Xunantunich Belize

Day Trips from San Ignacio Belize: Exploring the Ancient Maya Ruins at Xunantunich

Resting majestically atop a plateau overlooking the Mopan River and the Guatemalan countryside of Western Belize lies Xunantunich, one of the largest ancient Maya cities ever built. These impressive yet mysterious ruins were lost for centuries until discovered in 1890 by a local villager who mistakenly thought he had seen a ghost of a maiden giving Xunantunich its infamous name which translates into “Stone Maiden”. Built in the 7th century, these incredible ruins feature some of the most stunning hieroglyphics and friezes in ancient Maya culture as well as intricately carved stellas, 25 temples and well-preserved palaces.

Today Xunantunich is Belize’s most visited site, and the surrounding area of the Cayo District has become one of the most popular destinations in mainland Belize known for its multitude of Maya sites as well as its incredible caves, waterfalls, rivers and lush jungles. There are tons of adventure activities to be found which include hiking, kayaking, swimming, canoeing, zip-lining and of course exploring the incredible cave systems. You can easily spend a few days here with the highlight of your visit being a trip to Xunantunich.

Exploring Xunatunich

The Maya empire evolved around 2000 BC and thrived until their decline in 1500 AD. The highest point and power of Maya Civilization was known as the Classic Period from 250 AD  – 900 AD.  It was during this time that the political system changed into a Theocratic system where rulers represented the Gods to the lower class people on earth. Knowledge was power and since low-class people had no education, they believed whole-heartedly in their rulers. The Classic Period was a flourishing period of massive growth and the building of the incredible temples, pyramids and cities that are left behind today.

Xunantunich may have been occupied as early as 1000 BC but it was little more than a village. The large architecture that we see today began to be built in the 7th century AD. An estimated 7,000-10,000 people lived at Xunantunich during its peak and the city was quite possibly politically aligned with neighboring Naranjo just 9 miles west in Guatemala. In 1000 AD Xunantunich was abandoned right around the time that many other large Maya cities were being dismantled as the Maya civilization was falling apart.

Xunantunich is unique because it is the oldest continuously excavated Maya site in the country. The ruins were first explored in the 1892 by Dr. Thomas Gann, a doctor from Britain. Gann returned a second time in 1924, unearthing many Maya treasures which have tragically been lost or given away to private collectors. There has been continuous excavations and restorations since 1990 by the University Of California (ULA) under the direction of Dr. Richard Leventhal. These excavations continue to bring new discoveries and treasures helping historians and archeologists piece together the ancient Maya past.

One of the biggest and most impressive Maya buildings ever found was discovered in Xunantunich. Known as “El Castillo” (The Castle), it is covered in elaborately carved friezes, and remains the second-tallest tallest man-made structures in Belize. One of the figures carved on El Castillo is a three-dimensional seated person which is rumored to be the “stone maiden” that the villager saw when he stumbled upon the site. 

Belize Central America TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION

Is Instagram Changing the Way We Travel and See the World?

We’ve all seen it. You arrive at the Taj Mahal or the Louvre, filled with pure anticipation to see a world-famous landmark for the first time. Yet when you finally reach the perfect spot for your long-awaited view you get hit in the head with a selfie stick. As you inch your way into the mass of fellow tourists, craning your neck to get a peek, you are rudely shoved aside by an Instagram wannabe star who elbows you in the ribs to get their winning shot. Disheartened, you step aside being engulfed in the swarm of people beside you.

Welcome to the distorted world of social media, a world filled with Instagram influencers who are literally falling to their death to get that perfect shot or buying their followers, comments and likes on some underground website to reach their dreams of becoming a wealthy, world-famous star.

Sound familiar?

Sadly it does. In a world where social media has the ability to make a nobody suddenly rich and famous or even a  7 year old child bringing in $22 million on YouTube reviewing toys, it seems like everyone wants a piece of the pie these days.

But the obsession with social media comes with a huge price. Not only to our sanity but to the way we view and see the world. Here are some of the problems we face and how we can survive online without jeopardizing our soul.

