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Peru is a magical land of stunning contrasts. It’s a country with bustling cities (such as Cusco, Trujillo and Lima) and remote natural wonders (including Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon and the Amazon).
It’s a country with thriving culture, ranging from the Quechua of the Andes Mountains to the innovative chefs who led to Peru being named the World’s Leading Culinary Destination for the fourth straight year at the World Travel Awards.
It’s a country where you can be spotting wildlife in the tropical rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon one day, and ascending 8,000-foot peaks to see the archaeological wonder that is Machu Picchu the next.
Peru has a special significance to all of us here at International Expeditions. It was here that we launched our first ecotour 37 years ago, and we remained deeply involved with community-focused initiatives such as the Clean Water Project, Adopt-a-School Program, Amazon Medical Project, the Amazon Center for Environmental Education & Research, and the ACEER Canopy Walkway.
What follows are just a few of our favorite places to visit in Peru:
Founded in 1540, Peru’s second most populous city is a must-see for history lovers and colonial architecture aficionados. Its 332-hectare historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is filled with beautiful building designs, including Arequipa Cathedral, La Compania Church, and the gorgeous main square (a.k.a. Plaza de Armas). Other can’t-miss sights include the Monastery de Santa Catalina, which was built in the 16th century and was closed to outside visitors for 400 years, and the Santuario Andino Museum, where you’ll find mummies of four young girls archaeologists believe were sacrificed to appease the Inca gods.
Divided by Southern Peru’s Colca River, this is one of the world’s deepest canyons at 10,725 feet (more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon). Its valley is rich with indigenous cultures: The Spanish colonial towns are inhabited by the Collagua and Cabana peoples, who maintain their rich ancestral traditions and cultivate stepped terraces dating back to before the rise of the Incan Empire. The area is also full of wildlife, including herds of Llamas, Alpacas, and the rare (and very shy) Vicuñas. Keep an eye to the skies to watch for the 10-foot wingspan of the massive Andean Condor.
Cusco is an excellent place to familiarize yourself with the cultural traditions of the Quechua people, whose ancient approach to agriculture, architecture, and textiles has been the heart and soul of the Andes region for 600 years now. The Quechua are known as master weavers, turning the remarkably soft fleece of the alpacas and vicuñas they raise into vividly colorful clothing, rugs, and tapestries. Soft alpaca fleece is one of the world's most prized, durable fabrics, and the Quechua products you’ll find in Cusco are available in 22 earth tones and myriad dyed colors.
Considered South America’s largest lake in terms of volume, Lake Titicaca is located in the Andes at an elevation of 12,507 feet on the border between Bolivia and Peru. There are five major river systems that feed into the lake, and its 41 islands include some that are densely populated. The area’s most famous residents are the Uros people, whose villages are floating artificial islands made from reeds so that they could be moved if under threat. Make sure to visit the island of Taquile, whose gorgeous textile art was proclaimed a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO.
Lima is both the capital and largest city in Peru, and its Historic Centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The city features myriad exceptional examples of colonial architecture, many of which can be seen during a guided walking tour, including the Cathedral of Lima, the Convent of Santo Domingo, the Monastery of San Francisco, the Palace of Torre Tagle, and the Plaza Mayor. Dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, these landmarks showcase a range of Spanish influences, including Baroque, Colonial and Neoclassicism.
An archaeological wonder built in the mid-15th century at the height of the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu is an iconic landmark that inevitably winds up on practically every world traveler’s bucket list. And with good reason: The 8,000-foot mountain-top location is stunning, and the estate (which archaeologists believe was built for the Inca emperor Pachacuti) is impressively expansive. The famed Inca Trail to get there is actually three overlapping trails varying in length and difficulty, and provides numerous different breathtaking views along the way. Fair warning: Permits are limited to 200 hikers per day, and you’ll want to give yourself time to acclimatize to avoid getting altitude sickness.
Manu National Park
This biosphere reserve, which was named a a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, contains over 1000 different species of birds (more than the United States and Canada combined). From Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Hoatzin (a.k.a. the Punk-Rock Bird) to Macaws and Spix’s Guan, the 11,800-square mile park is a burgeoning hotspot for birdwatchers. But its stunning biodiversity doesn’t end there: With ecosystems ranging from tropical rainforests to montane grasslands at elevations of nearly 14,000 feet, it’s also home to diverse wildlife such as Jaguars, Pumas, Giant Otters, Brazilian Tapir, Capybaras, Spectacled Bears, two species of sloths and 14 species of monkeys.
Trujillo, which was founded in 1534, is widely considered Peru’s cultural capital. It’s also a great starting point for exploring northern Peru’s pre-Columbian ruins. The adobe brick pyramid known as Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun) was the largest pre-Columbian structure in Peru, with a base measuring 500,000 square feet. Though Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) is considerably smaller, it’s beautifully decorated and riddled with rooms in which archaeologists found ceramics, jewelry and polychrome paintings (many of which can be seen in the Huacas de Moche Museum). Don’t miss the nine-square mile complex of Chan Chán, the largest adobe city in the Old World and the capital of the Chimu Kingdom.
The Peruvian Amazon
The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world, with its basin covering nearly 40% of the South American continent (2,720,000 square miles). Although the Brazilian section is plagued by pollution and deforestation, the more pristine Peruvian Amazon is home to an extremely diverse range of wildlife, including 262 species of amphibians, 293 mammal species, 806 types of birds, and around 2,500 different butterflies. International Expeditions offers numerous different ways of exploring the Peruvian Amazon, including land-based exploration and small-ship Amazon River cruises aboard Amazon Star.
