Above Safaris

Earth Day Travel Guide: Top Tours that Help Protect Wildlife Around the World

On April 22nd, the 49th annual Earth Day is being celebrated around the world. This year’s theme – to protect the Earth’s endangered and threatened species – could not be more important. The world is facing unprecedented climate change and a mass extinction of many of the amazing species of plants and wildlife that make our planet so incredibly unique. Unlike the extinction of the dinosaurs 60 million years ago, the devastating changes to our planet are driven by us. As concerns grow, there is still hope that we can fight climate change and reverse the mess we’ve made of our planet. As travelers, we have a choice on how we spend our money and we can make a difference by supporting travel organizations that help protect the environment and its wildlife.

In honor of Earth Day’s Protect Our Species campaign and as a member of Impact Travel Alliance (the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professionals), I am highlighting some of the amazing tour operators working to help travelers responsibly visit and protect wildlife around the world.

“Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat can become some of our most vivid travel memories. I was deeply impacted by a trip to Uganda where I watched gorillas go about their daily lives in the Bwindi National Park and I bonded deeply with elephants while interacting with them at a conservation park in Thailand,” said Kelley Louise, Impact Travel Alliance founder and executive director. “It’s important to take the time to research and book wildlife tours that put the animals and their environment first.” As an avid traveler and nature lover, I could not agree more. Whatever we can do as travelers to make a difference is better than not doing anything at all. By choosing to travel with an ethical organization, we are making a big difference in hope that these incredible animals will be around for future generations.

Photo credit Playa Viva and Dave Krugman

Leatherback Sea Turtles on the shore of Playa Viva, Mexico. Photo credit Playa Viva and Dave Krugman

Here is a list of sustainable tours that help travelers see and protect Earth’s wildlife:

Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura’s mission is to inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world we all share by offering unique trips, sharing stories, holding events and fostering a global community to create a comprehensive database of the world’s most wondrous places and foods.

Atlas Obscura offers some pretty fabulous trips such as tracking wild bumblebees in the wild with expert biologists. Travel to Sequoia National Park with Atlas Obscura and expert biologists to track, conduct research on and help protect wild bumblebee populations and explore this peaceful landscape. You will learn firsthand about the plight of the humble bumblebee while also supporting them.

Atlas Obscura

Giant sequoia grove near auburn california trees, nature landscapes. Photo credit: Atlas Obscura

Playa Viva

Playa Viva is a unique yoga retreat destination where you will enjoy the rugged, unspoiled beauty of Mexico in the guilt-free luxury of an environmentally conscious resort. Become immersed in nature, volunteer in the turtle sanctuary, give back to the local community, engage in a workshop, or just relax completely.

Stay in Playa Viva’s sustainable hotel in Mexico and participate in the Playa Viva Turtle Sanctuary’s efforts to protect leatherback sea turtle eggs from predators.

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Conservation/Environment Global Issues Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL RESOURCES
New Zealand Good Travel

GOOD Travel: Transforming the Tourism Industry into a Force for Good

Did you know that tourism is one of the largest industries in the world, employing 1 in 11 people and generating US $7.2 trillion annually? Imagine what can happen if we harness this powerful, global force with positive social, economic and environmental impact in the communities around the world we travel to. That is the vision and mission behind GOOD Travel, a social enterprise focused on changing the face and experience of travel in an effort to create a better world for all.

If you believe in having a positive impact on the places you visit, connecting with the communities you meet and learning through your journey, then GOOD Travel has the perfect trip for you.

I had the opportunity to talk with Eliza Raymond, one of the Co-Founders and the Director of Operations at GOOD Travel. Here is what she has to say.

When were you founded, by who and why? 

GOOD Travel was founded in 2013 by four women from Peru, USA, South Africa and New Zealand. Our vision is to transform the tourism industry into a force for GOOD. We believe that change needs to happen at a variety of levels for this to be achieved – our focus is on travelers. 
 

A Booking.com reportconcluded that while 46% of global travelers consider themselves a sustainable traveler, only 5% of travelers believe it is easy to travel sustainably. GOOD Travel exists to directly address this gap and to make it easier for travelers to have a positive social, economic and environmental impact on the places they visit. We do this through our GOOD tours as well as advocacy, research and events focused on influencing tourist behavior for GOOD. Our tours are carefully researched and designed to create unique, impactful and transformative experiences for travelers to have a positive impact on the destination being visited.

