So... you want to experience a tropical rain forest?
entral and South America is known for its beautiful,
luscious, tropical rain forests. A few countries are realizing that nature,
in and of itself, can be a source of tremendous income and sustainability
for people and nature into the future. Here are a few of our favorite spots
you might consider for your next eco-trip.
Belize is an awe inspiring place. Its charms include
a friendly, Caribbean, laid-back casualness mixed with just a touch of British
sophistication. Located just below Mexico, this English-speaking country
(formerly known as British Honduras) is filled with an unlikely mixture
of people, cultures and religions. Sprinkled throughout, you will hear Spanish,
Creole, Mayan, Mennonite, German, Chinese and a few other languages. The
population is around 220,000 and about 180,000 tourist visit annually. It's
approximately the size of Massachusetts and has a spectacular and diverse
physical geography. With its majestic inland tropical rain forests, abundant
excavated Mayan ruins, clear mountain streams, swampy mangroves, numerous
cayes (the islands, pronounced keys) and the clear blue Caribbean Sea with
200 miles of barrier reef, it is paradise even for the most worldly traveler.
Its rain forests are filled with rare and endangered
species: toucan, jaguar, ocelot, howler monkey, and many more you may never
have even heard of. Amazing plants and breathtakingly beautiful flowers
(over 30 species of orchids alone) fill the air with a sweet, clean smell
and are so thick in some places, they are absolutely impassable. Many of
the plants are used for medicinal and household remedies by the locals;
much of the Mayan medicine is still in practice today. While standing under
the mass canopies of the forests, it doesn't take long to realize that the
life and value of the land is in its biodiversity: the plants, insects and
animals themselves, not the soil. This is true for all rain forests and
is the main reason it doesn't make sense to exploit the land by the usual
clearing and burning, since the land can only sustain crops for 3 or 4 years
before becoming a sterile desert.
The Government of Belize is quite aware of this, and
although they do still give land to their citizens farming, they also have
a very comprehensive objective to keep nature and development sustainable.
Belize is continually adding to the country's national Parks and protected
Costa Rica - the coast of riches
Long touted as having the best track record for conservation
and preservation of their rain forest, Costa Rica's rate of deforestation
is now one of the world's highest. They do, at least, have a ministry of
conserving nature with about 25 percent of the land currently protected
in more than 20 National Parks, forest reserves and increasing numbers of
private reserves. Most of these are open to visitation by tourists.
You can see many of the most impressive aspects of the
rain forest from the world's first rain forest cable-car tram ride. These
guided tours creep along about a mile, giving an unprecedented opportunity
to view the forest's canopy, containing about two-thirds of the forest species.
Some are convinced that this latest nature travel innovation
is just one more contributor to Costa Rica being loved to death. Tourism
has quadrupled in the past ten years, with a total of nearly 800,000 people
annually. Tourism has replaced coffee and bananas as the country's largest
Still others believe that eco-visitors are what help
the country earn and deserve its clean and green reputation. Costa Rica
is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. You can see jungle-clad
volcanic peaks, mountains up to two miles high, waterfalls, three kinds
of tropical rain forests, broad beaches facing the Pacific Ocean and the
Caribbean Sea and much more all packed within an area smaller than West
In Tortuguero National Park, you can work on tropical-bird,
manatee, and sea turtle projects using your vacation to make a difference
in the big scheme of things.
If we don't start taking more individual global responsibility
now, we will see a decline in our songbirds here at home: these same birds
fly south for the winter and rely on tropical forest habitats.
Hawai'i is home to the only U.S. tropical rain forests.
Moloka'i Island, just 50 miles and yet a world away
from Waikiki, offers unspoiled eco-tourism without a passport. Molokai,
"The Friendly Isle," is the center of the Hawaiian sovereignty
movement, which nurtures a resurgence of indigenous culture. Many Moloka'i
natives still pursue traditional farming, fishing and hunting and gathering
lifestyles. The island is home to Hawaii's tallest waterfall and the world's
highest sea cliff. To visit the Nature Conservancy's preserve here, you
must make reservations as much as a year in advance.
Kaua'i - "the Garden Isle" - is host to the
rainiest spot on the planet, along with "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific."
While this island has many large developments without nature in mind, the
eco-tourist may choose to stay at smaller, locally-owned lodgings. Planted
with banana and papaya trees, the Garden Island Inn owners Steve and Susan
offer their alternative to the Hawaii's high-rise experience at the Kauai
Marriott next door - with gardens surrounding rooms on 3 floors ranging
from $55 to $85 per night.