A Good Example of Ecotouristic Center: Las Guacamayas

South-East of Chiapas is full of « Eco » places but very few really develop standards of sustainability and responsibility. Hopefully, THE HERITAGE ROUTE did another long detour close to the Guatemala’s border and visited the Ecotouristic Center « Las Guacamayas », near the Biosphere Reserve of Montes Azules (BRMA). A very inspiring and relaxing experience of responsible tourism…

Las Guacamayas is one of the few projects in Chiapas where environmental protection, social development and tourism activities have a real interaction. Where the word « Eco » has real meaning and materializes into action, and where the community engagement, passion and its long-term vision are particularly noteworthy. This is one of the reasons why the Sur la Route du Patrimoine’s Team went there.

Presentation of the center 

Las Guacamayas is a tourist accommodation center located along the BRMA. It provided walks in the jungle, bird-watching of the Guacamayas (Scarlet Macaw or Ara macao), boat ride on the river Lacantún, to appreciate the abundance of fauna and flora in this region. Meanwhile, you support a  project conservation a kind of emblematic and threatened birds of Mesoamerica, with a complex ecology, Guacamayas Rojas (Ara macaw), in the last remaining natural population of Mexico and even of Mesoamerica.

As mentioned by Don German Hernandez Davila, president of the cooperative and founder of the Center, the ecotourism means to « manage tourism as a whole thing, integrating the component of the environment: contributing to the preservation, recovery of the forest, to the education of the community, improve the conditions of living ».

Several types of accommodations are available to you depending on your wallet, the tent (in the village ) after passing through the dormitories and private homes, for a total capacity of about 45 people. All rooms are equipped with a private bathroom with hot water. Public toilets and showers are also available.

Quality food served by the newly renovated restaurant comes from the nearby village of Pico de Oro and gradually the village began to develop some cultures (chile, corn, onions, etc. ). The chef of the restaurant is committed to enhancing the culinary heritage and does not hesitate to offer his card receipts mixing cuisine Oaxaca, Chiapas and the selva (e.g. their divine « Mole de la Casa » or spaghetti the hierba santa. A treat!

Three main activities are offered by the center:

  • A tour around the community village to understand the structure, protection of Guacamayas, bird watching, etc…
  • A hike in the reserve community to observe the flora and fauna.
  • A boat ride on the river Lacantun and enter in the Reserve Montes azules to see monkeys, crocodiles , turtles, and a bunch of birds, etc …

Unfortunately, there is no possibility of hiking in the forest inside the reserve of Montes Azules, despite attempts at coordination with the Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP) to enjoy the richness of this reserve (including archaeological).
Other activities are now restricted to rent kayaks.

Contribution to the preservation of natural areas 

Located inside the village itself and as first neighbor of the BRMA, the center environment is truly exceptional. You could see and hear howler monkeys, will see crocodiles, turtles and many residents and migratory birds. You will also discover an abundant flora. The BRMA is considered with the Selva Lacandon as the water tank of Chiapas and Mexico.

The protection of the Guacamayas is the subject of many scientific researches, among other interests in its biodiversity, as one of the most endangered species in extinction process. In fact, the area hosts the last natural population of Guacamaya of Mexico (approx. 200 individuals only), which is the place of 80% of the original population in the Meso-American region. Like in many places of Chiapas, the area is surrounded by cleared fields, pastures, where the forests was cut.

Reforested area

Reforested area

Upon arrival in 1976, the inhabitants of the village have noted the presence of Guacamayas and decided to preserve them by signing an agreement among all supported by scientists. In the 80’s, the owners decided to protect 60% of their land by converting it into an ejidal reserve (now 1460 ha), the rest being divided between agriculture, cattle and urbanization. The community has also refused to use its right of logging to keep Guacamayas’ nesting habitat. The centre has recently enlarged his property and reforested more than 6 ha with local species.

Good Practice!Alongside the development of the tourist center, first operated in 1996, a conservation program of the Guacamayas emerged, powered first by scientists, then by the center itself and some residents the village. Recognizing the touristic added-value of Guacamayas, the center has supported this program also bought artificial nests to fill the gap of cut trees. Today, it provides three local people in charge of monitoring the species, illegal poaching vigilance that is the main threat of the species.

Guacamaya roja

Guacamaya roja

Since the beginning, the community has  been in respect for the environment despite the economic interest. In the 90’s, the biology research center is converted into tourist facilities, supported by the Government, in particular through the Commission for the Development of Indigenous rights (CDI). New « green » buildings much better integrated into the environment complete the site with concrete ones, which reachs the capacity to host 42 persons per day. Now, the site is well-integrated and incredibly relaxing. The center receives about 4500 visitors per year, the majority from México (80%).