What is your mission?

Our mission is to inspire and empower travelers to have a positive social, economic and environmental impact on the places they visit.

What are five of your best trips?

Iceland

Iceland, September 23rd-28th, 2019– Discover stunning waterfalls and glaciers, support one of the world’s first eco-villages, explore your creativity with artist Baron Wright and experience Iceland’s famous (and secret!) lagoons. 

Good Travel Iceland

In Iceland, we’ll explore stunning waterfalls, national parks and glaciers. Photo Credit: Traveller of GOOD Travel

Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL RESOURCES

Meet Six Companies That Are Empowering Women Through Travel

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day celebrated around the world in honor of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s roots began back in 1909 by women in New York City and gained popularity in Russia after women gained suffrage in 1917. March 8th was officially adopted as International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1975 and has been celebrated around the world ever since.

Over the decades much progress has been made in regards to women’s rights however there still remains a lot of work to be done in achieving gender parity and improving the lives of women. One area that can certainly help improve women’s lives is sustainable employment and as the travel industry booms around the world, there is a great opportunity for women to increase their livelihoods through sustainable tourism.

As a member of Impact Travel Alliance, the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professionals, I am highlighting some of the amazing female-run travel businesses and tour operators supporting women’s programs around the world.

While I haven’t had the honor of traveling with all of these organizations, I was fortunate to have joined Lokal Travel on one of their early trips. In 2017, I went with Lokal Travel on a trip to the remote Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica where I met Xiñia, a former gold miner who has opened up her remote jungle cabin, “Descanso El Pizote” to rural tourism. Her story is one of heartbreak and hope as for years she had no choice but to continue the backbreaking work of gold-mining until she met the co-founders of Lokal Travel who changed her life. Today, her dream is to grow Descanso El Pizote into a full-time business sharing her beautiful rainforest property and her passion for the jungle with tourists. Then she can quit gold mining for good and it would be a win-win situation that promotes sustainable rural travel while conserving the environment.

Dos Brazos de Tigre Lokal Travel

Xiñia leads the way to her jungle cabin with her walking stick ready.

Xiñia’s story is similar to the hopes and dreams of many women around the world who are seeking to improve their lives through sustainable tourism. Not only does it improve these women’s lives, it also provides the traveler with a unique experience to do something different. For me personally, these kinds of trips have been the most rewarding travels of my life and I feel wonderful knowing that my travel dollars are making a difference on people’s lives.

In fact, I just returned from Belize with G Adventures and was thrilled to see that our trip included a visit to a Mayan women’s co-op to watch a live demonstration on making traditional pottery and corn tortillas. As part of G Adventure’s commitment to responsible travel and tourism, G Adventure trips always include a travel for good element to give back and support the local economy. In this case, it was to support the local Mayan women.

San Antonio Women's Coop Belize

At the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative in Belize watching a Mayan woman show us how to make corn tortillas.

Here are six amazing organizations that are working to help empower women through travel.

Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL RESOURCES

Why Ecotourism and Sustainable Travel Must Be the Wave of the Future

As much as I love to travel, there is no doubt I feel concerned about the negative impact that travel can make on a place due to overtourism and additional stress on the environment. As the world economy improves and more people are being lifted out of poverty, tourism is on the upswing as well. World Count estimates that approximately 1 billion people arrive in a new destination each year which translates into a new arrival every 30 seconds somewhere around the globe.

“Should we feel guilty for traveling”?  and “How is tourism the harming the environment and what we can do about it?” are excellent moral questions us as travelers have to often consider when planning a trip, especially to a threatened destination such as The Great Barrier Reef, Iceland, and Machu Picchu to name a few.

In this thought provoking piece, Dafina Zymeri of SUMAS (a Sustainability Business School in Switzerland), shares some areas where travel has negatively impacted the environment and the very culture of a city and how we as travelers can travel more consciously. I have added in my insight where I deemed necessary to expand upon a topic. I am hoping this is the first of many conversations on the importance of sustainable travel for we must protect and think responsibly about our impact as travelers upon the very world in which we desire to see.

It has been estimated that over half of the Great Barrier Reef has died since 2016. What impact does tourism have on this fragile ecosystem and should we go there? Photo credit: Pexels

The Burden of Overtourism

If you search on Google “How tourism is…”, the first suggestion to finish the sentence it will give is “How tourism is killing Barcelona.” Pretty sad, isn’t it? Well, we travelers – or tourists, whatever you call yourself – are destroying the environment of those beautiful countries we’re visiting. Of course, we don’t mean to do so but we are flying, visiting and trampling all over the planet. Our increase in visiting some of these destinations is undeniably having an impact and perhaps not such a positive one.