Located near Cusco in Peru’s Andean Highlands, the Urubamba Valley was held as sacred by the Incas for its plentiful natural wealth, which includes lots of fresh water and rich, fertile land for growing various food crops. These days the “Sacred Valley” is a major tourist attraction that features a number of important archaeological sites, including the terraced mountains of Pisac, the underrated Winay Wayna, and the remarkable stone masonry of Ollantaytambo (which is also the launching point for trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu).
Find Your Favorite Part of Peru
Travel to Peru with International Expeditions to discover the very best of this diverse country. Drawing on decades of experience, IE offers small-group tours and custom private travel options for wildlife enthusiasts, families and foodies alike.
Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Rolling Stone to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.
From The Jungle Book to The Life of Pi, tigers have always held a magical, mystical place in our collective imagination. Their ninja-like stealth, impressive hunting prowess, and sheer size (up to 10 feet from nose to tail, weighing up to 570 pounds) make them a fearsome presence rivaled only by African lions.
But the tiger’s reputation as one of nature’s most effective apex predators has come at a price. Because they are territorial, solitary but social creatures, and require a huge amount of habitat to support their need for prey, tigers have experienced devastating conflicts with humans across their native range.
But this year brought exceptional news. Thanks to tiger conservation initiatives led by organizations such as World Wildlife Fund, Panthera and the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India, the number of wild tigers is on the rise for the first time in over a century.
Here we’ll take a look at some of the threats these majestic cats are still facing, how tiger conservation practices are helping, and explore some of the best places to see tigers in the wild.
The Cry of the Tiger
For Tigers, the 20th century was an extremely bleak time during which they were eliminated from 93% of their historic range. Of the 10 recognized Tiger subspecies (one of which went extinct in prehistoric times), three – the Bali and Java tigers of Indonesia, and the more widespread Caspian tiger – were completely wiped out by the late 1970s. Of the six subspecies that remain, Malayan, South China and Sumatran tigers are Critically Endangered, while Bengal, Indochinese and Siberian tigers are currently listed as Endangered.
The world’s tiger population in the early 1900s was estimated at over 100,000, dropping to around 3,000 by the end of the century. Destruction and fragmentation of their habitat became a major issue, restricting them to isolated pockets within their historic range. Poaching tigers for fur and other body parts has also become increasingly problematic over the last few decades, as high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine has raised prices considerably.
The Tiger Conservation Success Story
According to information provided by various national surveys, there are around 3,890 tigers in the wild now – more than a 20% increase from the estimated 3,200 that existed in 2010. That’s not only great news for tigers (and those of us who love them), but also evidence that modern approaches to wildlife conservation can help make a difference in saving endangered species.
The impressive progress came as the result of a partnership that began in 2010, when governments of various countries met and pledged to double wild tiger population numbers by 2022. Working together with local communities, philanthropists, and various conservation-focused NGOs, they began tracking their respective tiger populations and trying to understand the myriad threats these animals faced.
India, which is home to the world’s largest tiger population, briefly imposed a tiger tourism ban in 2012, requiring all states to identify core habitat zones and buffer zones of their tiger reserves. Once the ban was overturned by India’s Supreme Court a few months later, local governments began regulating the number of visitors allowed in the country’s 40+ national parks and wildlife reserves.
Where to See Tigers in the Wild
India is home to more than half of the world’s wild tigers, and a key component in plans to grow the population. So it’s arguably the best place to see tigers in the wild. Of course there’s no such thing as a guaranteed tiger sighting, but here are a few of the best national parks in India for tiger safaris:
Bandhavgarh National Park: This wildlife sanctuary in the state of Madhya Pradesh boasts the highest density of tigers in Asia, with more than 50 animals spread out over 100 square kilometers. The park also offers wildlife lovers a chance to spot a host of other species, including chital deer, wild boar, nilgai antelope, Indian bison, wild dog, leopard, blue bull, Indian fox and bear.
Kahna National Park: Another Madhya Pradesh park, Kanha famously provided inspiration for The Jungle Book. Established in 1955 and covering 750 square miles, the picturesque park’s wide open meadows offer scenic sightings of a diverse array of wildlife, including tigers, leopards, common langurs, striped hyenas, pangolins, and an endangered deer species called the hard-ground barasingha, another great conservation story that you won’t find anywhere else.
Ranthambore National Park: One of India's largest national parks (828 square miles), Ranthambore is a favorite among photographers due to the fact that you can find tigers, leopards, and ancient ruins of a fort where the animals are often spotted. The park also has three lakes where copious wildlife congregates, including sloth bears, hyenas, Indian foxes, jackals and crocodiles.
International Expeditions offers travel to India focusing on exploration of the cultural highlights while being immersed in the nature of multiple national parks. Check out IE's incredible Explorer's India tours and India Wildlife adventure or new Brahmaputra River Cruise to start planning your adventure.
Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.
Somewhere around 3.5 million international trips are taken each year for the sole purpose of bird watching. Every year more than 20 million Americans go on bird watching tours, spending upwards of three billion dollars. Yep, you read that right. BILLION.
Why? Well, in the first place, birds are just cool. They are beautiful and accessible and possess a wide range of cultures, rituals and individual personalities. There are not many things that I personally enjoy more than taking pictures of birds. The sheer diversity of birds in the world is simply stunning, with more than 10,000 different species on literally every continent.
