Get inspired to resume as better travelers after this pandemic. Discover examples of community-based ecotourism sites you should support around the world .
What is community-based ecotourism?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines ecotourism as an “environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features – both past and present) the promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations.”
A community-based ecotourism (CBET), on the other hand, adds another layer into the involvement of the community. It seeks to integrate the local community in the development, conservation and operational processes of ecotourism. This kind of set-up provides a deeper sense of ownership to the local community, while gaining a major proportion of the economic returns.
Community-based ecotourism: the way forward after COVID-19?
While people around the world are inside the confines of their homes due to the COVID-19 threat, nature found an opportunity to recoup. The pandemic has highlighted more than ever the negative impacts of over-tourism – pollution, overconsumption of resources, cultural loss and ecosystem degradation.
It’s hard to tell when the travel industry will get back on its feet. For the time being, today is the best opportunity to assess our past ways of travel and reset. Tourism can hurt the environment even if it provides economic opportunities for the local community. Having said this, the way forward after COVID 19 points towards a shift to community-based ecotourism.
Community-based ecotourism sites to inspire you
Here are examples of community-based ecotourism experiences shared by fellow travel bloggers. Hope this inspire us to resume from this crisis as better, more mindful travelers.
1. Anja Community Reserve (Madagascar)
By Brianna of Curious Travel Bug
Anja Community Reserve is a small wildlife and habitat reserve in southern Madagascar. Even though it’s small, it has several caves, a small lake, and a large mountain. Most notably, the reserve has the highest concentration of ring-tailed lemurs in the world.
After noting the success of other parks in Madagascar like Ranomafana and Isalo National Parks, and seeing the effects of habitat degradation in Anja, locals decided to take action. They protected 30 hectares of the land and developed it as a tourist spot. This community-based ecotourism initiative provides jobs to the guides and workers at the reserve. Since creating the reserve, Anja has become a popular spot for tourists to see ring-tailed lemurs. The profits from the reserve have helped to fund health and education projects as well as conservation initiatives.
Like most parks in Madagascar, guides are mandatory. On a visit to Anja, guides will take you through the dry forest to see groups of lemurs, as well as up the mountain for spectacular views of the valley. Most tourist groups arrive in the afternoon. If you arrive before noon, there’s a good chance of being the only ones there. In addition to the lemurs, there are also geckos, chameleons, and birds to spot while visiting Anja.
While at Anja, make sure to stop at the gift shop as you are leaving. There are plenty of locally-made handicrafts and clothing including straw woven ring-tailed lemur statues that make for the perfect souvenir.
2. Byoona Amagara (Uganda)
By Lara of Both Feet On the Road
If you ever find yourself at Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda, a stay at Byoona Amagara Island Retreat is a must! You can find both cheap and luxury accommodation at Byoona Amagara in the form of self-camping, dormitories, or luxury cottages. These accommodations are built from local materials.
The place is located in one of the islands in Lake Bunyonyi providing guests with beautiful lake views and opportunity to wake up to the sound of chirping birds. The service at the retreat is also amazing, but that’s not even the most exciting part. What’s so great is the fact that it’s a part of a sustainable community development program.
Tourism at Lake Bunyonyi is slowly increasing. However, many new tourist organizations in the area don’t recognize the important connection between tourism, local culture, economy, ecology, and education. These are needed for a sustainable future of tourism at Lake Bunyonyi.
At Byoona Amagara Island Retreat, this key link was recognized from the start. This is why the profits are used to support a locally-owned resource center. It supports projects aimed at creating new opportunities and learning lifelong skills for the local community.
There are 29 different islands in Lake Bunyonyi, but most do not have a school. As such, most of their projects focus on education, such as scholarships to support families who can’t afford education for their children, school lunches, education in computer literacy among adults and canoe school bus. Upcoming projects on the pipeline aim at capacity building on sustainable agriculture and indigenous forestry, renewable energy and waste management.
3. Mushroom Farm Eco-lodge, Livingstonia (Malawi)
By Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan
The Mushroom Farm is a 100% off-grid eco-lodge located just outside of Livingstonia, a small town established by Scottish missionaries high up on the Rift Valley Escarpment. Its accommodations are an eclectic and affordable mix of A-frame huts, cob houses, safari tents, and even a treehouse. It's an incredibly relaxing place to stay, with a gob-smacking view and a restaurant that serves the best food in Malawi.
