Benefits of Ecotourism

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Lets start with a definition of ecotourism, if there is such a thing. For some people, it means travel that is environmentally friendly. For others, it is a synonym for ethical or responsible travel. It's a new field and definitions are still evolving.

My definition of ecotourism falls somewhere in-between: tourism that has as little impact on the environment as possible, that respects local culture and that helps promote livelihoods. Ecotourism is possible anywhere: travel across Africa, and you can't help but be an ecotourist. You're surrounded by a breathtaking environment, and the rural nature of much of the continent means you'll rarely be far from village traditions. It's then up to you to delve into your surroundings. I crossed more than a dozen countries overland in Africa and nature, or the environment, was the greatest attraction in every single one, whether the national parks in South Africa, the coastal marine life in Eritrea, the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia, or the shores of Lake Malawi. Along the way, I stopped in villages and often stayed in local homes rather than hotels or hostels, providing some income for villagers and living close to the land. I would like to think that my carbon footprint on that trip was minimal.

So how can you, as a backpacker, reap the benefits of ecotourism? Here are just a few examples of activities that would involve nature in some way, not endanger the environment, and help respect local cultures: * sleep in a local village rather than an international resort - you'll be helping the economy and connecting with local people; ask one of the women in the house to show you how to cook a traditional dish (and make sure you buy the food!)

* visit a national park or protected area: your fees help support park maintenance, and trails are often well marked; make sure you report to the warden before starting your hike, so he'll know where you're headed (and when you're due back)

* buy something made by a...
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