This is the last presentation of an insightful Day one, full of inspiring topics and discussions. Moving from European examples to Latin America themed routes, Issa Torres provides a thorough view of Camino Real.
“This presentation covers three main areas:
an overview of the themed routes you can currently find in Latin America first, then I will focus on the case of Camino Real in Panama and I will finish by raising some ideas, thoughts for enhancing transnational themed routes in Latin America and in particular for Camino Real.
Latin America is a region very rich in ancient civilizations, of which some of them can still be found nowadays, history, living cultures and natural wonders.
We have been hearing a lot about our cultural heritage but we cannot forget our natural heritage too; and Latin America is an area with several biodiversity hot spots, and numerous species of fauna and flora that can also be translated into value offering an exceptional potential for the development of themed routes.
Presenting some examples without any particular order of importance, geographically starting from North to South:
We have the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro: its one of the most known Camino Real or Royal path. It is also known as the silver route extending north from Mexico City to the Texas and New Mexico in US. As it is the case of many other themed routes, there was not only a good product but also its relevance to the social cultural and religious exchanges between Hispanics and Amerindians.
It was an active trail for 300 years from the mid 16th century until the 19th century. Now it is also a world heritage site in Mexico, whereas in US it is a National historic trail managed by the national service.
Here you can see the website for the US section, the national historic part of it.
We continue with the Maya route;
this is another themed initiative managed by the Organization Mundo Maya that was founded in 1992 by the countries of different governments, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They wanted to work together on the existing Maya routes and products and create new ones. It’s an Organization with strategy and development plans between the private, public sectors and the local communities.
At the moment the official website mainly shows more the Mexican side than the other countries’ ones, but it is a product that is recognized by several Tour Operators that already recognise it as a product to offer; there are different Tour Operators that sell packages related to this route, visiting different archeological sites, local communities and other things. It is therefore an established product.
Then we have the case of Colonial and volcanoes route.
This is another initiative that was started with funds from Spanish International Cooperation Agency in partnership with Central America Integration system. The idea was to connect the different Caminos Reales in Central America from Guatemala all the way to Panama and along the Pacific Ocean parallel to the volcanoes. There was a big effort in funding to start developing the product. Unfortunately or fortunately for Nicaragua the last years have been focused more on the Nicaragua because they received additional funding from the EU and Luxemburg International Cooperation Agency.
So now its more the Nicaragua section that has been promoted as you can see from the website.
We have then the Qhapaq Nan or Andean road system or Inca trail, that is one of the most known cultural routes in Latin America.
This is an extensive network of roads connected that were used as communication, trade and defense covering over 30,000 km in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru’. In the last years, after a very intense work it has been finally nominated as UNESCO world rated sites list as transnational serial property that covers more than 200 component sites over 600,000 km in 6 countries. The effort to manage the heritage jointly and collaboratively has already been achieved as local management systems govern decision-making processes, often with a large degree of community involvement the highest degree of its authenticity has been retained; obviously now the hard work has to continue on that heritage management. Nevertheless it is an already recognized product from the tourism value purposes in the different countries.
We have several websites from the National governments promoting Qhapaq Nan; so far it has mainly been done at a national level in each of the respective markets, so there is a potential for more promotion work done at the transnational level.
Another route that has been receiving support is the Jesuit route.
This originates from the Jesuit mission in the war during colonization of Latin America in the seventies. It includes different countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Many of the Jesuit sites are World heritage sites in their own respective countries. Recently they have been working on the Ruta Jesuitica International.
It is an effort from the different governments to start working together for the same tourism promotion of the site in order to create a regional branding for the Jesuit mission.
There are many other routes that are working at the national level such as Estrada Real in Brazil.
It is the biggest touristic route in Brazil and it covers more than 1,600 kilometres spanning the states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
There are many other examples and these are just few showing the potential in Latin America for transnational themed routes.
I will share a little more on how the Camino Real has worked in Panama.
It is the best practice example because it shows that it is possible linking cultural heritage, contributing to biodiversity conservation and creating community livelihoods through tourism.
On the right side of the map we see the Camino Real that starts on the Pacific where Panama city is located; then it connects to Caribbean side, first Nombre de Dios, then Portobello. It is also closely link to the Camino de Cruses, the one on the left that is a combination of water and land running parallel to the Panama Canal till the Caribbean side in San Lorenzo. The Spanish used the route to transport gold and treasures brought from Peru, Baja California and Chile from the Pacific Coast to the Chagres River that flows into the Caribbean. There were several fortification in Portobelo and San Lorenzo that were built to protect the transatlantic trade and we also have Panama archaeological Sites of Panamá Viejo and Historic District of Panamá that are World heritage sites. Unfortunately at the moment the Caribbean World heritage sites are in the World heritage list in danger since 2012; the two just mentioned in Panama have also had to consider changes in their boundaries. At the present what has been promoting as tourism product is adventure trekking trail crossing from Panama City to the Caribbean side through the jungle
Why is it important?
