The word ecotourism is something that has only recently become a mainstay in the English language. Tours to rainforest, gamer reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries are growing in every region of the world. They go in tent camps, on safaris, to jungle lodges, and to rainforest resorts. Inspired by zoos and the throngs of animal themed television shows, people are taking to the jungles and savannas to see the earth’s most fascinating creatures in the wild before it is too late. At the going rate, some say the Amazon will disappear within the next few decades unless drastic measures are taken. Other forests and regions are in danger too. When these go places go, as do the habitats of all of our favorite and most unusual creatures. Although in some places tourism growth has threatened wildlife, in most cases it inspires many to conserve it.

Ecotourism Basics

Ecotourism is simply viewing the world’s flora and fauna in its natural setting. This can be done in a wide variety of ways. An ecotourist is someone who takes a walk in a park or someone who camps for weeks in the Andean cloud forests in the hopes of seeing the elusive Spectacled Bear. An ecotourist will go with a tour operator to take a guided visit of a wildlife reserve and fill their memory card with photos of plants and animals. An ecotourist will stay in a cozy lodge in the rainforest and take mini-excursions throughout the day on foot and by boat in the hopes of seeing monkeys, birds, and even the big cats such as pumas and jaguars. There are no official rules on being an ecotourist, but one basic principle is certain: that the world’s plants and animals are important and that they are worth saving.

Ecotourism - Beginners

Considering most ecotourism opportunities don’t require much skill and that very few people dislike wildlife, much of the world is a beginning ecotourist. How involved they get with the activity is what separates the beginners and advanced. Day trips to national parks and wildlife reserves are standard for beginning ecotourists, as are short trips to jungle lodges. They may spot rare and endangered wildlife, but not likely the rarest and most elusive creatures. Beginners rely on tour operators heavily to get them to these locations and to tell them what to look for.

The best thing a beginner can do to be able to see more wildlife is to hire a guide. Guides who know the local area can point out plants and wildlife, knows where animals hide and their behaviors during a particular season, and they can tell you exactly what they are. A guide can turn an otherwise uneventful trip into a literal smorgasbord of wildlife spotting.

Ecotourism - Advanced

Advanced ecotourists go to extremes to see rare wildlife. While many animals can be seen within a few steps from the entrance of a national park, many are isolated in desolate mountain ranges long hikes away from any roads, houses, or civilization of any sort. This means the biggest enthusiasts are willing to go to far off, out of the way locations, and spend a great deal of time searching and waiting. Sometimes for weeks or months in basic conditions, although sometimes they get lucky and see what they want during a weeklong stay at a jungle lodge. These guys have all the best equipment, from cameras and binoculars to the best-designed adventure clothing. They need a lot of luck, a lot of time, and often a lot of money.

The advanced generally focus on specific plants and animals. Bird enthusiasts are well known for their almost obsessive desire to spot as many and the rarest winged creatures that they can. They will wait in fields, forests, mud, and rain in miserable conditions to get just a glimpse, sometimes even a whistle from a rare bird. Orchid enthusiasts will slog miles of steep cloud forests to find the finest specimens. Others will join research expeditions so they become the experts and to help give back to the earth.

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