Let’s take the case of Barcelona. Check out the Guardian’s recent article “How Tourism is Killing Barcelona – A Photo Essay“. We have all seen and experienced beloved destinations like Barcelona that have sadly began to lost their charm and have become overrun with all things tourist. Trinkets, t-shirt shops and crowds and crowds of people is making a once culturally rich city feel more like a Disney-styled theme park. Will Barcelona eventually loose the charm and uniqueness that initially made it so popular with tourists in the first place?

If this isn’t sad enough, the huge increase in popularity of Barcelona is having its own negative impacts on its own people who live there. Barcelona native residents are enraged with the cost of living that they say was inflicted by tourism. Per The Guardian, it used to cost 250€ (or around $280) for a short-term rental permit but now that they are not being issued anymore. Needless to say, the average monthly rent in Barcelona (which is the most expensive in Spain) is around  700€. Residents are seemingly being forced out by high rents in Barcelona neighborhoods with a high presence of Airbnb. Since Airbnb’s intention is “revitalizing neighborhoods”, how is that possible when neighborhoods in their presence are actually losing population to a large degree?

 

Is tourism ruining the charm of such beautiful places as Barcelona?

 

Here’s another example to touch your conscience: The beautiful beach of Maya Bay of Phi Phi Lei Island in Thailand had banned, for a certain time, boats of tourists from landing on the shore. The tourists that want to take the trouble to visit need to do it by foot from the neighboring beach Loh Samah Bay. I was heartbroken when I read what the Chief of Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park said the reason behind the temporary closure was that the marine life and corals need time to recover.  How utterly devastating. The beach we go to see, swim in, and take pictures of to need a break from us!

And what about Machu Picchu, a World Heritage Site? Thousands of tourists are trampling across ancient ruins every day at a level that is truly unsustainable for keeping them around for further generations. Although UNESCO has strongly recommends that they cap the number of visitors to 2,500 per day, 5,000 tourists visit and walk across these threatened ruins daily. Don’t we want to safeguard and protect Machu Picchu for future generations to enjoy?

Isn’t this how Machu Picchu is supposed to look? Untouched?

Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL TRAVEL RESOURCES

Backpacking with a Purpose with Operation Groundswell

For the past two years, I’ve been a proud member of Impact Travel Alliance, a global community of change makers, passionate about transforming the travel industry into a force for good. Through this amazing network of sustainable travel organizations, writers and travel enthusiasts around the globe, I’ve learned a lot about how we can use travel to make the world a better place.

For the next several months, I am working on putting together a searchable database of the best ethical impact-focused and sustainable travel organizations on the planet. While I’m researching these different organizations, I will be sharing guest posts to uncover each organization’s unique mission and how you can travel for good. This guest post is written by fellow Impact Travel Alliance Media Network member Marissa Sutera (creator of Little Things Travel Blog) who introduces us to Operation Groundswell a Toronto-based organization whose mission is to create a more equitable, just, and sustainable world through travel and backpacking with a purpose.

Operation Groundswell

Operation Groundswell Ecuador trip

Backpacking with a Purpose

When seeking out more purposeful work to do while traveling, it can be challenging to dig deep enough to find the best route to take and the organizations that are truly carrying out positive work. In this interview you’ll hear from Justine Abigail Yu, Communications and Marketing Director at Operation Groundswell, who will be sharing her insight into what questions to ask when volunteering abroad, where to begin, and how to know what sort of impact you will make.

Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization that facilitates experiential education programs on a host of social justice issues around the world. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability. Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in. Their programs are intentionally designed to uncover the intricacies and on-the-ground realities of each region they go to. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability.

Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.

Operation Groundswell

Meeting with our partners at De La Gente, a coffee cooperative in San Miguel Escobar in Guatemala

How can someone seeking a volunteer program abroad determine if they will actually be making a difference?

First and foremost, whatever volunteer project you work on abroad should be done in partnership with the local community. If you want to make even the slightest difference, be sure to find an organization that puts the needs of the local community first. Contributing to a project that your host community actually wants and needs is the first step towards responsible international volunteering.

