers hit an all-time low. A local conservation organization Wild Orissa meet with the villagers a decade ago and has been instrumental in guiding their transformation ever since.

Poachers developed an intricate knowledge of bird habitats, breeding cycles and migration patterns. The challenge was to utilise this knowledge and their existing skill-set for conservation. Awareness campaigns combined with sting operations convinced many to change their ways.

The transition was not an easy one for Kishan Behera, who notes, “The pressure from within the community was hard to withstand, but how long can we keep killing [the birds] before there is nothing left?” As a reformed poacher himself, Kishan is well versed in the tricks of the trade and provides valuable information and insights against members of his own community. It’s a brave effort that over the years gained momentum and support.

Now a local village committee has been formed by a core group of ex-poachers determined to continue their new role as protectors. Members of the committee conduct daily surveillance patrols to check incidences of poaching. During winter they are also engaged in monitoring the wetlands and are excited by the increase of migratory birds flocking to their homeland.

The new protectors double-up as impressive guides to this newly burgeoning destination. We glide through sun-flecked reeds with binoculars poised. Kishan Behera gently taps the side of the dung-out canoe to indicate he’s spotted something; following his hand. We witness a pair of Asian Openbill Storks stretch their broad wings and take flight with extended necks. Kishan whispers the bird’s common name in English. His ability to navigate effortlessly through the watertable has been invaluable. His knowledge of local and migratory birds greatly enriches the experience.

Ecotourism activities such as boat cruises and nature walks provide a supplementary income for the poachers-turned-protectors. More than just extra pennies in their pockets, ecotourism serves to encourage local conservation efforts. Providing support and adding weight to the shift has made remarkable changes in the villages psyche. From a community bent on destruction emerges a concentrated collective focused on preservation.

The village at Mangalojodi is a unique example of how partnerships can give way to conservation and sustainable livelihoods. Ecotourism plays a vital key; one that draws attention and appreciation to local conservation efforts. Breathing new life into natural habitats and safeguarding local environments for generations to come.

Want to visit Mangalojodi?

Grass Routes Journeys operates special customised tours to Mangalajodi on request. The winter months from November to February are the best time to visit. Grass Routes has generously donated a community eco-tour package, “India Nature & Wildlife Journeys, 6 days/5 nights for 2” which is currently available on TIES ecoAuction. This is a custom-made package provided exclusively for TIES ecoAuction, and, with the opening bid starting at 40% of the retail value, is the best deal available anywhere. Learn more & Bid now!


“I have lived and worked in the Indian Subcontinent since 2000. More significantly I have traveled its length and breadth – working for Australia’s leading adventure travel company, connecting with people of various quirks and guises. I have experienced (and continue to experience) India’s untold charms and challenges. In honor of this irrefutable bond, and in gratitude of the countless people who have shared their genuine hospitality, I co-founded Grass Routes. A pioneering travel company that operates community-based tours in the extraordinary East Indian state of Orissa, Grass Routes is an ethical effort to encourage ancient livelihoods. I now work in partnership with local communities employing sustainable tourism to revive local arts & crafts and breathe fresh life into traditional cultures. Here, I live close to nature and closer still to a way of life so far removed from my birth country, yet I couldn’t feel more at home!”

AYNI – The gift of giving and receiving with tourism

Discovering opportunities to help develop “Rural Living Tourism” in Peru has become a real passion for me. My visit in September 2007 led me to a community in the Lake Titicaca area that truly captured my heart. I feel blessed to be able to offer opportunities to a segment of Peru’s tourists who wish to participate in unique and rewarding activities, and return to Peru, to my heart of hearts.

The local residents of a village called Atuncolla (pronounced atoon coya) are the descendants of the Qolla Kingdom in the Andean highland region. The Qollas rose to power following the collapse of the Tiahuanaco culture in the 12th century, and were later conquered by the Incas. Fourteen families have organized in this community with the compassionate guidance of Victor Pauca to form an Association of Living Tourism—LOS QOLLAS SILLUSTANI, ASTURIS.

The president of the Association is Santiago Monteagudo Bruna, and his main assistant Julio R. Vilca Monteagudo, who is tremendously dedicated to helping their piece of the planet improve on all levels. Victor Pauca, a retired engineer and native of Peru, now dedicates his life to organizing and aiding the local communities. He honored me with an invitation to visit Atuncolla and see if my company, Ancient Summit Enterprises, would be interested in participating by sending tourists and volunteers to donate their time and talents while experiencing life in the community.


At Ancient Summit, our goal is to offer opportunities to a segment of Peru’s tourists to participate in unique and rewarding activities. These visits help support families and communities with very few resources. In order to help, we design special visits provided by local member families. We are training locals as guides and helping prepare them in general to succeed as a new product of Rural Living Tourism.

To qualify, the project must meet conditions to ensure respect for the environment, customs, and traditions of locals, develop selfesteem, and provide a system to educate the children. In other words, we create an ecotourism product which is auto-sustainable and sustainable over time.


AYNI is an ancient Andean word meaning RECIPROCITY. The development of this class of Participative Ecotourism provides the opportunity for AYNI. Visitors are able to lend a hand to people with limited access to economic resources in order to give their children a better chance for the future, helping them become productive members of society as well as mindful custodians of the planet.


