Conservation and ecotourism in Colombia have entered an exciting phase with the development of two innovative community projects, funded by UK Pact, a programme supported by the UK Government. Rachel Dex, an expert on responsible tourism, has been working as part of a team of specialists with the two communities in the South American country. She explains what has been happening over the past two years.
Villages in Serranía de las Quinchas in the centre of Colombia and Serranía del Perijá in the north are both areas of exceptional biodiversity. Each one has a wealth of fascinating animals and important plantlife. They are also areas that suffered damage during years of armed conflict that divided the country. But Colombia has now been able to put that era behind it and now that it is peaceful and is addressing the challenges the conflict created, preserving its natural resources has become a priority.
Photo credit: Yohany Gavíría, The Three-toed Sloth takes life slow and easy in the forests of Serranía del Perijá, Colombia
Now that they have peace, the people living in those ecologically important areas of Colombia are determined to build their future based on conserving the remarkable forests they live in. The projects are working towards creating a sustainable income source for the communities and help provide an alternative to any further logging and unsustainable farming activities that result in deforestation.
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Responsible travel to places such as these gives tourists the chance to experience new cultures at the same time as seeing some of the world’s most remarkable wild places. Ecotourism can enrich everyone involved, as it supports local livelihoods in areas with few alternatives. It can also have a positive impact on the country, and the planet, as the experiences help build understanding and respect for differing cultures and the environment.
Photo credit: Yohany Gavíría, The gloriously coloured Keel-billed Toucan
With help from specialist institutions focused on tourism, environment and peace, both communities have developed their individual ecotourism plans. These began in 2020 and are growing through 2021 as they gain in knowledge and skills and develop new destinations and tourist routes for birding Colombia and other wildlife watching.
Serranía de las Quinchas in particular, has also been involved in scientific research on plant diversity in conjunction with the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Together with their own national research institutions, biodiversity booklets have been produced for tourists visiting these areas.
Photo credit: Yohany Gavíría, A family of Red Howler Monkeys are curious about visitors to their forest
Tiziana Ulian, Senior Research Leader in Diversity & Livelihoods at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says: “Local people know so much about their surrounding natural resources and can identify species of plants and fungi often unknown to science. It was a real honour to work with the local community in Quinchas to document for the first time the useful plants of Boyacá which are important for their livelihoods. We know that if people see these in person and learn about their importance they will be amazed. And this wonder will, we hope, transfer into a passion to conserve the areas for future generations to enjoy.”
Photo credit: Yohany Gavíría, Beautiful views over Serrania de las Quinchas
A Commitment to Ecotourism in Colombia
The community representatives from both communities have undergone a series of training courses including gastronomy, marketing and how to become biodiversity tour guides. They have also earned to understand the needs of tourists and how to promote their natural resources. They also entered into benefit-sharing agreements to ensure that the whole community gains from tourism activities.
As well as experiencing beautiful forests filled with rare plant and animal life, visitors to these ecotourism project areas are offered the chance to live alongside local people, experience their daily lives and their culture and learn about their precious resources.
This type of experience is expected to go far beyond the bounds of ordinary tourism. Visitors will get to share the warm hospitality of the Colombian people and go to places few outsiders get to see. As many seasoned travellers know, it’s not necessarily the places that stick in your mind for years afterwards but the people and the meeting of cultures.
Photo credit: Yohany Gavíría, A selfie from tourism specialist Yohany Gavíría, meeting community members from the village of Nazareth in Serranía de las Quinchas.
Yohany Gaviria, a wildlife guide specialising in birding who works for Living Trips, visited both communities for the first time last month to help them fine tune their tourism routes. He was really impressed by what he saw and experienced. “Serranías de las Quinchas and Perijá have truly unique wildlife and amazing natural resources,” he says. “What makes them even more special are the people and the communities that live there. Their culture, their history and traditions, combined with an incredible kindness and welcoming spirit makes it a wonderful and unique experience for tourists visiting them.