As a community-based social enterprise, 10% of all the revenue from the business goes to various community projects. One of these is a nursery school and early learning program for local children. Children are also fed a nutritious meal each day at the community center built by the Mushroom Farm.
Another of the community projects is an adult literacy and business program. This is a free, three-year course that teaches English, basic math and life skills to adults who did not have the opportunity to finish school. In the third year of the program, these adult students develop a business plan. After which they are given micro-loans to help them start their own business.
Work is underway on a hydroelectricity project that would provide electricity to the town through a generator powered by the Mantchewe waterfall, one of the main attractions of the region. At present, it relies on solar energy for electricity. The Mushroom Farm also implements composting, which they use to grow their own farm. Likewise, it employs several local young men as tour guides, who lead lodge guests to the waterfall and other natural sights of interest in and around Livingstonia.
4. The Galloway & Southern Ayshire Biosphere (Scotland)
by Kathi from Watch Me See
Nature is one of Scotland's greatest assets. People visit Scotland to roam among the towering peaks of the Scottish Highlands, dig their toes into the white sands along the west coast and live adventurously in the remote wilderness. No wonder, sustainability and eco-tourism are incredibly important to ensure that many generations to come can share these experiences.
The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire (GSA) Biosphere is an excellent example of a community-based ecotourism initiative in Scotland that looks after nature as well as its community. The UNESCO-designated Biosphere stretches from the pristine coastline of the Solway Firth to the remote hills of the Galloway Hills. It is home to around 95,000 people.
In collaboration with several other Biospheres in northern regions of Canada, Iceland and Finland, the GSA Biosphere has developed an approach to sustainable tourism that re-connects people with the environment around them.
For several years, they worked closely with public organizations and education initiatives, activity providers and artists to raise awareness for sustainable growth in the local tourism sector. Locals could train to become tour guides or start their own businesses.
From kayaking on Loch Trool, Dark Sky experiences in the forest, guided walks and wildlife safaris in the Galloway Hills to hiring e-bikes or spending a night in an eco-friendly shepherd's hut - the Biosphere has enabled local tourism businesses to thrive. The result is an increase in nature-based tourism and more opportunities for responsible growth for locals.
5. Mundo Nuevo, Minca (Colombia)
By Daniel of Layer Culture
Whilst looking for inspiring community-based eco-projects around the world, South America is home to various projects that are becoming popular with eco-travelers. For example, Minca in Colombia is classed as the most sustainable tourist destination in the country.
At Mundo Nuevo, an eco-lodge up the Sierra Nevada mountains, you can visit as a tourist and learn all about permaculture, coffee, and cacao. After some research, it turned out that the Mundo Nuevo was the perfect place to exercise all my interest under one roof. With its certificate of sustainable tourism, you can find authentic dwellings that have had a positive impact, not only on the tourism industry in Colombia but also with the local indigenous tribes.
The leaders of this project have put together an initiative that groups together entrepreneurs who are willing to contribute positively towards the planet. Not only are they practicing sustainable living and farming but, are also working with indigenous families in the surrounding area.
I did a coffee tour here from which I learned all about organic coffee production on a local farm. Also, right on Mundo Nuevo's land, the Wiwa peoples have built a small village called Awindua which consists of living quarters, and, is a demonstration of exchange in cultures. So, if you’re looking to get involved in a community-based ecotourism movement that supports sustainable practices, then a trip to Mundo Nuevo in Minca should be on your list for South America.
6. Rewa Ecolodge (Guyana)
By Claudia of My Adventures Across The World
Rewa is a community lodge in the Amazon basin of Guyana, which requires a long journey from the capital Georgetown. The trip involves an hour charter flight and around 3 hours on a boat along the river.
The lodge takes the name from the village, whose entire population of a little more than 200 people, is involved in the tourism project. The villagers take roles in running the lodge. These include either cleaning, cooking and serving food, maintaining client relationships or acting as local guides during activities such as fishing, hiking, and learning about the local culture.
