By Their Bootstraps: Homemade Heritage Tourism in Peru

Every year, Green Destinations organizes the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition, which invites submissions from around the world – a vetted collection of stories spotlighting local and regional destinations that are making progress toward sustainable management of tourism and its impacts. From the 100 winners announced in October 2021, this story, from the Colca Cañon of Perú, shows how an impoverished community with pride in its culture and traditional architecture can turn itself into a heritage adventure destination: Sibayo.

Villagers look to the sun as it rises over the Andes Mountains. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Submitted by Jeniffer Stephanie Diaz Santivañez, Promotor Touristico.

From Alpacas to Tourists: How the Village of Sibayo Grew a Business

The rural, pre-Hispanic town of Sibayo, nestled in the province of Caylloma, Peru, has met the test of time. Its traditional stone architecture and its living Collagua culture have survived to this day. However, in its recent history, Sibayo was all but forgotten to those outside the Colca Valley. Facing high poverty levels, malnourishment, and inequities that resulted in a period of high migration, the municipality looked towards solutions to better the lives of their community while simultaneously preserving its unique heritage. Thus, the small town began its push from a livestock production economy to a community-based tourism economy.

In 2001, the town set out an objective to diversify its economic activities and open up the rural community to tourism, using a framework that bridges the private sector, local authorities, and civil society.

A Sibayo man leads a group of alpacas down a stone pathway to meet visitors. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

Faced with initial skepticism and resistance to this tourism-based approach, local management worked alongside the population to promote the rural community and dispel any concerns associated with tourist activities. Only after villagers felt supported and that they could trust tourism did the real planning begin – nearly four years later. Experiential tourism was developed, centered around rehabilitating the town’s old stone houses, where food and lodging could be offered, meshed with agritourism concepts, in which tourists could participate in planting, handicraft making, firewood collecting, and walks with the local farmers.

Outdoor adventure activities such as rafting have become increasingly popular for visitors of Colca Canyon. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]


As Sibayo began to gain attraction, the community evolved and new experiences sprung up, such as hiking to archeological remains, canoeing, cycling, and living the local culture. Women also began to have a leading role in tourism efforts, establishing 12 women-run microenterprises, which has resulted in improved gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region. By implementing community-based tourism, Sibayo’s economy has become dynamic, and tourism has positively affected the economy. The success of the community-based tourism framework has depended on connections between governments, the local people, and private organizations. Thanks to this tourism framework, the locals have been able to access housing sanitation services, improving the living conditions of the community.

Introducing visitors to traditional cuisine has proven to be an excellent way to foster a connection with local culture. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]

To read more about the ingredients that went into these successes, along with how the town is combatting their new test of COVID-related challenges, check out the Green Destinations’s Top 100 story here. 

Chelenko Opts for All-In Sustainability

Some beautiful destinations are recognized as such with special governmental designations. That may provide an opportunity for a holistic approach to destination management. Fernando Ojeda and Natalia Naranjo describe how the Chelenko Lake area of the Chilean Patagonia has done just that.

Chile’s Chelenko Adopts a Structure for Stewardship

Chelenko is a scenic, nature-based destination in the Aysén region in the Chilean Patagonia. The Chilean government designated it a Touristic Interest Zone (Zona de Interés Turístico – ZOIT) in 2000, due to rising tourism and an increasing need to protect the lake.

The Leones River, stemming from its namesake glacier, pours into the Chelenko Lake (a.k.a. General Carrera Lake). [Photo courtesy of Sernatur Aysén]

In 2017, an update of the Chilean tourism law created an opportunity to formulate a participatory work plan at a local level that would establish sustainability guidelines in the ZOIT. That process resulted in identifying this vision for Chelenko:

“In 2030 it will be a consolidated touristic destination, responsible and inclusive with the communities, that protects and values its natural resources, its identity and traditions, and assures sustainable development for the local communities. Generosity and kindness of its inhabitants are an important part to generate a high level of satisfaction for visitors.”


Chelenko was the first place to receive the ZOIT designation from the Chilean government. This was an opportunity to strengthen participatory planning skills; contribute to the conservation of touristic resources, and also promote public and private investments in this area.