But it’s also important to set realistic expectations of what exactly “making a difference” means. For many people, this requires a bit of a rethink. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) how many volunteers going abroad expect to “save Africa”, or Asia, or Latin America. And that’s just not the reality.

The majority of volunteer programs are often short-term projects that range from one week to a few months. So when you’re seeking a volunteer program abroad, consider the time you’ll be spending abroad and align that with your expectations. Because real talk – if you’re only going to be spending one or two-weeks in any given country or community, you may not actually make that much of a difference.

You’ll accomplish some things, of course: you’ll likely gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of development and what it takes to actually achieve social change, you’ll make a strong connection with a handful of people who you will hopefully stay in touch with, and you’ll contribute in some small way to a project.

But honestly, you’ll likely leave with more questions than answers. And that’s ok. This is a process.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight or even in a couple of weeks or months. Often, the work that you do when you return home, as a result of what you learned abroad, will be where you make the most difference.”

Just remember to have humility when taking part in work like this!

Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises Study Abroad Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL TRAVEL RESOURCES Volunteering Abroad
CasaSur Charming Hotel, Santiago

Staying at the CasaSur Charming Hotel in Barrio Italia, Santiago

One of the best ways to ensure a fantastic trip is to do your homework before traveling especially when it comes to finding the perfect place to stay. Thanks to TripAdvisor (and my dad is does all the research on it), we found the intimate CasaSur Charming Hotel – a boutique hotel with only six rooms in the lovely tranquil Barrio Italia. It was truly a treasure of a find!

The CasaSur has only been open for a little over two years but in that short amount of time, it is already ranked #1 on TripAdvisor of all 200+ hotels in Santiago. An impressive feat for this tiny little hotel. As soon as we arrived and met our hosts, the owner Eduardo and his delightful, charming staff, we realized what a special place it was.  Eduardo was awaiting and welcomed us by name. His charismatic personality made us instantly feel at home and that is how he intends his hotel to be: Something a little bit different and unique.

After traveling the globe as a Civil Engineer, Eduardo decided to change his career path and open up his own boutique hotel running it the way he thought travelers would like best. A place that surrounds and welcomes guests with harmony, serenity and peace. A home away from home with inspirational quotes written by hand on the chalkboard each day and where each guest is treated as a part of the family.

After a bit of searching, Eduardo found the perfect place for his hotel: The lovely, tree-lined neighborhood of Barrio Italia located only a short walk from the trendy, more rowdy Barrio Bellavista. In 2013, he purchased the old run-down house on Eduardo Hyatt street and put his skills as an engineer to use fixing it up. In 2015, the doors to CasaSur Charming Hotel opened for the first time and his gorgeously-appointed, intimate hotel has been open ever since.

CasaSur Charming Hotel, Santiago

The immaculate white CasaSur Charming Hotel with sits at the end of a quiet street outside and is walking distance to several amazing restaurants and shops.

Eduardo, the owner of CasaSur Charming Hotel doing what he loves best…talking to his guests

Eduardo put his engineering skills to work to create a lovely hotel with beautifully -appointed rooms, a stunning open air terrace and a delightful reception area. A freshly-made breakfast is served every morning on the outdoor terrace or inside if it is cool out. There is even a self-serve bar where you can purchase a bottle of Chilean wine or a beer without having to leave the comforts of the hotel.

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Every morning the quotes are changed on the chalkboard and the new guests are added to the list. It is a very welcoming place!

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The location of CasaSur couldn’t be more perfect. Located in the Barrio Italia (formally known as the Barrio Santa Isabel), this historic neighborhood has been up and coming for the past decade with dozens of fabulous restaurants to choose from, gorgeous boutiques and lots of interesting shops such as antiques and even furniture restoration. What I loved best is that I didn’t feel at all like a tourist in Barrio Italia. We walked, talked and ate with the locals. It was the perfect way to experience local culture and practice sustainable travel. After staying at locally-owned and run boutique hotels, I’d have a very difficult time ever staying at a big American hotel chain again. You miss half the experience of truly traveling and engaging with the country you are visiting.

Barrio Italia, Santiago

The tree-lined streets of Barrio Italia are loaded with open-air restaurants, boutiques and bars.

Barrio Italia, Santiago, Chile

View of the Andes from a rooftop restaurant and bar in Barrio Italia.

Barrio Italia, Santiago, Chile

And the jacaranda’s were all in full bloom and gorgeous!

