Eco-tourism has a growing appeal for gay travelers.
Is it for you?
Above: Cultures intersect and interact
as three children in remote Thailand, who live without running water,
or electricity, inspect a gift from an overseas visitor.
The author: Sasha Alyson is
the founder of Alyson Publications, the country's leading publisher of
gay and lesbian books. He sold that company in 1995 to start Alyson
Adventures, which specializes in active and adventure vacations
for gay men and lesbians.
Table of Contents of Venturing Out columns
Also of Interest
Gay Adventure Travel
Travel in Thailand
Traveling to learn about and care for the
environment, known as Eco-tourism, is the new frontier of gay travel on
two fronts. It has taken gay people to many new places, while it also
has created a new, progressive ethic for the tourism industry in general.
For many years, gay people avoided travel outside urban Meccas where
we felt safe and comfortable. But in the past two decades, a few pioneers
have introduced gay vacations, tours and accommodations throughout the
world, including the most remote and exotic places. As we discover its
wonders, we learn more about the environment, and become better stewards
of its future. Like the gay rights movement, eco-tourism grew mainstream
through underground and grassroots activism. Our response to its sudden
acceptance is a celebration of our own liberty.
Sound political and preachy? Too granola for your taste? You say you
tried an eco-vacation when you paid $500 for a mud bath at Canyon Ranch?
Somewhere on the spectrum between the mud bath and a circuit party, there's
a destination that could offer a fresh and fun experience. By following
a few enlightened rules of thumb, you will return healthier, more confident,
and a little wiser.
1. Know before you go. Being aware of a country's language(s),
customs, and religions helps you make new friends. As we build bridges
to other cultures, we create a more tolerant world in the only true
way possible, friendship by friendship.
2. Leave only footprints, take only photos is the famous summary
of this important rule for the responsible traveler. Remember to leave
natural spaces in the same or better condition.
3. Give back. Support local artisans who make your destination
unique. You can also cater to local businesses that share your concern
for the environment.
4. Travel in the spirit of curiosity, humility and openness.
Being an eco-traveler is not just where you go, and what you do: it's
an attitude that you bring to the experience. You can have a great time
by letting your natural sense of wonder guide you.
* * *
So what is an eco-vacation? The idea has become so popular that the Internet
teems with eco-tourism sites. Marketers have used the buzzword to advertise
even the common cruise, a cynical twist on an otherwise noble trend. For
the record, real eco-vacations fall into three categories: those offering
educational and conservation experiences, those offering natural adventures,
and those offering both. Many eco-tour operators blend both conservation
and adventure with an emphasis on group activity.
1) Mariah Wilderness Travel
(800-462-7424) offers adventure travel and eco-travel trips for women
in North and South America, from white-water rafting down the Colorado
River to rainforest trekking in the Amazon. They also offer educational
family vacation packages to non-traditional families, which include
hot-air ballooning and story-telling for children.
2) Rancho Mirage Travel
& Way To Go Costa Rica (800-369-1073) have partnered to bring you
the beautiful rainforests of this gay-friendly Central American country.
Truly unspoiled, you can wander over the beautiful beaches at Punta
Uva, explore the active Arenal Volcano, and tour the rainforests with
native conservationists to guide you.
3) Kalani Eco-Resort (800-800-6886)
is the only coastal lodging facility within Hawaii's largest conservation
area. Kalani provides wholesome cuisine, great accommodations, pool/spa,
massage therapies, traditional culture and holistic seminars. Their
web site articulates a special commitment to the gay community, including
numerous conferences and special events.
4) Earthquest (800-542-7111)
is a non-profit eco-tour operator with journeys throughout North, Central
and South America. Among their most popular tours, travel to the Galapagos
Islands, where the abundant diversity of unusual flora and fauna inspired
Darwin's theory on natural selection. A quick phone call assured me
that they are "friendly to all kinds of people."
This list is just the beginning. As this growing market testifies, there
is a fascinating world over the rainbow; and it belongs to all of us.
If you follow your natural curiosity, you could make it a better place
and bring back memories to last a lifetime.