Contributing to Overtourism

One downfall of social media is its influence on overtourism in already popular, ecologically or culturally sensitive places around the world. Think about Iceland, Machu Pichu, Angkor Wat and beaches in Southeast Asia filled with trash and being trampled almost to death, and it is heartbreaking. Even once far-flung destinations such as Myanmar and Palawan in the Philippines have become Instagram sweethearts  with millions of pretty posts. The world is your oyster and up for grabs for anyone with a cellphone and a social media account. However, the surge in tourism for that instagram-worthy photo of that popular place does not come without a price.

A recent article in AFAR states:  Social media is increasingly taking its toll on some of the world’s most photogenic locations, with growing numbers of Instagram-inspired travelers causing concerns about site crowding and conservation. Recently, hugely popular destinations have implemented new rules aimed at combatting overtourism. Just this year, Machu Picchu introduced a stricter ticketing system and Venice announced a visitor tax. Now, an extremely recognizable natural landmark in the United States has joined the expanding list. For the first time ever, travelers must pay an entrance fee to visit Horseshoe Bend, a regularly photographed spot in Arizona’s Glen Canyon National Recreation Area where the Colorado River takes a dramatic U-shaped turn.

Esteemed travel bloggers such as The Expert Vagabond also question Instagram and Social Media’s role in hurting travel. In his thought-provoking piece, Matt states that “Instagram has become a publicly accessible bucket-list of places you NEED to visit, fueling a FOMO (fear of missing out) attitude. We’re trying too hard to impress everyone with our list”. I couldn’t agree more.

Isn’t it wonderful to have a view like this all to yourself? Photo credit: Pexels

CULTURE
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
dignify kantha throw

2019 Gifts that Give Back for Mother’s Day

This Mother’s Day, why not considering giving a gift to that special mom in your life that also gives back to someone in need? Over the years, I have curated an ever-growing list of Gifts that Give Back and am delighted to share some of the latest gifts that give back for this Mother’s Day. Each organization below works to create a beautiful, meaningful gift that also gives back to the women who make the products or helps to support a cause.

Here are some of my top picks for the mom in your life from some of my most favorite organizations. I hope you enjoy the list, and please share this giving guide with friends and family.  To read product descriptions and price details, click on the image to enlarge to full size and open up a slideshow. Enjoy!

All Across Africa

www.allacrossafrica.org

All Across Africa currently works with over 3,000 artisans in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, paying artisans up front for the goods at many times what they could sell them for in a local market. This sustainable income allows them to send their children to school, feed their families and even create savings accounts (something that is unheard of in this part of the world). In addition, money goes back into the communities in the form of education and training programs. All Across Africa believes that job creation is the solution for the rural poor in these countries.

Here are some of the latest ideas for Mother’s Day:

Anchal Project

www.anchalproject.org

Anchal [on-chal] believes design can change lives. As a non-profit social enterprise, Anchal uses design thinking to create innovative products and sustainable employment for exploited women worldwide. To date, we have provided alternative careers in textiles and design to over 200 women in Ajmer, India and Louisville, KY.

Anchal is committed to producing the highest quality home goods & accessories while maintaining the integrity of our artisans and natural resources. Distinct design, craftsmanship and a personal signature connect you to the individual maker. Our eco-friendly products are entirely hand-stitched from vintage materials, certified organic cotton and low-impact dyes.

Here are a few favorites for Mother’s Day:

Bloom & Give

www.bloomandgive.com

Bloom & Give sells beautifully handcrafted scarves and bags made in India using techniques passed on from generation to generation. Each product is designed in the US by one of Bloom & Give’s designers, and made in India with love. Bloom & Give donates 50% of their profits to support girls education programs in India through their partner Educate Girls to improve the lives of girls in Rajasthan.

Some great gift ideas include:

dignify

www.shopdignify.com

dignify helps women shop for excellent quality, meaningful gifts and goods: items that promote dignity, empower humanity, and champion good. dignify’s online boutique sells premium quality, ethically made “kantha” quilts — blankets stitched by hand from layers of sari cloth using a centuries old tradition in Bangladesh. The women who sew dignify’s blankets are the most vulnerable in society: recovering from sexual exploitation or in a high risk environment. Now, they are employed with dignity in safe, loving, and sustainable work, producing beautiful blankets that customers love.

