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Chaa Creek, Belize

National Geographic Traveler magazine recognizes this year’s leaders in sustainable tourism.

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Chaa Creek organizes tours to nearby Xunantunich.

World Legacy Award Winner, Engaging Communities: Promoting Economic and Social Benefits That Directly Improve Local Livelihoods

In Belize, ecotourism began as a love story. During the 1970s, wanderlust travelers Mick and Lucy Fleming followed their passion for exploration–and each other–to this tiny Central American country. Captivated with the world’s second largest barrier reef just offshore and spellbound by pristine jungle, they decided to put down roots in the rainforest interior. Villagers welcomed them and shared knowledge about tropical homesteading. “It was the local people who gave us the help we needed in those early days and we have never forgotten their friendship, which makes Belize so special,” says Lucy.

What was once a rustic outpost has blossomed into a world class eco-resort, organic farm, and nature reserve that helped jump-start ecotourism and turn Belize into a haven for adventure travel. Chaa Creek’s guests canoe jungle rivers spotting wildlife with seasoned guides, hike a medicinal trail to learn about native plants used in healing, and explore ancient Maya temples like Xunantunich, reached by a hand-pulled ferry.

Locals remain at the center of the Flemings’ life and work–they have employed more than 160 villagers and fund community projects ranging from a mobile science lab for school children to hospitality training courses and educational scholarships. Call it the romance of doing well and doing good.

Finalists: Andaman Discoveries, Thailand; Chambok Community-Based Ecotourism/Mlup Baitong, Cambodia

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