Travel Trend: Jaguar Spotting In Brazil

jaguarWhile tiger tourism is still the most popular type of cat viewing, there is another trend that is on the rise: Jaguar spotting. For those who have already watched tigers in their natural habitat – and even for some who have not yet had the pleasure – traveling to see wild jaguars is becoming a must-have experience.

There is a big difference in spotting tigers and jaguars, nonetheless. While tiger tourism features many reliable viewing spots, jaguars are much more elusive. However, this also means that actually spotting one is a great achievement.

At the moment, the most reliable place to spot jaguars is Puerto Jofre on the Cuiabá River in the Pantanal, Brazil. Luckily, the chances are pretty high, as there are 50 to 100 habitual cats. Other places where jaguar spotting is possible include Guyana, Peru and the Brazilian Amazon.

“We’re finding a growing interest in South America‘s National Parks,” explains Catherine Strong of Naturetrek, a company offering wildlife tours around the world. “Jaguars in particular, but also in the wealth of other iconic large mammals that can be seen in the Pantanal. The number of clients booking our dedicated Jaguar watching tour has more than doubled since we first offered the tour in 2009, and bookings to Brazil’s Pantanal has increased six-fold during the same period.”

History

The area wasn’t always prosperous with jaguars. In fact, at times they were very scarce. It wasn’t until the mid-90’s that ranch owners in the Pantanal decided to try their luck in the tourism business. At this time, they began offering visitors the opportunity to view and photograph these beautiful animals. In effect, these massive pieces of land were offering a sanctuary for the big cats. If this hadn’t happened, jaguar tourism would not be as successful as it is today.

“Back in the 80’s the Pantanal, most of which is not a National Park, consisted of huge cattle ranches. Jaguars were extensively hunted due to them occasionally hunting cows,” explains Allan Blanchard, a conservationist and owner of Wildlife Trails. “If you talk to people from that era they will tell you that, apart from during a hunt, they would not see jaguars for months at a time. Now, it is almost daily.”

Industry Concerns

While jaguar spotting is usually an exciting and worthwhile experience for tourists, there are concerns in the industry.

“I would like to state as a biologist and conservationist that there is a big question to address now, and that is the impact of this increased number of tourists,” says Blanchard. “Unfortunately, there are always a few ‘bad eggs’ who take their boat or vehicle too close to the wildlife, causing unnecessary stress. Because this wildlife viewing is not happening inside a National Park, it is more difficult to regulate.”

In order to help tourists spot more jaguars, many tour companies are using questionable practices. According to Josh Cohen of Wild Planet Adventures, a nature-travel and ecotourism operation, some of these include collaring jaguars so they can be found by tourists, and using radios so guides can notify each other when the big cats are spotted. These tactics result in myriad boats rushing to the area at once, contributing to the habituation of jaguars. However, there is a silver lining in the situation.

“The area in question is mostly visited by ‘do-it-yourself’ tourists because it is at the end of the Transpanteria Road, which, until recently, was accessible by any tourist willing to rent a vehicle,” explains Cohen. “Vehicle rentals are now restricted, and those willing to eschew the lower cost effectiveness of mass tourism will find jaguar opportunities that may cost more and involve more travel and logistics, but will have less impact on wildlife.”

Solutions

In 2001, Cohen visited the Pantanal to conduct research on the subject, avoiding the tourist-heavy Transpanteria Road route and the Puerto Jofre area. Instead, he focused on an area several hours west around the Taiama Ecological Station. One reason is the logistics of getting there are more costly than the average budget traveler is willing to invest, making it less dense with tourists. Furthermore, the area is federally protected and not open to the public or tour operators. However, since the reserve sits on an island in the middle of the river, it is possible to circle the reserve in search of the jaguars. What’s more, spotting jaguars in this less touristy area allows for the viewing of more wild behavior in the animals.

“This is extremely important, as the long-term consequence of habituated jaguars is the loss of authentic, wild behavior, which is replaced by more tame, bored behavior that inevitably results in more conflict with humans. Ultimately, mass tourism practices could turn the Pantanal into a version of the San Diego Wild Animal Park, unless travelers are educated in the value of paying more to preserve, not just wildlife, but to assure authentic wild behavior is maintained through limited interaction and sustainable ecotourism practices.”

