“Speaking for myself, travel has changed me as a person. It’s made me more aware of my privilege and how to utilize it.”
- Catarina Rivera, Co-Founder
With a deep passion for exploring the less Instagram-able path, co-founders Catarina Rivera and her partner Remi Oguntoye recognized a crucial need for a more meaningful approach to travel that addresses sustainability and social justice. The end result: ExplorEquity. Eden Flaherty of Catalyst took the opportunity to interview Catarina in spring 2020 as part of the CATALYST Travel and Purpose podcast series, which interviews global travelers who have had social impact experiences.
Since that time, the pandemic has brought our signature small group trips to a pause. On top of that, the vast destruction wrought in Honduras by Hurricane Eta has cost many lives and left hundreds of thousands without the basic essentials. We hope this interview feeds your wanderlust for Honduras while also reminding us all of how critical our support is at this very moment!
We’ve included a link to the audio and some top highlights from our interview which shed insider insights on ExplorEquity’s mission, our personal journey in Honduras, and how we can all be a part of this enriching movement as we adventure.
Eden Flaherty: How did you choose Honduras both as a country to visit and as the site for your next trip?
Catarina Rivera: The exciting thing about that is - we were contacted by a company called Choose Honduras (CH). They reached out to us because they saw a trip we’d done in Puerto Rico (2018) and they loved our model! They invited us to come and check out Honduras – a country which hadn’t even been on our travel radar. But, my partner and I decided to go on a research trip there, partner up with CH, and see what they were doing regarding sustainable travel.
Long Story Short: We absolutely loved it! Discovering so many different parts of the country, authentically connecting with the locals, and learning all their stories was amazing!
EF: You’d mentioned CH reaching out to you because of (EE) business model. Could you tell us more about your company and its approach to social issues while on trips?
CR: EE creates authentic experiences that support local communities while connecting travelers to REAL social justice issues like food sovereignty, climate change, and sustainability. But, what’s really special about our mission is – we’re building on a theme with each and every trip as we center the experience on substantial conversations with local people and indigenous cultures.
To have that built into an itinerary is a rare find because you need to do a lot of personal research, curation, and building face-to-face relationships. For example, in Puerto Rico, we spent many months building a network with like-minded natives who ultimately hosted our travel adventures. We noticed and were fulfilled by the fact that it was normal for conversations with them to be lengthy and in-depth. All of us would group together, truly engage and ask questions. There was gradual depth of learning throughout the week. Especially regarding shared values.
On the flip side, ExplorEquity’s purpose also includes high expectations for our travelers to enter the process being conscious of their own privilege. Coming to learn… Focusing on listening… And most certainly recognizing the locals as the experts they are. This is everything to us.
We’re not trying to create photo-ops or pretty (but superficial) opportunities. Depth, authenticity, and doing something unique – those are our central directives/pillars. We know we can’t cause radical change overnight or in a brief explorer experience. However, by focusing on social and environmental causes we can awaken an awareness that leaves travelers with a better understanding of a place and its people.
EF: Earlier, you said that Honduras had not been on your radar; which I’m sure that’s the case for many of us. Could you enlighten our listeners a bit about the country as a whole? Culture, landscape, history…
CR: It’s the 2nd largest country in Central America. Honduras is bordered by Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. It touches the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. There are lots of mountains with peaks above 9,000 feet and interestingly, it’s the only country in Central America w/o active volcanoes.
There are connections to the Mayan civilization and many other Indigenous people. Many of which have a strong presence and impact to this very day!
The land was under Spanish rule for a long time like many Central and South American countries. A part of that colonization involved forced Catholicism – which is still evident today in this majority Roman Catholic populace.
EF: Which parts of the country did you visit?
CR: We initially landed in San Pedro Sula, then ventured south to an area called Lake Yojoa which had a wonderful community that built their lives around it. This is one of those small town places that reminds us of the wealth of knowledge and joy to be gained from connecting with the local community. It was great to experience how they work to preserve their culture and also generate new streams of income through community-wide cooperation. They’ve got cabins for ecotourism, nature walks, and hiking trails dedicated to educating their young about the environment. There’s also coffee farming and other local food production.
After that we went further south to La Esperanza. It’s a must-visit small city where cultural roots are strong. Then further south to Marcala – a place well known for their one-of-a-kind coffee and proprietary preparation methods.
As much as coffee is loved for its flavor, texture, and other benefits…it’s actually a solid starting point for important conversations. That’s why it has been a privilege to shed light on their particular blend and how it ties into social equity issues. (Check out the podcast for more!)
EF: Taking things from a broader perspective, I understand that homicides are a major problem in this country. Could you tell us more about that and how it affects prospects of bringing groups of travelers into Honduras?
CR: [Our partner Choose Honduras provided us with the following information.] As is the case in every country, there are homicides. Honduras is suffering from a bad PR issue. Any lingering reputation this country has regarding the murder of tourists is undeserved, unfair, and inaccurate. Look at the data…
It’ll tell us that the majority of victims are citizens, not foreigners. The State Department keeps track of these things. Over a 12 month period (July 2018 – June 2019) far more Americans were killed in Mexico (60) than Honduras (3). Jamaica and Colombia are major tourist destinations and they also recorded 3 Americans murdered but don’t carry the same stigma.
Plus, group travel changes things. Besides the old adage of safety in numbers as a deterrent, you’re exploring with local guides. People who are intimately acquainted with their own communities and neighborhoods. Our trips include custom designed itineraries and routes that negate such concerns. At the end of the day, the community-based tourism of the Honduran people is ready to welcome explorers and deserves much more support from the global community.
EF: As someone with a solid grasp of the travel industry, do you think sustainability and community-driven experiences are areas we’ll see grow in the near future?
CR: Absolutely. The truth is: It has to. It’s the only way forward. Without sustainability as a central pillar of tourism, we’ll eventually have nowhere to go. People are more aware of their cumulative footprint, overtourism, and how it pushes local families out of their homes.
Plus, explorers are actively searching for genuine connection and a better way to travel.
Due to knowledge of tourism leakage spreading worldwide, they value the knowledge of exactly where (and to whom) their money's going.
And most reassuringly, there’s a welcome shift toward trips focused on cultural understanding through community, conversation, and cooperation; not just eco-tourism or volunteer tourism. Travel is evolving.