The rainforest in Ecuador, one of the world’s most biodiverse areas, is being fought over by two great economic powers of modern life: petroleum and tourism, says Kevin Rushby in The Guardian. For the moment, eco-tourism reigns in this 370 sq km stretch of jungle that is home to the Sani community.
Sani Lodge, a “gorgeous cluster of cabins in a clearing by a lake”, is the only thing keeping the oilmen at bay. But pressure is growing.
“We got up at dawn and paddled down the long lake watching for anacondas in the reed beds,” says Rushby. “Birds, including the colourful ‘many-banded’ aracari, were gossiping overhead. In the distance we could hear the caveman moans of howler monkeys.” Nothing escaped Rushby’s young guide, Victor, from golden-mantled tamarins to the hummingbird that “hurtled past my ear”.
“Perched on a low branch, in one last ray of light, was a huge bird with a red bill.” It was the elusive Salvin’s curassow – one bird-watcher had visited the Yasuni national park 27 times in the hope of seeing it. “Perhaps it’s time we all got a bit more obsessive about this.”
“I am in the jungles of Belize, hiding behind a cluster of bamboo,” reports Francesca Angelini in The Sunday Times. From the trees with spikes to the tarantulas with a bite worse than spikes, there’s plenty to watch out for, not least the howler monkeys. “Something soft lands on my back,” says Angelini. “Forest fruit, I presume.” No such luck. “It’s monkey poo.”
There’s much to entice British visitors to this part of Central America. It’s English-speaking, for one, and with American Airlines changing its schedule next month, it’s never been easier to get there. Not that you will be in any doubt where you are. “The Queen peers out from the colourful banknotes, but toucans at the breakfast table remind you that you’re in the tropics.”
Mountain Pine Ridge is a 100,000-acre reserve of pine and jungle, in a county where national parks make up 40% of the former British colony. Camp out with the jaguars, raccoons, coatis and ocelots if you wish. But to stay in style, head to Gaia Riverlodge. There you will find “immaculate” cabanas 250 feet above a river, “its own private swimming pool”. The idea is to embrace nature.
Unlike in so many tropical countries, Belize has guides and instructors who are “as excited by their nature-saturated, adventure-filled country as any visitor”, says Angelini. They are also indispensable as they will teach you how to “watch out for those honking monkeys”.
The Central Highlands in Costa Rica is “the ideal place to come if you’re strapped for time but want to see some of Earth’s most fascinating creatures up close – from red-eyed tree frogs to sloths”, says Joe Minihane in The Independent. British Airways now has direct flights to the capital, San José, so getting here has never been easier.
In a verdant valley beneath the Poás volcano, you’ll find El Silencio Lodge & Spa, which is near well-marked trails snaking up into the hills to a series of thundering waterfalls. The hotel will provide you with enthusiastic ornithologists as guides. Sloth-spotting is as “pleasingly easy” as for the birds, as is spotting the “cheeky” white-faced capuchin monkeys “prowling the branches” above the national park’s sandy beaches on the hunt for a meal from sunbathers.
Find yourself among the trees
Prepare yourself for the latest fitness fad: “forest bathing”, says Loulla-MaeEleftheriou-Smith in The Independent. It is based on the Japanese pastime of shinrin-yoku, or what you and I might call taking a walk in the woods. The idea is to exercise the mind and reduce stress by bringing you back to nature.
“Perhaps eager to jazz up the concept”, the Mayflower Grace hotel in Connecticut has put together a forest bathing package that involves 90 minutes of skin cleansing treatments and a “plant hydrosol ionising mist”, which “supposedly boosts your lymphatic system with a stimulating breeze”. A forest-bathing session at the hotel costs $265.