The bottom line? Whether you choose to take the more off-the-beaten path route or visit the popular Puerto Jofre, make sure you’re booking with a reputable company. While the trend of jaguar tourism is growing, we wouldn’t want it to die out before it’s reached its peak.

[Photo via the US Fish and Wildlife Service]

These US Hotels Are Helping Guests Celebrate Earth Day With Eco-Friendly Programming

,auberge resorts Want to travel while also doing something good for the planet? These hotels are offering packages and promotions in honor of Earth Day.

Auberge Resorts
Various U.S. Locations

Auberge Resorts has six properties in the United States, each of which is committed to what CEO Mark Harmon calls “Responsible Luxury.” In honor of Earth Day, each resort is featuring special programming for the month of April. Some of the activities include:

  • Palmetto Bluff (Bluffton, South Carolina) – The property will host a “New Earth Year Resolutions” two-hour nature walk on Monday, April 23.
  • Auberge du Soleil (Napa Valley, California) – Guests can partake in a “Napa Valley Dream Experience” package, part of which includes a visit to the winery and vineyards at Long Meadow Ranch, followed by a three-course winemaker’s menu prepared with local ingredients and a private tour of the organic and biodynamic Quintessa winery.
  • Encantado (Santa Fe, New Mexico) – On Earth Day, Taos Pueblo tribesman Robert Evan Trujillo will lead a special Earth Day blessing and drumming ceremony at 6:00 p.m.

For more information on properties and Earth Day activities, call 866-282-3743 or click here. St. Julien Hotel and Spa
Boulder, Colorado

St. Julien Hotel and Spa is an upscale accommodation immersed in the laid-back beauty of the Rocky Mountains. To help reduce its impact on the environment, the property is working with UHG Consulting to minimize their waste, use eco-friendly products and implement greener practices. During the week of Earth Day, St. Julien Hotel and Spa will be featuring special promotions and programming. Moreover, a portion of the proceeds raised during Earth Week will be donated to the Center for ReSource Conservation. Some of the events include showing a sustainability-themed movie on April 22, and a happy hour benefit on April 28.

Call 720-406-9696 or click here to book.

resort Terranea Resort
Los Angeles, California

Terranea Resort is an eco-luxury getaway, located on the picturesque Palos Verdes Peninsula. From April 18 to April 22, the property will be hosting an array of green activities to commemorate Earth Day. Clean-ups by kayak, an edible landscaping workshop and tidepooling excursions will be part of the programming as well as:

  • Sea Lion Release and Volunteer Drive – Volunteers will work with the Marine Mammal Care Center rehabilitation and rescue team to help reintroduce sea lions into the wild.
  • Tree and Habitat Restoration – Participants will trek through Terranea’s Discovery Trail with a guide, and assist in restoring indigenous plants.
  • Hawk Walk – The hotel’s ornithologists and falconers will educate guests on the area’s native birds and discuss their environmental contributions.

Call 866-802-8000 or click here to book.

Kimpton Muse Hotel
New York, NY

Kimpton Muse Hotel is a fashionable boutique accommodation located near Manhattan’s theater district. In honor of Earth Day, the property will be hosting an Eco Chic Boutique on April 19, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. During the event, guests can browse eco-friendly stalls while sipping organic cocktails. Some of the vendors that will be in attendance include:

The entrance fee is $15, which includes one signature drink. Proceeds from the event go to benefit the New York Restoration Project.

Call 212-485-2400 or click here to book.

royalton hotel Royalton
New York, NY

Royalton is a sophisticated property located in midtown Manhattan that introduces elements from all over the world into its design. For instance, while the building’s facade is from France, the wall patterns reflect African tribal art. In observance of Earth Day, the hotel is featuring four special “Earth Day” cocktails from April 16 to April 27. Ingredients for the cocktails will be purchased from the Union Square Farmers Market to help ensure freshness, quality and sustainability. Each drink will be $16, with $2 of the profit going to benefit Grow NYC. Moreover, to give guests something to take home, menus will be printed on seed paper that can be planted to grow herbs and flowers.

