Sustainable, responsible tourism means conscientious travel. It means being careful with the environments you explore and respecting the communities you visit. Two overlapping components of sustainable travel are ecotourism and ethical tourism. Traveling “green” and seeking sustainable tourism options is a concern in almost every part of the world today. Peru, with its majestic large expanses of nature, including the Amazon basin that covers two-thirds of the country, is a place where environmentally and culturally conscientious travel is not something to think about—it’s the reality of the present and future. Although one could argue that any trip that includes an airplane flight or rental car can’t be truly green, you can go on holiday and still contribute positively to the environment; all travelers can take certain steps toward responsible travel. Choose forward-looking companies that embrace responsible development practices, helping preserve destinations for the future by working alongside local people. An increasing number of sustainable tourism initiatives can help you plan a family trip and leave as small a “footprint” as possible on the places you visit.
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. TIES suggests that ecotourists follow these principles:
- Minimize environmental impact.
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation and for local people.
- Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.
- Support international human rights and labor agreements.
You can find some eco-friendly travel tips, statistics, and touring companies and associations—listed by destination under “Travel Choice”—at the TIES website, www.ecotourism.org. While much of the focus of ecotourism is about reducing impacts on the natural environment, ethical tourism concentrates on ways to preserve and enhance local economies and communities, regardless of location. You can embrace ethical tourism by staying at locally owned hotels or shopping at stores that employ local workers and sell locally produced goods. In Peru, it’s a great idea to pick up artisanry such as textiles and ceramics from shops that ensure that the very artisans are well compensated for their labors. Many times those artisans are residents of poor rural communities and “fair trade” shops are increasingly seen. Many highlight the names of artisans and their home communities on their wares.
Volunteer travel has become increasingly popular among those who want to venture beyond the standard group-tour experience to learn languages, interact with locals, and make a positive difference while on vacation in Peru.
Deforestation is the main threat to Peru’s fragile ecosystem. Farming has virtually wiped out most of the region’s rainforests, and logging is a major threat. Such destruction has been devastating to many species, including humans, in the form of displaced indigenous tribes, and has led to drinking-water shortages, flash flooding, and mudslides. Though environmental awareness is growing, solving the region’s huge environmental problems, including not just deforestation but the effects of overpopulation and industrial pollution, clearly remains an uphill struggle.
Peru has 72 million hectares (178 million acres) of natural-growth forests—70% in the Amazon jungle region—that comprise nearly 60% of the national territory. Peru has done a slightly better job of setting aside tracts of rainforest as national park reserves and regulating industry than have some other Latin American and Asian countries. INRENA, Peru’s Institute for Natural Resource Management, enforces logging regulations and reseeds Peru’s Amazon forests, and, in 2008, President García created the country’s first Ministry of the Environment. A handful of Peruvian and international environmental and conservation groups such as ProNaturaleza and Conservation International are active in Peru, working on reforestation and sustainable forestry projects.
Yet Peru is losing nearly 300,000 hectares (741,000 acres) of forest annually. The primary threats to Peru’s tropical forests are deforestation caused by agricultural expansion, cattle ranching, logging, oil extraction and spills, mining, illegal coca farming, and colonization initiatives. Deforestation has shrunk territories belonging to indigenous peoples and wiped out more than 90% of the population. (There were once some 6 million people, 2,000 tribes and/or ethnic groups, and innumerable languages in the Amazon basin; today the indigenous population is less than 2 million.) Jungle ecotourism has exploded in Peru, and rainforest regions are now much more accessible than they once were, with more lodges and eco-options than ever. Many are taking leading roles in sustainable tourism even as they introduce protected regions to more travelers.
Besides sustainable travel to Peru’s wilderness, national parks and reserves, and threatened areas, there are everyday things you can do to minimize the impact—and especially the carbon footprint—of your travels. Remove chargers from cellphones, PSPs, laptops, and anything else that draws from the mains, once the gadget is fully charged. Turning off all hotel room lights (plus the TV and air-conditioning) can have a massive effect; it really is time all hotels had room-card central power switches.
Green trips also extend to where you eat and stay. Vegetarian foods tend to have a much smaller impact on the environment because they eschew energy- and resource-intensive meat production. Most hotels now offer you the choice to use your towels for more than one night before they are re-laundered—laundry makes up around 40% of an average hotel’s energy use.
Among Peruvian hotel chains, one stands out as a model for the industry. Although Inkaterra (www.inkaterra.com) operates just seven hotels and lodges, it is a leader among green, sustainable tourism initiatives. The group, which began with a research center for scientists in the Amazon, takes environmental issues seriously: Its properties are carbon-neutral, and it operates a not-for-profit environmental organization, which actively monitors environmental deterioration in the Peruvian rainforest. The chairman of the group sits on the board of Conservation International. Other hotel groups, and particularly those operating ecolodges in the Amazon, are following suit, being careful to ensure that a healthy percentage of jobs and benefits stay local and that the lodges’ imprint on their fragile environment is minimal. In a country like Peru, with such a large tract of virgin rainforest and developmental needs, maintaining a balance between income generation/tourism and sustainable development is a huge ongoing challenge.
A source for environmentally sensitive hotels is It’s a Green Green World (www.itsagreengreenworld.com), which lists green and eco-friendly places to stay, mostly ecolodges in the Amazon. Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com, www.responsiblevacation.com in the U.S.) is one among a growing number of environmentally aware travel agents, with dozens of green Peru trips offered. Carbon offsetting (not uncontroversial) can be arranged through, among others, ClimateCare (www.climatecare.org).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.