Immersion in the Eco-Local Culture

Immersion in your eco-tourism local culture takes advance research.  What products or services is the region known for?  Do the locals have special and significant talents that make them stand out?  What is grown/ harvested/ collected/ cultivated/ manufactured there?  What role do the arts play in the local community?  How does the history of the area interact with contemporary practices?  Is there a unique museum or monument that holds special local meaning?


The answers to those questions are the first step to understanding the local customs and traditions of your eco-tourism destination.  So get started!  Identify which ones interest you, and plan ahead for immersion after you get settled in. Here are some ways we’ve immersed ourselves in local eco-culture. We’ve also included a “What You Need to Know” section.  It can help you to get some practice ahead of time at home so you’ll be able to be fully immersed during your eco-tourism vacation.

Cooking with Local Chefs

Many cultures are renowned for fabulous cooking.  When we went to Milan, Italy, our waiter introduced us to proper ordering, which involved two courses: a pasta course and then a seafood or meat course. In San Francisco, we’ll always remember The Stinking Rose, where every single dish contained some garlic element— yes, even pancakes! If you are a Foodie, take this opportunity and seek out a chef in your upcoming eco-tourism destination and begin your immersion.  

What you’ll need ahead of time:  

  • Know how to use a chef’s knife correctly.
  • Learn how to open a bottle of wine with different styles of corkscrews.
  • Familiarize yourself with various indigenous spices and seasonings of your upcoming eco-tourism area.
  • Attend a local cooking class, such as is offered through Adult Education. They’re fun and affordable, and you’ll get a flavor (pun intended) of what’s ahead when you arrive at your dream eco-tourism destination.

Marine/ Bird Watching

Marine or bird watching makes wildlife observation a recreational activity. You can use your own two eyes. Or add in devices like binoculars and telescopes. You can listen for identifying sounds.  You can even peek in through public webcams. I’ll always remember sunning myself on a Hawaiian beach when a Hawaiian seal thrust itself up onto the shore. Before I knew it, a team of seal researchers had erected a temporary fence to prevent human interference while the seal basked heavily in the sun. I also know some folks who venture out on Plum Island, MA and tag along with the Newburyport Birders.  These are rare opportunities to engage in immersion and observe nature in a pure way.

What you’ll need ahead of time:  

  • Practice with a pair of inexpensive binoculars.
  • Pick up a book about animals or birds in your local area, such as Person’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds, and get familiar with what’s around your own area.
  • Learn to dress for the climate when you’ll be observing.
  • Even on your own practice excursions, always let somebody know where you will be and when you expect to be back.
  • Navigate known areas of good sightings with a map, compass, and/ or GPS device.
  • Record your observations with a pad, pen, and camera (remember, you may not have internet access on your upcoming eco-tour).  

Back Country Hiking

If you’re ready to spend at least one night in the wilderness, you’re ready to graduate from day-hikes. I remember hiking from a Great Smoky Mountains trailhead, and, within a mile, it was utterly removed from any civilization — very remote and isolated.  My hiking party also got chased by a bear! She wanted our lunches, I suspect.  If you want to hike in the back country, you’ll most likely target a designated back country campsite or trail shelter. Do the necessary preparation before leaving the crowds behind. For authentic immersion, take a practice back country hike with full pack, covering 5 to 10 miles that first day, so you’ll know what you’re up against.

What you’ll need ahead of time:

  • Apply for any back country permits, such as are available at the National Park Service website.
  • Obtain a detailed map of any trails you plan to hike.
  • Download GPS and compass to your phone. Don’t forget to pack a battery-operated phone charger.
  • Before you leave the trailhead, make sure somebody back in civilization knows where you’re headed and how long you’ll be gone.
  • Pack and carry around 40 pounds if you have a lightweight pack or more if yours is a little more dated. Create balance: heavy item go in middle with lighter ones to the sides. 
  • Place trail snacks, ample water, and maps in outer pockets for easy access.
  • Layer your clothes so you’ll be ready for a changing climate.
  • Break in those hiking boots so you’ll minimize blisters, please.

Botanical and Public Gardens

Many countries around the world pride themselves on showcasing native flora through their botanical or public gardens. These gardens are living museums that have curated collections of plants, leaves, trees, bushes, shrubs, and ornamentation. Botanical and public gardens offer you a refuge from city life, allow you to meditate on nature’s wonders, and help you to gain immersion in the legacy of places within local history. Some of my most memorable gardens visits took place at Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens (symettrical and lush) and the Halifax Public Gardens (could this really be an all-volunteer effort?) in Nova Scotia, Canada. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (fairy houses on display) in Boothbay. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden (cherry blossoms in April) in New York. The Seattle Japanese Garden (zone 9— amazing!) in Washington state. The Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney, Australia (with the bridge and opera house as backdrop).  Borromeo Palaces and Gardens (Isola Bella and Isola Madre) in Stresa, Italy (decadent in their opulence).


What you’ll need ahead of time:

  • Move beyond automatic settings with your digital camera so that you can shoot macro or close-up images of flowers. Use the focus ring on your lens to manually zoom in on the flower.
  • Plan your snacks and water so you don’t get dehydrated.
  • Research the best places to picnic.
  • Bring a journal, rolling writer, graphite and colored pencils, and even watercolors.  If you’re not artistic, so what?  Let the gardens inspire that inner artist in you.
  • Wear walking shoes, as the trails can be quite extensive in some of these gardens.

Craft Beers and Microbreweries

Is your local eco-destination known for craft beers and microbreweries?  Often located in the rural countryside as a way to reclaim small farms, craft breweries and microbreweries are more sophisticated than seems at first glance.  Most brewmasters hold degrees in chemistry these days. Your immersion will allow you to learn about hops and mash tuns ahead of your travels by taking a field trip to Gritty McDuff’s in the Old Port, ME.  Tree House Brewing Company in Monson, MA. Trinity Brewhouse in Providence, RI.

What you’ll need ahead of time:

There are many other ways you can become an expert in the local customs and traditions in your upcoming eco-trip.  How about wines? Trees?  Ziplining through the jungle?  Spelunking? Yoga and meditation? Start your research before you leave home, and you’ll become immersed right away upon arrival in your eco-tourism destination. Sometimes the fun of an upcoming trip begins well before you leave.

Photo credit: US Embassy New Zealand via / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Daniele Falciola via / CC BY




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