Call 212-869-4400 or click here to book.

Red Mountain Resort
Ivins, Utah

Red Mountain Resort is a holistic accommodation focused on relaxation and helping guests to get active in nature. On April 22, the property is offering a 40 percent discount at their spa on their Nature Inspired Treatments. Some of these discounted menu items include the “Four Directions,” which offers a full-body cornmeal tobacco exfoliation and sweet grass herbal wrap, or a body wrap made of Great Salt Lake mineral salts, sesame, avocado, apricot kernal, shea butter and jojoba oil.

Call 877-246-4453 or click here to book.

turnberry isle miami Turnberry Isle Miami
Miami, Florida

Turnberry Isle Miami is a tropical resort located in North Miami Beach. Being that the property’s design is focused around the continued growth of a 100-year-old banyan tree, it’s no surprise the hotel is going all out for Earth Day. On April 22, Turnberry Isle Miami will be hosting an array of green activities, like a 2.9 mile Earth Day Run that will benefit Operation Green Leaves, a complimentary Chef’s Garden Tour and a night of Glow-in-the-Dark Solar Drop cocktails.

Call 855-201-8027 or click here to book.

JW Marriott Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

The JW Marriott Chicago is a deluxe accommodation in downtown Chicago, located near Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile. In honor of Earth Day, the property is offering a Midwest Craft Beer & Cheese Flight from April 20 to April 22. Locally crafted beers and cheeses will be paired by Chef Michael Reich in the hotel’s stylish Lobby Lounge. In his culinary and beverage creations, Reich focuses on using high-quality organic ingredients. The beer and cheese flights will cost $12.

Call 800-228-9290 or click here to book.

Tubohotel Takes Exotic Camping To The Next Level

tubohotel Just when you thought you’d seen it all – tree hotels, salt palaces, undersea lodges and enormous boot-shaped bed and breakfasts — something new comes along that tests the limits of accommodation possibilities. Located in Tepoztlán, Mexico, is the Tubohotel (shown right), a unique experiential property that allows guests to sleep in massive tube pipes stacked like pyramids.

In line with ecotourism, the tubes are made of recycled tube pipe materials. While this may sound like you’ll be sleeping in a sewer, the company claims the experience is actually very comfortable. The rooms each come with a queen bed, fan, desk light, storage compartments under the bed, a towel rack with towels, a plush comforter and soft sheets. Furthermore, the tubes are apparently quite warm. Or, as Tubohotel says, the rooms maintain a “comfortable, almost tubo-licious temperature during the day and night.”

While you won’t be able to bathe in the room, the property boasts two clean, spacious bathrooms with hot water, private showers and toilets, although you will have to bring your own robes and slippers.

No matter how nice the rooms at Tubohotel are you’re not going to want to spend all day sitting in a pipe. Luckily, the hotel also has an onsite Infinity pool and can arrange for cultural cooking classes with celebrity chef Ana Garcia. Nature activities like mountain climbing, hiking and biking are also abound. Not to mention, a bar and restaurant are coming soon to the property.

Prices start at 300 pesos (about $24) per night, based on double occupancy. Click here to learn more or make a reservation.

10 Tips For A More Eco-friendly Vacation

go green In the world of travel, ecotourism is a hot topic right now. Rightfully so, especially when considering that everything we do on a trip, from the transportation we take to the foods we eat and the souvenirs we buy, has an impact on the Earth. To help you leave less of a carbon footprint, here are some tips for a more eco-friendly vacation.

