Green List

Sustainable Tourism: a ray of hope and a long-term vision for local communities and conservation in protected and conserved areas

Posted Friday 23 December 2022
  • Share

This trip, that had the objective to close the yearlong project, turned into a lifetime experience for all of us. It helped us understand, in situ the importance of how engaged communities can empower this type of interventions by building life changing foundations for a future common vision. A new form of conservation can be built upon these foundations, an ecosystem conservation that involves people and species, as a hive.

A wide river welcomes you as the first encounter from Juanjui to the buffer zone of the Rio Abiseo National Park. It prepares you but it does not come close to what you will experience once you are inside this impressive protected area in the norther part of the Peruvian Amazon. A mixed World Heritage Site, one of the only three that can be found in Latin America, Rio Abiseo National Park is one of the world’s best examples of a protected river catchment, a jewel connecting the Andes to the Amazon Forest. The site protects the headwaters of three major rivers of the Huallaga Rive system, a major Peruvian tributary to the Amazon River, and is one of the most intact protected areas in the tropical Andes, benefitting from a high degree of isolation, lack of roads and natural protection by the harsh and difficult terrain. Rio Abiseo’s pristine cloud forest reaches up to 3,600 m.a.s.l. and stands out as a rare intact example of this particularly valuable forest type.

Victor Macedo, head of the park waits for us in Huicungo. He is an anthropologist; one might think an odd career for a park manager, but in the case of Abiseo, a key component of its governance success, which is of major importance towards achieving its Green List certification. At the north-eastern boundary of the park, along the Huayabamba River, lies several rural farming communities. This is one of the areas of the Peruvian Amazon most impacted by the coca drug trafficking, as farmers in many communities along the Huayabamba River were growing coca leaves.

To crack down on the illegal production of cocaine and the drug trafficking, all coca plantations in the region were destroyed by the military in the 2010s and much of the land was left unproductive due to the long use of pesticides and the chemicals used to destroy the plantations. After years of struggling to get by, living on savings, many communities found support in projects related to cacao plantations and in recent years the farming of Melipona bees as a source of income along with tourism.

When COVID-19 hit, these rural communities were again heavily impacted, loosing market connections and tourism income.

Victor jumps in the boat and we head to the first of the five communities that where part of the “Sustainable Tourism and Protected Areas in a post-COVID project” funded by the German Government though GIZ and co-implemented through Planeterra. We are here to close the project, but it is evident that this yearlong work has opened new pathways of an evident ongoing process lead by Victor with the communities that live in the buffer zone.

The Rio Abiseo National Park is a clear example of a new form of conservation, one that involves and co-manages protected areas with communities and indigenous groups. Victor has been working here since 2005 when he began an education program with the nearby schools. “We needed to reconnect people with the Protected Area and built trust between communities and park rangers” he says. A task that would take him five years and which consisted of trips and workshops for children and parents on the work and conservations efforts that park rangers are doing inside the area. He also worked in the team that built and idealized the park’s Visitor Center. A space in Huicungo dedicated to educating visitors on all the processes, ecosystems, and history of Rio Abiseo National Park. This amazing space was closed during COVID and has not been open to public since then, due to other priority economic necessities in the country.

Nevertheless, the team in Rio Abiseo has been crucial in working hand in hand with Planeterra in building the Tourism Project this year. As we enter the first community, the work and the relationships they have built is visible. Pizarro, a community of no more than 600 people have joined forces for a common dream, to be the best organised community for tourism activities. Their main source of income is the Melipona bee production. By applying to external investment sources given by the central government, they have become pioneers in the honey production from this amazing pollinator. A medicinal honey that is produced in a very special way, since these bees build their own beehives from scratch in a rather small box. The bees have now inspired a tourism viewpoint at the top of the community that will be hosted by little houses with hives. This viewpoint is a rather important place for bird watching and I might add, beautiful pictures of the river and the whole ecosystem.

As we exit Pizarro and head to Santa Rosa, the feeling of empowerment from the communities starts to arise, we use our time in the boat to learn from the different projects and mainly the possibilities this project opens to community tourism.

A big sign Santa Rosa welcomes us from the river, we are here, and we do a little detour for fun, we jump in the water and float towards the community as the sun sets and the moon appears in a pink scenery so characteristic of the amazon sunsets. The feeling of fullness and happiness hits us all, and we feel at home, at least our temporary home for now.

Santa Rosa is a small community of about 50 people. We get our bags and go directly to Hospedaje Charito where we will stay for the night. The story of Charito and her family is interesting. As most of the families in the areas, it has a coca story turned into a cacao project called ChovaChova. The soil that has been damaged is now the land of greater community opportunities and bonds, as the one created during COVID with Clarita’s bakery. As Clarita lost her husband due to COVID, the whole community joined up to help her and her family and decided as a group to propose in the Work for Cash project, a baking oven for Clarita to grow her business and help her overcome her economic problems and raise her children. That is the living proof of the Tourism project, the interaction of a history of hardships that built communities and after going through a Pandemic rising as a team with the primer objective of building up their whole community for the sake of their children, their ancestors, and their elders.