One of the positives of taking birdwatching tours is that the activity contributes to the conservation of bird habitat through the economic development of communities in birdwatching destinations. Simply put, if the people in the area see the economic value of birds, they are far more likely to protect those animals and their habitat.
Here are our picks for the destinations that offer the world’s best birdwatching tours!
Panama has more species of birds than the United States and Canada combined. We’re talking over 900 different species, 11 of which are endemic. Between Panama and neighboring Costa Rica, there are nearly 70 endemic species.
Because it is quite literally the bridge between North and South America, Panama is the meeting point of species from both continents. In addition, the environmental conditions are perfect for diversification of species. The varied geography creates 12 different eco-tones, ranging in elevation from sea-level to 11,000-foot cloud forests.
Some of the best places for birdwatching in Panama are Soberania National Park, Rio Chagres, San Lorenzo National Park, Darien National Park and La Amistad Biosphere Reserve.
Now that peace has come to this beautiful South American nation, wildlife tourism is increasingly on the rise, with birdwatching tours leading the charge. With 1,889 species, Columbia contains about 20% of all bird species on the planet! On top of that, there are about 200 species of migratory birds that pass through Columbia, as well as 71 endemic species.
One of the country’s top birdwatching spots is just outside the capital city of Bogotá at the Conejera Wetlands, a 160-acre protected reserve with nearly 120 bird species. Other top spots in Columbia include the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria, Valle del Cauca and Columbia’s famed coffee plantations. Mmmm… coffee and birds. Perfection!
Peru is another country boasting an impressive number of bird species. In the northern part of the Peruvian Amazon, the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve hosts around 500 species, from vibrant parrots to pre-historic hoatzin and huge horned screamers. The Tambopata National Reserve is famous for the salt licks, which attract masses of parrots and macaws on a daily basis.
Keep in mind that it’s not just about the birds in Peru. This nation also has the largest diversity of butterflies in the world, with a mind-blowing 3,700 species!
Birds in Europe are in serious trouble for a variety of reasons. But there are parts of Spain that stand out from that otherwise bad news, enough so to make it onto our list.
The geography of southern Spain is extremely diverse. From mountain tops to steppe grasslands to fresh water wetlands, coastal marshes and Mediterranean woodlands, this diversity of habitat easily makes Spain the top destination for birdwatching tours in Europe.
The icing on this cake is Coto Doñana National Park. This protected area is home of the rarest of European and Mediterranean bird species, from the common hoopoe to the Eurasian bee-eater, the Eurasian roller and the lesser kestrel.
Cape May, New Jersey
Here in the United States, we have a great number of fabulous places for birdwatching tours. Number one is arguably Cape May, New Jersey.
Situated along a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean, the cape is blessed with a great variety of habitats. From salt marshes, wet forests, freshwater marshes and ponds to grasslands and pine forests, this area has drawn bird enthusiasts ever since John Audubon came here around 200 years ago. The fall migrations are particularly impressive.
Cape May boasts nearly 500 bird species, including raptors, shorebirds and migratory songbirds. Check out the New Jersey Audubon website for more information and a detailed checklist.
Back to South America, and the tiny nation of Ecuador. As with Panama, Colombia and Peru, Ecuador’s great bird diversity has in large part to do with its extremely varied habitats.
On the slopes of Ecuador’s celebrated volcanoes you can see the rare Andean condor. Drop down into the rainforest for stunning tanagers and curious toucans. Further down on the coast, the blue-footed boobies are known for their dramatic leaps into the sea.
The Pichincha Province is particularly well-known for good lodging, a wide range of knowledgeable guides and, of course, the ubiquitous hummingbirds. Also be sure to check out the western lowlands of the Rio Silanche Reserve for great raptors such as tiny hawk, black hawk-eagle, the double-toothed kite and gray hawk.
The Galapagos Islands really need no introduction. A province of Ecuador, the volcanic island chain runs across the equator about 600 miles from the South American coast.
Home to 24 species found nowhere else in the world, the 12 main Galapagos islands hosts the largest breeding colony of the massive waved albatross. There are other rare and wonderful species as well, including Darwin’s Finches, three kinds of boobies, flightless cormorants, and Galapagos penguin – the only penguin found in the northern hemisphere!
The massive wetlands of southwestern Brazil and eastern Bolivia are collectively known as the Pantanal. At 75,000 square miles, this is by far the largest wetland in the world.
Home to the hyacinth macaw, the largest (and, by some accounts, most obnoxious) parrot in the world, as well as the famed harpy eagle, the Pantanal hosts 3,500 known plant species, 300 mammals and over 1,000 species of birds.
About 80% of this wetland is totally covered in water during the wet season. But when it dries out, it’s the perfect place for birdwatching tours. Cruise down dark rivers or climb treetop canopy towers to search for spectacular species such as the white-banded tanager, white-eared puffbird, coal-crested finch or the chapada flycatcher. If you’re extremely lucky, you might even see the elusive jaguar along the way.
Freelance journalist, author and photographer Jim O’Donnell focuses on conservation, human rights, and travel. O’Donnell is the author of “Notes for the Aurora Society: 1500 Miles on Foot across Finland” as well as numerous articles, several sordid tales, many brilliant observations, a few half-finished novels, various angry letters-to-the-editor and other scribblings. Follow his adventures on his blog, Around the World in Eighty Years.
Photo credits: Harpy eagle and emerald-bellied puffleg by Greg R. Homel; Cape May Warbler by DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17411391; Common Hoopoe by Arindam Aditya - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49686047; Northern Pintail by DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18776405; Eurasian Roller By Sumeet Moghe - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22566815
Seeing the Panama Canal is a dream for many guests on IE's Panama tours. Here are four interesting facts that you may not know about one of mankind's greatest feats of engineering.
