Similar Opportunities and Challenges in South Africa and Mexico
South Africa and Mexico might be worlds apart, yet as a South African living in Mexico, I see many similar opportunities and challenges for ecotourism.
Both countries offer visitors uniquely diverse habitats and endemic species, and both countries have a growing number of adventure travel operators, birdwatching and mountain tours, ecolodges, and ecotourism projects. And, unfortunately in both countries impoverished local communities scarcely reap the benefits from their natural resources and may prefer to use them in other ways.
However, Mexico now has several reserves that include local communities within park borders (for example, the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve in Yucatan). In South Africa community involvement is also growing. For example, the local communities around the Umfolozi-Hluhluwe Park recently decided to re-invest money from a new community levy in park accommodations and become part of the decision-making process that had previously been denied to them.
Another local community, Wuppertal, has embraced ecotourism as part of a community development strategy and offers homestays and close community interaction.
Celestun (Yucatan): The flamingos are the stars in the Celestun Biosphere Reserve, but you can see more than 350 different birds here (www.mexonline.com/celestun.htm, www.planeta.com/ecotravel/mexico/yucatan/celestun.html).
Orizaba or Popocatepetl: Visit a volcano (www.mexconnect.com/mex_/volcan~1.html, www.planeta.com/planeta/05/0504volcanoes.html).
Misol-ha waterfall (Chiapas): Peaceful community-owned cabañas with a spectacular waterfall and a guided cave walk (www.hotel-casainntulija.com/english/html/misol-ha.html).
Monarch Sanctuary (Michoacan): The annual butterfly migration attracts travelers supportive of conservation efforts (www.planeta.com/ecotravel/mexico/monarchs.html, www.llbean.com/parksearch/parks/html/1738llt.htm).
The Sierra Norte of Oaxaca: Offers hiking and biking with community-run guiding and accommodation services (www.planeta.com/ecotravel/mexico/oaxaca/sierranorte.html).
Table Mountain (Western Cape): Visit a vast mountain in the middle of a city
Wuppertal (Western Cape): Stay in the community in this remote oasis-style “end-of-the-road” village (www.wupperthal.co.za).
Hermanus (Western Cape): Some of the closest land-based whale watching in the world (hermanus.com).