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Guidelines for adventure travelers


Growing tourism is a threat to archaeological sites like Mesa Verde. (Andreas Franz Borchert/Wikimedia Commons)

Many readers of ARCHAEOLOGY are travelers who, like me, enjoy seeing historical sites, ancient ruins, and monuments of different cultures.

Today, not only are there more tourists than ever, but more are in search of experiences off the beaten track. So-called "adventure travel" is surging worldwide, and it is no longer a small group of sports enthusiasts scaling icy peaks or bungee jumping into canyons.

Adventure travel is becoming mainstream, and perhaps you've considered such a trip yourself. It could be rafting the Colorado River, camping near Native American sites, or diving on historic shipwrecks in a National Marine Sanctuary, such as the 1733 Spanish Galleon Trail south of the Florida Keys. On foot, it could be trekking in the shadow of Peru's Andes near Inca cities, or past classical ruins along Turkey's Lycian Trail.

But sites can be damaged as the number of tourists visiting them grows. For that reason, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA,) have created a "Guide to Best Practices for Archaeological Tourism." The Seattle-based ATTA has 500 members, including tour operators and government agencies, and promotes a common vision for the industry based on environmentally and culturally sensitive adventure travel. Our collaboration in creating these guidelines is an important step toward balancing responsible tourism and site preservation.

Announced this past October at ATTA's Adventure Travel World Summit in Québec City, the guidelines provide valuable background information, as well as practical tips for both tour operators who include archaeological sites in their itineraries and tourists who want to see these sites firsthand. You can download the guidelines at

The AIA's involvement in this effort marks a return to our roots. The Institute was chartered by Congress in 1906 in recognition of its work fostering the Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities, a legal cornerstone in the protection of archaeological sites in the United States ( President Theodore Roosevelt used the law to declare places such as Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon national monuments, preserving them for future generations. The guidelines we have developed with ATTA continue in the spirit of Roosevelt's famous speech at the Grand Canyon: "Leave it as it is. You can not improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see."

C. Brian Rose is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.

previousPresident's Letter
M/A 2010