The Chelenko ZOIT is an area defined within the General Carrera Province, encompassing the General Carrera Lake – better known as Chelenko Lake – as well as Bertrand Lake and the surrounding area. There are more than 10 towns distributed between the two municipalities of Chile Chico and Río Ibáñez.

Kayaking is a popular tourist activity in Chelenko, especially alongside the breathtaking Marble Chapels, a series of islands sitting atop glacial waters. [Photo courtesy of Sernatur Aysén]

Chelenko in the Tehuelche aboriginal language means “Lake of Storms.” Shared with Argentina, it is the biggest lake in Chile and the second largest in South America – 200 km long and 590 meters maximum depth, at 350 meters above sea level. Chelenko Lake is linked to the Bertrand Lake and nurtures the most abundant river in Chile: The Baker River.

The main economic activities of the region are agriculture, cattle, mining, and nature-based tourism, which includes hiking, horseback riding, and wildlife watching. Numerous rivers and lakes provide opportunities for sports and adventure activities like recreational fishing, sailing, rafting, and kayaking.

Management Strategy

The main strategy for managing tourism is to establish a collaborative (public and private directorate) and participatory structure to plan and implement actions for the destination –  Directorio Público Privado ZOIT Chelenko (Pubic-Private Directorate for the Chelenko ZOIT). Its main characteristic has been to integrate private stakeholders so that they can have greater participation in the governance of the lake. Their continued efforts and commitment have been key to advancing a sustainable agenda, with participation happening at different levels (within the ZOIT plan, outside the ZOIT plan, or at the local level led by the civil society).

Even so, stakeholders’ active involvement can be a challenge; there is an active participation at a local level from both public and private stakeholders regarding their concerns towards sustainability. Being a small community, local leaders are involved in different initiatives beside the tourism activity; they are also involved in other coordination entities like water, electrification, neighborhood committees, etc.

An aerial view of the Marble Caves (Capillas de Mármol) Nature Sanctuary, on the shores of General Carrera Lake in the Aysén region. [Photo courtesy of Sernatur Aysén]

The Action Plan

The participatory action plan identified these strategic pillars: promotion, sustainability, infrastructure, human resources, product development, and governance. Here are the key aspects identified for sustainable management of Chelenko and lessons learned since implementing the participatory structure and plan:

  • Private plus public governance – a must.
  • Government commitment to the process at national, regional, and local levels.
  • Governmental support in technical knowledge, data, information, logistics, and facilitation in meetings to strengthen participation from all local stakeholders.
  • Involvement and empowerment for enterprises and community.
  • A public, concise, long term, and participatory plan based on a diagnosis.
  • Measurable goals and regular meetings for follow-up.
  • Continuous motivation and team building, especially for community and NGO leaders.
  • A private stakeholder corporation that supports the long-term vision regardless of changes in government and public administration. It also allows leveraging resources.

At a public level, key aspects of local engagement towards sustainability have included communication and articulation: training, awareness, access to information, promotion of local identity, tourism awareness campaigns, and development of new touristic products and cultural events. You can see more details here.

On the private side, entrepreneurs have established a network: “Chelenko Redponsable” (“responsible network”). This network is a cooperative of enterprises where all members implement and promote sustainable practices: socio-cultural (local products purchasing, exhibition of regional handcrafts), management (local workers), and environmental aspects (energy efficiency, waste management), working to develop community-based tourism. Many of these leaders are part of the directorate. One of the main topics addressed last year was water quality.  Water treatment plant malfunctions, mine tailings, sewage, etc. have generated concerns about water quality and its management, especially for the lake. Chelenko Lake should have one of the purest waters on the world, and the community wants to preserve it for future generations.

Participation of public and private organizations within the destination has succeeded in developing wide commitment toward sustainability in the territory, in large part because local communities love and care about their territory; they love their history and identity. These are of course the main assets for sustainability, providing the destination with a unique sense of place. The community’s sense of co-responsibility within the destination provides a unique tourism experience.

Fernando Ojeda, Tourism Professional, passionate to support sustainable tourism destinations. Today in charge of Touristic Interest Zones in Aysén´s Regional Tourism Office.

