Exploring the Uncharted: Unveiling the Best Sustainable Travel Spots Across the Globe
Searching for the ultimate adventure that also aligns with your ethical values? Look no further! Get ready to embark on a journey to the best sustainable travel spots around the globe. From the breathtaking landscapes of Iceland to the exotic wildlife in the Amazon Rainforest, this article will take you on a thrilling exploration of some of the most captivating and eco-friendly destinations our planet has to offer. So, fasten your seatbelts and prepare for an unforgettable voyage filled with pristine beauty and unforgettable experiences.
One of the top examples of ecotourism in Northern Europe is the country of Iceland. Iceland is known for its commitment to renewable energy, as it sources 75% of its energy from renewable sources. It is also a global leader in environmental policies. However, Iceland has not always been environmentally conscious. In the past, it experienced deforestation and soil erosion, resulting in the loss of 90% of its virgin forests and 40% of its soil. Today, Iceland has learned from its history and now strictly protects its native ecology. It even imports bee colonies from Sweden to maintain a thriving ecosystem and agriculture industry powered by geothermal water and steam.
In recent years, tourism in Iceland has grown rapidly, with a 40% increase in 2016 alone. The great thing about this growing industry is its focus on responsible tourism. Visitors can witness the beauty of the aurora borealis, Blue Lagoon, and Gulfoss waterfalls without causing harm to the delicate ecological balance. To contribute to sustainable tourism, it is recommended to avoid large hotels and instead choose to camp or stay at an eco-tourism resort. When traveling around Iceland, opt for electric vehicles or explore the landscapes through hiking, biking, and horse-riding expeditions. For water activities, consider rafting, snorkeling, and diving as environmentally friendly options. Plan your trip using our ultimate Iceland itinerary to help you.
Iceland | Photo: Ty Van Haren
Voluntourism in Madagascar
Transformational travel adventures tackling the climate emergency
Madagascar is a prime example of sustainable travel that supports a nation in need of tourism revenue and contributes to nature conservation. The unexplored rainforests of this African island are home to a unique array of wildlife that cannot be found elsewhere. While Madagascar gained fame from an animated movie, it has also faced challenges, such as climate-induced famine in the south. Organizations like SEED Madagascar and Earth-Changers.com have been working hard to raise awareness and promote sustainable tourism in the region. Within Madagascar, there are eco-friendly accommodations like Manafiafy Beach and Rainforest Lodge, Eden Lodge, and Tamboho Boutik Hotel.
Monteverde, Costa Rica
For preserving cloud forests
Costa Rica has received recognition from UNESCO for its efforts in preserving the environment. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, established in 1972, is a prime example of Costa Rica's commitment to biodiversity and sustainable tourism. Spanning over 54,000 acres, this reserve is home to a wide array of plant and animal species, making it one of the richest natural areas on Earth. It also plays a significant role in hydroelectric projects that provide a third of Costa Rica's electricity.
When it comes to eco-tourism in Brazil, the Amazon Rainforest immediately comes to mind. Known as the "lungs of the planet," the Amazon Rainforest is one of the last remaining areas with uncontacted indigenous tribes. To protect the rainforest from deforestation and climate change, ecotourism has become crucial. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) states that ecotourism helps educate people about the global importance of the rainforest and funds essential conservation projects. For example, the Rio Blanco Project in Ecuador offers rainforest treks that allow eco-tourists to experience indigenous ways of life. Other initiatives, such as Aldeia dos Lagos and the Tamboho Boutik Hotel, provide alternative means of income for local communities and support sustainable practices.
