Issue - October 2008

October 2008

What is ecotourism? Is this kind of tourism in Bolivia? Why? Who gets involved in ecotourism? How important is it to be responsible with nature and small communities? more...

October 2008

The Chalalán Eco-lodge

Joining the indigenous community of the north of Bolivia

These Eco-tourism projects are members of Tusoco and they both are near to the capital of La Paz; Chalalán is more focused on the protection of the environment while Mapajo mainly works to help the indigenous communities.

If you are traveling in Bolivia and you are searching for something far from the known routes and accommodation; if you do not want to spend your time just moving around a crowded city – or you just want to have a deeper approach to the culture and the environment of the country, here are two suggestions.

The Chalalán Eco-lodge in the Madidi National Park and the Mapajo Indigenous Ecotourism² in the Reserve Pilon Lajas offer two ways for both visiting one of the most beautiful national areas of South America and benefiting the native communities.

Chalalán is a project born in 1992. Among its aims is the help of the rural community of San José de Uchupiamonas whose families, during the 1980s were forced by the lack of basic services such as health and education to move from the Madidi in search of a better standard of living.

Actually more than 670 indigenous families, belonging to 33 different communities, live in the Madidi.

The answer of the founders was the creation of comfortable accommodation near the Chalalán lagoon, in respect of the harmony of the place. The bungalows are constructed with local materials; they use solar energy and are provided with treatments of no waste water to minimize the ecological impact.

The Park is one of the world’s priorities for conservation: more than 18.000 km² of mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and Andean lagoons. Here over 800 animals live, such as mammals, reptiles and fish; the park is home to 620 species of birds - around 90% of the birds found in Bolivia.

The project has the support of the Inter-American Development Bank and of the Conservation International Ecotourism programme.

IADB’s objective is “to improve the socio-economic conditions of the Quechua-Tacana community of San Jose by establishing small private enterprises based on the production of non-timber forest products and ecotourism” and “to link these activities to the conservation of the area's biological resources”.

The Conservation International (a private non-profit organization specialized in the preservation of natural ecosystem) has worked alongside other local partner organisations to “develop models that demonstrate how people can thrive while conserving the biological wealth of their land and water”. CI, in fact, gave a substantial economic help to the indigenous communities of San José in the belief that “their involvement in conservation is the best way to guarantee a healthy future for people and our planet”.

A tourist visiting the Madidi can experience the richness and the complexity of the park resting in comfortable lodges: private or shared cabins and bathrooms, mosquito nets, wardrobes and balconies. Expert cooks prepare local and international food which is served in a large dining room.

A six-day programme begins with a flight from La Paz to Rurremabaque where a boat will take you down the rivers to the Madidi. During the days you can choose from a variety of activities such as walks - more than 30 km - with a local guide who will teach you about the wonders of the rainforest using his ability of natural interpretation. You can spend afternoons participating at handicraft activities or swimming and resting in the lagoon. A night boat-trip will show you the nocturnal wildlife of the forest or you can take part to a special programme which involves assisting and taking part in traditional dances.

The Park is also a historical and cultural place. In the upper regions there are some Inca and Mollo archaeological sites and pre-Columbian paths. It also has a room where you can hold meetings and a study with an exhibition of local culture and nature.

The best time of year to visit Chalalán is between December and April so as to avoid the rainy season.

It is obviously better to choose a longer programme to enjoy the uniqueness of the places and cultures as long as possible.

Mapajo Indigenous Ecotourism

Situated in the north-western Department of Beni, Mapajo is a project of communitarian tourism created to protect and develop the communities of the reserve of Pilon Lajas, in the Amazon Forest. The area, now recognized as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, has been subjected to the extraction of resources and tourism initiatives from private enterprises that did not respect either the communities or the environment.

In the 1998 six families of the Asunción del Quiquibey with the Asociación Multietnica Araona presented to PRAIA (an institution that supports the indigenous families of the Amazons) a project to improve the quality of life of the communities Mosetén and Chimán and their socio-economic and environmental situation, through Ecotourism services . The project soon started with the aid of FIDA (Fondo Internacional de Desarollo Agrícola) and CAF (Corporación Andina de Fomento).

This programme not only deals with ecotourism but wants to deepen its action over the Mosetén and Chimán communities. The will of emancipation of the inhabitants met the organisation’s disposability. Involving the communities in the production of food and artisans, in the construction of accommodation for visitors and in the writing of an Environmental Act generated work and helped the natives to trust in the results of their own activity. The Feminine Centre (CF) started a cause for women’s emancipation, increasing their presence in the life of the community, for example making them participants to the reunions and to the ecotourism activities. The CF also acted to improve the sanitary service and the quality of life of the families; he built new schools, a hospital and gave the natives access to means of communication. These and other initiatives also strengthened the individual’s identification in the community, reducing the internal differences and the problems derived by the lifestyle of a communitarian society. The plan of PRAIA is still in progress and its most important point is the ecotourism initiative, whose profit also needs to protect the forest.

The six cabins built near the River Quiquibey are made of natural materials and are inspired by the traditional style of construction.

The cabins are surrounded by 20 km of walks, organized into seven different paths, each with a specific theme. Observing nature, learning from expert guides about the local culture and the environment, taking boat-trips by day and night is what Mapajo offers. In Mapajo you will have the opportunity to share your traditions with the local family customs: food preparation, agricultural works, raft and house construction, practice with bow and arrow and dances are some of the activities that Mapajo offers.

Situated in the north-west of Bolivia but exploring two different natural areas, these Eco-lodges represent a good balance between conventional tourism and the wider concept of helping the place that you are going to visit.

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