Pre-trip planning

Going green when you travel isn’t just about what you do while on the road, it’s also about the steps you take before you leave home. If you want to make it look like you aren’t away to prevent burglaries, leave your lights on a timer. Also, make sure to unplug all electronics. Even if they are turned off, simply having them plugged in uses electricity. You should adjust your thermostat. If it’s winter, set it to 60 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the pipes from freezing and in the summer, turn off any cooling systems. Additionally, it is beneficial to stop all newspaper and magazine subscriptions while away, and compost any fruits, vegetables, bread and flour products, and expired boxed foods before you go.camping Choose a “green” accommodation

While camping is inherently eco-friendly, there are ways to leave even less of a carbon footprint. Try to carpool when going to the campsite. Once there, do your exploring on foot or bike only, making sure to stay on the trails and wear soft-soled shoes. That being said, the closer to home the campsite is, the better. When at the campsite, try following the “leave no trace behind” rule, meaning if someone comes to the site after you leave, they shouldn’t be able to tell you were ever there. If there are no recycling bins around, bring the trash home with you to dispose of. While many people think burning the waste is a good idea, it actually contributes to air pollution.

For those who don’t want to rough it, don’t worry, as there are now many other accommodation styles that are also environmentally conscious. There are eco-friendly hostels, hotels, lodges and bed and breakfasts. Moreover, if you’ve never heard of glamping, it combines the sustainability of camping with luxury travel. You can browse eco-friendly glamping properties by clicking here.

Buy local

With that being said, when traveling to another area, you as the visitor should also be helping to put money into the local economy. This usually happens to some extent just by being in the country as you’re spending your money in that place, but not always. When purchasing souvenirs and clothing, check the label to see where it is made. Moreover, try to eat at mom-and-pop type eateries or restaurants where ingredients are locally sourced. This not only helps the local economy, it also reduces the amount of waste and fuel emissions from the shipping process.

hiking Sign up for an eco-tour

Now an eco-tour doesn’t just mean you go outside on the tour or you learn about animals. An eco-tour should be locally operated and allow for participants to experience nature in a way that is educational, while fostering an understanding of the environment. Furthermore, the tour company should concentrate on conservation as well as putting money into the local economy.

If you’re looking to book a longer group travel tour, two of my favorite companies are Intrepid Travel and G Adventures. While there are many excellent travel companies out there that place an emphasis on the environment, I can personally vouch for these two as I have toured with them both. Throughout both tours, their commitment to the environment and local people was obvious, which I also felt helped me to understand the places visited on a deeper level.

Pack light

It may sound weird, but the weight of your luggage actually has an impact on the environment. Basically, the less you carry, the less fuel needed to carry it and the less carbon dioxide emitted. Added benefits include less strain on your body, less money spent on checked bags when flying and less stress about losing valuables.

biking Take transportation that uses less fuel

While nobody is expecting you to walk from city to city – although, if you can, that’s great – you can make better decisions when deciding on transportation. If you can help it, try not to fly to your destination. The height of the plane in the air makes it one of the worst transportation options. When you must fly, try to book a direct flight to minimize the negative impact. Additionally, opting for the train or bus over a car is a wise decision. However, for those times when a car is necessary, try to rent a hybrid, carpool or, better yet, do both. Once at your destination, skip bus tours, cab rides and driving and see as much of the city as you can on foot or bike. Not only will you be helping the planet, you’ll be seeing more and having a richer experience.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also opt to try one of the more quirky, planet conscious transport options, like a pogo stick, couch bike, pedal-powered kayak or a mechanical walking rickshaw.

Reduce the amount of laundry you do

While you may think you need to wash every article of clothing after every wear this isn’t always necessary. I’m not saying if you just went on an intense uphill hike or went jogging that you should re-wear your outfit, but if you wore a shirt out to dinner or a pair of jeans to go walk around a church, does that really constitute a need to do a load of laundry? If you really must, opt to hand wash your clothing instead of using a washer and dryer. Also, when staying at a hotel, try to reuse your towels and sheets as much as possible, as this helps save water and energy.

greece Choose one destination and explore it more fully

While you may technically see more by bouncing around from city to city every other day, your experience is limited. Think about it. When you only have two days in a particular city, how much can you really learn about the culture and the sites? By choosing one place and spending your entire trip there you open yourself up to learning more about the place. Not only that, but less moving around means less use of fuel emitting transportation.