Natalia Naranjo Ramos, Development and tourism expert advisor. Country Representative in Colombia for the Canadian Organization for Technical Cooperation –CESO-SACO.

Crete Needs to Restore its Gastronomic Heritage

? Destination Stewardship Report – Summer 2020 ?

Culinary expert Nikki Rose says Crete has wandered far from its roots as the “Garden of Greece,” losing traditional farms, villages, and cuisine in the process. Mass tourism has been partly responsible, and sustainable tourism could help reverse the trend, restoring Crete’s traditional, organic, more ecologically suitable agricultural methods. Consumer demand for health and gastronomy is on the rise. Catering to it could help Crete restore its 4,000-year-old agricultural heritage and once-robust ecosystem. The approach called “agro-ecology” shows the way.

Tourism in Crete can thrive anew with the farming ways of old

by Nikki Rose

Horiatiki, traditional Greek salad, on the coast of Crete. Photo: Nikki Rose.

People relying on tourism for their livelihood can make their industry more vibrant and progressive by forming alliances with organic farmers and agroecology programs. Both residents and visitors will benefit.

In March 2020, the Greek Ministry of Tourism and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council signed a Cooperation Agreement to harmonize the Greek tourism industry with international standards for sustainable tourism. Greek Minister of Tourism, Harry Theoharis, said “Our major goal is the restart of Greek tourism sector after the pandemic, capitalizing on sustainable tourism thematics, such as diving tourism, gastronomy tourism and mountain tourism….”

Travelers interested in these themes, especially gastronomy, are typically well informed supporters of organic food production and conservation. Consumer demand for organic food is increasing around the world. Data from 2018 reports the global organic market at over USD100 billion and growing. There are 2.8 million organic producers worldwide.

Agroecology entails more than producing food without toxins. It integrates conservation of indigenous traditional knowledge and food self-sufficiency. Agroecological farming has been shown to increase ecological resilience, improve health and nutrition, conserve biodiversity and natural resources, improve economic stability, and mitigate the effects of climate change. Agroecology aligned with sustainable tourism can also help us achieve several UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As tourism begins to recover from the conoravirus crisis, there’s an opportunity for residents of Greece to incorporate the concept of agroecology in the process. The island of Crete provides an excellent example of lessons learned and ignored.

Crete, the “Garden of Greece”

Crete’s Minoan history, mythology, and agricultural and culinary artifacts can teach us about our future. Four millenniums ago, the Minoans showed respect for nature, living in harmony with it. In the ancient city of Knossos, a sign reads: Pasi Theis Meli– Honey is Offered to All Gods. Around the world today, our bees and other pollinators are being killed by pesticides. This is a serious threat to our food supply, farmers’ livelihoods, and traditional cuisine. The notion of promoting “gastronomy tourism” is moot until we protect our pollinators.

Beekeeper, eastern Crete. “The notion of promoting gastronomy tourism is moot until we protect our pollinators.”  Photo: Nikki Rose

The traditional Mediterranean Diet is on UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list. Studies conducted in Crete before the introduction of industrial farming noted a primarily vegetarian diet based on wild sources and traditional organic cultivation. Today, only six percent of land in Greece is farmed using sustainable organic methods.

Crete is known as “The Garden of Greece,” but most commercial agriculture today is subsidized industrial monoculture and greenhouse farming. Small-scale organic farmers cannot compete in this “Big Ag” system. Yet this system has not worked well for years. Boreholes have depleted natural aquifers, causing desertification, biodiversity and soil depletion. Production decreases as climate crises increase, impacting all farmers and beekeepers. Amid archaeological sites dating back thousands of years you can find recently abandoned villages. All of the small-scale farmers and artisans are gone, along with their resilient communities.

Large tourist resorts can encroach on communities, increasing the cost of living and doing business. All-inclusive resorts import the majority of their food and stifle local business by their “no need to leave our compound” model. These resorts also extract large amounts of Crete’s natural resources, including fresh water, and erode biodiversity.