The lodge itself is very modest - a few huts with outdoor bathrooms with only cold water. Guyana, however, is incredibly hot, so worry not about having to use cold water. The room bed has mosquito nets and the change of having to share your room with unexpected guests such as frogs or spiders. Food at the lodge is simple, local and incredibly wholesome and tasty.
What's important is that everyone is incredibly friendly and welcoming (Guyana's official language is English so communication is extremely easy). It's incredible to see how much this small community does to protect the environment and the culture in Guyana, and to teach tourists to do the same.
7. Panna Tiger Reserve (India)
By Camilla of Tigers in the Wild
The state of Madhya Pradesh in Central India is home to some of the country’s finest National Parks, with an incredibly rich biodiversity. Panna Tiger Reserve extends on the banks of the Ken river. The reserve is an incredible habitat for tigers, leopards and a huge variety of animals.
It’s in these beautiful surroundings that the NGO Last Wilderness Foundation has launched an initiative called “Walk with the Pardhis”. The Pardhis are a local community with a hunting tradition that can be traced to the time of the Mughal emperors. After the introduction of the modern laws for wildlife conservation, the Pardhis have been involved in many episodes of poaching. They have therefore been stigmatised by the other communities.
Last Wilderness and the local Forest Department have decided to train them to become guides. In the process, they used their existing skills to give tourists a deep and unique experience. Visitors of Panna Tiger Reserve can book a nature walk with one of the trained Pardhi guides. The guides will show them how to “read” the signs of the forest, learn to recognize different bird calls, tell compelling tales of the jungle and marvel in front of the stunning landscape.
hanks to this program, the Pardhis can now earn an honest alternative livelihood while continuing to value their generations-old skills of deep knowledge of the forest and of the local wildlife. Experience this community-based ecotourism destination through the NGO via email : email@example.com
8. Purushwadi (India)
By Madhurima of Orange Wayfarer
It takes only two hours ride in a Mumbai Local train to reach Purushwadi, a rural settlement perched atop the Kalsubai hill range of Maharashtra. The village of Purushwadi is an astounding example of rural tourism of India. "Atithi Debo Bhaba", the guest is God: the inherent philosophy of Indian hospitality lives here in its purest form.
Grassroots is an Indian hospitality brand that mainly focuses on sustainable tourism. It has established a campsite and secured a few homestays in the nearby tribal village of Purushwadi. Purushwadi had some families, all part of the same tribe. A small school and a Mukta Aai (local Goddess) temple adorned the hilltop. A small dam contained water from a mountain stream that rendered life to the otherwise lifeless place.
My guide was a high school student, who wanted to go to college in Mumbai and work in the "Gorment". Gorment or government is the quintessential idea of savior in the Indian mind. He helped me hike the small hilltop and clicked photographs as much as I wanted. My guide helped me pick wild berries from the bush, instructed which one to eat and which ones to discard. He is nature's child with a heart full of a laugh seeing my ignorance!
I stayed at his home for one balmy afternoon. There, I ate what his mother made, bajra roti in its coarse form with some potato curry and pickles. Vegan choices are aplenty. A few goats and a cow roam around. They help them with milk and meat for special occasions. In the afternoon, once the luncheon was over, the matriarch sat with her daughter in-law and prepared vermicelli. Her son comes home from Mumbai on the weekend and that calls for a little bit of festivity!
My heart fills with joy as I recall those days in Purushwadi. We did not speak the same language. We had a sea of differences in our respective background. Yet, I had never felt more welcome anywhere else in the world!
9. Orou Sapulot, Borneo (Malaysia)
By Simona of Travel OFF
When last year I was organizing for our honeymoon in Borneo, I spent weeks searching online to find ecotourism projects. Finally, I selected three of them, very different but all the same interesting. One, in particular, turned out to be the highlight of our trip because we found it to be a true community-based ecotourism project.
Orou Sapulot was launched about 7 years ago by a local family in the Sapulot region of Sabah, one of the Malaysian states of Borneo. This remote area of Borneo is still pristine and unspoiled by tourism, offering lush primary forest and authentic villages.