Recycle, even when it’s inconvenient

Luckily, many hotels, hostels and guesthouses are catching on to the ecotourism trend and are implementing recycling programs on their premises. That being said, this isn’t always the case. If your accommodation doesn’t recycle, try to bring some of the trash home with you or find a place where you can recycle nearby. You can also drink from reusable water bottles to eliminate waste. Some good brands to buy from include Klean Kanteen, Bobble and S’Well. Furthermore, you should start thinking about recycling before you leave for your trip. Take the packaging off any new items and dispose of it before you go.

backpack Use environmentally friendly gear

Everyday, travel companies are getting more and more creative with how they produce their gear. For example, you can buy items made from recycled and sustainable materials or solar-powered gadgets. Doing a bit of research into which pieces of gear are sustainable is also beneficial, and companies that make this easy for you are usually best. For example, Timberland puts an “Our Footprint” label on their products to help consumers make informed decisions. Additionally, opting for used items is also a good idea because it keeps these things from being thrown out. It’s also great to support organizations trying to help the Earth. My favorite eco-friendly company is R.E.I. Their gear is not only high-quality, but also they donate millions of dollars to help conservation efforts each year as well as reguarly host trail cleanups, fundraisers and nature hikes. Moreover, they have numerous sustainable goals for the organization like becoming climate neutral in their operations and a zero-waste-to-landfill company by 2020.

[photos via aloshbennett, Beth and Christian, Jessie on a Journey, Ceslo Flores, Pop Top Lady]

Travel Smarter 2012: New approaches to sustainable travel

When most people think of ecotourism, they imagine off-grid rainforest lodges and volunteer work in impoverished communities.

While those can certainly be great experiences, they’re not the only way to travel sustainably. These days, the definition of ecotourism has broadened, and travelers are embracing a new consciousness around the way we travel, how we interact with places, and what kind of impact our visit has on our surroundings. The best thing is, this new type of conscious travel doesn’t have to be restrictive. In fact, it often leads to much more meaningful experiences. Consider the following approaches as a starting point.Slow down
Taking inspiration from the slow food and slow fashion movements, “slow travel” has evolved as a backlash to the manic pace that traditionally accompanies air travel and mile-a-minute sightseeing vacations. Slow travelers cherish the journey as much as the destination. They’ll choose leisurely modes of transport like trains, bicycles, and barges; stay in long-term vacation rentals instead of hotels; and structure itineraries that allow enough time to savor experiences. Not only is the slow travel mindset easier on the environment because it cuts out unsustainable forms of transport, but it can also be cost-effective since the emphasis is on quality of experiences rather than quantity. For resources on planning a slow travel vacation, check out the SlowTrav.com community.

Get local
Many travelers are tired of following the tourist path, preferring instead to experience new places as locals. Enter, the “local travel” movement, which focuses on connecting with local people, being sensitive to the local environment, respecting local culture and heritage, and spending money locally. The popularity of the local travel movement is evident in the explosive growth of home-stay listing service Airbnb, which experienced 500 percent growth in the last year and recently announced its 5 millionth night booked. Another website that can help facilitate local experiences is GuideHop, which allows city residents to host and post their own custom tours. Recent listings included a tour of Austin‘s urban farms and a bike ride along the San Francisco waterfront.

“Voluntour” smarter
The practice of voluntourism — which combines travel with volunteer work — has grown more and more popular in recent years. At the same time, it’s also become more and more controversial. Critics say that voluntourism often hurts communities more than it helps them, and that tourists who pay thousands of dollars to paint a school in a developing country are better off donating that money to a non-profit that can handle the task more effectively. Valid points — but the truth is volunteer travel can also be a tremendously positive and transformative experience, both for the individual and the community, when done smartly. New certification programs are in the works from groups like UK non-profit Tourism Concern, but nothing really beats personal research. Rather than limit yourself to the top Google search results for “volunteer abroad,” use your social networks to find friends who live or have lived in your target destination and ask them about well-respected organizations. In the U.S., you can also use Charity Navigator to see how non-profit groups stack up against each other.

Though ecotourism and sustainable travel can take on many forms, the first step to more conscious travel is awareness. Once you take care to explore the world while being kind to it, the rest will come naturally.

[flickr image via Stefano Lubiana Wines]