The Panama Canal was built between 1904 and 1913 by 56,000 workers to connect the Atlantic and Pacific, but that is only the end of the story. Historically, explorers and merchants dreamed of connecting the Pacific and Atlantic via Panama beginning in 1513 with Vasco Nunez de Balboa. By 1883, the French had 20,000 laborers working to dig La Grande Tranchee.
As you probably guessed, everyone navigating the Panama Canal pays a toll to cross. After the opening of the Panama Canal expansion in June 2016, the MOL Benefactor paid a toll of $829,468 in July. The containership was previously too big to use the canal. The lowest toll was 36 cents, paid by American athlete Richard Halliburton when he swam the canal in 1928.
Panama hats are made in Ecuador. The hat got its name because the hats were exported from Panama, and workers on the Panama Canal wore the hats. P.S. If you want to buy a Panama hat in Ecuador, check out IE's Ecuador tour!
You'll need your map for this one! The Atlantic entrance to the Canal is 22-1/2 miles west of the Pacific entrance. In fact, because the Isthmus of Panama is S shaped, the sun rises from the Pacific and sets over the Atlantic Ocean.
“Today more than ever animals in Africa are persecuted by greedy men in search for ivory, rhino horn, lions’ bones, bush-meat, skins, trophies to hang on the wall, and souvenir pictures."
Behind every photograph in the luxurious photo collection Light and Dust, Images and Stories from the Wild of East Africa is the prodigious passion of Italian photographer Federico Veronesi. His love for the Masai Mara drove Veronesi to his vocations as a wildlife guide, environmental activist and photographer — and also to long mornings hiding in the backseat of his car watching antelopes, exhausting days of searching and dark nights of camping, “feeling like the only human on earth.” His photography searches for the still moments of “now” that overshadow Veronesi’s deep concerns for the area’s conservation.
Lions, wildebeests, cheetahs and elephants all receive full coverage as Veronesi’s portfolio alternates black-and-white images with color, the interplay keeping things fresh. Weather plays a role in many compositions — a coalition of cheetahs sits on a blue-gray savannah beneath a lightning storm, a pod of hippos is silhouetted by the sunset — as Veronesi narrates each “privileged” moment, bringing readers beyond the images and into his experience.
In addition to exposing places safari-goers are likely to visit (the Talek River, Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and Mount Kilimanjaro) Veronesi introduces animals that visitors might meet while on safari (like Notch the lion, Shingo the cheetah and Olive the leopard). He shares insights into the histories, social lives and secret dramas of his subjects, culled from his experience photographing in the Mara. A unique section of Veronesi’s collection is a series of photographs of caracals. He discovered the extremely rare and elusive cat by accident and then trailed a female caracal for three years. These images are not only beautiful — and set the collection apart from others like it — but are a testament to the amount of time Veronesi has spent on the savannah.
"Today more than ever,” Veronesi writes, “animals in Africa are persecuted by greedy men in search for ivory, rhino horn, lions’ bones, bush-meat, skins, trophies to hang on the wall, and souvenir pictures.” He asks that his readers feel the immediacy of that threat and its consequences in his work, which is personal and heartfelt but, above all, passionate.
You can buy this book at Longitude.com.
Ecotourism has become far more than a simple buzzword for the travel industry. Individual travelers and industry operators alike are adopting the principles of responsible travel at an increasingly greater pace. As they do so, the benefits of ecotourism to the natural environment are becoming increasingly obvious.
But what is ecotourism, and why does it matter? The International Ecotourism Society (of which International Expeditions was a founding member) originally defined ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” In other words, ecotourism is specifically designed to improve the economy and the ecology of a destination, benefitting the local people, wildlife and ecosystems in equal measure.
Here’s a look at six important ways ecotourism is helping to conserve nature and making a positive impact on local people and places we love to travel:
Ecotourism helps travelers appreciate nature.
One of the many benefits of traveling around the world is getting the chance to see up close some of the awe-inspiring landscapes and natural wonders our planet has to offer. The Amazon rainforest, Galapagos Islands, East Africa’s Great Rift Valley… the list of stunning natural locations travelers have to choose from is almost endless.
With nature-based activities and destinations accounting for a significant portion of international tourism industry profits, the allure of nature is a powerful and growing force in the sector. Ecotourism is helping to fuel that.
By showcasing nature at its finest and declaring that these are natural wonders worth protecting, ecotourism is helping nature become an actual focal point in and of itself. More and more travelers take trips specifically to see the beauty of nature, rather than it being a mere backdrop for sipping piña coladas on the beach. As a result, travelers appreciate the natural beauty of the wonderful world we live in so much more.
Ecotourism is fueling a desire to protect the natural environment.
The growing appreciation of nature is a wonderful thing in and of itself. But it’s also fueling an increasing desire among travelers eager to help protect the natural environment. The simple act of seeing nature and wildlife up close often leads to an innate desire to help conserve these natural wonders for future generations.
Why? As Jacques Cousteau famously said, “People protect what they love.” The need to be close to something – to see it in person and have a direct rather than an abstract connection to it – is a vital part of the human condition. And it’s essential in fostering that desire and passion to care about, and for, something greater than ourselves.
True ecotourism provides that sense of personal connection that makes travelers care on a deeper emotional level. And when travelers become interested (and personally invested) in the conservation issues surrounding nature, they’re much more likely to want to do something about it.