The most popular gift for moms is their Classic Kantha Throw. Each is $98 USD and each throw is made one-of-a-kind.  dignify’s classic “kantha” throw is a quilt made from six layers of vintage sari cloth, hand-stitched together by women in Bangladesh working in a job with dignity:

Ecuadane

www.ecuadane.com

Ecuadane is a social enterprise started by three sisters who love to travel and share cultures and traditions around the world. Ecuadane sells traditional wool and Alpaca blankets from Ecuador made by native Otavaleños living amidst the Andes Mountains and volcanoes. These soft, warm and beautiful blankets celebrate the customs and traditions of Ecuadorian villagers while each purchase helps support the craftsmen and their families. 10% of the proceeds from the blankets in Ecuador go back to the community.

Give Back Goods

www.givebackgoods.com

Give Back Goods mission is to create a positive impact on the world with every purchase. Give Back Goods wants to make it easy for people to purchase goods that are eco-friendly, sustainable, ethically sourced and support the people who make them with fair wages and healthy work environments. Each Give Back Good purchase will give 10% back to important grass-roots causes. The products carried at Give Back Goods includes home goods, jewelry, electronics, accessories, toys for children and pets, and more.

For this Mother’s Day, check out these wonderful gift ideas:

Gifts for Good

www.giftsforgood.com

Gifts for Good serves companies and professionals with high quality goods that people will love to give and love to receive. Their gifts are made by nonprofit or social enterprise partners who make and sell their own products to support their mission. Each product supports one of 40 nonprofit and social enterprise partners tackling the world’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges. Gifts for Good generates impact in over 19 states and 65 countries around the globe.

Here are a few awesome picks for Mother’s Day:

Nomi Network

www.nominetwork.org

Nomi Network’s vision is a world without slavery where every woman can know her full potential. Their mission is to create economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking by equipping them with the leadership, entrepreneurship, and production skills to become financially independent. Their programs are currently based in India and Cambodia, with hopes of expansion in the South East. Profits from the sales of these items are reinvested into job creation and market access programs for our women.

Nomi Network

Logo Bracelet

This Mother’s Day, Nomi Network is featuring the Logo Bracelet. Purchase a statement charm for your mother or loved one. “She is Free” and “Empower” showcase Nomi Network’s vision to see a world without slavery where every woman can know her full potential! Only $20 and with limited time coupon, “thirdeye30” – get 30% off your entire order from today until May 1st 11:59 PM EST. (Click on image to enlarge).

 

Purpose Jewelry

www.purposejewelry.org

PURPOSE Jewelry is handcrafted by young women escaping human trafficking in India, Uganda and Mexico. The art of jewelry making paired with holistic care ensures every artisan gains dignity and hope for the future. 100% of the proceeds go to our nonprofit, International Sanctuary.  Through iSanctuary’s wide range of services young women can begin to heal and grow in mind, body, and soul. It is iSanctuary’s mission to not just sustain victims of modern-day slavery, but to provide the tools and life skills they need to embrace their true identity and worth, and transform into survivors with true freedom.

Some top picks for Mother’s Day include:

Thistle Farms

www.thistlefarms.org

Thistle Farms is dedicated to helping women survivors of addiction, trafficking, and prostitution find healing, hope, and freedom. Thistle Farms lives into this mission through three integrated paths: In residential communities where women experience healing, restoration, and love without judgement; Through social enterprises where women gain skins, financial independence, and the opportunity to connect with customers and partners globally; and across a coordinated movement  of survivors, customers, advocates, and communities collaborating, on innovative ways to deliver justice and challenge the systems that commodify women. Thistle Farms’ signature body and home collections are handmade in Nashville, TN with high quality ingredients, including: the finest essential oils available on the market and healing ingredients like Moringa oil, organic rose geranium, shea butter, and aloe vera.

Here are some goodies for that special mom:

TO THE MARKET

www.tothemarket.com

TO THE MARKET | Survivor-made Goods (TTM) combines the powers of commerce and storytelling to empower the world’s most courageous survivor populations, in the belief that resilience is more powerful than suffering. TTM showcases handmade goods made exclusively by proud and passionate artisans who have overcome the perils of abuse, conflict, and disease. By assisting local partners around the world in bringing these goods “to the market,” we take an active role in equipping the survivor’s they employ with economic independence, while raising awareness of the challenges that they face.

Check out these new ideas for the mom in your life:

Like this? Why not PIN for later?

Check out this list of curated gifts that all give back for the Mother's Day.

