Affordable Travel Guide to South America ECO Tours

Responsible Tourism Combined with Education

South America ECO Tours

A growing sector of travel, ecotourism features trips to locations offering more than a beach and a cocktail, but an experience, coupled with learning and respect for the environment and culture of the region. Ecotours delve deeper and venture to locations that average vacationers seldom visit. The basics of “responsible travel” include direct donations to local charities and conservation efforts, the employment of indigenous people, use of local goods and services, and the creation of awareness about the people, their culture and the location. Essential to this is low-impact travel, small groups and a direct focus on nature and culture. Some are sponsored and/or endorsed by animal and cultural conservation groups.

South American ecotours are abundant, and range from the Bolivian salt flats to the sea lions of the Strait of Magellan; three of the more popular destinations are the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu and the Amazon.

A one-week ecotour of the Galapagos Islands costs approximately $5,000 US; it concentrates more on the biodiversity of the archipelago than the “evolution” cachet experienced by standard tour groups. The focus is on the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz Island. Travelers spend time at the Center to learn about the preservation of the Islands’ wildlife. Ecotourists have the opportunity to thoroughly explore the Center, including the library, museum and tortoise-rearing facility, and to speak with the scientists and keepers of the animals.

Visits to nesting grounds, and areas of flora and fauna concentration form part of the tour, which includes the less commonly visited islands, such as Espanola, with its ornithological delights and albatross breeding grounds, Floreana, an island of beaches and extinct volcanoes, Santiago and Bartolome. Seldom seen by Galapagos tourists, South Plazas Island is on several ecotour itineraries. With its flat topography, the result of it being formed by uplifted, as opposed to volcanically created, rock, colorful land iguanas and prickly pear cactus forest, it is a unique location. Travelers will see harems of sea lions, among the largest population in the Galapagos, and cliffs dotted with swallow-tailed gulls. It’s a nature-lovers treasure trove.

A two-week junket that covers a vast range of experiences and vistas begins with a flight from Lima, Peru to Puerto Maldonada, followed by a short drive to the headwaters of the Amazon River. Here, ecotourists visit Refugio Amazonas on the Rio Tambopata and explore the renowned clay lick, home to hundreds of brightly colored Macaws.

Travelers sail on the river in a private boat to Cuzco where they have time to acclimatize to the mountain elevation and air before setting out for a trek through the Sacred Valley and on to awe-inspiring Machu Picchu.

The ecotour ends with a five-day hike, using local Spanish- and English-speaking guides, and llamas as pack beasts, around sacred Mount Ausangate. Mountain lodges form the nightly accommodations, giving trekkers an intimate perspective of life in the High Andes, living among the mountain people for nearly a week.

Bound by respect for people, places, flora and fauna, ecotours challenge the norms of travel, creating “responsible” tours and resulting in experiences that truly are once-in-a-lifetime events, and leave travelers with profound understanding not had by any other means of travel and touring.

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