Ecotourism is booming along side gold mining. In 1977, the Peruvian government signed an agreement with the Peruvian Safaris Company for the business to protect forested areas adjacent to the Tambopata and Heath waterways, including Sandoval Lake, which is a popular attraction in the region today. Formalization of the ecotourism industry in Madre de Dios gained momentum during the waning years of the 1990s. In 1990, the government formally established the area as the Tambopata-Candamo Nature Reserve and ecotourism and biological research in the region began to flourish (Yu et al. 1997). Until the early 2000s, tour guides from other regions in Perú or from abroad accompanied tourists who entered these areas of Madre de Dios. At that time, most guides were foreigners and held Ph.D.s or other advanced degrees in ecology or organismal biology.
More locals were trained to guide tours when tourism agencies from Cusco, Lima, and abroad constructed lodges and began selling tour packages to Madre de Dios as a short excursion from Cusco. Local staff knew the forest better than anyone else but most lacked the ability to speak English. Several dozen local tour guides were working in the Tambopata province by the time the Tambopata-Candamo Nature Reserve became incorporated into newly established protected areas. The National Service of Protected Natural Areas by the State (Servicio Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas por el Estado, SERNANP) incorporated parts of Tambopata- Candamo Nature Reserve into Bahuaja-Sonene National Park (1,091,416 hectors) in 1998 and Tambopata National Reserve (274,690 hectors) in 2000.
Peru’s national tourism industry reached Madre de Dios as foreign agencies established ‘eco-lodges’ off Rio Tambopata and local institutes began to offer ecotourism certification programs. In 1999, the public college Jorge Basadre Ghroman Institute de Tecnológico began its first promotion for ecotourism guiding. The Peruvian government initiated a joint program with the private technical institute Servicio Nacional de Adiestramiento en Trabajo Industrial (SENATI) and Banco de Desarollo (Development Bank of Perú) to provide a certificate program in Madre de Dios that would allow local guides entry into the protected areas upon completion of the program. The decade that followed witnessed a tremendous boom in ecotourism; over 60 thousand tourists visited the region in 2007 (Economist, 2008), compared to an estimated 6,500 visits in 1987 (Groom et al. 1991).
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