Hyacinth macaw

IE Guide Regina Ribeiro on Ecotourism in Brazil

Hyacinth macaw

Despite being home to the Amazon rainforest, Iguazu Falls, the Pantanal and other natural wonders, ecotourism in Brazil is still a burgeoning field.

IE naturalist guide Regina Ribeiro was one of the country’s early responsible travel advocates. Born and raised in southeastern Brazil, she earned her college degree in Tourism Business in the early ‘90s with a concentration on environmental sciences, ecotourism and biology. In 2016 she celebrated 20 years of leading wildlife and nature photography trips in her native country.
Brazil guide Regina
Regina’s engaging personality and expansive knowledge of Brazil’s diverse flora and fauna have made her one of IE’s most popular naturalist guides. Here, we speak with Regina about her early interest in nature and travel, the evolution of ecotourism in Brazil, her love of birdwatching, and what travelers can expect from IE’s new Jaguars, Rainforests & Falls tour.

Let's start off talking about your early interest in nature and wildlife. Was there a particular experience that inspired that interest?

Nature was the greatest inspiration for me. I was born in a small town in the countryside of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. At that time the region was surrounded by well-preserved savannah woodlands, with beautiful natural landscapes. It was only later in life that my interest in wildlife rose.
Araras ecolodge
When and why did you develop a similar passion for travel?

When I was a child, the best way to travel from my hometown to the state capital was by train. The train station was one of my favorite places to go: It was fascinating to watch the train arriving and the movement of people coming and going. I have such good memories of traveling by train, and still remember many of the landscapes passing by the windows. That was the beginning of my passion for travel.

You got a degree in Tourism Business, with a concentration on environmental sciences and ecotourism, back in the 1990s. Ecotourism was still a relatively new concept at that time. What drew you to that aspect of the travel industry?

After graduating from college and working in the mainstream tourism industry, I felt like I needed something else to fulfill my expectations. In the early ‘90s I was introduced to the concept of ecotourism through a Brazilian agency, which was focused on funding conservation projects with Birding tours. I immediately felt like I connected with this new concept of travel. Before I started guiding, I was trained by this agency and their naturalists. The educational demands of that job led me back to university to study natural sciences and ecotourism. Since then, wildlife-focused travels have become another great passion for me.

How would you say ecotourism has evolved in terms of philosophy and practice in the 20 years since you became a naturalist guide?

It has evolved in many aspects. But ecotourism in Brazil is developing on a smaller scale in comparison with other destinations around the world. Our poor economy and overall lack of commitment to implement and regulate sustainable tourism practices presents a number of challenges.

You were born in Brazil and seem to have a special affinity for the Pantanal. What would you say it is that makes that region unique?

Besides being the world´s largest freshwater wetland, the region offers great chances to observe and photograph a huge variety of wildlife. Many of the local species are difficult to see everywhere else, including many endangered animals. That is what makes the Pantanal so unique.
Toco toucan
You've published several articles about birds, and birdwatchers seem particularly drawn to the Pantanal. Why do you think people are so fascinated by birds?

They fascinate me because of the incredible diversity of bird species. Their beautiful songs, flying abilities, colorful plumage, amazing courtship rituals and the challenge of spotting many of them are amongst the reasons other people are fascinated by birds. For me, birds really symbolize freedom.

You're going to be guiding IE's new Jaguars, Rainforests & Falls tour. Can you tell us what travelers can expect to experience while exploring ecotourism in Brazil?

This trip is a great combination of Brazil´s natural wonders and wildlife destinations. It encompasses the northern Brazilian Pantanal, with its superb wildlife including the elusive jaguars; the Amazon Rainforest, which is the largest on the planet; and the amazing falls of Iguaçu. All of these elements make this expedition a wonderful and unique experience.
Brazil-tour-naturalist-Regina
You've been guiding naturalist tours for 20+ years now, yet you still seem to have the enthusiasm of a newcomer. What is it that keeps you so passionate about your job after all this time?

I do indeed love what I do, although guiding can be challenging. What keeps me passionate about it is the chance to learn, to visit new places, to be immersed in nature, to observe wildlife species and to meet new people. I love introducing them to the country I call home. 

VIEW IE'S BRAZIL TRAVEL GUIDE

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/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.