You can choose among different packages all giving you a taste of the local culture. Likewise, they offer some adventure like caving, climbing a pinnacle, and rapid-shooting by traditional boats. All services are provided by the locals. You will be accompanied by local tour leaders and guides. You’ll sleep in exclusive base camps run by the local families who take turn in providing meals and transport.
The cultural show that takes place at the chief village typical longhouse involves several children gathering from the nearby villages. This was one of our special moments because we could spend some time with the locals chatting and drinking the typical rice wine.
Orou Sapulot was for us a perfect way to explore a truly authentic part of Borneo while contributing directly to the local community. Hence, we highly recommend it to anybody interested in community-based projects.
10. Da Bac Community-based Tourism (Vietnam)
By Emily of Wander-Lush
Homestays, trekking and visiting rural ethnic minority villages are all great ways to experience the real Vietnam. In recent years, dozens of excellent community-run tourism projects have sprung up across the country. These projects aim to help local families benefit from the country’s burgeoning popularity among travellers.
Da Bac Community-based Tourism (CBT) is one of the finest examples of community based tourism in the region. Co-founded by NGO Action on Poverty in cooperation with four villages, it employs dozens of families from the Da Bac valley in Northern Vietnam’s Hoa Binh Province.
Located 3 hour’s drive from Hanoi, the Da Bac project encompasses a collection of homestays. Many are housed in traditional stilted homes hand-built by their owners. Chefs, guides and drivers for the project all come from the villages. Some families earn an income by selling farm produce to the project, renting out kayaks that tourists can use to paddle around the lake, and offering hands-on guided fishing experiences.
Income goes directly to the hosts, while a percentage of profits are used for a village development fund. This in turn sponsors projects such as building a library. The four villages belong to Vietnam’s Muong ethnic minority group. Visiting Da Bac is a terrific way to learn about their culture through hands-on activities such as cooking, indigo dyeing and traditional song and dance performances.
11. Masungi Georeserve (Philippines)
By Jing (That's me!)
Masungi Georeserve in Rizal, Philippines features scenic karst formations along a community-restored forest. The highlight in a Masungi Georeserve experience is the trek through a series of unique rope courses. These are especially engineered to lessen the intrusion to limestone rocks and the surrounding forest.
Decades ago, the site witnessed abuse from illegal logging and quarrying. Seeing grave threat to the sustainability of the forest, the founders of the georeserve fought against land grabbing and deforestation. Masungi Georeserve went through challenging reforestation efforts but their perseverance eventually paid of.
In order to sustain conservation efforts, Masungi Georeserve was opened as a community-based ecotourism site. The communities surrounding Masungi, including the indigenous Dumagats, were heavily involved in the reforestation activities. Locals were employed as guides, operations staff and maintenance personnel. Here’s their most inspiring story. Illegal loggers who once earned money from destroying the forest now serve as park rangers promoting the area’s conservation.
Walk-in visit to Masungi Georeserve is not allowed in an effort to regulate the number of incoming tourists. Among the activities you can enjoy here are guided day hikes, night trail with campfire and even taking part in tree planting and nurturing.
12. Sagay Marine Reserve (Philippines)
By Jing (Also me!)
Sagay Marine Reserve in Negros Occidental, Philippines is listed as one of the protected areas by the Philippine government. Being a marine reserve means that this area should be protected against destructive human exploitation to preserve marine biodiversity.
Sagay City is not your normal sand and sea escape in the Philippines. The management of tourism activities in the city is one that can be considered a model community-based ecotourism set-up. The local tourism office provides policies such as regulation of the number of tourists, capacity building for the community and controlled infrastructure development. The community, on the other hand, majority of whom are fisher folks, is engaged as eco tour guides, boatmen, cook and mangrove stewards.
The best way to relish an ecotourism holiday in Sagay is through island hopping. Among the top things to do when island hopping in Sagay are snorkeling, mangrove paddling and eating fresh seafood cooked by the locals. You will meet colorful clams, corals and fishes just by snorkeling in the reefs. You can also go mangrove paddling or walk through elevated bamboo paths amongst mysterious mangroves.
That’s it! Hope this has inspired you to help the tourism industry get back on its feet after the pandemic. Let’s support community-based ecotourism operations that promote nature conservation while uplifting the livelihood of the local community.