Latin American Geotourism Day: understanding the Earth

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Cajon del Maipo. Photo: Paulo UrrutiaCajon del Maipo. Photo: Paulo Urrutia


By Paulo Urrutia

Many probably think geology is completely foreign to their lives. But the truth is that virtually every element in our daily lives has something to do with this fascinating discipline. From the elements that make up the apparatus with which you read this very article, to the journey that makes the water before becoming your next beer, they depend on the geological conditions existing in the place from which they come. Fortunately, Earth's sciences are here to stay. To help celebate Latin American Geotourism Day, we want to tell you everything you need to know about a world seemingly straight out of the travel chronicles of the French writer Jules Verne.

Geotourism is a special type of tourism developed for the outdoors focused on understanding the geological evolution and landscape of a territory through reflection and learning and at the same time promoting its conservation. In other words, it’s a sort of tourism for the Earth, in which we immerse ourselves in a journey into the past to reflect on the processes that have formed our planet, the conditions necessary to inhabit it, and the relationship we establish as humanity with her. It is an invitation to live an experience that awakens our senses in that – through smells, colors and sensations – we become active and analytical observers of the landscape as we travel.

In the Western world, experiencing geotourism is nothing new. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the European aristocracy visited the Vesuvius and Etna volcanoes as part of the "Grand Tour," a precursor of modern tourism. Among the young aristocrats participating in these tours was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, writer of Faust, who, in his desire to climb Vesuvius, managed to capture in his accounts the ineffable greatness of nature:
«We now went round the ever-smoking cone, as it threw out its stones and ashes. Wherever the space allowed of our viewing it at a sufficient distance, it appeared a grand and elevating spectacle. In the first place, a violent thundering resounded from its deepest abyss; then stones of larger and smaller sizes were showered into the air by thousands, and enveloped by clouds of ashes. The greatest part fell again into the gorge: the rest of the fragments, receiving a lateral inclination, and falling on the outside of the crater, made a marvellous rumbling noise.
“We soon stood on the brink of the vast chasm, the smoke of which, although a gentle air was bearing it away from us, unfortunately veiled the interior of the crater, which smoked all round from a thousand crannies. At intervals, however, we caught sight, through the smoke, of the cracked walls of the rock. We were standing on a narrow ridge of the vast abyss: of a sudden the thunder pealed aloud; we ducked our heads involuntarily, as if that would have rescued us from the precipitated masses. The smaller stones soon rattled; and without considering that we had again an interval of cessation before us, and only too much rejoiced to have outstood the danger, we rushed down, and reached the foot of the hill, together with the drizzling ashes, which pretty thickly covered our heads and shoulders.»
-  Memories of Goethe, March 6, 1787, ascent of Vesuvius Volcano, Grand Tour.
As Goethe describes it, the processes that form Earth are a fascinating world. Geotourism invites us to experience dynamic nature with other eyes. In this journey into the footprints of the Earth, understanding the natural processes creates a sense of attachment and belonging, raises awareness among tourists and visitors and empowers local communities. Since this type of tourism usually occurs in rural areas, it can strengthen local development and identity and thus help create new job opportunities that allow young people to stay in their native regions. Valuing the geological heritage leads to conservation initiatives and new forms of education and work.
Exploring Antuco Volcano, Chile. Photo: Paulo Urrutia Exploring Antuco Volcano, Chile. Photo: Paulo Urrutia
Geotourism activities can complement the existing tourist offerings of a place through an innovative story that holistically integrates the interpretation of the landscape. For example, geotourism can be applied to a variety of tourist activities such as adventure tourism (cycling, rafting, trekking), gastronomic tourism, community tourism or wine tourism. In Japan, there are stories to fill countless books. The "Jigoku" attracts numerous tourists. The "Jigoku meguri" is a geotourism tour through small geoparks that show the different types of geothermal phenomena, such as boiling lakes of different colors, geysers, mud volcanoes, fumaroles and more. While for tourists it has no religious significance, for the Japanese every "Jigoku" is a sanctuary of prayer. In this case, geotourism is not only complemented by local stories and traditions, but also health-beneficial activities such as thermal baths or spas.
Geotourism worldwide has been greatly developed, especially around geoparks, which are currently promoted by UNESCO through the Global Geopark Network. The international track record demonstrates that geoparks can revitalize communities. According to researcher Ibrahum Komoo, the purpose of a geopark is to generate job opportunities for the local community, promote research, protect the natural environment and foster environmental education to improve the quality of life of the people that live there. Geoparks are unique. They are more than geology and an amazing landscape; they are living territories where different actors work together to build a more sustainable future. The success of these initiatives depends on the empowerment of the communities involved and, since humans are part of nature, they are required within their populated boundaries to give them life.
Cajon del Maipo, Chile. Photo: Paulo Urrutia Cajon del Maipo, Chile. Photo: Paulo Urrutia
Promoting geotourism is to contribute to diversify and promote tourism in a territory by increasing the tourism competitiveness of the place and the country compared to those offered in other sectors, as well as to attract a national and regional public that allows to reactivate local tourism, break with seasonality and decongest other tourist destinations.
At Geoturismo Chile we are convinced that tourism is capable of changing lives, through an integrated concept of conservation, education and local economic development. We seek to raise awareness of the processes that occur in nature through unique experiences, working in conjunction with local operators. On Latin American Geotourism Day we invite you to be surprised by the geological wonders that Chile has to offer because, together, we inspire people who are changing the world.