Top 5 Tools for Sustainable Nature Tourism in Colombia

Sustainable nature tourism initiatives in Colombia are key to be implemented to avoid the negative impact that tourism may bring. Even more so when Colombia has never had massive visitors to its most preserved natural areas.

Tools for Conservation and Challenges

Sustainable tourism in Colombia: A report from Colombia BirdFair 2018, Cali, Colombia.

1. Promotion

Colombia has been promoted as a nature tourism destination, with special emphasis on the birdwatching segment, at important international tourism fairs in the world such as the International Tourism Fair of Madrid, FITUR, and at the World’s Leading Travel Trade Show, ITB.  This is because Colombia has more than 1950 bird species to see. The National Government of Colombia, through the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MINCIT), seeks to positionate Colombia as a world-class birding destination par excellence. The objective is to join forces, at regional and country level, to create birding trails which offer high quality standards and sustainability criteria.

2. Bird Fairs

Among the activities that enhance bird tourism are the local, regional, national and international bird fairs and festivals. Among the main bird fairs in the world are the British Bird Fair, the American Birding Expo, the Asian Bird Fair and the South American BirdFair. These fairs are an opportunity to promote products related to avitourism, such as birding equipment, destinations, companies and agencies. At the same time, bird fairs serve as an space for scientific divulgation, financially support actions for the conservation of species around the world, and invite people of all conditions to be closer to nature, and enjoy spending time outdoors through this activity.

The Colombia BirdFair

The most important international bird fair in Colombia is the Colombia BirdFair. This fair was created in tribute to the more than 1950 bird species that inhabit the country. All the Colombia BirdFair versions have offered a program that includes birding trips, lectures and several workshops offered to professionals and the general public from children, youth and adults. Lectures and workshops are offered by scientists and professionals working on ornithology, tourism, arts, environmental policy and many other interesting topics. Colombia BirdFair is held in the city of Santiago de Cali, in the department of Valle del Cauca, known as the city of birds due to its high number of species (around 561).

In the words of the director of the fair, Carlos Mario Wagner, the objective of the fair is to “unite wills, unite friends and unite the passion for birds”. The main purpose is to make “a tribute to birds as symbols of union and conservation and as a bridge of brotherhood and fraternity among peoples”.

Carlos Mario Wagner, Colombia Birdfair Director

The fair has generated a social and cultural impact at a local level. This has been expanding to the point of positioning Colombia as one of the most important destinations for birdwatching.

During the Colombia Birdfair 2018 the main topic was Sustainability, and the main lecturers were: Megan Epler Wood (International Sustainable Tourism Initiative), David Lindo (The Urban Birder), Carolina Murcia (Conservation Expert), Miles McMullan (Illustrator and Author of the Field Guide of the Birds of Colombia), Sussy de la Zerda (Founder of the Colombian Ornithological Association ) and Horacio Matarasso (Expert in Avitourism).

Here I brought a resume of the lectures who impressed me more during the 2018’s version of the Colombia Birdfair.

3. Citizen Impact on Restoration 

Extended 3R Rule

Carolina Murcia brought the message of Restoring the House of Birds. The call is to the citizens to contribute by expanding the rule from the three R’s to five. This rule, also known as the three R’s of ecology or simply 3R, proposes to develop three habits of responsible consumption: Reduce, reuse, recycle. The expanded rule includes reject and recover.

The 5 Rs

Reduce, reuse, recycle, reject and recover. For example, reject the excessive use of plastic packaging such as polystyrene for food packaging on the market, promoting the recovery of reusable materials, such as cloth bags or biodegradable material to replace existing bags and containers.

The following actions, made by each citizen, are important keys to contribute to sustainable tourism:

  • Try to consume local products to promote social equity, keeping the countryside alive by supporting small local producers,
  • Measure your own carbon footprint,
  • Buy food from clean production systems,
  • Get involved with political decisions and commit to the country’s destiny.

All this has an effect on the house of the birds avoiding the gradual disappearance of the ecosystems.

Companies also play an important role in committing to responsible production and consumption, some of the expected actions to develop are:

  • Restoration projects in forests,
  • Rehabilitation projects in productive areas,
  • Planting native trees,
  • Controlling the use of polluting agents, among others.

4. Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet: The Role of Education

Why do we travel? Is tourism really improving the world? Is tourism benefiting the environment or not?

In her conference “Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet“, Megan Epler Wood shared her research experiences looking for tools to mitigate the growing global negative impacts of tourism, being community development projects and sustainable ecotourism the best ones worldwide.

Why do we travel? Is tourism really improving the world? Is tourism benefiting the environment or not? Those are the questions that she put on the table. The ability of people to do tourism is growing very rapidly in the world and the effect of this can be very positive for the environment and local communities, but it can also be very destructive.

Given this panorama, Colombia faces the challenge of how to use its great natural heritage in a sustainable way in the face of a tourist demand that is growing by leaps and bounds. The solution for this is education, because by knowing and valuing the natural and cultural heritage of each region of the country, it will be possible to make a good management. In Colombia it is necessary to encourages actions for conservation that can bring benefits for local economic development, which has proven to be a great success in other parts of the world similar to Colombia.

The post-conflict in Colombia

The other scenario for Colombia is the post-conflict. The post-conflict opens up the possibility of carrying out activities that promotes the maintenance of peace in the country, such as the ecotourism. However, it depends on the decision of the post-conflict actors.

The effective progress of sustainable tourism in Colombia needs: (1) planning, (2) to establish the value of resources and, (3) to establish investment values ​​for their protection. By following these three steps, it will be possible to determine the cost of local investment needed to develop use and protection strategies that safeguard Colombia’s natural and cultural capital.

5. Urban Birding

In his talk, David Lindo told us about his mission: to involve the people of the cities with the urban nature that surrounds them, because this can help develop urban conservation initiatives through citizen participation.

His interest in birds came from an early age, he was 7 years old when he found “The guide of Great Britain Birds“, a book he treasured as the Holy Grail. David has revolutionized interest in birds in cities through activities led by himself. His call is to people, through birding in cities, to open their senses and love what is around, and even more, to come to understand that the garden of your window or the neighborhood park may be connected with the Amazon, Antarctica and with the rest of the world, since they are biological corridors for the species. Thus, people become aware that nature is at the door of the house.

David Lindo, The Urban Birder.

For years, David, as an urban birder, learned to see in each source, crack, light pole or abandoned building, the potential and realized niche of many species. He also chose his own birding patch in the city, which he regularly visits to follow the birds that live there.

You can start doing the same: choose your favorite birding spot in your city. Do not forget that the most important thing as an urban birder is to develop passion. And do not forget to look at the sky, always!


As a tourism experience for conservation, David told us about a small town in Serbia called Kikinda. There is park in Kikinda, the size of a block, that houses a huge population of Long-eared owls, which makes it look like a Harry Potter set.

In 10 years of guided visits to this place the local people have learned to value both: the owls and their small habitat. The impact was so big that the government of Serbia declared this small urban park as a nature reserve, one of its kind in the world, establishing penalties for up to 10,000 euros on anyone who disturbs the birds or their habitat.

This also shows that it is not necessary to be in the middle of the jungle to admire the wonders of nature.

The long-eared owl (Asio otus), also known as the northern long-eared owl, is a species of owl which breeds in Europe, Asia, and North America.

A good Example for Sustainable Ecotourism in Colombia

After listening to the wonderful conferences for three days, the Colombia BirdFair 2018 ended with the screening of the film “A Cloudy Destination: The Tropical Andean Forests” made 30 years ago in La Planada Reserve, in Nariño, with the participation of Megan E. Wood.

The documentary tells the story of the reserve and how the local Awá indigenous community remained steadfast in preserving the territory despite the war and social conflict. Few years ago, the reserve was transferred completely to the Awá community for its management, with great success.

This is an example in favor of sustainable development with community development. The documentary shows the natural richness of the region and reinforces the message that biodiversity should be protected. It proposes sustainable development as the best way to guarantee conservation in Colombia, ensuring that people from local communities can benefit financially and also be in harmony within each ecosystem.

La Planada Nature Reserve returns to the Awa indigenous community (SP). Read morhere.

About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.