Hiking Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve
It is an Edenfleshy and lurid, where nature paints with so many shades of green that even the air is green. Where with a turn of your head you see winged rainbowsthe beautiful scarlet macawsitting perched within the jungle canopy. Centuries may have passed since the ancient Maya occupied this jungle, but the orchestra has not changed. Monkeys still howl, woodpeckers knock out a rhythm on Ceiba trees, and the most diverse range of birds squawk on by. It is evolution in overdrive, where you can close your eyes and listen to the constant hum of biological activity. So live the abundant jungles of Guatemala, one of the world's richest areas of biological diversity.Its rich ecological resources are profitable to people in Guatemala as well as abroad. However, both ecological integrity and economic productivity of Peten's forest are now being threatened. Over the past twenty years, the population in the Peten has nearly quadrupled—endangering the forest's resources.
As the population rises, sections of the forest are burned for agricultural and cattle-grazing purposes. Overharvesting and poaching of forest products for overseas markets compound this problem. Scarlet macaw chicks are smuggled out under the floorboards of vehicles, duct-taped to keep silent. Although most die during transit, the price is high for a macaw chick, making the temptation for much needed profit too great to discontinue such practices.
The problem faced by environmentalists interested in preserving the rain forests and its inhabitants is a matter of protecting the resources of the forest while allowing the harvesting of some material by local populations for whom the forest is the only source of income.
What is the solution? One solution is to promote low-impact tourism as an alternative income to slash-and-burn agriculture and destruction of the jungle.
Shift in Focus
Most people spend only about two days in the Peten, taking in the ancient Mayan site of Tikal and going on their way, often overlooking the rich and beautiful sites of the Peten jungle. Unfortunately, little time spent equals little money spent, and little money spent means the local people won't see much profit; thus they may tolerate such illegal raping of the jungle in exchange for much-needed revenue.
Refocusing on the basic tenets of ecotourism while providing economic alternatives to local populations, Conservation International, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., introduced ProPeten in 1991.
ProPeten works with local communities to conserve biological diversity by increasing environmental awareness and developing economic alternatives for local communities. One way of doing this is by promoting ecotourism in the region. By preserving sites like Tikal, increasing employment opportunities around these sites, and broadening the number of tourist destinations, ecotourism can provide additional benefits to the inhabitants of the region.
One solution that has proved to be enormously successful in maintaining ecotourism and economic alternatives for the local people has been the development of Caminos Mayas, or the new Mayan Trails.
These trails are a series of community-led and managed trails covering different ecosystems and villages in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Trips on the trails are offered to tourists in and around the city of Flores. Zotz-Tikal, the Scarlet Macaw Trail, and El Mirador are three of the excursions offered through the tropical forest of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.
Each of the trails offers a different, unique focus such as spotting nesting scarlet macaws, viewing millions of fruit bats as they emerge from their "bat cave," participation in the sustainable harvest of "chicle" from the forest, and a trek to unexcavated Mayan ruins. Some of the Mayan Trails culminate in a visit to the famous Tikal ruins.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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