“Ecotourism,” “sustainable tourism” and “responsible tourism” are terms used to describe tourism that focuses on appreciation and preservation of a country’s flora, fauna, ecosystems and culture. Belize stands at the forefront of the eco-tourism movement. Despite its small size, no other country can boast a greater percentage of its land mass dedicated to natural reserves, parks, and preserves. At the same time, this little country is pioneering community-based tourism projects that directly benefit small traditional communities in rural areas of the country. Sustainable tourism is a cooperative effort in which the tourist plays a crucial role. You, the tourist, can help ensure the success of Belizean ecotourism by considering the ethical tourism guidelines listed below. We hope that you will take the time to learn as much about our country as possible, both before, after and during your visit.
Conserving Water and Electricity
* Most Belizean hotels, resorts, and private homes obtain water for drinking and washing from cisterns that trap rainwater. You will be happy to know that, unlike many other popular tourism destinations, the tap water in your hotel is pure and delicious. However, dependence on rainwater also means dependence on the weather cycle. Like most of the rest of the world, Belize is subject to periodic droughts; drought conditions are especially prevalent on the Cayes. Even during the “rainy season,” rain may be sporadic and irregular. During the “dry season,” there may be little or no rain for weeks at a time. You can do your part to ensure the availability of pure water by practicing water conservation. Take “sea showers” (run the water only to lather and rinse; turn it off while you are washing); don’t run the water while brushing your teeth or washing dishes or personal items.
* Electricity costs in Belize are among the highest in the world; and can seriously impact the profit margin for a small or family run hotel or guesthouse. Be conscious of your utility usage; turn off your air conditioner when you don’t really need it or when you are leaving your room.
Protecting Reef and Marine Eco Systems
* The increasing popularity of the world’s second largest barrier reef is both a blessing and a curse. Some of the country’s most popular underwater attractions are showing signs of damage from excessive and often careless human contact; the local tourism associations and environmental organizations have responded by implementing reef protection education programs focused at dive operators. Marine ecosystems are extremely fragile; the mere act of touching coral can kill it. When you dive or snorkel, be careful not to touch the coral; and make sure that your fins don’t kick sand up into the coral. Avoid wearing dive gloves; you will be less tempted to touch the coral out of curiosity or for balance. If you are chartering a boat, be extremely careful that your boat anchors well away from the reef. Needless to say, waste should not be dumped from a boat into the sea.
* Dive operators are now well trained in reef protection; you will probably get a lecture about protecting the reef before you hit the water. However, if you observe careless conduct on the part of your captain or crew, don’t be hesitant to report the offending operator to the local Belize Tourist Industry Association (BTIA) office; ask your hotel manager to put you in contact with the local BTIA representative. If you see a fellow guest abusing the reef, take him or her aside and tactfully explain why he/she should be more careful.
Wilderness area and wildlife habitat protection
* Travel to wilderness areas are best undertaken in the company of trained and experienced local guides (some areas permit only guided tours for the protection of both habitat and visitors). If you do decide to proceed without such a guide, take the time to learn about the area and how to ensure that you do not inadvertently stray too close to important wildlife habitats. A visit to the local Audubon Society or other organization involved in projects in the area you plan to visit can assist you in obtaining such information.
* When hiking in wilderness or conservation areas, stay on the trail. Don’t trample delicate vegetation or remove any form of plant life.
* Stay on the periphery of animal assemblages and bird colonies. Don’t approach, surround or chase animals you may observe on the trail in order to obtain a photograph. In marine environments, don’t get between an animal and the water’s edge.
* Never remove animals or birds from burrows, dens, caves, nests or tree cavities; or come between an animal or bird parent and its young. (It goes without saying that capturing or hunting animals or birds is both illegal and wrong…if you should observe such conduct, report it to the local law enforcement authorities).
* Waste of any type must be disposed of in designated waste disposal containers and/or landfills. You must pack it out and transport it to a suitable facility (local guides can advise you where waste disposal is permitted.) * Obey regulations regarding areas closed to the public. Do not interfere with ongoing scientific research areas. * Be quiet and unobtrusive (you’ll be rewarded by the natural concert of the rainforest.)
Protected species and artifacts
* Do not accept invitations to purchase artifacts taken from Mayan ruin sites; report such offers to local law enforcement authorities
* Do not purchase products derived from any of the protected animal species, including those listed below. Report any attempts to sell you such products to local law enforcement authorities: Anything made from the sea turtle (jewelry, eggs, skin creams, shells). Anything made from reptile skins and leathers. Belize Birds (parrots, wild birds and their feathers and skins) whether dead or alive. Furs of spotted cats (jaguar, ocelot, margay). Orchids or cacti (except by special permits available for orchid purchasers).
* Be sensitive to local cultural norms. Conduct that may be acceptable in certain European or American communities (ie; drug use, nude sunbathing) is not appropriate in Belize. * Churches are often viewed as tourist attractions; however, their primary purpose is as houses of worship for local residents; visitors should be quiet and respectful.