Barrio Italia, Santiago, ChileBarrio Italia, Santiago, ChileWe had an endless amount of delicious restaurants to choose from for dinner. Every meal was fantastic and there is food from all around the world just within a few tiny blocks. Best of all, we ate dinner with all the locals and even at local time (normally 10 pm). It took some getting used to the late dining hour yet once we did, we loved it.

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Towards the end of the stay Eduardo and his staff felt like family. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time at the CasaSur. I would have loved to have learned more about Eduardo’s fascinating family history. Both his grandparents had escaped WWII and the Nazis, fleeing Berlin and Hungary before the mass extermination of the Jewish population. They met in Chile and were so afraid of being persecuted that they baptized their children and raised them Christian. I had no idea until that moment that Chile even had a Jewish population. These are the tiny pieces of cultural knowledge that I’d never have learned without staying at a small, locally-run boutique hotel, and these are the stories I will always remember from my trip.

If you go:

CasaSur Charming Hotel is very small and fills up fast. Book well in advance! Eduardo and his staff can also provide you will tons of fantastic day-trips and excursions. You will love it there!

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Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Lokal Travel Launches the Ultimate Sustainable Travel Sale

Exciting news! I’ve teamed up with Lokal Travel to share their Ultimate Sustainable Travel Sale. For the next month Lokal is offering discounted gift cards and deals on unique bucketlist adventures, so you can give (or receive) the gift of meaningful travel. From expeditions in the Amazon with indigenous guides to stays in family-run guesthouses in the Himalayas, Lokal makes it easy to book hundreds of incredible trips that support local communities, protect nature and preserve cultural traditions. Through Third Eye Mom you’re getting early access and month long deals to Lokal’s launch specials. Deals include:

  • $100 Gift Card for $50
  • $1,000 Gift Card and custom trip plan for $750
  • Over 30% off a Costa Rica Jungle and Community Adventure (which I did this past January and it was amazing!).
  • Lots more!

Lokal Travel, a platform that allows intrepid travelers to book immersive local experiences and adventures around the world has launched an incredible Indiegogo campaign. From November 12-December 12, 2017, the campaign is offering extraordinary travel adventures that will help Lokal launch in ten new countries and support 1,000 inspiring local business. It is a brilliant concept and as a traveler who has experienced one of Lokal’s life-changing trips this past January to the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, I am getting itchy feet just sitting here reading about the amazing deals!

From expeditions in the Amazon with indigenous guides to stays in family-run guesthouses in the Himalayas, Lokal makes it easy to book hundreds of incredible trips that support local livelihoods, protect nature and preserve cultural traditions. Better yet, at Lokal over 80% of every dollar you spend goes directly to independent, locally-run and vetted travel businesses who are creating amazing experiences and real benefits for communities. Pretty fantastic!

Here is more information on this exciting sale and a few of my photos from my past trip to get you wanting to click on over now and book your next adventure.

Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Canoeing down a private lagoon was one of the many highlights I had during my week in the Osa.

Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

TRAVEL
Labadie, Haiti

The Two Contradictory Worlds of Labadie and “Labadee” Haiti

“Sonje lapli ki leve mayo ou”. – Remember the rain that made your corn grow. (Haitian proverb)

After all the stark contradictions I’d witnessed in Haiti, the sharpest contrast of it all was seen during an afternoon spent at the beach in Labadie. Here along the northern coast of Haiti sit two vastly different worlds: Labadie, a small, poor Haitian seaside village and “LABADEE®”, the private trademarked beach leased by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines since 1986.

Labadee is the largest tourist draw in all of Haiti and its beautiful, luxurious compound is a far cry from the poverty and despair witnessed right outside its gates. No Haitians are allowed within the high-wired fences and security of its pristine grounds unless they are work on the property.  Inside the compound lies a fantasy world of crystal white beaches, zip-lines, inflatable rafts, watersports and all the food you can eat with a gigantic cruise ship floating in the background. Outside the compound lies poverty and despair and people living on less than the price of a beer a day.

I had heard that this was one of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Haiti and we were going to try our best to check it out even if it was supposedly private. I was armed with a few facts about the property and Royal Caribbean’s relationship to the community. A history that is shrouded in controversy yet filled with potential. A couple hundred Haitians are employed at the compound and Royal Caribbean has done some things to help the neighboring community. I was curious to see for myself what I discovered.

