Does a boom in ecotourism need to backfire for the culture and the environment? Not when the community acts together to make it sustainable. Indonesia’s Wae Rebo village shows how.

Reaching the village of Wae Rebo on Indonesia’s Flores Island requires a seven-hour drive down rugged jungle roads from the port town of Labuan Bajo. At the edge of the village of Kombo, motorcycle taxis whiz tourists to a trailhead, where they hike three hours up to a mountain. Passing stunning views of the jungle valley and the ocean and leading travellers over a bamboo bridge, the trail meanders through a forest interspersed with ripening coffee trees. Finally, it gives way to a stunning sight: the village of Wae Rebo. Nestled into a mountain valley 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) above sea level, its seven conical houses are tipped with mist from passing clouds. While the journey may sound challenging, it doesn’t dissuade an average of 50 tourists from making it every day. Arriving anywhere from the late morning until the late evening, visitors from all over the world sleep on simple woven mats in the five-story-tall cone-shaped “drum houses,” called mbaru niang in the Tombo Manggarai language. They are free to explore the village grounds and chat with locals before […]

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