The Everyday Actions of Earth Day Heroes Across Latin America
Every year, Earth Day serves as a fantastic annual reminder to recycle more, plant a tree and turn off the water when brushing one’s teeth. But what about the other 364 days of the year? When the crazy news cycle immediately pulls our attention in 10 million other directions, who is still prioritizing our planet’s wellbeing and keeping conservation & sustainability top of mind as daily guiding principles for operation?
In many ways, the travel industry has taken up this mantle, being uniquely poised to expose people with the means to travel to our seemingly dim global reality of pollution, habitat destruction and climate change. But it also shines a strong light on practices that prioritize environmental conservation, sustainable operations and projects that preserve local culture while also providing employment in impoverished areas.
We are lucky to partner with some of the boldest thought leaders and action takers in Latin America when it comes to protecting & bettering the planet. Changing people’s mindsets, taking real action against plastic and waste managements, creating protected wildlife corridors and creating jobs while preserving unique local culture. Here’s a roundup of some of the most impactful sustainability initiatives that your guests can experience at our hotels & lodges in Latin America:
1.) #Collectplasticnotshells Movement at Latitude 10 Resort.
No one likes to see beach trash during their vacation, which is why resorts the world over rake & clean their beaches in the wee morning hours before guests arise. Latitude 10 Resort in Santa Teresa has a slightly different approach; they clean their beach lounge area, but they also invite guests to be part of the effort with their #collectplasticnotshells program. The idea is simple; borrow a reusable bag from the front desk, fill it with plastic on a beach walk and return it in exchange for a cocktail or mixed drink. Latitude 10’s efforts have caught on locally; General Manager Jennifer Lotz & her team have organized several community beach cleanup days and encourage other hotels to copy the program as well. In under two months last year, guests & staff of Latitude 10 Resort cleaned more than 177 lbs of plastic from Santa Teresa’s beaches. The pristine beaches and sunsets of a Costa Rica vacation may live on in photos, but the memory of picking up plastic straws, forks and bottle caps from sea turtle nesting grounds probably leaves a stronger impression.
Beach cleanups are only one small part of the sustainability mission of Latitude 10 Resort and other Cayuga Collection properties in Central America. Read about Cayuga’s sustainable seafood partnerships with Dock to Dish, their elimination of single use plastics at all properties and commitment to engaging and benefitting local communities here: The Cayuga Collection: Leaders in Sustainable Luxury
2.) Promoting Appropriate Luxury at Galapagos Safari Camp
When Galapagos Safari Camp founders Stephanie Bonham-Carter and Michael Mesdag first climbed a tree and took in the mesmerizing view of the Santa Cruz highlands, they knew they wanted to create a low-impact hospitality experience connects guests with the fragile nature of the Galapagos Islands rather than another predictable hotel. Their philosophy of “Appropriate Luxury” applies to every decision they make in operating the Galapagos Safari Camp, from relying on rainwater collection to growing their own food and utilizing solar power whenever possible. Questions like “Why don’t the safari tents have AC?” or “Why doesn’t your lodge have Jacuzzi tubs or televisions?” are an opportunity to engage potential guests in a dialogue about the environmental costs of importing the resources (diesel generators and fresh water) to provide these “expected luxuries.” And begs the question that, as visitors to this natural sanctuary, why do we feel entitled to certain amenities that the resident population has learned to adapt without?
“Consider for a moment that the animals on land have adapted to the lack of freshwater. Giant tortoises can go for months without a reliable source of water, sea lions depend on the fish they eat for their daily intake and Darwin’s finches wait until the wet season to mate.”
GSC invites guests to adjust their own vision and expectations of what “should” be available and considered luxury, setting aside notions of ordinary opulence in exchange for truly engaging with a different and unique environment. Visit their website for a deeper dive into the concept of Appropriate Luxury.
3.) Waging War Against Waste at Machu Picchu: Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel
What happens when an isolated archeological wonder without overland highway access attracts nearly 1.6 million visitors a year? A massive amount of waste is created and left behind, so much so that in 2016 the waste management crisis at Machu Picchu contributed to the Inca citadel being evaluated for UNESCO’s list of ‘World Heritage in Danger.’
