In this day and age, with affordable airfares and accessible borders, travel has become a way of life for countless people. With tourism on the rise, there is an increasing demand for intrepid travelers to find authentic experiences – and, perhaps even more importantly, environmentally sustainable experiences. There are travelers of all kinds, from newbies just setting out to experts who’ve trekked across continents. There are also tour operators and organizations of all kinds, from the most environmentally responsible to those that do not care at all. Ideally, most travelers would probably want to participate in activities, tours, or excursions that are sustainable and help support the local communities they are visiting. But how do you know if an outfitter adheres to these values? Some operators or organizations may claim to be environmentally responsible with little indication as to how they accomplish this. Tropical Rainforest Education & Exploration (TREE) not only provides sustainable eco-trips, but delivers a holistic experience rooted in conservation and understanding culture in order to achieve sustainability – with the evidence to match. Below are five reasons to travel with TREE, whether you are an experienced traveler or just starting out on your personal journey.
1. ROOTED IN CONSERVATION
Tropical Rainforest Education & Exploration is based on a master’s thesis, and born out of a desire to contribute to rainforest conservation. The thesis explored how ecotourism could be used to contribute to sustainable development and, ultimately, preservation of tropical rainforests. In the end, it was determined that low-impact groups were beneficial for protected areas – and it seemed that these groups would enjoy the pristine landscapes they were helping preserve.
TREE operates within many protected areas, including: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve, Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Iwokrama Forest Reserve (split into the Sustainable Use Area and the Wilderness Preserve), Kaieteur National Park, and the Blue Mountain Forest Reserve. TREE also operates several conservation initiatives in addition to protected area contributions, such as carbon sequestration in Guyana and lionfish mitigation in Belize. There is a Conservation Tracker on the TREE website which measures the organization’s impact on conservation.
While the focus is on rainforests, there is also an element of ocean reef ecosystem conservation in TREE Belize trips. And, on top of all the commitment to conservation, there is a commitment to providing all TREE participants with authentic experiences in nature.
2. CULTURAL IMMERSION
Conservation only works when culture is considered. If being outside and enjoying nature is a part of local culture, conservation is easier to realize. If a reliance on plastic bags and Styrofoam containers is the norm, then it’s a little bit harder to reach sustainability. It’s extremely hard, as well as insensitive, to come in from a more developed country and tell others they need to change their behavior, especially if you don’t understand the culture or customs. TREE strives to immerse participants in the local cultures of Belize, Guyana, and Jamaica. This is not only in the hopes of furthering conservation, but also in the hopes of allowing participants to learn about different ways of life.
TREE participants get to see the real country, not a façade. They have experiences that wouldn’t be possible as a wandering tourist. This is because you normally would need to live in a country for months to create relationships and uncover the hidden landscapes – TREE provides this in a week. With respect and humility towards the Caribbean way of life, you will not only enjoy it, you will better understand the path to sustainability by understanding the culture.
3. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
Everybody likes to learn – it just needs to be in a manner that suits the learner.
Experiential environmental education (EEE) is paramount in all TREE trips, with learning taking place in the field through interaction with nature rather than in a classroom setting. This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to further conservation efforts, by providing first-hand, meaningful education on environmental issues that will be remembered long after the trip has ended.
EEE is enjoyable and efficient, with people able to learn dozens of plant species and dozens of marine species in as little as a few days. The learning is applied directly to day-to-day life, making it valuable beyond identifying flora and fauna, and valuable beyond the length of the trip.
With TREE, learning isn’t forced. The education part of Tropical Rainforest Education & Exploration is as fun as the exploration part. Hiking in the jungle is more enjoyable when you understand the importance of greenheart trees, or cohune palms, or how leaf-cutter ants practice farming, or how carbon sequestration is better with cercropia trees rather than pines. And snorkeling in the reef is more enjoyable when you are able to identify dozens of species of fish, coral, and marine vertebrates. A satisfied smile after pointing out a stoplight parrotfish always proves this is true.
TREE is much less expensive than similar trips, which can cost upwards of five-figures for a group of two, allowing those interested in conservation and exploration to experience both. With small group sizes and personalized catering to needs, not to mention packing in over a dozen awe-inspiring activities within a week, there is arguably no better value than a TREE trip. Flexible options allow travelers the choice between a fully all-inclusive experience where everything (including flight) is taken care of, or just the necessities (such as accommodations, transportation, etc.), allowing everyone to customize their trip to the level they desire.
5. LIFELONG - AND LIFE-CHANGING - MEMORIES
Who could forget waking up at dawn to the sight of a low-hanging mist over the Maya mountains, after having spent the night camped on a tropical mountaintop? Or river tubing through unspoiled wilderness? Or climbing to the top of a Mayan pyramid with views of Belize on one side and Guatemala on the other? Or jumping into an inland cave pool in Jamaica? Or walking on suspension bridges along the canopy on the Guyanese Amazon?
TREE aims to take participants into the “magic zone” a term used to describe the feeling just outside one’s comfort zone. This allows for personal growth, and the moments that people often look back on as meaningful ones.
TREE has received emails from past participants months after trips saying how exploring these places had changed their life, how they look at things, how they approach sustainability in their communities, and how they view other cultures.
This is the reason I think TREE is so special.