Danny Gilfoy and Michael Waugh were just trying to escape a bleak Nova Scotia winter when they headed for Costa Rica this past February. They ended up escaping the confines of human civilization for two incredible weeks. Costa Rica was a magical place full of natural wonders that the two Halifax natives had never seen before. They hired guides to take them through mangrove swamps teaming with crocodiles, visited beaches where leatherback turtle conservation projects were underway and a rehabilitation centre that returned injured howler monkeys to the wild. They tried their hand at white water rafting and canyoning and rode long zip lines through rainforest canopies. In the quiet evenings they thrilled to the sloths and coatimundis that crept curiously close their rented cabin.
When nothing else was planned, Gilfoy and Waugh hiked the trails that honeycombed through the rain forests and cloud forests near their accommodations — well marked and maintained to keep hikers from trampling the delicate ecosystem and a safe distance away from venomous snakes and insects. “If you have a good guide with you, they will spot things that you wouldn’t notice,” says Gilfoy. “They’ll explain a lot about the ecology of the place that you would otherwise miss.”
Gilfoy and Waugh are part of a new travel mindset, says Bruce Poon Tip, founder of the Toronto-based adventure travel company Gap Adventures. They are eco-tourists. “Eco-tourists are individuals who want to learn something on their holiday and experience a new culture,” he says. “They want a little more than a week on the beach or a boring coach tour.”
Poon Tip started Gap Adventures in 1990 as an alternative for traditional forms of travel like cruise ships, resorts and coach tours. Today his company offers more than 1,300 trips to over 100 countries — many to exotic destinations like the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica or Tibet – places with wildlife or spiritual highlights that often create life-changing experiences for his clients. “I believed travel, more specifically innovative travel experiences, was a powerful force that could facilitate change, and ultimately change people’s lives.”
Gilfoy says the Costa Rica experience was definitely a life-changer, and he recommends that anyone who wants to get the most out of an ecotourism adventure should hire a reputable travel company to handle the details. “The company that we used picked us up at the airport and drove us back. For two weeks they arranged everything, based on what we told them we wanted to do. We didn’t have to worry about a thing.”
It is still a vacation, after all.