Gifts that Give Back SOCIAL GOOD
Mask Temple Lamanai Belize

A Visit to the Lamanai Ruins of Belize

One of the highlights of any trip to Belize is a visit to the ancient Maya world and thankfully one of the best ancient Maya sites, the Lamanai ruins, is not far from Belize City and can be easily seen in a day. Lamanai is one of the largest and oldest Maya ceremonial sites within the region consisting of over 700 impressive structures. Lamanai – which translates into “submerged crocodile” – dates back to 1500 BC and tells the story of the ongoing Maya resistance against the European invaders for centuries making this site the longest known occupation throughout the Maya empire. It wasn’t fully abandoned until the 17th or even possibly 18th century. Its impressive setting along the banks of the New River surrounded by lush tropical jungle make a visit to the ruins all the more meaningful.

Located about 25 miles south from Orange Walk Town on the shore of the New River Lagoon, getting to the ruins is half of the fun and is quite frankly an adventure in itself. The majority of tourists opt to take an hour long speedboat ride to the site so you can observe and explore the fascinating flora and fauna that live along the mangroves of the river. Blessed with over 590 species of birds in Belize and plenty of unusual trees and plants, not to mention sun-bathing iguanas and crocodiles, the ride is magnificent and adds to the adventure of the arriving at the ruins. The ride back is full speed ahead and all the more thrilling.

Lamanai was my first experience exploring the fascinating ancient world of the Maya during a week long trip to Belize and Guatemala, and began a deep curiosity and appreciation for Maya culture and civilization.

Belize Central America TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
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

How Ecotourism is Helping Protect Endangered Howler Monkeys in Belize

The Yucatan Black Howler Monkey is the largest monkey in the Americas, and found only in a small section of Central America. Originally called baboons by the locals, the Yucatan Black Howler Monkey has been listed as an endangered species since 2003 and its population has declined over 60% due to loss of land, hunting and disease. Yet an innovative, community-led grassroots project called the Community Baboon Sanctuary located in the Belize River Valley outside of Belize City is doing wonders to conserve and protect both the monkeys and the local community who support them. It was the first place I visited on my trip to Belize with G Adventures and was the perfect way to start off a week of adventure and sustainable travel.

I arrived in Belize City on a non-stop morning flight from cold, wintry Minnesota. The moment I walked off the plane, I was greeted with the sticky, thick humidity of the tropics. A smile instantly came across my weather-worn face. I was ready for some sun and adventure, both which would be coming over the next eight days in Belize exploring the jungle, ancient Mayan ruins, and marine life in the world’s second largest barrier reef.

After gathering my luggage, I was greeted by a representative from the Black Orchid Resort where I’d be spending the first two days of my trip. Located next to the mangrove banks of the Belize River near the tiny village of Burrell Boom, it was the perfect alternative to staying in Belize City. The Black Orchid offered peace, beauty and nature yet was not too far away from the major tourist attractions and very close to the Community Baboon Sanctuary where we would be spending our first full morning.

After an evening of settling in at the hotel and meeting my fellow group of travelers with G Adventures, we were ready to depart for a morning tour of the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS). I was extremely excited to visit the CBS because I love monkeys and I am passionate about seeing sustainably run conservation projects on the ground. We arrived around nine and were met by our guide Robert who would first give us an overview of the project and then take us on a wonderful nature walk within the sanctuary where we would learn about the flora and fauna of the rainforest and be able to observe the monkeys in the wild.

The CBS is an exemplary community-led grassroots conservation project that works to protect the natural habitat of the endangered Yucatan black howler monkeys while also working hand in hand with the local community through education, community development and sustainable ecotourism practices. The CBS was founded by American primatologist Dr. Robert Horwich in 1981 after he identified the region of the lower Belize River Valley as one of the largest habitats of black howler monkeys in North Central America. Working with the local community of private landowners, the pioneering idea of creating a voluntary sanctuary for the monkeys was formed. Property maps were drawn up for each landholder and they were asked to sign a voluntary pledge that outlined the management plans for conservation.

