Community Based Tourism in the Andes

Snowy mountain against a cloudy sky

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TreeHugger has discussed the Amazonian Rainforest, its attractions and the threats it faces, and visited two eco-lodges that have been working with the Rainforest Alliance. But native communities in other parts of Ecuador are under threat as well, primarily by the attractions of the big city and the lack of work at home. The Rainforest Alliance goes beyond its name to work in the Andes as well, in the Chimborazo region, named after one of the world's highest volcanos. Our earlier posts:The Wildlife of Ecuadorian Amazonia (Slideshow) Eco-Tourism or Oil? The Sani People Choose. (slideshow) Is Eco-Tourism a Contradiction in Terms? Not When You Consider the Alternatives Credit: Lloyd Alter

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Cordtuch

The Rainforest Alliance has been working with Corporación de Desarrollo Comunitario y Turismo de Chimborazo (somehow I think abbreviated to Cordtuch) . They are working on twelve intiatives in the area to promote community development by creating work in tourism, marketing of handicrafts, products and food. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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Interpetation Center

Cordtuch has an interpretation Center and offices in Riobamba that is a good introduction and starting point for a tour of community based tourism in the area. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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While the exhibits are informative and cute, the real action is out in the field. Cordtuch's ambitions are not small; they include: (google translation) • Generate new sources of work in the same communities so that new generations no longer migrate to the cities leaving their territories and families. • Help rescue culture elements such as crafts, language, dress, oral tradition, the forms of food, agriculture and architecture. • Develop and provide tourist services based on their lifestyles thereby strengthening interculturalism. • Demand from public institutions and other entities to achieve adequate attention improving the living conditions of the community. • Establish systems for the promotion of tourism between home and abroad as practice of admiration and respect for nature and culture. • Support for the economic benefits generated by tourism are redistributed in economic and social development of communities • Strengthening agroecological production to be used in tourism while contributes to a form of healthy eating and environmentally friendly. • Implementation of ancestral Andean technologies. • Improve the living conditions of local people, learning, teaching, trading experiences and knowledge. and more. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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Palacio Real

Palacio Real is a facility devoted to the promotion of the llama as an integral part of the local culture. They use every part of the llama in crafts, food production, clothing and transportation. They have a llama museum, interpretive walks... Credit: Lloyd Alter

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And they cook up a llovely llama llunch. It was the first meal in Ecuador where we were served wine with lunch; it turns out that the priest who is working with the community is from France, and a glass of wine with lunch is a little bit of French tradition that he has brought to the Andes. Nice touch. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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Razu Nan

But perhaps the biggest revelation was our trip to Razu Nan. One cannot say enough about how warm and friendly the people are, and how glorious the smiles. But we had all been on the road since 4:30 in the morning and were tired and cranky and just wanted to go to bed. But our tour leader said no, you have one more stop. And what a stop it was, with a band playing to welcome us. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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With speeches from the leader. (note the women to the left, spinning while they listen. They never stop working, spinning and separating every second we saw them). While the Rainforest Alliance is working with these lodges on "best practices", they are more adventure travel than eco-travel. Compared to the places we visited on the Amazon, conditions are rougher and the activities are more strenuous. Razu Nan is used as a base camp for hikes up Chimborazu and the people staying here were young and were there for a workout. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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They are working to preserve traditional ways; here they are cutting ice from Chimborazo to take into town. One would think that in this age of refrigeration that this is definitely past its time; Credit: Cordtuch

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But in the market in Riobamba they swear that smoothies and other drinks taste better when made with natural ice, and it is a featured treat. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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Facilities are basic, but being improved constantly. But if you are interested in being immersed in another culture and like a good hike, this is the place to be. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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And what can one say, other than that they were just about the friendliest people I have ever met, and up for a party. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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Casa Condor

Closer yet to the mountain, and a bit edgier yet, is Casa Condor, which we used as a base for a hike. You are starting at 4100 meters above sea level and the air is pretty thin already, so this is not for the faint of heart. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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The layers visible in the roadcut on the way to the mountain tell the story of recent eruptions. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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The views are spectacular and the guides knowledgable. Credit: Lloyd Alter

NoneOn the way back, one of our guides sang a song which I am told is about tourism and visiting the Andes. I could not understand a word but found it captivating. Credit: Lloyd Alter

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Can the planet take all this travelling?

In the end we have to face the issue: Can there be such a thing as eco-travel? Can we justify visiting places like this in the face of the carbon footprint it leaves? It is a hard call. The Rainforest Alliance and Cordtuch are doing great work in building community based tourism, creating jobs for people in their own communities, making tourism cleaner, greener and better. If we stay home it is all for naught. Surely the emphasis should be on travelling better, reducing our footprints, taking fewer but longer trips, developing effective and trustworthy offsets and supporting community based tourism where the money stays with the people. Credit: Lloyd Alter