As we left, Cap-Haïtien I noticed a huge improvement in the roads. The same roads that took us over 8 1/2 hours to travel only 148 miles/239 kilometers from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien were dramatically better on the way to Labadee. Instead of rugged, washed out potholes some of the road was as smooth as silk and the roads that were in need of repair had an entire team of construction workers on the job with even a Chinese engineer. It was shocking to see that the roads leading to a major tourist draw were better than the roads in the nation’s capital. But it was a sign that the right money talks and perhaps it will enable Royal Caribbean to bring its estimated 600,000 tourists a year (1) who come to Labadee to get out of the private compound on excursions and visit some of Haiti’s fabulous historical and cultural sites.

The views leading up to Labadee were spellbinding. Rocky lush green shoreline and brilliant blue sea for as far as the eye could see. White sandy beaches and luxurious houses and resorts. It felt like we were in another country! This was not the Haiti I’d seen over the past five days.

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Key Tips for Travel Planning with an Eco-Impact

“The declaration by the UN of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental, while raising awareness of the true dimensions of a sector which is often undervalued.” – UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

There could be no greater time in history as a traveler to impact our future and the world than now. As the international community embraces the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by the UN General Assembly last September, tourism has a significant opportunity to support three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) ranging from promoting sustainable, inclusive economic growth to conserving and sustaining the use of the oceans, seas and marine resources.

There has been more talk than ever about sustainable travel but what exactly does sustainable travel mean?

“In its simplest definition, sustainable travel can be defined as travel that positively impacts the community, environment and economy of the destination visited” states Kelley Louise, Executive Director of Travel+SocialGood, a global community of changemakers, passionate about transforming the travel industry into a force for good.

As a member of Travel+SocialGood and a strong supporter of sustainable travel,  I am continually on the search for sustainable travel resources and operators. I have been highlighting sustainable travel opportunities on my blog for quite awhile to help readers discover these experiences in one quick and easy place. (Here is a list of the past 20 posts in case you missed them).  

I hope you enjoy this guest post written by Jonny Bierman, founder of Eco Escape Travel,  a community-based ecotourism content hub with the mission to provide reliable ecotourism and adventure content that aims to grow a community of responsible travelers and inspire ethical travel. A special thanks to Sue of the fabulous travel blog Travel Tales of Life for introducing me to Jonny. Here is the post.

Avatar Grove. Photo credit: Eco Escape Travel

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Observatoire, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Where to Eat and Stay in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

“Anpil men chay pa lou” – Haitan proverb meaning “Many hands make a load lighter”.

To say that the bustling, congested and vibrant capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, is a bit chaotic and overstimulating would be an understatement. Monstrous traffic combined with endless honking horns, pedestrians, street vendors, motorbikes and every thing imaginable being sold on the street leaves you with such an immense sensory overload that your head is spinning by the end of the day.

As a newcomer, it is hard to conceive that peaceful, beautiful places coexist with the utter chaos of this hectic city of neglected potholes, broken down cars and uncollected garbage. However if you dig deep within the local culture and outskirts of town, you will be surprised at what true treasures Port-au-Prince has to offer.

Above the urban sprawl rising up the northern hills of the Massif de la Selle lies the affluent suburb of Pétionville which was founded in 1831 and named after Alexandre Sabes Pétion (1770-1818), a Haitian general and president who is recognized as one of the founding fathers of Haiti. Today Pétionville hosts some of the most desired restaurants, shops, hotels and residences in the capital. The views from Pétionville are beautiful and the air is much clearer and calmer than in Port-au-Prince.

However, the growth of Pétionville has not come without a price. A lack of governance in development has led to some serious problems with squatters. On the outskirts of Pétionville, a massive slum of rural migrants have dangerously built homes moving up the slopes of the mountainside, offering little protection against mudslides, heavy rains and earthquakes. The slums are always in view and are a big contradiction to the large mansions and wealth of Pétionville.

Oftentimes it was hard for me to wrap my head around the luxury I was experiencing and the horrible conditions just across the way. Yet, as a conscious traveler to many developing countries, it is something I just have had to accept and hope that at least my voice as a blogger and my tourist dollars will somehow help.

Hotel Montan Pétionville, Haiti

Off in the distance, moving up the hills at the edge of Pétionville lies the slums. These were built illegally by rural migrants who came to the city.

Pétionville, Haiti

Sadly these slums are poorly constructed and prone to washing away during mudslides. A lot of destruction and devastation happened here too from the 2010 earthquake.

