“The Faces Behind the Coffee Cup”
Rural community–based tourism (turismo rural y comunitario) is small scale tourism in economically less developed rural areas in the Global South, where the local people are active actors in tourism development. Nicaragua is a good example of a Latin American country where exists a growing trend of rural community-based tourism.
Nicaragua’s coffee and tourism sectors meet on the Fair Trade Coffee Trail in San Ram?n, in the district of Matagalpa. Here the idea for the tourism development was born after the coffee price crisis in 2001, given that the main objectives of tourism were to bring complementary income to the poor coffee farmers and to promote equal participation inside the communities. As a result tourism development has brought new opportunities especially to the young people working as guides and to the women responsible for the tourism accommodation. Today the four communities of San Ram?n – El Roblar, La Corona, la Pita and La Reyna – are considered some of the main pioneers of community-based tourism in the country.
On the Fair Trade Coffee Trail tourists can experience the rural life with the local communities, while staying with the local families who have prepared their private homes for the use of the tourists. During their stay, the visitors can help women to prepare local dishes such as tortillas and nacatamales and to visits a community centre, church or school. In these mountainous areas used for coffee cultivation, tourists can hike on the trails around the communities, observe birds, flowers and animals and visit the lookout points (located as high as in 900 metres) offering panoramic views. It is also possible to visit the gold mines of the area, swim in lakes or by a waterfall or jump in to the small pool of La Pita.
Depending on the time of the year, the visitors can participate in the different phases of agricultural production such as sowing, planting trees to give shade to the plants, organic composting and harvesting. Normally between October and January the visitors can participate in the coffee collecting. One of the important goals of the tourism project has been to increase the understanding between the coffee consumers in Global North and the small-scale coffee farmers in Nicaragua. The trip to Northern Nicaraguan countryside gives visitors a unique opportunity to learn about the coffee production, coffee cooperatives and about the previous coffee crisis.
It?s not as though these coffee growers are getting fat off Fair Trade – most make around 2$ per day. But in desperately poor region where electricity and running water are luxuries, a better and more reliable price for their coffee means three meals a day – by no means universal in Nicaragua – plus the chance to plan for the future. (Lonely Planet Nicaragua & El Salvador 2006, 212.)
While this description from Lonely Planet is somewhat theatrical, it does capture the reality of coffee-cultivating rural areas in Nicaragua. It is very essential that the tourists visiting these communities are responsible, acknowledge the importance of intercultural understanding, value the hospitality of the local families and appreciate the basic accommodation prepared for them.
From Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, it takes 3-4 hours to travel to San Ram?n and the journey requires one bus change in the town of Matagalpa. The public buses in Nicaragua are mainly colorful ‘chicken buses’ – the old school buses from United States. Tourists can arrive to all the communities through the UCA San Ram?n office from where the local guides pick them up. Almost none of the people living in these communities have their own cars, so most of the moving around is done by foot, bike or by horse. An entrance to the communities cost US$1, a guided tour for one day costs US$10 for a group, accommodation US$5 per night/per person and US$2.50 per plate. (Prizes can be slightly raised in the near future.)
Photo and article by: Emily H?ckert