Photo: Alexander Wendt
Amazon Rainforest | Photo: Conscious Design
Located on a 600-kilometre strip along southwest India’s Malabar Coast, Kerala is India’s prettiest state, with exotic beaches for days lined by palm trees and backgrounded by hills replete with banana, tea and pandan plantations
Costa Rica’s wildlife-rich reserves
An eclectic UNESCO-protected mega-ecosystem
Costa Rica is known for its rich biodiversity and its commitment to responsible ecotourism. With nearly six percent of the world's species, Costa Rica is a leader in cultivating the complexity of life on Earth. The country has been at the forefront of promoting sustainable tourism and has designated a significant portion of its land as protected parks and reserves. These areas, which account for over 25% of the country, serve as safeguards against deforestation and logging, while providing opportunities for visitors to encounter a diverse range of wildlife. Three of Costa Rica's national conservation areas and parks are UNESCO-protected, and the country relies heavily on renewable energy sources. Accommodations like Lapa Ríos, the first eco-lodge, offer sustainable options for travelers.
Fresh air in Finland
Fantasy forest adventures
With 80% of its terrain covered in forests, Finland offers a breath of fresh air for eco-tourists. As air pollution becomes an increasing concern globally, Finland stands out with its clean air and water. The country has implemented the Sustainable Finland program, which promotes eco-friendly escapes and encourages visitors to engage with nature and local culture in an economical, ecological, social, and cultural manner. One recommended destination in Finland is Octola, a private wilderness retreat in the Arctic Circle surrounded by Lapland forest. Whether it's experiencing the Northern Lights or exploring the stunning landscapes, Finland provides a magical setting for unforgettable eco-adventures.
For sustainable living par excellence
The entire region of Scandinavia, including countries like Denmark, Norway, and Finland, sets the benchmark for sustainability. Their commitment to green practices ranges from rigorous recycling efforts to investments in renewable energy. Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, aims to be carbon neutral by 2025. Norway, despite its history of fossil fuel extraction, derives 95% of its energy from hydropower. Finland offers the freshest air in the world, and Greenland's capital, Nuuk, is the first certified capital city under EarthCheck. These destinations exemplify sustainable living and serve as role models for the rest of the world.
Available from: January 13th 2024 Inside Fogo Island Inn (Alex Fradkin)
Switzerland is widely recognized for its immaculate cities and commitment to clean living. Nearly 60% of the country's electricity comes from hydropower, and it has excellent waste management with approximately 50% of waste being recycled.
The Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, have a long history of environmental conservation. The islands served as the inspiration for Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution and continue to be a destination for renowned scientists. Designated as a Natural World Heritage Site, the Galapagos Islands have implemented strong management practices to preserve their fragile ecology. While sustainable tourism has helped protect the islands, visitors should be aware of potential negative impacts, such as contamination from boat oil and the introduction of non-native species. Researching and choosing sustainable tour options can ensure a visit that aligns with conservation efforts.
Galapagos Islands | Photo: Simon Berger
Photo: Derek Owens
Ecuador and the Galapagos
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands are known for their incredible biodiversity, with 6.1% of all species on Earth found in this region. The government of Ecuador has taken steps to protect the country's natural beauty, designating 24% of the land as national parks, reserves, and buffer zones. There is a strong emphasis on mutually beneficial, nature-based tourism that supports local communities and conservation efforts.
Kenya is a shining example of eco-tourism in Africa. Known for its grassland safaris and diverse wildlife, Kenya also takes steps to protect its natural landscapes. The Kenyan government and international NGOs have launched initiatives to combat illegal poaching and promote sustainable tourism. With 54 national parks and reserves, Kenya provides ample opportunities for wildlife conservation. By visiting eco-friendly accommodations and engaging in responsible tourism practices, travelers can support Kenya's conservation sector. Researching and asking questions about hotel and cruise policies can ensure a trip that aligns with environmental values.
Kenya | Photo: Fearscare
Rwanda is known for its responsible wildlife activities, particularly in protecting critically endangered mountain gorillas and white rhinos. The country follows a "less is more" model, ensuring that a limited number of visitors have a minimal impact on the environment.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
For looking after lowland gorillas and locals
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda plays a crucial role in the conservation of mountain gorillas. By supporting safari lodges in the reserve, essential funding is provided for wildlife conservation efforts. Additionally, the park promotes community-based tourism, with initiatives like Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge. This community lodge has fostered a sense of conservation ownership among local communities, resulting in decreased illegal activities and increased support for park protection and law enforcement.
Hiking in the Julian Alps
Norway is a popular destination for eco-tourists, thanks to its stunning fjords and commitment to sustainable practices. The country's progressive policies regulate industries like oil, fishing, and hunting, and it has been selected as a pilot destination for sustainable tourism by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. While challenges may arise in transportation and heating, seeking out sustainable destinations in Norway can minimize environmental impact. Towns like Røros, Lærdal, and the villages of Setesdal provide cozy accommodations. Urban adventures can be found in Lillehammer, and the farming community along The Golden Road in Trøndelag offers a glimpse into a slower way of life.
In the Geirangerfjord region, visitors can experience Norway's breathtaking landscapes, including blue fjords, glacial waterfalls, and diverse flora. Lofoten, a series of offshore islands, is home to eagles, seals, and porpoises. Whether exploring fishing villages or skiing in Lyngenfjord, Norway offers a wide range of sustainable activities. Forest enthusiasts can venture to Femond Engerdal, while food lovers can visit the country's southernmost point and dine at Under. For a comprehensive list of things to do in Norway, refer to our top things to do in Norway.
Norway | Photo: Tobias Bjørkli
Norway | Photo: Tobias Bjørkli
Nepal is blessed with stunning natural beauty, from the peaks of the Himalayas to the glistening lakes of Pokhara. The government of Nepal has taken measures to protect the environment, designating 24% of the country as national parks, reserves, and buffer zones. The emphasis is on mutually beneficial, nature-based tourism that supports local communities and conservation efforts.
Situated adjacent to the Italian Alps and known for its stunning vistas, Slovenia is often underestimated as a tourist spot. However, it stands out as a guilt-free destination due to its sustainability policy, which heavily relies on hydro-electric dams for approximately 75% of its electricity. Moreover, its capital city, Ljubljana, earned the title of European Green Capital in 2016. Ljubljana boasts environmentally friendly public transportation, including city buses fueled by natural gas and an urban electric train. Nearly half of the city's land is dedicated to green spaces, making it a dream destination for environmentally conscious globetrotters. Visitors to Slovenia can engage in sustainable travel experiences such as swimming with sea turtles, exploring local coffee, cocoa, and banana production (which contributes directly to the local economy), hiking in the mountains, and visiting eco-friendly farms that provide insights into local life.
Located along the Malabar Coast in southwest India, Kerala stands out as the most picturesque state, featuring exotic beaches dotted with palm trees and hills covered in banana, tea, and pandan plantations. Known as India's honeymoon capital, Kerala leads the ecotourism movement in the country, promoting sustainable policies and educating visitors about local lifestyles in villages such as Thenmala and Kumbalangi. One of the region's renowned eco-lodges is Banasura Resort, constructed using pressed mud. Exploring Kerala's mesmerizing backwaters on a boat tour allows visitors to immerse themselves in dense jungles, while venturing into the Western Ghats unveils colonial-era hill stations that now serve as trading hubs for the local community.
Kerala offers abundant opportunities for wildlife encounters, with its numerous wildlife sanctuaries and parks providing safe havens for a diverse range of native species. Notable sanctuaries include the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, and The Green Haven. Additionally, fascinating natural attractions such as the Thommankuthu Waterfalls and the Nilgiri hills attract nature enthusiasts. Although eco-tourism is still a relatively new concept in India, Kerala leads the way with its "Responsible Tourism Mission," driven by a community of dedicated activists and scientists who promote conservation, empower women, and tackle poverty through various social and environmental projects. From Kerala to Mumbai, explore our comprehensive list of the most enchanting destinations in India.