Firstly for Biodiversity Conservation: The Camino Real crosses two protected areas (Portobelo national park and Chagres National Park) and on the other side, Camino de Cruses with three additional protected areas (Camino de Cruces, Soverania and San Lorenzo). There are numerous species of flora and fauna that need to be protected and are all in this area.
Secondly for cultural heritage: we have talked about the fortifications on the Caribbean side and in Panama City.
Last bur not least: for community livelihoods. There are different communities living within or around the protected areas. Communities are rural: we have afrocaribbean communities and on the Caribbean side, we have indigenous communities living around the Chagras River; so we have a very diverse place that also links to this intangible heritage by keeping local practices, arts and crafts traditions. Tourism has the great power to contribute to this livelihood communities. All this provides the exception value of Camino Real.
Who is involved in this initiative?
The three different bodies in the Public sector: Minister of environment, The Cultural Institution and the Tourism Authority, so that culture, heritage, environment and tourism are represented; we have then the private sector with many Tour Operators offering the Camino Real as product; we have the communities that are a very important part for the living heritage and finally multi-lateral Organizations; this project in fact was founded by The Inter America Development Bank (IDB), and there are other International Organizations supporting this project.
When and how all started?
Looking back, it all started in 2007 when Panama prepared its sustainable tourism master plan where it was identified that unlike Costa Rica that was very well developed in terms of biodiversity and visitors in their National Parks, Panama had the same potential but there was not enough done to put that value in its natural heritage. It was then recommended in their master plan to make a tourism development targeting the national protected areas system.
This was taken up by the IDB that managed funding; in 2014 the project started after a delay due to agreements between the Parties and changes of governments; it received the support from the President of the Republic of Panama that signed a decree saying ‘we want a sustainable tourism to be developed in our part’, also approved and signed by the cultural, environmental and tourism Authorities. This agreement translated into the master plan for developing tourism in the protected areas that was launched and endorsed in 2016; the other public use plans were also required for the management of the protected areas which were prepared in a collaborative way with local stakeholders; some of these plans are still in preparation but three of them were finally launched this year. To reinforce the three key elements of this model: firstly a National Policy with the three main Institutions with the support of the President; secondly, this ‘plan de accion’, as framework for planning sustainable tourism in their protected areas, then the public use plans for the guidance on the visitors management part and creation of the products (criteria on ways to enhance the products and put them into practice).
Just to mention some more aspects that made this project so successful:
- First of all working on heritage interpretation: the Camino Real and other places were not properly identified, protected and interpreted. So the public use plans now include a section that has to do with heritage interpretation. This is very important to create that visitor’s experience.
- Then we have capacity building for the local communities; there were different levels of development in the communities: i.e., the indigenous ones were more used to receive tourists and more advanced, but support was needed by the other ones; thus major effort was made in training and providing them with seminars. This approach enabledh them to be legally organised so that they could actually receive tourists and funds to start articulating their tourism proposition.
- Significant work was done on strengthening those value chains and putting them into contact with the private Operators.
However not everything is done. There are so much more that needs to be done for Camino Real and for enhancing it at that transnational level.
So what’s next?
First, implement the Public Use plans: they are now officially and published but they need to be implemented from theory into practice so that they don’t remain in the desk drawers of Minister of Environment. For that task the support of stakeholders is key so that they can actually own that visitor’s experience and products can be implemented.
This is obviously linked to strengthening the tourism value chains and working closely with the private sector so those products are marketed and ready and tourists can visit the places;
for the cultural heritage conservation and protection, there are some new projects in place funded by IDB that should start soon to support Portobelo and San Lorenzo in restoration/protection sector;
At the transnational level, there could be links such as the Camino Real and the slave route and broader efforts with the Caribbean and beyond. There was a project that started to link Afro colonial archeology and memorial site of the slave route to the Camino Real. It would be good to further develop that, then to interpret that heritage and put into value for cultural tourists. Then to find synergies with other themed routes: as we have seen with colonial and the volcanoes route; there could be potential for the Camino Real and Camino Real and de Terra Adientro in Mexico/US by learning from the experiences of the other ones and starting working collaboratly together. Lastly leverage the multi-destinations approaches that are now promoted and fostered especially by the Central America Integration Institution that is working with same approach on the Mayo route.
You can watch the video here: Issa Torres.
Cooperation is the underlying theme of the entire second day, as true albeit challenging outcome from the day before.
Many learning on management approaches, mass tourism solutions, and products’ benchmarks, just to name few. On the forefront this one insight acted as common denominator throughout the seminar with its clear message:
a collaborative mindset supported by global policies and strategic partnerships provides that successful framework; the only one that leads to outstanding and unique experiences for an international diverse audience.
We can all contribute at different levels to the synergic safeguard of our invaluable universal cultural, natural and social heritage with both its tangible and intangible richness that makes who we are and where we come from.
And once the magic happens…and such travel goes deep and permanent inside, you will start discovering places in your heart you’ve never been…
Second day videos: in order Secretary General Tourism Galicia, European Parliament, and Council of Europe , European Institute of Cultural Routes.
Closing remarks from another member of the intergroup created at the European Parliament for Tourism development, and finally the President Xunta de Galicia.