Pico da Neblina, the highest peak in Brazil, has been off-limits to tourists for almost twenty years, but a new program is now in place to demonstrate how ecotourism can help preserve the Amazon Rainforest. Located on the border between Brazil and Venezuela in the Serra do Imeri range, the indigenous Yanomami people, who have called the area home for over a millennium, have started an ecotourism initiative to transport visitors to the peak of their holy mountain.
The hekuras, or shamans, perform a rite to bless the hikers, porters, and guides before they set off on the eight-day journey. The President of AYRCA, the Yanomami organisation formed to manage the ecotourism project, José Mario Pereira Goes, explained that the ceremony "closes off" the tourists' thoughts and bodies to any intervention from spirits on the mountain.
Pico da Neblina has been closed to the public since 2003, when the Brazilian government barred entry to the summit because of the large number of visitors who left trash behind. As a result of the new ecotourism initiative, the Yanomami will be able to earn money in other ways than harmful but profitable gold mining, which has long attracted members of the Yanomami's own community as well as foreign miners. The success of this endeavor might serve as an example of how the Amazon can be protected from exploitation through ecotourism if it is properly managed.
In 2015, when the Brazilian government first started imposing regulations on tourism on indigenous territories, planning began on the new project. The government now requires indigenous communities to submit comprehensive visiting plans before they can get funding or other support; the Yaripo plan took years to construct due to extensive community meetings, deliberation, consensus building, and input gathering. Due to the pandemic, the project's start date of 2020 had to be pushed back to 2022.
Roraima Adventures, Amazon Emotions, and Ambiental Turismo are the three tour operators the Yanomami will collaborate with to lead excursions with Yanomami guides. Strict regulations, such as leaving no trace, respecting the holy locations, and following the instructions of the local guides, will be imposed on the tourists.
Pico da Neblina is not only the tallest peak in Brazil, but also one of the most challenging walks in the world, and conquering it has long been a goal for daring explorers who aren't afraid of the forest, rain, mosquitoes, or blisters. Yaripo, which in the Yanomami language means "house of the winds," is a rocky mountain that towers 2,995 meters above sea level and is encircled by an equatorial forest that clings to the mountain's base up to about 1,000 meters, after which the flora begins to thin away.
The growth of ecotourism has the ability to teach both locals and tourists the value of safeguarding natural resources and cultural traditions while also providing a steady income for indigenous populations. It is anticipated that the Yanomami's ecotourism initiative at Pico da Neblina would serve as a model for other communities seeking to earn revenue while simultaneously safeguarding their land and culture, just as it has served as an example of how responsible tourism can help maintain the Amazon rainforest.