« De la grandeza de la selva depende nuestro desarrollo, de la nobleza de nuestro corazon depende su conservacion » illustrates the vision of the Center

The activities are controlled by the center itself, in order to prevent damages to the environment. For example, the tours in the forest by boat are up to 8 persons each, in accordance with the CONANP. So do they for walking tours in the jungle of the ejidal reserve.

Contribution to the preservation of cultural heritage

The inhabitants of the village Reforma Agraria come from Oaxaca state, area of Chinantecas. The Chinanteca language is unfortunately not used anymore in the village. The remoteness of the community from their homeland, the integrationist policy of the federal state with indigenous communities, and the lack of awareness of the community culture richness, have driven to leave almost no trace of chinantecan culture in Reforma.

The isolation of the village makes people slightly cut off from the world. The center is the first economic opportunity for the village youngers and it seems that they like to work in there! And isolation is seen as a chance, far from the mass tourism centres, rather than a problem.

Aware of this culture and identity loss, and this significant tourism potential, the center is now thinking to develop actions to restore strong elements of the chinantecan culture (cuisine, rites religious, crafts …). For example, they have recently launched a contest of altars. This is really something that should be developed in an authentic way, for themselves, and for the joy of tourists.

Contribution to the reduction of the carbon footprint  

Some solar panels are installed but are not working properly due to lack of maintenance of installers. Water heaters have been installed in new cabins for testing. Few outages occur during the rainy season.

Good Practice!A visible effort is performed about garbage. They have a sorting site (for organic compost, PET sorting, glass, steel cans, etc.). In all homes, at least two bins are disposed (for organic / inorganic), then the staff eventually make a further sorting. An effort also to educate visitors about reducing the amount of waste through leaflets, decanters and bottles refillable soap, water, etc.).

Water comes from a well in the village. There is no supply problems. For treatment, a biodigester is installed to purify black and grey water from the center, but sounds to have some problems to operate correctly. They are now thinking about installing dry toilets, despite its persistent problem of consciousness of the majority of tourists. Also about reducing the use of bottled water in restaurants and homes.

Economic benefits generated by the project and involvement of the local community 

The center employs permanently 25 people, all from the community. from all ages and genders, plus short-term students for the high touristic season.

About 25% of the annual center’s profit is re-invested to improve the living conditions of the community and preserve the environment.

Good Practice!The governance of the Center sounds very participative. The cooperative is composed by an assembly that elects for an administrative council. The assembly is composed by 20 members of the Ejido (municipal district): 14 land-owners ejidatarios and 6 sons of them.

A portion of the center revenue is reinvested (democratic choice of the assembly of the cooperative) in improving the living conditions of the village, for example, to renovate the school, the church, to arrange route access. This social and environmental contribution of tourists is clearly presented to visitors, which is good to know. This transparent process of decision in the cooperative prevents from taking radical changes in the center development. For example, few years ago, two new partners wanted to collaborate with the center and enter in the assembly, with the idea to develop it drastically, to build an aerodrome, increase its accommodation capacity,improve the terrestrial access. But a majority of members of the cooperative refused this proposal, thankfully!

The center has undertaken a quality service and management and Corporate social responsibilities (CSR) actions. They are certified annually « Norma de Ecoturismo » by the Government Agency for the Environment (SEMARNAT) and also Moderniza which characterizes companies engaged in a gradual process of quality improvement.

Logo certificacion Ecoturismo en Mexico

For example, the transparency of the governance of the cooperative, the proposed excursions, training and exchange programs with other centers so that staff members can open their mind, improve themselves and contribute back to the activity of the center. Recently, the staff has been structured to make it more operational function, and to empower its strong members. All these efforts are felt at the level of quality services to visitors and contribute to their unforgettable, responsible and solidarity experience.

Compared to other centers, « they are very well positioned », asserted Don Luis Hernandez, member of the cooperative, despite their geographical isolation. They have to continue to go forward and not to be afraid of the concurrency with the others.

Education and networking

Interpretative information about the ecosystems are provided by guides and some information along the hiking trails. Schools of the community and from outside are visiting the center to raise awareness about the environment protection. Also, the center is used sometimes for event exhibitions. This should be more developed as well.

The center can accommodate volunteers who want to study biodiversity, get involved in the conservation project Guacamayas, or assist them in their activity tourism (language, communication tools, etc…). This would be a good option for the center for example to improve its English skills.

Although it is not very well-developed, this is about to be developed more, in order to use external expertises to improve the services, especially its communication and marketing.

Good Practice!The center is part of the SENDASUR network, counting in total 14 ecotourism centers from Chiapas. Its aims is to foster sharing, fundraising and promotion of its members.

In order to facilitate the financial support of some non-profit activities of the cooperative, it is about creating a civil association.

For more information about this beautiful center, please visit this page

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