This trip, that had the objective to close the yearlong project, turned into a lifetime experience for all of us. It helped us understand, in situ the importance of how engaged communities can empower this type of interventions by building life changing foundations for a future common vision. A new form of conservation can be built upon these foundations, an ecosystem conservation that involves people and species, as a hive, like the ones build by the Meliponia.

After this first amazing visit, the journey continued to the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, the second breathtaking protected area beneficiary of the project in South America. Amarakaeri is home to the Harakbut, Yine and Machiguenga indigenous people, among other local communities residing here. As a communal reserve, established in 2003, it is co-managed by a local association on behalf of SERNANP, and was Green Listed in 2018.

Amarakaeri is an oasis of natural beauty in the Peruvian Amazon, surrounded by encroaching illegal mining, logging and drug trafficking activities. Their modern history had been affected by impositions first by missionaries and then by intruders plundering its natural resources.
As a result of decades of evangelic missioning, some members of the community no longer wanted to identify with their indigenous history, culture and traditions. Elders stopped passing on their knowledge to younger generations and centuries of indigenous wisdom was lost in a couple of generations. Modern life, and especially illegal mining operations, also brought prostitution, alcohol and drug abuse, and corruption to the area.

However, despite these hardships, the Indigenous communities of Amarakaeri have committed to protecting their land and natural resources. Many people in the communities are now engaged in recovering lost knowledge and restoring their indigenous culture and traditions. Some communities have invested in alternative livelihoods such as tourism or healing activities based on medicinal plants and traditional knowledge. Sustainable tourism development has been low-key but offered a vital income source to the communities in Amarakaeri.

Then, when the pandemic hit, Amarakaeri closed off the community and all activities stopped. Some communities have not had any visitors for almost three years, and members have had to rely on subsistence, savings and limited relief efforts to survive the pandemic episode. The impacts of the pandemic also led some community members to turn to illegal activities to earn an income.

In closing the project “Sustainable Tourism and Protected Areas in a Post-COVID World”, two indigenous communities were visited in Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, Shintuya and Queros, while the leaders of the other three communities participating in the project, Puerto Azul, Boca Isiriwe and Baranco Chico, were invited to join the closing meeting in Queros community. We received a very warm welcoming upon our arrival. After a long day of travelling by car and boat, it was a wonderful feeling to soak in the hot spring in Shintuya, before being treated to a delightful Amazonian dinner. The day after we got to experience a walk in the lush jungle with Victoria, who is recovering the knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants. It was truly remarkable and awe-inspiring to experience the richness through her eyes and hear her stories how she has been treating and healing sick people with the richness of her grand back yard.

The aim of the project was to engage local indigenous peoples from these communities in restoring and developing new sustainable community-based tourism action plans and itineraries, especially favouring women’s participation and benefit. Through a dedicated ‘cash for work’ scheme, local people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic were able to earn a supplementary income by, for example, restoring trails in Queros, restoring community centres where visitors are welcomed (Puerto Azul, Boca Isiriwe), tree planting (Baranco Chico) or by enhancing sanitation and waste management infrastructure in Shintuya. 126 community members directly benefited (53 men, 73 women) and 240 people indirectly benefited from these activities.

In the closing meeting, a video produced by a media team during a previous fam-trip was shown. This had a big impression on the participating leaders from the five indigenous communities. One leader commented that “it showed that the communities has a lot of potential. Times have changed and there are other sustainable ways to live of the natural resources, other than mining and logging”. The vision of many community members is to recover lost knowledge and traditions, and share these with visitors as a means to restore their indigenous culture and through tourism diversify income sources by sustainable activities that do not harm their natural environment.

Establishing viable tourism itineraries takes years, but this project has given people hope, encouragement and a boost to believe in their abilities and that the nature and indigenous culture they have is worth protecting, restoring and can provide an alternative income by showcasing to visitors.


Photos below from Cash-for-Work progress in Queros, Puerto Azul, Boca Isiriwe, Baranco Chico and Shintuya communities and visits to Rio Abiseo National Park

Related News Articles
View All
The IUCN Green List Standard use for Effective Management along the Mekong River The IUCN Green List Standard use for Effective Management along the Mekong River
Friday 25 August 2023
The IUCN Green List – Building Hope for Asia’s Protected and Conserved Areas The IUCN Green List – Building Hope for Asia’s Protected and Conserved Areas
Monday 31 July 2023
Galápagos camino a la certificación de la Lista Verde de la UICN Galápagos camino a la certificación de la Lista Verde de la UICN
Monday 31 July 2023
Please note that our website is in a BETA phase and is still undergoing final testing before our official launch.
IUCN Green List

IUCN Green List
Protected | Conserved Areas

Subscribe to our mailing list

Privacy Policy Legal Sitemap

© 2023 IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature
Site by Design Factory
This website is possible thanks to the support from:

Join the conversation

IUCN Green List