From Port-au-Prince, there is one main road that winds up the mountainside to Pétionville. The road is narrow and depending on the time of day, traffic can be horrific especially if there is a stalled car. It is best to plan at least an hour from downtown to Pétionville unless you leave very early in the morning or very late at night.

As you drive up the mountain, the road is filled with art stands selling all kinds of local Haitian art. The views of the city are spectacular but it is hard to stop since there are no shoulders on the road.

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One thing I love to do when I travel is stay and eat local. Being conscious about where my tourist money is spent and how can have a big impact on the local community. Sadly, the majority of revenue earned from tourism often goes into only a few hands (large international corporations or wealthy elite) and very little money goes to support the local community. This is a huge missed opportunity because supporting local businesses creates a ripple effect that benefits entire communities of people. More local jobs means more income enabling more people to send their children to school, buy food and afford homes. In a country of vast unemployment, sustainable local tourism has an enormous potential to help eradicate Haiti’s crippling poverty.

I was pleased that our guide Haitian-American Natalie Tancrede of Explore with Nat selected all locally run and owned venues for our stay in Port-au-Prince. We could have chosen to stay at the beautiful new Marriott Hotel downtown but instead opted to stay at the tranquil, family owned Hotel Montana in Pétionville. It was my second stay at this beautiful hotel and I would go back there in a heartbeat.

Here is my list of the best places to stay and eat in Port-au-Prince.

Where to Stay:

Hotel Montana

The Hotel Montana is a true gem. Located up in the hills of Pétionville high above Port-au-Prince Hotel Montana has been run by a Haitian family since 1947 and is designed in Haitian Art Deco flair. The grounds and 45 rooms are stunning and the staff is delightful. There is a large open-air terrace that has a restaurant, bar and pool affording breathtaking views of the city below. The personalized service is lovely and it feels like a home away from home for many of the guests.

Hotel Montana Pétionville, HaitiHotel Montana Pétionville, Haiti

Pétionville, Haiti

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Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

A Guided Tour of Manuel Antonio National Park with Naturalist Johan Chaves

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”. –  John Muir

Our villa at Tulemar was like a treehouse, perched high above the jungle and surrounded by nature.  I woke at 5:30 am to the sound of the birds greeting the day and went out to watch the tropical rainforest come to life. Two pairs of scarlet macaws flew poignantly overhead and settled in a neighboring tree where they squawked a bit before taking flight. Kingfishers, warblers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and tiny hummingbirds enjoyed their breakfast in the morning light. I could have laid here all morning but alas I had to get everyone else up for our seven am tour of Manuel Antonio National Park.

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

My favorite place of all – the hammock

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Morning sunrise from the balcony at Tulemar

Visting Manuel Antonio had been a dream of mine ever since I first visited Costa Rica on a volunteer trip in 2011. Today I would finally see one of Costa Rica’s most popular and beloved parks and I could hardly wait.

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Cascada Naguala Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

A Slice of Heaven at the Cascada Naguala Ecolodge

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love”.-  Marcus Aurelius

After my peaceful canoe ride down the Laguna Chocuaco, it was time to leave Rancho Quemado and head to our next adventure in the community of Los Planes. We loaded up our rented SUV and headed northwest towards Drake Bay, the main tourist town in the Osa Peninsula.

The drive was rough and lovely, affording sweeping views of the stunning Drake Bay and the verdant tropical jungle. I was quite thankful we had our heavy duty SUV as there were several river crossings along the way and I cannot imagine how we ever would have made it in a car. Eytan told me that there had been times when he got stuck for hours waiting for the swollen waters to subside enough for him to safely pass and he had even once seen a small bus floating down the river. I definitely didn’t want that to be me!

As we entered the river I held my breath wondering how I’d break the news to my husband that we may have to do this ourselves during our upcoming family trip to Costa Rica in April. Hopefully the roads in northern Costa Rica are a bit better than in the Osa Peninsula.

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This afternoon we were headed to a remote, sustainable family-owned ecolodge called Cascada Naguala that is in the middle of the jungle and only accessible via foot across acres of beautiful private land. It had opened up to tourists only a few months ago after a series of tragic losses in the family. The first owner died eight years ago by a fallen tree and his brother took it over only to die in an ATV accident six months ago. Despite the tragedy, his son Eric and lovely wife Francesca reopened the lodge and went into business. We would be their first customers.

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