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(2012 - Fall/Winter Issue)


My husband and I knew we wanted to venture deep into the Amazon rainforest on our honeymoon—to experience the diverse wildlife, majestic rainforest and sweet, sweet solitude.

Our research led us to the sustainable development reserve of Mamirauá—and it blew us away. From the reserve’s commitment to preserving the rainforest to the employment of locals, Mamirauá is the real deal.

The reserve, a 90-minute boat ride from the river port of Tefé, is all about sustainability: minimizing its impact on the environment and providing a genuine Amazon experience. The floating lodge accommodates only a few visitors and utilizes solar power, rainwater collection and sewage filtration. The reserve also conducts research to preserve wildlife in the area. We visited a river village, enjoyed local cuisine and took daily hikes and canoe/boat rides where we observed sloth, monkeys, river dolphins, caimans (crocodiles) and birds in their natural habitat. Above all, we saw the passion and appreciation across the local employees’ faces as they shared their food, home and green backyard with us. Mamirauá showed me sustainable, responsible travel is about more than being socially- and environmentally-conscious (which they are!)—it’s about being committed to authentic cultural travel.

Understanding Sustainable Tourism

Travelling to Brazil made me realize the importance of sustainable tourism. Respecting the local environment, culture, people and economy is the only way to ensure the Amazon, and so many other beautiful places around the world, can be enjoyed by others in the same way for years to come.

Of course, “you don’t have to go to the rainforest to help save the rainforest,” says Josh Dorfman, author of The Lazy Environmentalist. “Choosing a green hotel or opting for the small inn over the mega-resort helps. It’s all about the choices we make—and where we stay is a choice we can make when we travel.”

Peter Husar, owner of Sinclair Travel in Vancouver, believes it is important to make sustainable travel choices, but he doesn’t get many environmentally- and/or socially-conscious travel requests. This may be attributed to Canadians not understanding the concept of sustainable travel.

In a survey completed by Canadian travellers in 2008, only eight per cent understood the concept. However, when explained, more than 86 per cent agree that sustainable tourism practices will have a positive effect on the world’s future. There are many ways to make positive, responsible travel choices, and two out of three Canadian travellers ultimately believe it is the traveller’s responsibility to educate themselves and travel with sustainability in mind.

So, What Can We Do?

Choose environmentally-friendly and/or locally-run accommodation, restaurants and tourism providers; be sure to choose tourism providers who do not exploit animals or natural resources.

Participate in low-carbon activities: trekking, biking, kayaking, cooking and language classes.

Volunteer abroad! Or donate clothes, school supplies and/or funds to a non-profit organization.

Pack light and fly less by staying longer in the country you’re visiting.

Before you leave, research cultural customs in order to avoid any negative cultural impact.

Reduce, reuse, recycle! We often forget the basics when travelling. As director of policy with the Center for Clean Products at the Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment, Catherine A. Wilt reminds us: “Come on, how many of us wash sheets and towels after one use at home?”

Responsible Choices

Jennifer and Ted Avery, a registered nurse and software developer from Toronto, try to make socially- and environmentally-conscious choices at home and abroad. On vacations to Costa Rica and New Zealand, this couple made an effort to support environmentally-friendly tour providers and local accommodation establishments, restaurants and shops. “Whenever we are able, we try to connect with and use services that benefit local people,” Jennifer says. The Averys recommend Spellbound Glowworm and Cave Tours (glowworm.co.nz) in New Zealand and Desafio Adventure Company (desafiocostarica.com) and Ecocentro Danaus (ecocentrodanaus.com) in Costa Rica.

Ayngelina Brogan, a travel blogger and freelance marketing consultant, has spent the majority of the last two years in Latin America. “Responsible and sustainable travel does not mean you must give up luxury,” Brogan says. She recommends Tierra Atacama (tierraatacama.com), a spa hotel in northern Chile, which was built on a platform to show respect for the relic-rich ground underneath. Be vocal about sustainability. “Money talks—and when companies realize you will choose them over others because they offer sustainable options, it encourages them to take steps in the right direction.”

Grant Saepharn works for a non-profit literacy organization in Waterloo. Saepharn has travelled—and volunteered—all over the world. He’s volunteered with orphans, street kids and on construction projects and sea turtle conservation in Honduras, Guatemala, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Thailand. “I started out as a socially- and environmentally-conscious traveller and I will continue to be one for the rest of my life,” Saepharn says. “I hope to instil this mindset in my children. I think it is the price each traveller must pay for the privilege of visiting such amazing places and cultures.” Want to volunteer abroad? Saepharn recommends GVI (gvi.co.uk) and G Adventures (gadventures.com).

Travel Planner

Air Canada offers the only daily non-stop service between Toronto and Sao Paulo, Brazil, with convenient connections from other Canadian gateways. In Brazil or South America, there are several domestic flights that service Manaus. From here, you’ll take a flight to Tefé. Your flight to Tefé and accommodation at Mamirauá/Uacari Jungle Lodge (mamiraua.org.br) can be made through amazonastravel.com.br.

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