Belize Central America Conservation/Environment Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
LifeStraw Follow the Liters

The Hidden Cost of Consumer Consumption and Water Scarcity

Did you know that avocados have an estimated water footprint of almost 2,000 litres per kilogram. In Chile’s arid Petorca region, every cultivated hectare of avocados requires 100,000 litres a day of irrigation. Villagers nearby now depend on trucked-in water supplies, after underground aquifers and rivers dried up. That is the reality of the hidden cost of consumer consumption and water scarcity. 

Today, March 22 is World Water Day, a day designated by the United Nations to bring attention to the importance and need of safe water around the world. Water is life and access to safe water is a basic human right. However, 2.1 billion people around the world live without safe drinking water affecting their health, wellbeing, education and livelihoods. Water is so critical to life and wellbeing that it was added by the UN as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) which commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes measures to protect the natural environment and reduce pollution.

Unfortunately we are falling well short of achieving this goal and billions of people are still living without safe water in their homes, schools, workplaces and businesses making it difficult to survive and to thrive. The impact of water poverty hits even harder on marginalized groups such as women, children, refugees and other disadvantaged people who have an even harder time getting access to safe water spending hours a day making a long, treacherous journey to remote water sources.

In my work, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and write about safe water and have witnessed firsthand the impact of bringing safe water to communities during a trip to Western Kenya last year with LifeStraw.  I have also been fortunate to have seen the work of WaterAid -the world’s leading nonprofit providing safe water and sanitation around the world – on the ground in both India and Ethiopia. The more I’ve seen, the more passionate I’ve become about spreading awareness about water poverty and injustice and what we can personally do to make a difference.

In honor of World Water Day, WaterAid has published a new report, Beneath the Surface, that uncovers why and how water poverty exists and identifies the massive amounts of water used in daily products, such as coffee, wheat, rice, cotton and more. The results of the reports are surprising and a bit scary. However, the upside is that the report suggests what we as consumers can do about it and how we can personally make a difference.

LifeStraw

Carrying a 20 L Jerrycan of water on your head isn’t easy but these Kenyan women do it several times a day.

Here are some of the key findings in the report:

Lack of Access:

Whether you have access to water for drinking, cooking, washing and other daily needs greatly depends on where you live in the world. Even some places that you would think would have enough water simply don’t and the list of water scarce countries may surprise you. For example, 130 million people in the United States live part of the year without enough water which is the same figure as in Bangladesh.

One in nine people do not have access to clean water close to home, and just under two-thirds of the world’s population – 4 billion – live in areas of physical water scarcity, where for at least part of the year demand exceeds supply.

Women and children gather water from the water source in Nacoto village, Mossuril District, Nampula Province, Mozambique – October 2017. Photo credit: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

What Countries are under the greatest risk?

Countries with large populations living with water scarcity include India, Bangladesh, China, USA, Pakistan, Nigeria and Mexico. In India, about 1 billion people live with water scarcity during at least one part of the year and surprisingly about 130 million people in the US do as well. However, the US has one of the largest water “footprints” in the world consuming approximately 7,800 litres per person per day! A water footprint is the amount of water needed to create a product from start to finish. For example, to make a cup of coffee it does not just take the water to brew it, it includes the water used to irrigate the crops and process the beans making the water footprint of your daily cup of coffee about seven 20-litre jerrycans full.

Why Does Water Scarcity Exist?

First of all, water scarcity exists based on physical scarcity. About 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia and the Middle East, yet that area only receives slightly more than a third of the world’s water from rain or melting snow. Simply stated, some of these countries have a huge population with very little water. Second of all, water scarcity is also due to social-economic scarcity making it unavailable due to lack of investment in safe water and political will. Many poor countries use up a great deal of their own water to make the goods that wealthy countries want to buy. While this does create economic growth and opportunity for the exporters, they often deplete their own water without having enough water for their own people. This water that is used to produce goods, clothing, and food is called “Virtual water” and inadvertently acts to further exasperate water poverty and scarcity. It is estimated that 22% of the world’s water is used towards producing products for export.

Did you know that a lunchtime hamburger of about 110 grams might not appear to contain much water, but, on average, it took 1,700 litres of water, or 85 jerrycans, to get it to your plate.

Helene Jemussene (R) carries her baby Agostinho, aged 3, on her back as she gathers water from the river near M’Mele Village, Cuamba District, Niassa Province, Mozambique – May 2017. Photo credit: WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

Why are we not making much progress in achieving water for all?

