Once upon a time…
In the 70’s, the poor community of Santa Lucia Utitlan (4 cantons) welcomed the Father Arturo, coming from the US. Looking at the poverty and illiteracy, he pushed for the creation of a farming and multiservice cooperative Santa Lucia in 1973 to buy land, develop wheat and potato cultivation, and operate a bus transit to the nearer village college. Then, the community could count on its own professionals: agronomist, foresters, accountant, administrative officer…
From the Father’s idea, began a huge project of cuniculture, that reached to employ 500 people and export rabbit meat in all the country. Because of a bad milionary investment, all sank as quick as it appears, obliging to sell lands. At that time began the civil war. Father Arturo left Guatemala after 20 years and collectivism wasn’t a good idea because of communism.
The cooperative Sta Lucia shut down and a new one was established « La Guadalupana » with its sister the Association « La Guadalupana ». Their objective was to recover land for agricultural purpose, with the donations of its associates.
With the support of a Finlandese program PROCAFOR, they develop a project of sustainable forest management and market. Pinus patula and Quercus spp. forests were managed in a sustainable way to produce furnitures, wood, etc… A new nursery provided new plants for reforestation. There was an idea to develop a tourist destination in this Highland Mayan K’iche area. The forest project won a national award in 2002, also a grant from the UNDP, which helped to build road access, restaurant, office. Other national grants financed construction of lodges and conference room. Now, the center is working on his own, using mostly own-fund from its non-profit activities.
Private Reserve Corazon del Bosque
Here is the presentation of the protected area.
The area is located in a natural conifer forest or montane forest, which makes it an interesting place for bird watching, especially for the Pink-headed warbler (Ergaticus versicolor), a regional endemic species. Corazon del Bosque is a community-based tourism destination, managed by Maya K’iche’ indigenous people. You can therefore taste the local gastronomy (could be better promoted in my point of view!) and enjoy the traditional water vapor baths or “temascal”. It is a nice place for resting, recreation, and relaxing.
The 35 ha forested area once exploited is now protected, integrated in the national network of protected areas (SIGAP) of the CONAP (Council of Protected Areas in Guatemala).
- The center has a recreative park for families, lodges and dormitories (45 pers.), 3 bungalows (5 pers. each) with traditional saunas (temazcales) and a conference room for training and events. They welcome yearly between 5,000 and 7,000 visitors, of which 25% are foreigners.
The association has a nursery for the reforestation of the countryside and to sell. They are continuing with fruit trees and the Pinabete (Abies guatemalensis Rehder), an endemic species of Guatemala in danger of extinction.
- A small-scale cuniculture project is in process, that provide the restaurant with famous rabbit.
- The association has recently been involved in the construction of a private cemetery for the community.
Impact on the environment
Water comes directly from a mountain spring with very good quality. It is filtered briefly before release in the river. This could be improved by using adapted plants with water filtering power.
Electricity comes from the community. They applied for a support to build a micro-hydroelectrical station on the river, which has been accepted. It provided 50% of the center need. But the tropical storm in 2010 damaged part of the installation which is not operating anymore. There is a plan to re-open it.
Garbage is problem number 1 in Guatemala and Central America, and is also locally in the Ecological Park Corazon del Bosque. Few bins are exposed in the center, with poor information about recycling. Signs with « Do not throw garbage in the nature, amend of… » are not enough. Environmental awareness is the key, from schools to families, employees. The park should develop support to explain the bad consequences for Nature and public health of dumping plastics, cans, glass bottles. It appears to me that the gesture of dumping is rooted on many generations and with the arrival of plastics in daily consumption products, it is turning road sides, forests, rivers into garbage spots. What a pity! At least in protected areas like the private reserve Corazon del Bosque, it must be perfectly clean in common areas, on the interpretative trail, recreative areas.
Investigations of the University of San Carlos are carried out to monitor forest regeneration. The reserve contributed with an avifauna diagnosis to an environmental study on the Multiple Uses Reserve of the Atitlan Lake and Basin.
Benefits for the Community
100% of the 12 permanent employees are local, plus temporary ones in high touristic season. Typical food is served. Some local products from the community are exposed for sell.
The association has a general assembly once a year, and a directory board meeting once a month. The latest is composed of 5 representatives for the executive board, 5 for administrative board and 3 for project coordination, changing every 2 years among the 74 association members de Santa Lucia. There is an intent to involve more women and various backgrounds.
The average yearly budget is about 1 million quetzales (<100,000 euros). Compared to the cooperative where benefits are redistributed to associates, the association invest profits to the strengthening of current project : touristic center, nursery, rabbits and cemetery.
Highly Desirable Improvements of the Center
Clean perfectly trails and areas around the center! I was surprised to encounter so many trash on the trails. I know that this is a crucial national problem but efforts must be done in protected areas! If people can see dumps when visiting the center, they will do the same. If it is clean, maybe they won’t!
- Diversify tourist products by involving more the local community and developing projects that benefit to locals and allow experiencing an authentic Guatemalan travel. Examples with notable potential for development: hiking in the mountains with views on the Atitlan Lake, rituals and religious ceremonies, workshop on how to make handcrafts or how to cook typical food from the Highlands, seminars about the environment protection. This will help to enlarge tourists’ stay in the center, all along the year. A good example if the Tiendas de Experiencias Local de Chiapas, Mexico.
- Clear some parts of the trails around the center to be able to enjoy a scenery viewpoint (in accordance with CONAP, of course!) Indeed, it was a pity to hike this trail and not to be able to have nice lookouts because of the dense vegetation on tops of hills.
Welcome external helps and skills through social media, international cooperation (with CONAP, the Solola department and INGUAT among others), volunteering.
- Increase and improve the promotion of the local heritage, e.g. gastronomy based on rabbit. The restaurant should improve its recipes, using e.g. other local vegetables from the valley (potatoes, carrots…). Also diversify the variety of local products to buy at the restaurant (when I was there, there was only honey).
- Foster organic farming in the valley, taking into consideration the employment potential and the importance to preserve water resources.
- Develop project of conservation of the endangered endemic species del « Pinabete » Abies guatemalensis Rehder.
- Invest in eco-friendly techniques to preserve natural resources, especially to produce electricity, water and waste management.
How to Visit the Center
It is found at 145 km (90 miles) from Guatemala City (2.5-hour drive), on the inter-American Highway (CA-1) to Quetzaltenango.
Dorms price is 10 euros for 1 person, adding 7 euros for additional person. You can have a nice breakfast, lunch or dinner for 2-4 euros. Additional price for drinks.