Category Archives: community tourism

President’s Corner: Getting to Know the Real Costa Rica

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By Jeremy Sampson, President, GreenSpot Travel

At GreenSpot we love to experience destinations the way they were meant to be. We have a particular passion for indigenous communities, working with them to provide unique opportunities for our clients while protecting and celebrating traditions and cultural heritage.

Our US-based team visited our Costa Rica office in May, and spent several days traveling in and around communities which currently offer indigenous and rural tourism experiences. Our visits included the Bribri community in Talamanca and Brörán in the southern region on Terraba, which includes a quiet, rustic lodge called El Descanso – as the name implies, a perfect place to rest.

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Our time was spent exchanging stories and ideas with community leaders, while observing and reviewing what they have to offer visitors. We came away with several new ideas that we plan to incorporate into Costa Rica itineraries for travelers interested in meeting and learning from these amazing people.

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My personal experience in Brörán was an unforgettable one. Life moves at a different pace in their small village, and we made fast friends with our hosts. Spending time in a place like this, it’s impossible not to reflect on your own roots, on the importance of holding onto identity, family, and tradition in the face of deep-seeded modern challenges.

We ate simple (but perfect!) homemade meals cooked by the local abuelas (grandmothers). We walked to and swam in magical waterfalls. We prepared (and enjoyed) sacred cacao. We exchanged stories. We talked about the past and the present. We were shown hospitality one can only classify as “priceless”, even if it’s not the 4- and 5-star lodges we typically sell.

Costa Rica indigenous community

I believe this is an experience all travelers should have. The newfound perspective is well worth it, and I can’t wait to go back and see them again.

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Ten Incredible Things to do in Ecuador

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10 incredible things to do in Ecuador

Ecuador lies in a privileged location, right in the middle of the world. This allows for mega-biodiversity to exist within a relatively small country. Not only can you travel from the mountains to the jungle in the same day, but you also have the opportunity to be exposed to thousands of species of plants, birds, insects, mammals and other creatures. In fact, the country is often described as a collection of four worlds in one, made up of the coast, Andes Mountains, Amazon Jungle and Galapagos Islands.

hummingbird Ecuador

Compiled of numerous protected areas, visitors can experience this rich flora and fauna first-hand while enjoying a wide range of activities, from wild adventures like river rafting and mountain biking to peaceful bird watching, horseback riding and cooking classes. For those who delight in wildlife and cultural tradition, a Galapagos cruise combined with a trip to Otovalo Market (South America’s largest!) while staying in a beautiful hacienda in the highlands, might be the perfect combination.

Ecuador travel

Here is a list of 10 incredible moments you can enjoy on a GreenSpot trip to Ecuador:

Galapagos Islands Cruise

The Galapagos Islands receive an abundance of well-deserved hype, so they pretty much speak for themselves. Even a wildlife novice can’t help but enjoy the close encounters with dancing and whistling Blue Footed Boobies or the opportunity to swim and frolic with penguins and sea lions, all  while cruising from island to enchanted island in the comfort of a luxurious vessel.

Galapagos travel

Horseback Riding in the Andean Highlands

Donning chaps and a poncho, take a ride like a true Ecuadorian chagra through pristine valleys of the Andean Highlands. As Cotopaxi Volcano looms in the distance, you have the chance to walk, trot, or gallop your way across the open terrain, on the outskirts of Cotopaxi National Park.

horseback riding Ecuador Andean Highlands

Downhill Mountain Biking in Cotopaxi National Park

If horseback riding is a bit tame for your wild spirit, you are sure to enjoy a thrilling bike ride through the extraordinary beauty of Cotopaxi National Park. Wild horses and wild flowers surround the rugged trails as you bump your way down the mountain, returning to a cozy hacienda at the end of the ride.

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Hike!

There are countless opportunities for hiking on mainland Ecuador and even short hikes throughout the Galapagos Islands. Whether it’s along the craggy foothills of the Andes, through the verdant rainforest, or over volcanic lava rock, we highly recommend packing those hiking boots and meandering along Ecuadorian trails.

hiking Ecuador

Shop at Otavalo Market

Woven textiles, panama hats, jewelry, and ponchos are just a few of the items that might tempt you at this marvelous bazaar of artisan goods. However, it’s the vibrant colors and display of cultural pageantry that you’ll take home and cherish for a lifetime.

