Sustainable travel is all the buzz these days and most people would agree that we all want to be socially responsible, sustainable, and green travelers but what does that really mean? And how do we know if we’re doing more harm than good? Sadly, according to the UN: for every $100 a tourist spends only $5 stays in the local community, which inevitably explains why there is often great disparity between the ex-pats and locals in tourist destinations. However when responsible development and sustainable tourism are done right; it can lead to a win-win for both the travelers and the locals.
Sustainable tourism means traveling in a way that takes full account of current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts and addresses the needs of the visitors, host community, and environment. It’s more than just off-setting your carbon footprint or eating local food; it’s a mindset about how you engage and interact with the local community and environment. So whether you’re here visiting Bocas as you read this right now or are a Bocatoreño planning your next trip, here are a few tips to help ensure you enhance your experience and maximize the benefit to the place where you’re traveling. Chances are this will result in a more meaningful, culturally immersive, and unique adventure!
1. Eat & stay local This does not mean risking traveler’s diarrhea by eating questionable street meat off a bike grill, but rather enjoying restaurants that serve authentic local food usually at a great value. Try to find restaurants and accommodations that are owned and operated by locals and that employs locals to maximize the dollars that stay in the local community. Bocas restaurant recommendations: Tom’s and Buena Vista on Isla Colon, the community restaurants in Bahia Roja & Bahia Honda, and Alvin & Kecha’s in Old Bank.
2. Go on locally guided tours The locals who live somewhere will have far more knowledge and insight into the history and culture than anyone else. They can also make great recommendations on what else to see, where to go, and what to eat while you’re here. See page 14 for more information Rutilio Milton’s Bahia Honda Jungle Hike & Cave Tour!
3. Give back Find a local nonprofit, orphanage, elderly home or other organization that you can volunteer at or make a donation to. As tourism rises so does the cost of living, thus often creating greater needs. While many families may have been able to support themselves on subsistence farming, fishing and other traditional trades, those ways of living are threatened by increasing costs, larger businesses, and other outside pressures. Bocas community organizations: Floating Doctors, Give & Surf, El Asilo Elderly Home.
4. Preserve & Conserve Natural resources that are taken for granted in developed countries are much more limited in the Bocas archipelago and other developing tourist destinations so limit your water and electricity use. Strive to leave the environment in better condition than when you found it. Follow overall good practices of not littering, respecting the wildlife, not eating or fishing/hunting for endangered species, and minimizing your overall footprint. In Bocas, this means not pulling starfish out of the water, using boat drivers & tour guides that respect the coral reefs, not eating lobster when it’s out of season even if it’s on the menu (lobster ban is March to August), saying no to plastic bags and disposing of trash properly.
5. Learn the local language, customs and culture Even learning 3 or 4 key phrases will open a whole new world for you and it will make the locals feel like you’re trying so they are more willing to speak with you even if it is in some version of Spanglish. An insider’s version of their home country is far more fascinating than the touristy top picks that make the cut on Trip Advisor.