Ecotourism promotes awareness of environmental issues.
This increased appreciation of the natural environment through ecotourism also makes travelers much more aware of and interested in the wider issues surrounding nature and wildlife conservation.
Ecotourism, by its very definition, is the most ethical form of travel. It provides an informal setting for teaching curious minds the most responsible way to interact with the natural environment when we travel. The more ecotourism thrives, the more awareness there is of the environmental issues facing our planet, and the more positive impact tourists can have on nature. Ecotourism actively promotes asking questions about the impact tourism is having, leading to a more transparent tourism industry in which issues and challenges are addressed head on. Today’s travelers are becoming far more savvy about the connections between local cultures and the environment.
As a result, these travelers are increasingly likely to police their own behavior and make more ethical and responsible choices. Ecotourism breeds awareness, and increased awareness boosts ecotourism. It’s a perfect symbiotic relationship!
Ecotourism finances the protection of the natural environment.
The protection and conservation of the natural environment – including national parks, nature reserves, and wildlife preserves – is a costly business. It’s an unfortunate reality that the day-to-day costs of running and managing these sanctuaries has to be met somehow, as does the opportunity cost of foregoing less sustainable industries, such as logging or agriculture. In short, ecotourism needs to be profitable for everyone involved.
Unfortunately, government subsidies and other forms of funding are often not enough to make the conservation of our natural environment financially viable. This explains why natural resources are often exploited in the form of palm oil plantations, logging, digging for fossil fuels, and other profitable (but unsustainable) industries. This is where ecotourism comes in.
Ecotourism is both one of the fastest-growing and most profitable sectors in an already booming global travel industry. Increased revenue from travelers who demand the preservation of the natural environment through responsible tourism can go a long way towards filling the financial gap involved. This means that protecting and conserving the natural environment actually has an economic value.
By choosing ecotourism, travelers are pumping a lot of money into the responsible tourism industry and ensuring that it is increasingly profitable. As a result, they’re not only funding the costs of increased conservation efforts, but they’re also ensuring that there’s an economically viable alternative to irresponsible and exploitative industries. Ecotourism ensures that local communities and international companies become economically invested in protecting the forests, jungles, marine habitats, and other protected natural areas.
Ecotourism is saving entire species.
Not only does ecotourism help conserve the natural environment, but it’s also proving essential to wildlife conservation efforts for the species that live within those habitats. Responsible tourism ensures that travelers can see (and, to a limited extent, interact with) their favorite animals in the wild in the least intrusive and damaging ways possible. As ecotourism becomes increasingly popular, travelers are shunning irresponsible tourism options such as elephant trekking or dolphin rides in favor of responsible alternatives that put the needs of the animals first.
This demand for wildlife welfare and conservation provides a significant layer of protection for animals who would otherwise be killed or exploited for profit. As a direct result of ecotourism, local guides and international tour operators alike are becoming more invested in responsible and sustainable wildlife tourism. There are certain destinations (such as Uganda) where endangered species such as mountain gorillas are the primary tourism draw, and that tourism provides the vast majority of funding for research and conservation of the species. In short, there is a lot of profit to be made in protecting the animals that travelers desperately want to see.
Ecotourism provides an alternative.
One of the biggest ways ecotourism helps to protect and preserve nature is simply by providing an alternative to irresponsible tourism practices. One of the main arguments against responsible tourism in the past was all about the bottom line: How will locals make a living without offering elephant treks, lion cub petting, or leading uncontrolled masses to areas of outstanding natural beauty?
The answer is ecotourism. Ecotourism offers a more ethical alternative form of travel while also providing a profitable, long-term sustainable economic model. As the demand for ecotourism grows, so, too, does the profit to be made by travel industry providers, both local and international, who are giving responsible travelers what they want.
So when people ask, “what is ecotourism,” we say it is the future of travel. And we believe that the growing success of ecotourism will ultimately help to make the world a better place for travelers and locals alike.
International Expeditions also makes it easy to protect the world as you explore. Learn more about our commitment to conservation and about our partnership with The Nature Conservancy.
Michael Huxley is the founder of Bemused Backpacker, a travel blog devoted to responsible travel. After 15 years of backpacking around the world, Michael is passionate about ecotourism and is a strong advocate for ethical wildlife tourism. He’s also a published author whose work has been featured in the BBC, the Guardian, and Green Global Travel.
Traveling with children is fun, engaging and I believe a true gift to your children’s development. The incredible amount of knowledge and understanding they get from the experience will prepare them to become responsible global citizens. I’m talking about experiences like the ones below, which we were lucky enough to enjoy with our young children.
Our first adventure tour as a family was to Costa Rica with International Expeditions. This was when our children were aged six and eight.
The kids loved every minute of it, and we learned the "essentials" of an adventure trip with children:
- Take it easy. A half-day activity is enough, the other half is well spent at a swimming pool, river or beach. When driving, try to plan a three-hour drive as the maximum.
- Don’t underestimate how interesting even tiny animals can be. Our children were very excited to watch leaf cutter ants on “ants” highways and look for (not to touch!) small poisonous dart frogs.
- A guided walk with someone who is used to inspire children, who can stimulate their thinking and interest, is a huge plus.
- A guided night jungle walk is the ultimate delight. It offers a fun combination of learning, exploring and excitement. And as the sun sets early in countries close to the equator, this does not have to start late at all.
- Kids love “exploring by action”. Even at this young age, they love activities like zip lining and horseback riding.