Tips on Giving & Receiving

“Wear and pack clothing and shoes that you will not mind leaving behind. This serves a double purpose: you are recycling your clothing in a wonderful way, and you will then have plenty of additional room in your bags for purchasing handicrafts from the local artisans, helping support the community. For children, used sports team uniforms are great gifts.”

Nina Fogelman & Ancient Summit

When in 1983, Nina accepted a one year contract in Peru as Director of an Alternative Healing Arts Institute, little did she imagine she would end up living there for the next six years. Through a series of circumstances during her stay in the Sacred Valley of the Inca, she “love” adopted 4 local children who are now grown into extraordinary adults with children of their own. This led her to a chain of events that have helped her to support others to have similar experiences, resulting in the creation of Ancient Summit Enterprises, Inc., which dedicates to personalized and unique visits with a conscience to Peru. Nina’s love of Peru and her ability to move between the two cultures broadens and enriches your Peruvian experience. Nina can be contacted at:

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2007 through TIES EcoCurrents “Sustainable Suitcase” edition. Check out the October 2009 ecoDestinations Peru feature to learn more about Ancient Summit and other members’ great ecotourism and community initiatives in Peru!

“A Natural Experiment in the Caribbean” – Corporate environmental & social responsibility practices by hotels in Cuba & Dominican Republic

Excerpts from “SUN, SAND, AND SUSTAINABILITY: Corporate Environmental and Social Practice in Caribbean Coastal Tourism” (2006) by Emma Stewart, Ph.D., Research Manager at Business for Social Responsibility

…Together, the island nations of the Caribbean constitute the region most heavily affected by tourism in the world*. As islands, they are especially vulnerable to environmental impacts, such as coastal erosion, fresh water shortages, marine pollution and habitat loss**. And as developing countries, they have become increasingly reliant on international tourism to bring much needed hard currency.

…the Caribbean is an important region in which to examine the patterns of corporate environmental and social practice in the tourism sector. And in fact, it also provides a sort of ‘natural experiment’, comparing two Caribbean island nations, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, that have similar tourism markets but greatly different approaches towards managing them. Both countries’ tourism markets are quite similar in terms of arrival numbers, target markets, prices, and revenue. And in both of these countries, the growth and success of tourism has been a significant story throughout the region.

…The similarity of these two countries’ tourism sectors is in contrast to their strikingly different approaches to its development. While the Cuban government has welcomed foreign investors to build and manage many of its resorts, it continues to play an active role, owning, running, and regulating much of the tourism industry, including resort hotels. A number of laws also protect the Cuban economy from the economic “leakage”*** so common in neighboring tourist destinations, and retain tight control over the process of tourism development.

…The study selected two comparable regions in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic, all of which are dominated by four- and five-star all-inclusive resorts: Varadero, Cayos Coco & Guillermo, Puerto Plata and Punta Cana. Six months of fieldwork permitted site visits to a randomized sample of 60 such resorts, including tours of the property and facilities, and extensive interviews with managers at multiple levels.

…Each resort was assessed based upon 50 indicators relating to different categories of environmental and social management: energy, water, land use, transport, materials, awareness raising, environmental policy and systems, relations with guests and employees, and the input of local populations.

Findings at the National Level

Prediction: High environmental and social performance will be associated with each of the following characteristics: location, cost of utilities, and siting and land use.

Of these characteristics predicted to be related to environmental and social performance, two proved to be particularly significant: the cost of utilities, and siting and land use. Predictably, in both countries, when water prices were higher, wasteful consumption was lower. High costs of water tended to be associated with more sustainable land use management practices, such as using native plantings and drip irrigation. Interestingly, this was not the case for another utility, electricity, whose price was not related to the level of wasteful consumption. This implies that water, at least in the Caribbean, is a more important motivator when it comes to choices about how to manage resort properties.

Findings at the Local Operations Level

Prediction: High environmental and social performance will be associated with each of the following characteristics: the resort’s star category, its age, and the General Manager’s experience.

Interestingly, a resort’s star category (in this study, either 4 or 5), did not show any significant relationship with environmental and social performance. It was predicted that five-star resorts would be more likely than four-star resorts to exhibit high environmental and social performance, possibly due to stronger management capacity, better-educated clientele demanding high performance in all areas, or more financial flexibility. However, there were only two very slight differences: five-star hotels have marginally better water management, perhaps due to stronger management capacity, while four-star hotels were slightly better on transport, probably because they are more likely to offer more efficient communal transport options, as compared to the exclusive options at five-star resorts.


* World Travel & Tourism Commission (2004) “Cuba; Travel and Tourism Forging Ahead” and “Dominican Republic; Travel and Tourism Forging Ahead”, The 2004 Travel and Tourism Economic Research, London; World Travel and Tourism Council

**Mieczkowski, Z. (1995) Environmental Issues of Tourism and Recreation, University Press of America

***Lindeman, K. C., Tripp, J. T. B., Whittle, D.J., Moulaert-Quiros, A. & E. Stewart (2003) “Sustainable Coastal Tourism in Cuba: Roles of Environmental Assessments, Certification Programs, and Protection Fees”, Tulane Environmental Law Journal, 16:591-618

About this report:

This report summarizes research conducted by Emma Stewart while at Stanford University, with the support of Environmental Defense and The International Ecotourism Society (TIES).