Per the report: “Globally, we now use six times as much water as we did 100 years ago – and that figure is growing by 1% every year. Population growth and changes in diet are expected to increase the water demands of agriculture by around 60% by 2025.” Combine this with climate change and competing demands from industry and agriculture, the threat of having enough water for basic human consumption and needs is even more daunting.

What Can We Do?

Governments, businesses, retailers, investors and consumers all play an important role in ensuring we have water for all. While governments around the world need to prioritize water security by ensuring proper legislation and regulations, businesses and industries also must commit to water sustainability roadmaps and guidelines. We as consumers can use our purchasing power to make a difference by minimizing our own use of virtual water by such simple things as not wasting so much food, being mindful of what we purchase, consume and eat, and by simply consuming less.

Eevelyne collecting dirty water from a hole dug in the sand, in a partially dried riverbed located next to her family compound. This was what she used to do when there was no safe water point in her district, in the village of Sablogo, in the Commune of Lalgaye, province of Koulpelogo, Region of Centre-East, Burkina Faso, January 2018. Photo credit: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

All of the information used in this post are used with permission from WaterAid’s Beneath the Surface report. 

Want to Learn more?

Download and read WaterAid’s report: Beneath the Surface: The State of the World’s Water 2019. It is fascinating and a quick read.

Here are some more facts about water from the UN Water Day:

  • 2.1 billion people live without safe water at home.
  • One in four primary schools have no drinking water service, with pupils using unprotected sources or going thirsty.
  • More than 700 children under five years of age die every day from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation.
  • Globally, 80% of the people who have to use unsafe and unprotected water sources live in rural areas.
  • Women and girls are responsible for water collection in eight out of ten households with water off-premises.

About WaterAid:
WaterAid
 is the world’s largest international nonprofit organization specifically dedicated to helping the world’s poorest people transform their lives through access to safe water, toilets and hygiene education. WaterAid works closely together with local governments, community-based organizations and individuals in 26 countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific region to employ affordable and locally appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene solutions. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 21 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 18 million people with toilets and sanitation. www.wateraid.org

Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD Water and Sanitation
Jökulsárlón Northern Lights. Photo credit: Tom Archer

Discovering Iceland with Hidden Iceland’s Small Sustainable Tours

There is perhaps no other more mystifying place on earth than Iceland. Known as “the Land of Fire and Ice”, Iceland is home to extreme geological contrasts being blessed with some of the largest glaciers in Europe and also some of the world’s most active volcanoes. Iceland’s extreme beauty has captured the world’s attention making this small Nordic country one of the hottest tourist destinations in the the world. Many travel companies have opened up shop to support the growing tourism industry especially in a sustainable, responsible way. Hidden Iceland is one small tour company that is breaking the way in sustainable travel.

I went to Iceland in the summer of 2008 filled with anticipation. I had heard so much about Iceland’s stunning natural beauty of rushing waterfalls, massive blue icebergs, and her expansive, mysterious landscape. I wanted to see for myself if this magical place was real and within the first day I fell in love with her mystical power and beauty. While there were tourists around most of the sights during my visit, it wasn’t as popular ten years ago as it is today. Over the past few years, tourism has exploded which of course has its pros and cons. Per the Icelandic Tourist Board, “The total foreign overnight visitors to Iceland was around 2.2 million in 2017, a 24.2% increase from 2016, when foreign visitors numbered around 1.8 million”. With Iceland’s small population of approximately 338,000 this surge in popularity has not come without its price and there have been lots of people wondering how to travel to Iceland sustainably and protect its unique culture and environment.

One way you can travel responsibly is by choosing a sustainable tour company that offers off the beaten path tours to lesser visited areas, employs local guides and also takes care of the environment and culture. Hidden Iceland is a boutique travel company that focuses on immersive experiences with passionate guides in remote settings such as glaciers, volcanoes, Northern Light spots and ice caves.  Hidden Iceland is also a Certified Climate Neutral Partner offsetting their carbon emissions, and also maintains a strict sustainability policy of offering only small guided group tours. They are currently ranked number 3 in all of Iceland on TripAdvisor out of 386 tour outfitters (with all five star ratings!), and their unique approach to combining personalised service, expert knowledge and a love of all things Iceland is what makes them stand out as one of the best.

