BEIRUT: For many locals and tourists in Lebanon during the hot summer months, the obvious option to stave off the heat is lounging by the pool or taking a trip to a coastal city like Tyre.
But a relatively new industry has taken off in recent years to introduce people to the country’s culturally rich and environmentally diverse areas.
Ecotourism, a form of tourism that enables people to travel and explore nature while minimizing their impact on the environment, took off in the 1970s, but has only recently gained prominence in Lebanon. By enabling travelers to visit the country’s nature while helping minimize their environmental impact, ecotourism might benefit Lebanon just as much as the visitors.
“Ecotourism supports the economy and the environment.
“In Lebanon you have many microclimates and microcommunities and cultures which make ecotourism very rich ... because of all the options.
“When you partake in ecotourism you support local communities,” says Chaker Noon, the founder of ecology oriented NGO Baldati.
The experience encourages local community empowerment, rural development, natural resource management, the preservation of traditions and cultural heritage, and sustainable food production and waste disposal - especially crucial given Lebanon’s ongoing garbage woes.
Visitors can also learn about the importance of environmental issues including deforestation and water resources. And not least in importance, ecotourism can provide funding for the protection and maintenance of natural reserves.
Noon says ecotourism in Lebanon has undoubtedly grown in the past few years.
“We couldn’t find any resources before, and now we see an increase in the demand, the number of people, and more services and projects,” Noon says.
Here are four places for environmentally minded locals and tourists.
Chez Yaz - Naqoura
The Chez Yaz campsite was originally the backyard and garden of a property owned by Riad Yazbek, who wanted people to visit Naqoura and experience the beauty of south Lebanon.
In 2017 the backyard was turned into a campsite and picnic venue.
Visitors are invited to spend the day, camp overnight and hike to the Naqoura coast.
While hiking, they are encouraged to pick up cigarettes and garbage to ensure the environment remains clean.
The location also offers a “feel at home” experience as visitors can access the kitchen of Yazbek’s house for homemade food and enjoy a coffee with the family.
Jabalna Ecolodge - Qobeiyat
Jabalna Ecolodge is an isolated, eco-friendly hostel located in the middle of a pine forest in the mountains of Qobeiyat. The ecolodge opened 10 years ago, facilitating tours for hikers visiting the area. Over time, people began to stay the night.
The lodge now provides campers with separate bungalows and also offers suites or tents. Tour guides are available to teach visitors about the local nature, especially the trees.
“A portion of what people pay to stay here goes to caring for the environment, including cleaning up garbage and planting cedar trees,” says Sergio Karam, the son of the lodge’s owner, Georges Karam.
“Everything we do here is done with care for the environment.”
La Maison de la Foret - Bkassine
This site is situated 70 kilometers outside Beirut in Lebanon’s largest pine forest. It was built into the landscape without the removal of “a single tree,” says Eliana El Asmar, the site’s marketing manager. Visitors can enjoy hikes and learn about the history of the forest with a tour guide. Hikes are also organized for visitors to pick up trash.
Ecolodge de Taanayel - Taanayel
The Taanayel Ecolodge was built in 2006 by Lebanese NGO Arcenciel with the aim of promoting sustainable ecotourism. The lodge’s design aims to conserve the cultural heritage of the Bekaa region: Its construction mimics the old Lebanese way of building with clay bricks, and visitors can sleep on wool mattresses on the ground for an authentic experience.
“The ecolodge will give visitors the experience of living the same way Lebanese ancestors and farmers lived a long time ago - before the ’50s, before modern industrial building techniques,” says Hoda Kassatly, an anthropologist and the head of Arcenciel’s cultural program.