So... you want to experience a tropical rain forest?

entral and South America is known for its beautiful, luscious, tropical rain forests. A few countries are realizing that nature, in and of itself, can be a source of tremendous income and sustainability for people and nature into the future. Here are a few of our favorite spots you might consider for your next eco-trip.


Belize is an awe inspiring place. Its charms include a friendly, Caribbean, laid-back casualness mixed with just a touch of British sophistication. Located just below Mexico, this English-speaking country (formerly known as British Honduras) is filled with an unlikely mixture of people, cultures and religions. Sprinkled throughout, you will hear Spanish, Creole, Mayan, Mennonite, German, Chinese and a few other languages. The population is around 220,000 and about 180,000 tourist visit annually. It's approximately the size of Massachusetts and has a spectacular and diverse physical geography. With its majestic inland tropical rain forests, abundant excavated Mayan ruins, clear mountain streams, swampy mangroves, numerous cayes (the islands, pronounced keys) and the clear blue Caribbean Sea with 200 miles of barrier reef, it is paradise even for the most worldly traveler.
Its rain forests are filled with rare and endangered species: toucan, jaguar, ocelot, howler monkey, and many more you may never have even heard of. Amazing plants and breathtakingly beautiful flowers (over 30 species of orchids alone) fill the air with a sweet, clean smell and are so thick in some places, they are absolutely impassable. Many of the plants are used for medicinal and household remedies by the locals; much of the Mayan medicine is still in practice today. While standing under the mass canopies of the forests, it doesn't take long to realize that the life and value of the land is in its biodiversity: the plants, insects and animals themselves, not the soil. This is true for all rain forests and is the main reason it doesn't make sense to exploit the land by the usual clearing and burning, since the land can only sustain crops for 3 or 4 years before becoming a sterile desert.
The Government of Belize is quite aware of this, and although they do still give land to their citizens farming, they also have a very comprehensive objective to keep nature and development sustainable. Belize is continually adding to the country's national Parks and protected natural reserves.

Costa Rica - the coast of riches

Long touted as having the best track record for conservation and preservation of their rain forest, Costa Rica's rate of deforestation is now one of the world's highest. They do, at least, have a ministry of conserving nature with about 25 percent of the land currently protected in more than 20 National Parks, forest reserves and increasing numbers of private reserves. Most of these are open to visitation by tourists.
You can see many of the most impressive aspects of the rain forest from the world's first rain forest cable-car tram ride. These guided tours creep along about a mile, giving an unprecedented opportunity to view the forest's canopy, containing about two-thirds of the forest species.
Some are convinced that this latest nature travel innovation is just one more contributor to Costa Rica being loved to death. Tourism has quadrupled in the past ten years, with a total of nearly 800,000 people annually. Tourism has replaced coffee and bananas as the country's largest industry.
Still others believe that eco-visitors are what help the country earn and deserve its clean and green reputation. Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. You can see jungle-clad volcanic peaks, mountains up to two miles high, waterfalls, three kinds of tropical rain forests, broad beaches facing the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and much more all packed within an area smaller than West Virginia.
In Tortuguero National Park, you can work on tropical-bird, manatee, and sea turtle projects using your vacation to make a difference in the big scheme of things.
If we don't start taking more individual global responsibility now, we will see a decline in our songbirds here at home: these same birds fly south for the winter and rely on tropical forest habitats.

Rainforest U.S.A.

Hawai'i is home to the only U.S. tropical rain forests.
Moloka'i Island, just 50 miles and yet a world away from Waikiki, offers unspoiled eco-tourism without a passport. Molokai, "The Friendly Isle," is the center of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, which nurtures a resurgence of indigenous culture. Many Moloka'i natives still pursue traditional farming, fishing and hunting and gathering lifestyles. The island is home to Hawaii's tallest waterfall and the world's highest sea cliff. To visit the Nature Conservancy's preserve here, you must make reservations as much as a year in advance.
Kaua'i - "the Garden Isle" - is host to the rainiest spot on the planet, along with "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific." While this island has many large developments without nature in mind, the eco-tourist may choose to stay at smaller, locally-owned lodgings. Planted with banana and papaya trees, the Garden Island Inn owners Steve and Susan offer their alternative to the Hawaii's high-rise experience at the Kauai Marriott next door - with gardens surrounding rooms on 3 floors ranging from $55 to $85 per night.