Sólheimajökull Blue Ice.

Sólheimajökull Blue Ice. South Coast. Photo credit: Norris Niman/Hidden Iceland

I had the opportunity to learn more about Hidden Iceland from Ryan Connolly, one of the co-founders and here is what he has to say about what makes their trips unique.  

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Xunantunich Belize

Top Things to Do in Belize in a Week

On the Caribbean coast of Central America to the south of Mexico and the east of Guatemala lies the tiny country of Belize. One of the smallest countries within Central America, with a mere population of around 382,000, Belize has an incredible amount to offer the intrepid traveler. Belize’s lush jungle, stunning barrier reef, plethora of ancient Mayan ruins, rich culture, and downright natural beauty make it a haven for adventure junkies, nature lovers and those wanting to experience island life on one of its many cayes (islands). Furthermore, Belize is Central America’s only English-speaking country making travel much easier for those who don’t speak Spanish or Creole.

After exploring much of Central America and particularly falling in love with the beauty Costa Rica, I personally wasn’t sure how Belize would compare. I had honestly never truly given Belize a thorough review, as I had only visited Belize City and one of her lovely cayes for a day trip when we were on a family cruise years ago. But that one visit to paradise was enough to whet my appetite for more and instill a desire to return for a full blown week long adventure. The only challenge was that I would be traveling alone.

After careful research, I found the perfect way for me to visit Belize without my usual traveling companions, my family. I joined a small-group tour with G Adventures, a Canadian-based company with a focus on responsible travel and tourism. I had learned about G Adventures years ago when I heard its inspiring founder Bruce Poon Tip present at a travel blogging conference in Toronto. I was instantly impressed with his vision and passion for sustainable travel through G Adventures’ for Good Programs around the world.  I was thrilled to see G Adventure’s Belize Trip used local tour guides, drivers and locally-owned hotels for all the stays, and also included three G for Good Program visits where we could support the local community. I booked the trip in early December and anxiously awaited the departure just as winter in Minnesota was gathering steam.

Belize Barrier Reef

Setting sail on a catamaran to Belize’s Barrier Reef

Belize Barrier Reef

Snorkeling with sea turtles, nurse sharks and rays is a highlight of any trip to Belize. Photo Credit: Anda De Wata Tours, Belize

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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.

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Mkura Maasi Training Camp Tanzania

How We As Consumers Can “Buy The Change You Want To See”

In 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting Jane Mosbacher Morris, Founder and CEO of TO THE MARKET at a social good conference. TO THE MARKET is an amazing, creative social enterprise that showcases handmade goods made exclusively by proud and passionate artisans who have overcome the perils of abuse, conflict, and disease. By assisting local partners around the world in bringing these goods “to the market,” the organization takes an active role in equipping the survivors they employ with economic independence, while raising awareness of the challenges that they face.

I have featured TO THE MARKET’s products on my “Gifts that Give Back” page on my blog and have stayed in touch with Jane over the years to see what new initiatives they are working on. I was thrilled to read and review Jane’s recently released book, “Buy The Change You Want To See: Use Your Purchasing Power to Make the World a Better Place“. Together with writer Wendy Paris, the new book discusses how every day people (both businesses and consumers) can use their purchasing power for good and make a difference in the world. Obviously this book is a huge hit with me given my love of gifts that give back and make a social impact with the power of your own wallet. In reading the book, I learned a lot that I didn’t know especially about the coffee and chocolate industries and the power of the ethical supply chain to create a better world for people, the planet and businesses.

Throughout the book there is insight into how Jane created TO THE MARKET as well as great tips on what is behind coffee certification labels, a list of coffee and chocolate terminology,  ideas on recycled sustainable products, tips on how to check if clothing is made ethically, and best of all a list of small upcoming chocolate makers producing excellent chocolate and doing good. “Buy The Change you Want To See” offers a wealth of information and tools for those who want to join the bandwagon of being a socially conscious consumer. It is a book worthy of keeping in your bookshelf as a reference on how you can use your personal buying power for good.

Without giving away the incredible content in the book, I opted to do an interview with Jane to discuss in further depth how we as consumers can buy the change we want to see. Here is what she has to say.

TO THE MARKET

Jane in Northern Kenya (photo credit Neil Ruskin for TO THE MARKET)

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