Venezuela is a land of extremes. Its geography cuts a swath from the Amazonian Basin to the soaring snow-capped peaks of the Andes. Here, the world's highest waterfall--Angel falls--thunders inside the world's largest national park. To experience ecotourism in Venezuela is to be catapulted, full force, into an eco-adventure. So where, you might ask, do I sign up?
As one committed to green travel who also happens to be a travel writer, I often feel lodged between the proverbial rock and the hard place. With fingers eager to tap out my wanderlust for eco travel in a place like Venezuela, suddenly, a little demon called personal responsibility, clocks me like a brickbat.
Ecotourism or Green Travel: A Difference
Ecotourism in the last decades has been responsible for contributing to the preservation of millions of acres of forest, wilderness and wet lands. Ecotourism can, and has been, a good thing. The sobering reality is that ecotourism has within it the potential to destroy the very thing it seeks to protect. Even the meaning of word is murky. One online dictionary provides this definition of ecotourism: "Tourism involving travel to areas of natural or ecological interest ...for the purpose of observing wildlife and learning about the environment". Where's the "green" in that definition?
Many in the ecotourism industry seem to concur, as their tours seem to have less to do with green tourism and more to do with the idea of "nature as the ultimate amusement park". Many Venezuelan travel packages include multiple flights from one eco-destination to another. Bio-tourists may find themselves burning up the skies as they zip from Caracas, to the Orinoco River, to the Canaima National Park and back again--a convenient way to cover more territory, but far from green and sustainable.
When an ecotourism company plans your Venezuelan eco-destinations, you'll likely find yourself on a boat with an outboard motor, burning fossil fuels and contributing to the pollution of the Orinoco River or the pristine waters of Canaima National Park. One has only to imagine as ecotourism grows exponentially in coming years, the hundreds of boat rides per month, thousands per year, contributing to pollution of the virginal waters of Angel Falls.
Create Your Own Green Itinerary
Take control of your itinerary. Many companies, such as Lost World Adventures, will help their clients customize their destinations and means of travel. Develop a plan that will allow plenty of time for lower carbon modalities. There is nothing quite like a trip spent cycling across the Gran Sabana with its table top mountains and water falls, but this kind of a trip is not for everyone. An open ended plane ticket and a high degree of stamina are recommended.
Create a focused low carbon strategy that covers less territory. For instance, from Caracas, take a bus to the stunning mile-high City of Merida. Surrounded by the Andes, Merida is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Venezuela. It is also point of departure for most Andean treks. These treks can be done on foot, bike, sitting on the back of a donkey, or a combination thereof. You can spend weeks tooling around with little, or no, dependence on fossil fuels.
In any case, unless you plan to stay exclusively within the Caracas area, you're probably going to have to take a bus ride and a flight. Bussing around Venezuela is cheap and reliable, but it isn't exactly carbon free, nor will it take you everywhere you want to go.
Watch Your Fossil Fuels
Canaima National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the Venezuelan destination to which most green travelers aspire, and with good reason. This is a magical and pristine landscape where the forces of water and geology engage in a continuous mind-bending collision. To see this spectacle, you'll have to fly. But instead of a long flight from Caracas consider a road trip by bicycle to Ciudad Bolivar, and from there, fly into the park. If bicycling is not in the plan take an overnight sleeper bus from Caracas to Ciudad Bolivar. Once in the park, plan your trip on foot, with the help of a guide.
The Future of Venezuelan Ecotourism
The Venezuelan ecosystem, like many places in the world, is at a crossroads. Ecotourism must be regulated and well managed to be sustainable. With an exploding market for ecotourism and a great deal of money to be made, a green traveler cannot afford to make decisions passively. Ultimately, the responsibility falls squarely upon the individual.
Venezuela offers an amazing landscape of possibilities. To experience all of them in a week is impractical and environmentally unsound. As responsible tourists, we must impose self-limits. To be truly committed to green travel, instead of some vaguely outlined concept called ecotourism, we must become achingly aware of the impact of each step we take. In monitoring our own carbon footprint, our journeys may become shorter (or longer) than we would otherwise choose. Sometimes--God forbid--we may even choose not to take the journey at all.
Sometimes, we may choose not to even write about it.
Feature photo from flickr by aeruginosa at http://www.flickr.com/photos/aeruginosa/
Cascate Canaima Venezuela from Flicker by easyrab at http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/with/3248246425/