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Kayak Through the Amazon Jungle

Imagine the jungle sounds that will surround you as your kayak glides through the twisting tributaries of the Amazon. Binoculars around your neck, there is no better way to observe the abundance of wildlife that inundates the rainforest.

Kayak Amazon Ecuador

Explore Quito’s Historic Plazas

Founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city, Quito is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sitting at a little over 9,000 feet, the air is crisp and skies are blue as can be. Quaint alleyways, pigeon-filled plazas, and ancient architecture are found around every bend, and there is enough to see to fill a few days of wandering.

Quito Ecuador

Visit the Middle of the World

Don’t pass up the opportunity to straddle the equator. It isn’t every day that you have the chance to stand with each foot in a different hemisphere. This is possible at the Middle of the World Monument, not too far from Quito.

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Stay in a Beautiful Hacienda

Ecuadorian haciendas frequently date back to the 16th century and have generations of stories to tell. Many are still working farms, and you can soak up the atmosphere and chagras (cowboys) way of life, as you learn about their history and enjoy the surrounding gardens and fertile land.

Hacienda Cusin Ecuador

Get to Know the Locals

As a tour operator with a mission to create meaningful connections with people and communities, we consider this to be a vital part of any travel experience. The hospitality of the Ecuadorian people makes it easy and enjoyable to discover the soul of this country through personal encounters with the local people.

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All of this and more can be found in our sample Ecuador itineraries. As always, we can customize your trip to suit your desires. We’d love to talk to you about your Ecuador travel dreams. Contact us to find out how we can help you get there.

In the GreenSpot Light: Ecuador

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Quito Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

No stranger to bucket lists and Pinterest boards, there’s no denying that the Galapagos Islands are a remarkable place to visit. When asked about my favorite travel experience, snorkeling with Galapagos sea lions always ranks high on my list. In addition, those islands ignited my passion for wildlife and conservation.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos may be Ecuador’s gem, yet we believe that mainland Ecuador deserves to share the spotlight with those famous islands. The mainland is so much more than a transfer point. Dig deep into the heart of the country and the incredible biodiversity, vibrant culture and potential for adventure will win you over.

As we get ready to launch our new Ecuador itineraries, we will be sharing an in-depth look at some of mainland Ecuador’s most notable attributes. Here is an overview of what’s to come and a look at some of the beauty of the country.

 

Unsurpassed Biodiversity

Ecuador is one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world and has the most biodiversity per square kilometer of any nation (whoa!). Essentially, that means that this small country contains a massive amount of the earth’s species. In part, this is due to the variety of ecosystems found in such close proximity to each other. In other words, you can be riding in a canoe in the humid, tropical rainforest in the morning and sitting next to a crackling fire, in the highlands of the Andes that evening.

Ecuador Hummingbird

Ecuador Hummingbird

Amazon rainforest canoe

Canoe in the Amazon

A Country with a Spirit for Adventure

Everyone’s idea of adventure is different. Have you ever experienced peddling a bike over a cloud forest? Well, Ecuador makes it possible. Whether you are climbing one of the country’s highest peaks, rafting class 5 rapids, horseback riding in the mountains or experiencing a gentle hike through the foothills of an ecological reserve, the options are endless.

Hiking Ecuador

Hiking in Ecuador

Mountain biking - Cotopaxi National Park

Mountain biking – Cotopaxi National Park

Culture and Tradition

Ancient traditions are alive and well in Ecuador. Stumbling upon natural cultural encounters is as easy as strolling through a bustling market. Strike up a conversation with weavers who are making Panama hats (which are actually Ecuadorian…but more about that later). Furthermore, the food in Ecuador is something to write home about.

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Ingredients for traditional chicha

Banos, Ecuador

Banos, Ecuador

People make the Place

As you delve into the culture and tradition of the country, it doesn’t take long to see the adoration that Ecuadorians have for their homeland. They are happy and proud to share the beauty of their country with travelers. Locals are hospitable and courteous and native guides will deliver an abundance of information that will enhance your travel experience.

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Ecuadorian hospitality

village children, Ecuador

We are looking forward to sharing more of this beautiful country with you. Stay tuned for more of Ecuador – or contact us to find out how we can help you get there.

