Beyond the Beauty

By Chicki Mallen

Say the word Belize and many people think of unbelievably clear blue water and diving along a protected reef rich with brilliant sea life. Amen! But there’s so much more. Some call a visit to Belize a walk through the Garden of Eden with its twisting jungle trails overhung with exotic vines, orchids, and bromeliads. The air is alive with the calls of toucans and parrots, and there’s always a chance to see myriad animals from the regal jaguar to the roaring howler monkey. Magnificent waterfalls cut through stone mountains with multitudes of caves all around the country. Many visitors are eager to explore mysterious Mayan ruins whose deserted temples and ball courts whisper the names of rulers long past. Belize is home to a polyglot of people who have maintained a variety of traditions and cultures for hundreds of years. So far this isolated country has not paved over nature’s wonders. Generally speaking, Belize is ecotourism in action.

What, exactly, is ecotourism?
Well, it depends on whom you ask. It can be anything from a walk around the Belize Zoo, to camping in the jungle, to participation in hard-core scientific fieldwork. The general concept is easy to understand. Fundamentally, ecotourism means to visit a place making as little environmental impact as possible while helping sustain the indigenous populace, thereby encouraging the preservation of scarce wildlife and habitat.
One promising step in that direction has been the rise of ecology-minded organizations such as the Belize Eco-tourism Association and its code of ethics, and the Toledo Eco-Tourism Association with its Village Guesthouse Program. Others involved with educating as well as preserving include the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, Community Baboon Sanctuary at Bermudan Landing, Program for Belize with its Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, the Sea Turtle Sanctuary on Ambergris Aye, and Slate Creek Preserve in the Kayo District. Along with the government, these organizations are among those spearheading responsible tourism development and environmental protection.

Can it work? As Belize is seeing, it probably can (provided the government and members of the tourist industry properly appeal to and serve those adventurous travelers who prefer real jungle to the sanitized versions of movies and amusement parks). The government has been involved, largely through the efforts of the great conservation groups in the country. Those in the know maintain and protect flora and fauna in addition to educating both nationals and foreigners about what is endangered, how not to disrupt wildlife habitats, and how to advance resource sustainability. "We seek to keep the government informed of the problems faced in natural resource management and encourage action to be taken in haste," says the Belize Audubon Society.

Published: 19 Jan 2000 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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