Gringo Trails

Are tourists destroying the planet-or saving it? How do travelers change the remote places they visit, and how are they changed? 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 traces stories over the course of thirty years to show the dramatic long-term impact of tourism on cultures, economies, and the environment.

Directed by prominent anthropologist Pegi Vail, Associate Director of the Center for Media, Culture and History at New York University and a Fulbright Scholar, GRINGO TRAILS raises urgent questions about one of the most powerful globalizing forces of our time: tourism. Following stories along the well-worn western travelers' route - the 'gringo trail', through South America and beyond to Africa and Asia - the film reveals the complex relationships between colliding cultures: host countries hungry for financial security and the tourists who provide it in their quest for authentic experiences.

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 As dramatically as travelers are altered by new landscapes, values and belief systems, they also alter the people and places they visit. The original inhabitant of an island on the Salt Flats of Bolivia faces the dilemma of trying to preserve its ecosystem while still allowing outsiders to experience its unique magic. A traveler's search for an "unspoiled" island paradise in Thailand has unintended but devastating consequences and poses ethical quandaries for locals in a position to profit from tourism. A woman's romantic fantasies about "the unknown" meet reality in Timbuktu. Locals worldwide express the desire for visitors to better understand how to respectfully walk on their sacred lands, including an indigenous community that has become a model for sustainable tourism in South America.

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 GRINGO TRAILS experts include National Geographic Traveler editor Costas Christ; Jungle author Yossi Ghinsberg; travel essayist and novelist Pico Iyer; Bolivian Chalalan Ecolodge's Freddy Limaco and Guido Mamani; Globe Trekker host Holly Morris; Lonely Planet travel writer Anja Mutic; Vagabonding author Rolf Potts; A Map for Saturday director Brook Silva-Braga; National Museum director Kempo Tashi; travel writer Ernest 'Fly Brother' White; and Royal Family of Bhutan member Dasho Sangay Wangchuk.

"Whether you're an armchair traveler or you're working through a bucket list of exotic destinations, it's an important and moving film." —Outside Magazine

"Very effectively depicts the international backpacker tourist scene, with its increasingly canned 'authentic experiences' and its negative impact on local peoples and places." —Anthropology Review Database

"Beautifully edited; restrained… an undeniably powerful indictment." —Slant Magazine

"5/5 Stars! Cleverly edited and beautifully shot... An absorbing look at how tourism has altered the ecology, geography and culture of some of the world's most beautiful and remote areas." —NOW Toronto

"Anthropologist Pegi Vail uses her academic background to excellent effect in her feature-film debut." —The Hollywood Reporter

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Select Accolades

  • World Premiere, Margaret Mead Film Festival, American Museum of Natural History 2014
  • Special Jury Award, Visions of Nature/Voices of Nature Environmental Film Festival 2014
  • RiverRun International Film Festival 2014
  • Yale Environmental Film Festival 2014
  • Environment Film Festival in the Nation's Capital 2014


By assigning financial value to elements of nature, can markets save the planet?

Denis Delestrac and Sandrine Feydel | 2015 | 90 minutes | Color | English; French | English subtitles | Closed Captioned

Some people travel to Bolivia to go down the dangerous silver mines, to see the medieval work conditions. Are they crawling through the contaminated tunnels to learn about a foreign culture, or to escape boredom?

Charlotta Copcutt, Anna Weitz & Anna Klara Ahrén | 2006 | 46 minutes | Color | English; Spanish | English subtitles

An epic journey through voices and sounds from elsewhere. Landscapes, outlooks on the world, outlooks on life: Desert, snow, valley, jungle, ice, rainforest. An homage to humanity at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Nikolaus Geyrhalter | 2010 | 240 minutes | Color