The Value of a Holistic Approach

Greece has a unique opportunity to support Community-Based Sustainable Tourism (CBST) and Agroecology, because some rural communities still exist and there are many organic farmers still struggling to make a living amid numerous barriers. There are well-established agricultural cooperatives producing organic food and beverages. There is a high percentage of organic-biodynamic vintners in Crete and other regions of Greece.

A CBST agroecology approach covers every section of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria:
A) Sustainable management, stakeholder engagement;
B) Socio-economic stability, social wellbeing;
C) Cultural sustainability, protecting cultural heritage;
D) Environmental sustainability, conservation of natural heritage.
That includes several aspects in particular:

Community benefits: Greece can collaborate with appropriate experts to support organic producers by providing incentives, training, and establishing sales and distribution structures that rely not just on tourism or exports but every avenue of opportunity, such as schools, hospitals, museums, and events. CBST initiatives in collaboration with neighbors involved in the arts, artisan food production, natural medicine, ecology, history, education, and small-scale accommodation will help to sustain resilient societies, better able to withstand tourism crises like coronavirus.

Youth: Greece’s financial crisis has triggered a “brain drain” of young, well-educated Greeks emigrating to seek a better life. One priority for Greece is to create opportunities for the youth to earn a real living at home. Rather than emigrating, many young Greeks have returned to their family’s villages to open small businesses, including organic farmer cooperatives. They are striving to sustain the life they cherish, which also appeals to many visitors. European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides said, “…without prospering farmers, we will not ensure food security. Without a healthy planet, farmers will have nowhere to farm.”

To promote Greece’s cultural heritage and gastronomy, we need to support our suppliers first

Fisheries: The small-scale fisheries industry, nostalgically depicted on postcards, is near extinction. Large-scale illegal operations throughout the Mediterranean, overfishing, and water pollution are depleting precious seafood supplies and poisoning aquatic species. Greece’s current 24% value-added tax rate is pushing small-scale traditional tradespeople out of business, including taverna owners. In order to promote Greece’s cultural heritage and gastronomy, we need to support our suppliers first.

Heritage plants: Local heirloom seeds provide the foundation for our extraordinary traditional cuisine. Policies that support industrial farming threaten their extinction. The Global Movement for Seed Freedom is growing, including the well-established Peliti in Greece.

Peliti Heirloom Seed Festival, Paranesti, Crete. Photo: Nikki Rose

Agronomist Stella Hatzigeorgiou, co-founder of Melitakes agricultural cooperative and heirloom seed festival in Pirgos, Crete, said: “Heirloom seeds contain multiple genotypes that give them strength to adapt to external changes, such as climate changes. Their resilience increases good harvests, and farmers have their own seeds for the next season. Plants from local seeds are well adapted to local climatic and soil conditions and external enemies (insects, fungi, bacteria). And rich natural biodiversity is crucial for all healthy cultivation.”

The Time Is Now

On May 20, 2020 the European Commission adopted a “Biodiversity Strategy and a Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system. The two strategies are mutually reinforcing, bringing together nature, farmers, business and consumers for jointly working towards a competitively sustainable future.” These strategies require support of the EU Common Agricultural Policy/Green Deal, Member States, and farmers, but it’s a positive start, which includes:

  • Reducing dependency on pesticides and antimicrobials, reducing excess fertilisation, increasing organic farming, improving animal welfare, and reversing biodiversity loss.
  • Protecting and restoring well-functioning ecosystems to boost resilience and prevent the emergence and spread of future diseases.

Agroecology should not be marginally connected with tourism, whether we call it agritourism, wine tourism, or gastronomy tourism. Real, safe food should be embedded into everyday life wherever we live or travel. Agroecology programs can increase the number of visitors supporting conservation programs. If we collaborate with our organic farmers and their communities, we can help leave a legacy of a healthier planet and food system for generations to come.

Appendix: For More on Agroecology
Content as provided by Nikki Rose

Agronomist Dr. Vassilis Gkisakis, at the Hellenic Mediterranean University, Agroecology Greece, and Agroecology Europe said, “A major initiative of Agroecology Greece/Europe is the education of agronomists and training of farmers, not just in sustainable farming practices but also in a holistic, systemic approach to agriculture.” For further research, see: