Caraya Project, a Responsible Vacation to Save the Monkeys

Refugio del Caraya, in the  Córdoba Province of Argentina, offers a responsible vacation option for animal-lovers. The project rescues and rehabilitates zoo animals and ex-pet carayas and (ultimately) returns them to the wild.  Carayas are black howler monkeys, and they're the largest of all the New World monkeys. Carayas are also the loudest of all land animals, and their call can be heard from three miles away.

The Caraya Project depends on support from ACPM Zoo-Cba (Asociacion para la Conservacion, Proteccion y Mejoramiento del Jardino Zoologico de Cordoba). It's about 11 kms from the closest village, La Cumbre, and 80 kms from Córdoba, in Tiu Mayu. "Tiu" is the Quechua word for sand, and "Mayu" means river. A fitting name, since the refuge is remote, and encompasses mountains, rivers, waterfalls and forests. On their 860 acres of land, seven groups of carayas live free. They play, relax in the sun, and forage for snacks. It's not the true habit of the monkeys, who will hopefully move somewhere warmer once they're rehabilitated.

Volunteers pay a fee of €450 for about three weeks (the minimum length of stay),  some of which goes towards a new potential home for the monkeys in the rainforest in Paraguay. The rest of the fee covers food and basic accommodation. You will walk five minutes to get to the toilet and showers, and the center doesn't have phone, Internet of fax services. This is not a great responsible vacation option for luxury-lovers, but it's perfect for anyone who adores monkeys. Volunteers feed the monkeys, clean the pens and plates, and care for the monkeys during their stay. Volunteers also help tend to other wild animals, including pumas, geese, llamas and lions. Finally, volunteers explain threats that face carayas to tourists who visit the project.  In the wild, carayas suffer from the pet trade and deforestation. Carayas are a protected species in Argentina, but it's not enforced.

According to recent visitor Monty Roy, taking a responsible vacation with the monkeys included one of the best experiences of his life: cuddling with a baby monkey (and, he noted, the fact that the monkey peed on him was absolutely besides the point). The baby ones, Roy declares, are the safest for monkey newbies, since their teeth aren't sharp enough or big enough to cause any pain. Roy writes that the baby orphans are like naughty toddlers, tugging on hair and dribbling. Roy's tale about his responsible vacation with the carayas monkeys recently won the Guardian's Green Travel Writing Competition.

On a sidenote: runners-up included Gaynor Jones, who wrote about Heyri, South Korea, an eco town with no asphalt and special, dimmed streetlights.  Tim Woods, who wrote about pruning an olive grove in Umbria, "Italy's Green Heart".  And, Anna Brech, who wrote about the eco-reserve, Mutinondo Wilderness. All excellent responsible vacation itineraries, but who can resist those monkeys?

Photo Credit: Ryan E. Poplin