About the Film

Is tourism destroying the world–or saving it? From the Bolivian jungle to the party beaches of Thailand, and from the deserts of Timbuktu, Mali to the breathtaking beauty of Bhutan, GRINGO TRAILS shows the unanticipated impact of tourism on cultures, economies, and the environment, tracing some stories over 30 years.

GRINGO TRAILS is a feature-length documentary that raises urgent questions about one of the most powerful globalizing forces of our time: tourism. Spanning South America, Africa and Asia, the tourist pathway known as the “gringo trail” has facilitated both life-altering adventures and the despoiling of many once virgin environments. The film follows stories along the trail to reveal the complex relationships between colliding cultures: host countries hungry for financial security and the tourists who provide it in their quest for authentic experiences.

Fredo 1999 Inca Huasi

Salt Desert overview still

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves,” says best-selling travel writer Pico Iyer; “and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” We travel for escape and for encounter, to challenge our assumptions and our limits, and to expand our visions of the possible. As dramatically as travelers are altered by new landscapes, values and belief systems, they also unavoidably alter the people and places they visit.

Haadrin beach Koh Pha Ngan 1979 pristine_photo by Costas Christ

Full moon party aftermath

GRINGO TRAILS first takes us on a harrowing journey with one man’s story of getting lost in the Amazon jungle in 1981 that has had an unexpected effect on future generations. We meet the original inhabitant of an island on the Salt Flats of Bolivia as he faces the dilemma of trying to preserve its ecosystem while still allowing outsiders to experience its unique magic. We see the unintended but devastating impact of a traveler’s search for an ‘unspoiled’ island paradise in Thailand and the ethical quandries of locals in a position to profit from tourism. We follow a woman’s personal transformation as her romantic fantasies about ‘the unknown’ meet reality in Timbuktu. We also meet locals worldwide as they express the desire for visitors to better understand how to respectfully walk on their sacred lands, including one indigenous community  that has become a model for sustainable tourism in South America.

Girl with net hat on water

GRINGO TRAILS featured storytellers include Freddy Limaco and Guido Mamani of Bolivia’s Chalalán Ecolodge, Dasho Sangay Wangchuk, Member, Royal Family of Bhutan and National Museum director Kempo Tashi, National Geographic Traveler Editor at Large Costas Christ, Jungle author Yossi Ghinsberg, travel essayist and novelist Pico Iyer, Globe Trekker host Holly Morris, Lonely Planet travel writer Anja Mutic, Vagabonding author Rolf Potts, A Map for Saturday‘s Brook Silva-Braga, and Ernest White a/k/a Fly Brother.

photos, above: Salt Desert, Uyuni, Bolivia; Haadrin Beach, Koh Pha Ngan Island, Thailand; Chalalan Ecolodge, Bolivia