Our second trip is a major bucket list location for many! We went on a Galapagos Islands cruise (again with International Expeditions). A perfect children’s destination and definitely one of the most exciting open-air class rooms in the world. The kids were able to observe animals at very close range, even animals nesting and with young are not afraid of humans. They encountered sharks while snorkeling and learned to value and respect rather than fear them.
Initially we were not sure how they would like the experts’ lectures, so we equipped them with iPads for the first session. Our fear was unfounded; we actually had to stop them asking questions after they fired five questions to the presenter within 10 minutes. The lecture topics are very interesting for children and their imagination; how volcanoes are created, unique Galapagos animals and Darwin’s theory of evolution.
A couple of suggestions from our trip about traveling with children:
- An expedition cruise is a perfect family trip. It gives you a comfortable ‘home base’ (your cabin), so no need to pack and unpack. At the same time, it is adventurous and offers a different environment and experience every day.
- A smaller boat like the Evolution we went on allows for a pleasant, almost family-like atmosphere.
- The guides and crew love to have children on board and create fun and interesting activities for and with them. For example, to join the captain at the bridge, the chef in the restaurant and the lecturer in the library are great experiences for kids.
Earlier this year we went with Quark Expeditions to Antarctica. This also was an unforgettable experience for all of us; seeing the penguins, seals and whales, the snow and so many different beautiful colors and shapes of icebergs, standing on the 7th continent, visiting an actual research facility, going on zodiac cruises – Antarctica has so much to offer. On board, the team organized activities that are fun for kids too, like an Antarctica dress-up party and a barbecue on the outer deck. The kids also found me taking the (optional) ‘polar plunge’ highly amusing. Just a few weeks after the trip our kids asked me, “Daddy, can we please go to Antarctica again”? Clearly they had loved the once-in-a-lifetime experience as much as we did!
Here are some suggestions based on our trip to Antarctica:
- Although in Antarctica’s summer it never gets really cold (around 32 degrees Fahrenheit), it is important to dress for snow (our kids loved rolling and diving in the most snow they had ever seen) and some splashes of water on the zodiacs. Quark provided parkas and advice for other clothes to bring on the trip, so we were nice and warm.
- Kids enjoy both big and small surprises: Our kids loved watching the animals, big (whales, seals, orcas, penguins and more) and small (our son was excited to hold and release some tiny krill from his hands). They also liked to look for ten thousand years old “black ice” while zodiac cruising – as it will melt anyway, they were allowed to bring some black ice back to the ship to enjoy in their drinks.
- We traveled on a “fly-cruise” program, which meant we flew across the Drake Passage (which can be uncomfortably choppy) to Antarctica. Flying in a small plane and landing on a gravel runway was a great start to our adventure.
We will keep exploring...our next adventure will be a Tanzania safari. Where will you go next?
Hans Lagerweij is the portfolio managing director for International Expeditions, Quark Expeditions and a host of other adventure travel companies, including Zegrahm Expeditions, Exodus Travel and Headwater.
India is a vastly diverse country that pulses with cultural tones ranging from ancient rituals to modern metros. Because the country is so large – 1,269,346 square miles, to be precise – there are an incredible number of things to do on an India tour beyond major tourist attractions such as the Ganges River, Goa and Taj Mahal.
From exploring UNESCO-preserved caves and searching for tigers in the wild to seeing ancient archaeological sites, here are our picks for five fantastic things to do in India.
Cruise the Holy Brahmaputra River
While most explorers have heard of India's sacred Ganges River, the mighty Brahmaputra in remote Assam boasts an array of incalculable natural wonders! Named for the god Brahma, this is the only river in India with a male name, and while the Ganges steals the headline, since it is prayed to by members of four religion groups - Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Bonpas - the Brahmaputra is perhaps Earth's holiest river.
A cruise on the secluded and unspoiled Brahmaputra takes in one of the last parks to find the Asian one-horned rhino – Kaziranga. Additionally, wildlife enthusiasts can spot seven species of primate, including endangered western hoolock gibbon, and gangetic dolphin.
International Expeditions' new river cruise aboard the boutique, 23-cabin M/V Mahabaahu is one of the few ways to explore this realm of blue hills, temples, rare wildlife, tea plantations and tribal villages.
Explore the Ellora and Ajanta Caves
Located near Aurangabad, the Ellora and Ajanta Caves are arguably India's most underrated UNESCO sites. While very different from each other, they are both spectacular.
The Ellora Caves are closer to Aurangabad. Built between the 5th and 10th centuries, there are 34 caves in all, representing the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions. The word "cave" is a serious understatement here. Many of them are intricately carved into the rock face, and the Kailash Temple in particular is a showstopper. More than 220,000 tons of rock were removed to create a mammoth solid block, into which this magnificent temple was carved.
The Ajanta Caves are much smaller in size, older, and feature primarily Buddhist paintings. Dating from the 2nd century BC, these caves were neglected and water-damaged until a British soldier stumbled upon them in the 19th century. Even though they’re damaged, they are still sublime cultural masterpieces.
Search for Wild Tigers
India is home to more than half of the world's wild tiger population. The big cat is India's national animal symbol, and the focus of ecotourism in many states throughout the subcontinent.
Though still in a precarious conservation position due to their rapidly dwindling habitat, the number of tigers in the Indian wild has increased in the past eight years, from 1,411 in 2006 to 2,226 in 2014.