To manage the impact of trash left behind by visitors, Inkaterra & beverage manufacturer AJE group have partnered to launch an organic waste treatment plant in Machu Picchu Pueblo. This will make the area the first in Latin America to manage 100 percent of its solid waste through pyrolysis, which decomposes the waste at high temperatures without oxygen. The plant has the capacity to process seven tons of waste per day to generate bio-coal, a natural fertilizer that will help with the reforestation of the Andean cloud forest and contribute to agricultural productivity in Machu Picchu.
This is in addition to other initiatives that the Inkaterra Association has already spearheaded in the region. To address the plastic waste left by tourists, they already operate a compacting and recycling center that processes a staggering average of 14 tons of plastic daily. And to discourage local communities, hotels and restaurants from disposing their used cooking oil into the Vilcanota River, Inkaterra helped build a biodiesel production plant to process used oil. The plant produces 20 gallons of biodiesel daily from nearly 6,000 liters of used oil a month.
Inkaterra — with properties in the heart of the Machu Picchu cloud forest, deep in the Amazon rainforest, in the city of Cusco and in the Sacred Valley of the Incas — creates authentic travel experiences, while preserving biodiversity and local cultures in Peru.
4.) Protecting Pumas Beyond the National Park: Awasi Patagonia
Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park is considered the best place on the planet on see the elusive puma thanks to an abundance of juicy guanacos to feed on and protection from hunters within park boundaries since 1972. An estimated 50 cats currently live within the park and studies indicate that their numbers are on the rise.
But what happens to the big cats when they roam beyond the borders or TDP where they are not protected? Close to 100 pumas are killed each year in Chilean Patagonia, mostly by sheep ranchers offering a bounty payout on puma skins. And as the puma population grows, along with the annual number of visitors to Torres del Paine, these solitude-seeking predators are more likely to wander beyond their invisible safety net.
To counteract this issue, Awasi Patagonia and the Awasi Puma Foundation have created a 11,000 acre protected corridor adjacent to the park, turning a former sheep farming estancia into a private reserve. Native grasslands and shrubs have been allowed to regrow after years of overgrazing and the private status of the reserve keeps human visitors to a minimum, allowing free and safe reign to its rightful inhabitants: guanacos, pumas, condors and other species.
While the Awasi Puma Foundation is relatively new, its impact is already measurable. Earlier this month, a guide at Awasi Patagonia spotted two rare Geoffroy’s Cats kittens on the private reserve, indicating that this seldom seen feline is thriving in the protected corridor adjacent to the park. Guests of Awasi can join a biologist researcher and guide on a special puma tracking excursion in the private reserve.
5.) Preserving Cultural Heritage: El Otro Lado & Bahia Portobelo Foundation
Portobelo was once the busiest city in the New World and the point for all trade between Europe and of South America, including the inhuman trade of enslaved Africans. A small group of slaves – the Cimarrones - won their freedom and established their own communities in and around Portobelo where they preserved and celebrated their African heritage.
With the creation of the Panama Railroad and Panama Canal, Portobelo’s usefulness as a trade port was eliminated. While economic opportunities flourished in Panama City and along the Canal Zone, the gap between the country’s rich and poor widened, aided by racism and little government support for infrastructure and education in remote areas. Along the Caribbean Coast, areas with indigenous or minority populations such as Portobelo were cut off from the prosperity of the other side of the country. Panama today is one of great contrasts and an income inequality comparable to Brazil and South Africa.
Founded in 1993 as the Portobelo Workshop, today’s Fundación Bahía de Portobleo, supported in part by El Otro Lado, works to improve the local quality of life by promoting socioeconomic projects within the community that also preserve & celebrate the community’s African identity. Guests at El Otro Lado are invited to discover the soul of Portobelo’s Congo Culture through drumming lessons or cultural dance performances with local students at the Escuelita del Ritmo (Little School of Rhythm) or art and woodcarving workshops at the art studio. Today, the foundation supports over 100 local students with free classes in music, dance, art and educational support. The facilities house five music rooms, a dance room, workshops, study halls, English and computer labs, a recording studio and a multi-use room for recitals, concerts and cinema. Much of the support comes through tourism, and the two hotels and restaurants fully run by the foundation, as well as El Otro Lado, account for the employment of over 100 local people.