8 Adventure Tourist Destinations That Respect Tribal Peoples

Adventure travel can be extremely dangerous -- for tribal peoples. One man's 'landscape' of escape is, quite simply, another man's home.

As humans, we move. We travel; we always have. Journeying is hard-wired in the human psyche; we migrated from Africa thousands of years ago, walking out of the savannah to the rest of the world.

Today, travel is one of the western world's biggest industries. We leave home to climb mountains and trek through rainforests, to dance in Cuba, swim the Hellespont, barter in a souk or lie on a beach. In his book, The Art of Travel the philosopher Alain de Botton contemplates the underlying reasons for travel. To gain perspective is one, he says, for he believes that "there are inner transitions we can't properly cement without a change of locations." Change is also a key motivator in the mind of the late travel writer Bruce Chatwin. "Change of fashion, food, love and landscape," he wrote. "We need them as the air we breathe."

So we travel for knowledge, for pleasure, for enlightenment; to ease the tedium of daily routine and satisfy the imaginings of curious minds. We travel to shake up our souls and to placate an atavistic restlessness within us. Ernesto Che Guevara thought that we simply "travel just to travel." Now, it seems, we want even more. We want to go higher, further, wilder. As the world becomes increasingly homogenized and urbanized, so, perhaps, the call of the unfamiliar grows louder and the reasons for traveling to remote corners ever stronger.

But this is where 'adventure' travel also becomes extremely dangerous -- for tribal peoples. The faraway places seen in guides or advertised by tourism companies, from the green depths of the Amazon basin to the blue ice of the Arctic or the highlands of West Papua, are often the homes of tribal peoples. One man's 'landscape' of escape is, quite simply, another man's home.

Tribal lives can be severely disrupted or even threatened by tourism. Their ownership of the lands they inhabit is recognized in international law, and should be respected regardless of whether the national government applies the law or not. When in tribal territories, tourists should behave as they would on any other private property.

It can also be lethal for tourists to be anywhere near little-contacted peoples. Such peoples are likely to react with hostility towards outsiders, while tourists can transmit infectious diseases to which little-contacted peoples have no immunity. "There's nothing wrong with tourists visiting tribal peoples who have been in routine contact with outsiders for some time, but only if the tribal people want them to, have proper control over where they go and what they do, and get a fair share of the profit," said Stephen Corry of Survival International.

Tourism poses a great threat to the health of the endangered Jarawa people of the Indian Ocean's Anadaman Islands. Tour operators have been driving thousands of tourists every month along the illegal Andaman Trunk which cuts through their reserve in the hope of 'spotting' members of the tribe; rather like a sinister human 'safari'. An epidemic could annihilate the hunter-gatherer tribe. There is hope, however - after Survival recently called on tourists to boycott the trunk road, six of the tour companies, moved by the Jarawa's plight, have come out in support of the boycott, with some even helping to hand out brochures appealing for a wholesale tourism boycott of the road at the island's airport. Until the road through the Jarawa territory is closed, however, the threat remains.

So where travel and tribal peoples collide, the reasons for travel need to be carefully analyzed. Travelers thinking of visiting tribal areas need to think about the long-term effects their visits might have on tribal peoples, not the fleeting thrill of the experience or the glory of the story once back home. The joy of journey and discovery - the need to 'find the beautiful', in Ralph Waldo Emerson's words - is not justifiable when it places tribal peoples at risk.

Below, Survival International lists a few places to visit and stay that are beneficial for tribal communities.

Do Go To:

  1. Panoramic Journeysfor visits to the Tsaatan people, Mongolia. Panoramic Journeys supports the Dukha (or Tsaatan, a reindeer-herding people) of Mongolia through the Tsaatan Community and Visitors Center (TCVC), a facility owned and operated by the Tsaatan community.
  2. Posada Amazonas Lodge, Peru. A Peruvian lodge owned jointly by ecotourism company, Rainforest Expeditions, and the Ese'eja tribe. The lodge is situated within the community's private reserve.
  3. Greystoke Mahale, Tanzania, Africa. Greystoke Mahale in Western Tanzania is at the foot of the thickly-forested Mahale Mountains, and is the ancestral home of the Tongwe people. Visiting Greystoke throughJourneys by Design, a travel company that has helped raise over 4 million dollars for communities worldwide, ensures that funds raised go directly back to the grassroots. Journeys by Design has helped raise $30,000 for the Tongwe people through one-off donations.
  4. Wayo Africa, Tanzania, Africa. In Northern Tanzania, the hunter-gatherer Hadzabe tribe still lives in the dry woodlands of remote Lake Eyasi. Wayo Africa's guided visits to the Hadzabe and their homelands create funds that are channeled directly to various Hadzabe projects. One day is spent with the Hadzabe men on hunting and honey-gathering trips, another with the women as they forage for tubers, roots and berries.
  5. Dqare Qare Game Farm, Botswana, Africa. Situated in the Kalahari desert, the 7,500 hectare Dqae Qare game farm is owned by the people of D'Kar and as such is the only Bushman-owned game farm in Botswana. 
  6. Kapawi Lodge, Ecuador. Kapawi Ecolodge and Reserve lies in the Achuar people's traditional territory in the western Amazon basin, near the border between Ecuador and Peru.The 19-room lodge is built entirely using traditional Achuar architecture. A wooden boardwalk extends from the river through the jungle to the lodge and out over the lagoon. Small groups are led by a naturalist bilingual guide and an Achuar guide.
  7. Aboriginal Cultural Tours,Yorke peninsula, Australia. Aboriginal Cultural Tours runs dozens of tours, including the rarely seen areas of Adjahdura Land (Yorke Peninsula). 
  8. Picnic with the Penan, Sarawak, Malaysia. The hunter-gatherer Penan tribe lives in the rainforests of the interior of Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. Traditionally nomadic, most of the 10-12,000 Penan now live in settled communities, but continue to rely on the forest for their existence. Picnic with the Penan organizes trips that allow tourists to live and travel with the Penan in the rainforest. It is owned and run by the Penan themselves, and all profits go directly to their communities.
Byline: Joanna Eede, Editorial Consultant to Survival International and author of 'We are One, a celebration of tribal peoples.'
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