There are currently 47 tiger reserves in India, with Pench, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Ranthambhore and Corbett all considered among the best places to spot a tiger in the wild. Ranthambhore National Park is located in Rajasthan, not far from India's "Golden Triangle" of tourism (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur), making it the most well-known tiger reserve. There are currently around 45 adult tigers and 10 cubs in Ranthambhore, which is the highest number ever recorded in the park.
Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India, is home to several of India's most popular tiger reserves, including Pench, Kanha and Bandhavgarh. This region of lush jungles inspired the setting of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.
Savor the Beaches and Backwaters of Kerala
Located in southern India, Kerala is often referred to as "God's Own Country" in reference to the lushness of the tropical state, the abundance of its natural treasures, and the richness of its culture. Kerala is the ideal place to start a journey in India, as it provides a soft landing for visitors.
While there are many reasons to visit Kerala (including hill stations, spice plantations, and Ayurvedic resorts), the palm-lined beaches and fascinating backwaters are arguably the two prime attractions.
Excellent beaches can be found along the length of the coastal state, with spots such as Varkala and Marari attracting travelers seeking a little rest and relaxation. The best way to access the backwaters is by houseboat. Southern India is a particular favorite of IE Custom Travel Planner Kim, who loves planning trips here!
See the Khajuraho Group of Monuments
The Khajuraho Group of Monuments was lost to the verdant jungles of central India for eons, until a British soldier stumbled across them in 1838. Now considered among the finest masterpieces of Indian art, Khajuraho is also one of India's most stimulating UNESCO sites due to the extensive erotic carvings on some of the temples.
The temples were built during the Chandella dynasty (900-1100 AD) and represent both Hindu and Jain religions. There are about 20 temples in all, though it is believed there were originally 85. The complex covers about 9 square miles near the small, remote town of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh.
But it's well worth the visit to see and experience these three-dimensional works of art, especially if you time it to be there in February during the Khajuraho Dance Festival. One of the most popular festivals in India, this gives visitors the soul-stirring opportunity to see Indian classical dance set against the backdrop of the ancient temples.
Tour India and Discover Your Favorite Things to Do!
International Expeditions offers travel to India focusing on exploration of the cultural highlights while being immersed in the nature of multiple national parks. Check out IE's incredible Explorer's India tours and India Wildlife adventure or new Brahmaputra River Cruise to start planning your adventure.
Though travel writer Mariellen Ward is Canadian by birth, she feels more at home in India, the country of her soul culture. She writes for many publications and publishes an India-inspired travel blog, Breathedreamgo.
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When most people think of Patagonia, the first things that come to mind are stunning scenic vistas, dramatic mountain landscapes and mammals such as foxes, guanacos and pumas.
But the birds of Patagonia are equally impressive, surprisingly abundant and relatively easy to spot amongst the region’s open plains and sparse foliage.
Here are 10 of our favorite avian species you’re likely to see on a Patagonia tour:
With a maximum wingspan of over 10 feet, this New World vulture strikes an imposing silhouette as it soars above the plain in search of carrion on which to scavenge. With a lifespan of around 70 years, the Andean condor is black with a white ruff at the base of the neck and, in males, large white patches on the wings and a dark red comb on the crown of the head.
Also known as the Austral conure or emerald parakeet, this colorful bird can be found in woods and scrubland ranging from the southern tip of South America north to Temuco, making it the world’s southernmost parrot species. Measuring nearly 14 inches tall and found in flocks of 10-15 birds, the Austral parakeet is green and lightly barred, with red markings on the forehead, belly and tail.
Closely related to the American flamingo and greater flamingo, this endemic species is large (measuring 43-51 inches), has grey legs with pink joints, a bill that’s more than 50% black, and pinker plumage than the greater flamingo (but less pink than flamingos found in the Caribbean. They prefer large flocks and crowded conditions for breeding, laying one egg in a pillar-shaped mud nest on the ground.
Found in isolated lakes in the southern part of South America, this medium-sized (around 13 inches long) grebe is one of the most critically endangered birds of Patagonia due to climate change, the introduction of trout and salmon, and predation by kelp gulls. These beauties are easy to identify, with a white and dark grey back extending up to a black head with contrasting white forehead, bright red eyes and a reddish-brown peaked fore-crown.
Also known as the lesser rhea, this large (35-39 inches tall, weighing up to 63 pounds) flightless bird is a frequent (and unusual) sight along the roads to/through Torres del Paine National Park. Like their cousins, the ostrich and emu, they have small heads and bills and long necks and legs, with spotted brown and white feathers and large wings that help them run at speeds up to 37 miles per hour!
Native to southern South America and the Falkland Islands, the long-tailed meadowlark is easily mistaken for its much more endangered cousin, the pampas meadowlark. Measuring 10-11 inches, with long tails and pointed bills, the males are strikingly colorful – dark brown with black streaks, bright red breast and throat, and white and red markings around the eyes and head. They’re commonly spotted in the open grassland, where they nest and forage for invertebrates.
Lesser Horned Owl
Also known as the Magellanic horned owl, this relative of the great horned owl measures around 18 inches long, with broad wings and plumage in varying shades of grey and brown. The large head includes a black border around the face, white stripes above the yellow eyes, and two ear tufts. Smaller than the great horned owl, the Patagonian species has a distinctively deep hooting call consisting of a double-note follow by a loud vibrating sound.
One of four penguin species found in Patagonia, Magellanic penguins are medium-sized (24-30 inches tall, weighing 6-14 pounds), with white abdomens, black backs, two black bands between their head and breast, and black heads with white bands that run from their eyes to their throat. Nesting under bushes and in burrows on sandy, rocky shores, these penguins have seen a steady population decline and are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN.
