Caminhos do Lagarto Community Ecotourism Project Links Rocinha with the Tijuca Forest

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Caminhos do Lagarto (The Lizard Path) is an ecotourism project developed by the Vila Laboriaux community that works to encourage environmental dialogues within the community while benefiting the local economy. Located at the top of Rocinha, Vila Laboriaux is situated in close proximity to the Tijuca National Forest with panoramic views of Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone beaches, the Two Brothers mountains, and the expansive Rocinha favela. With easy access to trails through the forest, the community of Vila Laboriaux has mobilized to optimize this natural resource as a means of increasing environmental education initiatives, strengthening connections between residents and the forest, and contributing to income generation.

For the past few months, Caminhos do Lagarto has been leading Sunday morning hikes that pass through the residential community into the Tijuca Forest. These ecotours are led by residents and seek to incorporate the history of the community into an outdoor adventure experience. Though the hikes are still in an experimental phase while the routes are finalized, the intention is to have all of the hikes pass through important points in the community such as their edible garden and the waterspout that serves as a community water source. The hikes link the neighborhood to points in the Tijuca Forest, like Vista Chinesa, Morro do Cochrane (Gramadinho), and Parque da Cidade and are a means of physically connecting the residential environment with the community’s densely forested backyard.

Caminhos do Lagarto’s work aims to reinforce the importance of keeping trails clean and maintaining the environmental health of the forest. The intention of the project is to “care for and value the trails instead of just walking the trails,” says resident organizer Diogo Barbosa.

Vila Laboriaux residents lead hike. Photo By Claire Lepercq

The Caminhos do Lagarto project was initiated through various participatory processes and dialogues aimed at surveying the needs and priorities of the community. These community discussions were facilitated in collaboration with groups such as Favela Verde, Movimento Preserva Laboriaux, the Tijuca National Park, and the Laboriaux Neighborhood Association. From surveying and brainstorming within the community, they determined that ecotourism was a top project of interest for community members. A working group of residents was formed and has since been developing sustainable ecotourism for the benefit of fostering closer ties between the community and the forest, while creating a unique tourism experience for visitors to Vila Laboriaux.

The current working group consists of 11 residents and four partners including Favela Verde, an organization that has supported various environmental projects in the community. The group holds resident meetings twice a week to plan upcoming community projects and set goals for the continued development of Caminhos do Lagarto. In addition to organizing hikes, Caminhos do Lagarto has worked on other environmental initiatives including transforming vacant space into a community garden and organizing lessons in the garden about composting for students at the local school. Having the youth of the community learn about their local environment is important for sustaining community values that emphasize a cooperative partnership with the forest.

Participants on Caminhos do Lagarto’s hikes are encouraged to make a donation during the experience. However, to maintain and expand the valuable work of the project Caminhos do Lagarto launched a crowdfunding campaign in June to raise funds to support future initiatives. Their crowdfunding page states that with current fundraising they will be able to “set up a real business, and with the experience gained through the work done to date, put energy and devote the necessary time to make this project a sustainable social enterprise and a reference in the community ecotourism industry in Rio de Janeiro.”

Caminhos do Lagarto has raised half of their fundraising goal of R$15,684 in half of their campaign time. Their goal is to raise the remaining funds before the campaign ends on July 29.

View from Vila Laboriaux. Photo By Caminhos do Lagarto

As stated on their crowdfunding page, Caminhos do Lagarto “aims to generate social and environmental changes that improve the community’s quality of life through local income generation, environmental education and collective empowerment.” Integrating values of caring for the natural environment with fun hikes that include expansive views of the city, Caminhos do Lagarto has a platform that is mutually beneficial for the health of the local environment and brings returns to the community, while offering a more personal tourism experience for visitors.

As the city prepares for an influx of international tourists in the months before the Olympics, community-based ecotourism provides alternative opportunities for tourists to experience Rio de Janeiro through community narratives rooted in social and environmental sustainability.

To learn more information about Caminhos do Lagarto and to donate to their fundraising campaign visit their site. And don’t miss the group’s video about the project below: