Distributor:  Icarus Films
Length:  79 minutes
Date:  2014
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English; Spanish
Grade level: 8-12, COLLEGE, ADULT
Color/BW:  Color
Closed captioning available
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Gringo Trails

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A global survey of the impacts on cultures, economies, and the environment of the most powerful globalizing force of our time: tourism.

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.

As dramatically as travelers are altered by new landscapes, values and belief systems, they also alter the people and places they visit. A man getting lost in the Amazon jungle in 1981 has had an unexpected effect on future generations. 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.

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.

'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

'A gorgeously crafted piece of documentary filmmaking.' - CriterionCast

'GRINGO TRAILS illuminates our travel footprint [and] illustrates some hard truths about mass travel. 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

'In GRINGO TRAILS, Vail travels around the world to show how travelers are affected by the romance of packaged travel stories in the media as well as through word of mouth. Adventure becomes a commodity...How do we reconcile our romantic images of the world with the truth of what our presence in those places means?' -AOL Gadling Travel

'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

'A fascinating and beautifully shot documentary about what happens to those faraway beaches, jungles, cultures after the crush of tourists arrive.' -Conde Nast Traveler

'A film more than a decade in the making by American anthropologist Pegi Vail, looks at the effect of the unplanned or mismanaged growth of the tourism industry in developing countries.' -CNN Travel

'If you love to travel, and want to do it responsibly, see this wonderfully nuanced, funny film that shows the joy and horror of travel, and gives you a visa to some possible solutions.' -Pamela Yates, documentary filmmaker

'It's a compelling but tragic story: how all over the world we're destroying the places we love by the very plentitude of our love, how pristine beaches and verdant rain forests and even remote deserts are being overwhelmed by great swarms of backpacking tourists. Pegi Vail is a genius at coaxing out all the small stories that add up at last to her terrible heartbreaking vision: the plague of too much us.' -George Green, Author and Founder of The Moth

'An extraordinary documentary... With 150 diverse high school students, we saw an unprecedented level of student enthusiasm and engagement around issues of conservation, globalization, travel and culture.' -American Museum of Natural Histroy


** World Premiere, 2014 Margaret Mead Film Festival, American Museum of Natural History
** Canadian Premiere, 2014 Planet in Focus Festival
** Special Jury Award, 2014 Visions of Nature/Voices of Nature Environmental Film Festival
** Opening Film, 2014 Green Docs at Asia Society of Hong Kong
** Official Selection, 2014 Galway Film Fleadh of Ireland
** Official Selection, 2014 RiverRun International Film Festival
** Official Selection, 2014 Yale Environmental Film Festival
** Official Selection, 2014 Sebastopol Documentary Festival
** Official Selection, 2014 Environment Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
** Official Selection, 2014 New Zealand Documentary Edge International Film Festival


Main credits

Vail, Pegi (film director)
Vail, Pegi (film producer)
Estrella, Melvin (cinematographer)
Estrella, Melvin (film producer)
Iyer, Pico (interviewee)
Mutić, Anja (interviewee)
Ghinsberg, Yossi (interviewee)
Potts, Rolf (interviewee)

Other credits

Director of photography, Melvin Estrella; editor, Heidi Schlatter; original music compositions written & performed by Laura Ortman.

Distributor credits

A film by Pegi Vail

Docuseek2 subjects

Economic Geography
Human Geography
Habitat Destruction
Tourism Sector

Distributor subjects

Closed Captioned
Cultural Anthropology
Economic Geography
Environmental Film Festivals
Human Geography
Human Rights
Indigenous Peoples
Latin America
Political Science


gringo; trail; pegi vail; environment; tourism; travel; eco-tourism; globalization; environment; ecology; eco; anthropology; sociology; asia; "Gringo Trails"; Icarus Films

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