One of our favorite Patagonian sightings, these stunning birds are among the largest woodpecker species in the world, averaging 14-18 inches in length and weighing up to 13 ounces. Found in forests along the Andes in Chile and southwest Argentina, both the males and females have black bodies with white wing patches and grey bills. But the male has a vivid red head and crest, while the female has a black head with crimson at the base of the bill.
Southern Crested Caracara
The second largest species of falcon in the world (average 20 to 26 inches long, 2 to 3.5 pounds, with a 47 to 52 inch wingspan), this brilliant bird of prey is fairly common in Torres del Paine National Park. They’re mostly dark brown, with yellow-orange legs and bill, white throat and nape, and white/brown-barred chest, mantle and tail. It’s distinguished from the similar Northern Caracara by the extensive barring on its chest, lightly mottled or barred shoulders, and dark barring on the pale lower back (which is black on the northern species).
Talk to IE's Patagonia Wildlife Tour Experts
Ready to see the birds Patagonia first hand? International Expeditions offers comprehensive Patagonia Tours, exploring both Chile and Argentina, a cruise into the Northern Archipelago as well as a Puma, Penguins & Whales tour and birding-intensive options.
Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 21 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution to Rolling Stone. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.
Photos courtesy of Claudio Vidal, Enrique Couve and Charlie Weaver.
Raised in California, Greg Homel has been a nature lover from a very early age, but birds have always held a special place in his heart. The avid ornithologist has been guiding birding tours since the late ‘80s, establishing himself as an award-winning photojournalist, documentary film producer and lecturer.
He’s traveled to all seven continents and seen more than half of the world’s 9,800 or so bird species in their native habitats. So when he describes Colombia as “the world's most bird-rich nation,” the man knows what he’s talking about!
Here, we take time to get to know a little more about IE’s Colombia Tour Expedition Leader, from his early interest in nature and his fascination with birds to his favorite places for bird-watching in Colombia.
How did you originally become interested in nature?
I'm a fortunate "victim of geography," having grown up in Sherman Oaks, California, with the chaparral-clad Santa Monica Mountains foothills as my backyard! Even though I've been lucky enough to visit all seven continents and most of the world's major biomes in my career, those wonderful hills I explored during my formative years still stand out as some of the most natural and inspiring places I've ever seen.
At what age did you realize you had a particular fascination with birds?
It was early, and one of my first memories of wild nature. Nesting Cliff Swallows were visible right outside my second story bedroom window one summer. I asked my mother what kind of birds they were. She replied, "They're swallows!" At first I tried to correct her on the ID, because they didn't have forked-tails like the swallows depicted in my children's nature guides (including A Golden Guide to Birds). Alas, she was correct... and the rest is history!
What is it about birds – as opposed to butterflies or frogs or some other species – that speaks to you?
Birds are an important part of the natural world and, because many are migratory– they're natural emissaries from distant and alluring biomes far and wide– they offer a connection to the same! But my interest in nature is not at all limited to birds. It would be remiss to intellectually limit myself in such a way. But to be good at anything, you need to have a specialty. For me, birds are that specialty!
Let's talk about Colombia. Most people are familiar with big cities like Cartagena or Bogota, but know very little about the country's natural beauty. When did you take your first trip to Colombia, and what made the place so special to you?
My first visit to Colombia was in the mid-1990s, when I reached the border from Estado Merida, Venezuela, in the Northern Andes. I was on the trail of the Bearded Helmetcrest – a high-Andean hummingbird found only in Colombia and Venezuela – and luckily succeeded in finding this wonderful bird. The allure of being on the border of the world's most bird-rich nation was so strong that I knew I’d be back one day to explore the country. I've since had the privilege of leading a half-dozen birding expeditions to all three of Colombia's Andean cordilleras, the Caribbean, the Llanos and the Amazon, and the Santa Marta massif, seeing nearly 1,000 species in the process. The country is so bio-diverse, and so rich in ornithological delights and natural history, that I’ve still only scratched the surface
Can you talk about a few of your favorite places in Colombia that IE travelers will be able to experience for themselves?
I'm particularly drawn to Sanctuario De Flora y Fauna Del Otun Quimbaya (a.k.a. Otun Quimbaya Natural Park) and Reserva Ecologica Rio Blanco (a.k.a. Rio Blanco Ecological Reserve). You can often see the endangered Cauca Guan (which was considered possibly extinct when I first started studying Colombian birds), the difficult to find Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, and the Torrent Duck at Otun Quimbaya. And it's possible to see and photograph up to seven species of the normally elusive antpittas at Rio Blanco’s feeders! The reserve's manager, a good friend of mine, has worked for years to bring the dream of viewing these feathered will-o-the-wisps from dream to reality. These birds are the ambassadors for their cloud-forest environment. Once seen, they'll never be forgotten!
Any personal advice you can offer to IE guests about getting the most out of their Colombia travel experience?
Come with an active mind, a flexible spirit of adventure and an eye for the beauty of nature, and you can't go wrong! I think the naturally gracious hospitality and friendliness of the Colombian people will not only impress, but serve to dispel any anxieties one might have had about the former state of affairs of this now readily accessible natural history treasure. Like me, you'll want to return again and again…
Bret Love is the co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of Green Global Travel and Green Travel Reviews, and is a passionate advocate for ecotourism, environmental conservation and sustainable living. He’s also a veteran freelance writer whose work has appeared in American Way, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Magazine and Rolling Stone.
All photos ©Greg R. Homel/Natural Elements Productions
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