An Earth Day Gift for You – 5 Tips for Responsible Travel

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Earthday

It’s been many years since the terms ecotourism and sustainable travel first developed. Since then, the complex relationship between travel and responsibility to our planet, has grown in importance. Some even declare it an oxymoron to put the two together – opposites, like oil and water. Well, pardon us if we disagree.

Not only are there ways that tourism can benefit everyone, but the concept of  responsible travel is becoming more mainstream.

waterfallThe economic and social benefits of tourism are more obvious, particularly in developing countries, because (if done correctly) tourism can create jobs and increase the country’s revenue. It can also improve infrastructure and cultural understanding between guest and host. The environmental benefits are sometimes less obvious. However, tourism has helped promote awareness and conservation of natural resources and wildlife.

We thought that Earth Day would be a good opportunity to provide you with a list of a few things that you can do on your next trip, to be a more responsible traveler. This is not a comprehensive list. Travelers can do various little things to tread lightly and create a positive impact on the destinations they visit.

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  • Support local economies by buying local handicrafts and food that has not been imported.
  • Travel by public transportation within the destination, or better yet, walk or bike.
  • Respect the culture and engage with the local people.
  • Use natural resources sparingly.
  • Don’t buy bottled water – bring your own canteen instead.

*Bonus tip! Contact us to help you select sustainable hotels and local guides for a memorable (and responsible) holiday!

We would love to hear what responsible efforts (big or small) have you made while traveling.

Goats in the Highway – Travel to Turkey

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Holding hands in a circle, while a sparkly bagpipe-like instrument (a tulum) blared away with a pretty catchy tune, I was reminded once again that I was born with a very, very subtle sense of rhythm. Our Turkish hosts were attempting valiantly to show us a few of what I’m sure were the simplest traditional dances they could think of, and it wasn’t going well. Fun, but not pretty, would be an apt description.

Avoiding support posts and beams in the small dining hall as went ring-around-the-rosy-style around the room, with intermittent stomps, yells, and arm waving, couldn’t have been a more effective ice breaker.

The Eastern Black Sea Development Agency invited three board members from The International Ecotourism Society (TIES – www.ecotourism.org) to tour Turkey, especially their relatively unexplored northeast corner of the country. A secret they’d like to share a bit more, but in a sustainable way. Accompanying me was Hitesh Mehta, (h-m-design.com) the pioneering ecolodge designer, and Masaru Takayama, Executive Director of the Japan Ecolodge Association (japan-ecolodge.org).

The Turks were asking for our expertise in developing their style of travel to Turkey and sharing ecotourism experiences with the growing number of travelers looking for a deeper connection with the places we all visit. We were joined by writers and travel company representatives, all focused on experiencing places by connecting with local people and learning about local customs and daily life as part of a more meaningful form of tourism.

The view of the Kaçkar Mountains from a sleepy village speaks volumes about the natural setting in Eastern Turkey.

 

A late flight into Istanbul and the resulting missed connection to the coastal city of Trabzon, the main city in Turkey’s northeast, had us up the next at 4 a.m. and on the highway east right away. Visually, the surprise as you leave Trabzon and head into the surrounding mountains is how green this region is, everywhere. Mountains, valleys, rivers, waterfalls and coastline with dense forest spread as far you can see, broken only by small villages and the occasional town.

My longtime interest in travel to Turkey centered on the history and culture. While the east is full of diverse and living cultures, the verdant natural landscape is different than what I’d envisioned. The roadblock of a lounging goat herd or a woman leading her flock along a mountain pass was much more in line with my expectations.

Standing a few feet away from the Turkish-Georgian border, which is actually fairly porous due to some complicated negotiations with the locals in both countries, we waited for the rest of our group who hadn’t missed flights. A few steps up the hill was the first place our Turkish hosts wanted to share – a wooden mosque built in 1855. A flurry of photography quickly gave way to a peaceful, meditative moment in a unique space, designed and cared for with an eye for simplicity and peace. See out the window below…

 

A Turkish Roadblock

 

Read More on Days 2-10 soon!

 

Wooden Mosque from 1855 on the Turkey-Georgia Border

Article and photos: Richard G. Edwards @greentravelguy

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