Melóncoyote Vol. 1, No. 1   April 2010
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The Sierra de Álamos: An Ecotourism Project

Soyna Daniels

  Rancho La Sierrita is located about 15 miles from Álamos, Sonora’s “Pueblo Mágico” (a prestigious designation awarded by the Secretary of Tourism because of a site’s beauty or unique and "magical" setting). It is part of a successful ecotourism project called Conociendo la Sierra (Getting to know the Sierras) that “hopes to keep growing”, says Concepción Nieblas, who spoke about how the project has changed the way that she and her family view their surroundings.

The beginning wasn’t easy for the ranchers. They had to learn about conservation issues from others who were willing to share their knowledge with them.  They were introduced to new ideas and learned about viable ways of running the ecotourism project while simultaneously preserving their land, fostering real economic development and strengthening their existing resources.

The first steps toward converting the ranch to ecotourism were taken with help from a government program.  In order to continue what they had started, they then turned to CONANP (the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas) which awards grants through PRECODES (Conservation Program for Sustainable Development).  These grants are for technical studies and community projects as well as for community training.

La Sierrita offers cabins for overnight visits and provides all guests need to get in touch with nature—low-impact trips through the gorgeous landscape of the low, arid deciduous forest—where one can enjoy, appreciate or study both the natural and cultural history of the area. 

“As cattle ranchers, we didn’t know anything about ecological tourism. We began to learn, thanks to the ranch being located inside of Sonora’s natural protected reserve, La Sierra de Álamos - Río Cuchujaqui”" states Doña Conchita Nieblas. “And we’re still learning. For example, we learned that in order to be able to protect the area and get more support, we have had to reduce our breeding stock and find other ways to take advantage of the resources.  So that’s what we’ve done”.

“With less livestock we don’t need as much grassland for grazing and we are taking better care of the soil and trees.  This also means that the deer and wild pigs aren’t damaging the trees as much, so even the number of birds has increased.  We have learned all this from conservation classes.  These are the only mountains under protection. What we do helps all of us, the entire town”, asserts Señora Nieblas.

How does one get to La Sierrita?  For more information, call: 01 (647) 428-1025 or talk to them in person at the Livestock Farmer’s Union of Álamos.  They offer a guided nature walk (50 pesos per person).  They will also provide a traditional meal, including a drink, and coffee for an additional 50 pesos per person.  For those wishing an overnight stay, the cost is 100 pesos for a cabin, while day use of a cabin is only 50 pesos.

There are special package deals with guides for student groups visiting under teacher supervision.  On the ranch, there are cows to see and milk, chicken eggs to be collected, horse riding and even cheese making lessons.  Visitors can pay for the ingredients and take their cheese home. 

Getting to know the Sierras is a well-managed program.  An environmental impact study was completed, showing that they can continue to grow their project to offer rapelling, shooting, wading and swimming pools.  They are also only a few miles north of the city of Álamos.

Ecotourism represents a viable option for conserving the natural and cultural heritage of rural towns while also fostering the idea of sustainable economic development.  Some have called it “responsible tourism” and the project Getting to know Sierra de los Álamos is a real example of this because it involves a low impact on the environment, active participation of the local communities, environmental education, and maximization of economic benefits within the community.  When tourism becomes a way of life that can economically fuel the economy, it educates and turns local communities blessed with natural attractions into the those attractions’ most fervent protectors.

Soyna Daniels is a radio producer in Hermosillo, Sonora.

  Correspondence: meloncoyote@gmail.com