“I have worked as a wildlife guide for over 15 years and was incredibly impressed by my visits to both communities. Waterfalls, stunning landscapes, amazing wildlife, wonderful welcoming communities and the chance to learn about their story and ways of living really was something quite special and unique.”
Photo credit: Yohany Gavíría, Sun filtered by leaves in the forest and the soft breeze from the waterfall creates the natural phenomenon of the Cascada Arcoiris, Serrania de las Quinchas
Serranía de las Quinchas
The forests of the Serranía de las Quinchas are located in the Magdalena River Valley in central Colombia. They lie between the Choco and Amazon rainforests, two highly biodiverse places. The area’s habitats vary from tropical rainforest to the cloud forests of the foothills of the Eastern Andes. Scientists from Kew Gardens in the UK have been working with the community there to document their plantlife. They also help them to acquire the skills needed to showcase the amazing biodiversity found in their forests.
The environment of the Serranía is rich in water sources – streams, natural pools and waterfalls. Diverse life abounds there, and in the still largely unexplored habitats new species are being discovered all the time. Critically endangered animals, such as the Blue-billed Curassow (Craz Alberti)and the Brown Spider Monkey, one of the rarest primates on earth, are found there. Other highlights include White-mantled Barbet, Sooty-ant Tanager, Poison Frog and Spectacled Bear.
Photo credit: Yohany Gavíría, The endemic Blue-billed Curassow (Crax Alberti)
The creation of the Serranía de las Quinchas Regional Natural Park in 2008 helped curb deforestation and the expansion of agriculture. With this latest project the community has united to preserve Las Quinchas, working together for conservation, sustainability and creating social cohesion. The joy and warmth of the people, their history and traditions make this a special place for an ecotourism visit in Colombia.
Serranía del Perijá
The Serranía del Perijá is a 200 mile long mountain range rising to over 3,600m in Colombia’s Eastern Andes. It straddles the northern border between Colombia and Venezuela in the province of Cesar. This area is renowned for its high number of plant and animal species. If you are birding Colombia, it is home to more than 400 species of birds, six endemic and nine semi-endemic, such as the Blue-billed Curassow, the Beautiful Woodpecker and the White-mantled Barbet.
Photo credit: Yohany Gavíría, Members of the communities of Estados Unidos and La Victoria enjoying some of the amazing birdlife in Serranía del Perijá
The Serranía del Perijá also hosts 2,000 flowering plants, 88 reptiles, 43 amphibians, 425 species of butterflies and 125 mammals, including Spectacled Bear, Pumas and Jaguars. Other notable species include Perijá Parakeet, Perijá Brush Finch, Crested Quetzal, Poison Frog and Three-toed Sloth. These rare, beautiful and endangered forests also provide vitally important ecosystem services in acting as a watershed and carbon sink.
As well as ecotourism, the communities in this part of Colombia are developing sustainable agriculture, most notably coffee production. This is one of the activities visitors can get involved with during their stay. The irrepressible spirit of the people in this area enabled them to overcome the divisions created by the Colombian conflict. With this ecotourism project they are uniting their communities again in a common vision of new sustainable ways of living.
Photo credit: Yohany Gavíría, Look in fruit trees at the edges of moist Colombian forests for the Golden-headed Quetzal.
Want to Experience the Magic of Ecotourism in Colombia?
Both of these communities are just starting out on their path to develop ecotourism in Colombia. In other parts of the country there are also local individuals providing responsible travel experiences. Together they make Colombia a destination for the wildlife traveller dreaming of remarkable animals and authentic experiences.
If you want to find out more about wildlife tours, ecotourism adventures and birding in Colombia, click here.
Rachel Dex is the co-founder of Think Galapagos, a dedicated specialist company that tailor makes travel itineraries to Ecuador. She has been working with communities in Colombia to assist them in developing their own ecotourism businesses.
Original Date of Publish : 1st June 2021