India | Photo: Christian Kunz
Kerala, India | Photo: Kunal Kalra
Peru, a country abundant in natural resources and governed by strict sustainable development policies, is poised for a green future. Renowned as a top tourist destination, Peru boasts the iconic Machu Picchu, which has been on travelers' bucket lists for decades. To protect these ancient ruins from over-tourism, visitor numbers are now limited, and guided tours are mandatory. Additionally, time slots are assigned to manage the flow of tourists.
For those who don't mind enduring some chilly winds, Antarctica is an extraordinary bucket-list destination and one of the least explored places on Earth. This South Pole continent may be too cold for most forms of plant life, but it captivates visitors with its vast white landscapes and icy peaks. Accessible only during summer (between November and March) primarily by boat from Argentina and Chile, Antarctica attracts thousands of travelers each year with its awe-inspiring cracking glaciers, penguin colonies, and various whale species.
Elephant Island, where Shackleton and his crew were stranded for 135 days during a famous 1915 expedition, remains one of the most popular attractions. This dormant volcanic island is now cherished for its thermal hot springs and its thriving population of 50,000 chinstrap penguins. To ensure sustainability, visitors must adhere to guidelines that prohibit eating, smoking, or urinating while on shore and maintain a minimum five-meter distance from wildlife at all times. All chartered tours must be approved by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Discover the wonders of this icy continent with our list of top things to do in Antarctica.
Antarctica | Photo: Derek Oyen
The Azores Islands
As an autonomous region located approximately 1,360 kilometers off the west coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, the scenic Azores Islands have recently been recognized as one of the Sustainable Destinations Global Top 100 regions in the world. These volcanic islands boast lush tropical landscapes and crater lakes, making them captivating year-round. The Azores Islands heavily rely on renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal, and biomass, with a commitment to increasing clean energy targets annually. Activities such as whale-watching are well-regulated to protect the flourishing wildlife and marine life. Visitors can fully enjoy the islands' offerings without causing harm to the fragile ecosystem.
Embark on a tour with Explore and discover the stunning landscapes of the Azores Islands on foot. Marvel at vast valleys and gorges, explore the capital of Ponta Delgada, and savor a traditional lunch of cozido, a type of stew cooked in a volcanic fumarole. Throughout the journey, minimal impact on the environment is ensured.
Ranked among the world's premier wildlife destinations, Botswana boasts vast uninhabited areas within the central Kalahari, with 37% of the entire country dedicated to conservation efforts. With 10 national parks and numerous private reserves, the country offers incredible opportunities for wildlife encounters.
Located in Micronesia in the western Pacific, Palau is an island nation surrounded by biodiverse waters in desperate need of protection. With crystal-clear waters and rising sea levels, Palau's reefs and hundreds of fish species face significant risks due to climate change, pollution, and unsustainable development. Since 2005, Palau has implemented revolutionary environmental regulations, committing to conserve 30% of its coastal waters and 30% of its forest land by 2020, while promoting ecotourism. Palau's diving opportunities along its barrier reef walls and WWII battleship wreck sites attract visitors, and the forests offer incredible birdwatching experiences. Additionally, Palau's 600,000 square kilometer shark sanctuary serves as a research and conservation site for university students and documentary makers, contributing to the Blue Planet United initiative.
Palau | Photo: Kurt Cotoaga
Palau | Photo: Rene Paulesich
Situated at the southern end of South America and shared by Argentina and Chile, Patagonia offers unrivaled natural wonders such as glaciers, lakes, and snow-capped mountains. One of its crown jewels is Torres del Paine National Park, comprising azure lakes, forested trails, rivers, and a colossal blue glacier. Patagonia is a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve, renowned for its unspoiled beauty. Exploring this natural ecosystem through trekking or horseback riding ensures minimal impact on the land.
Experience the captivating allure of this sustainable travel destination with Contiki's Patagonia Trail trip.
In conclusion, whether you're an adventure seeker or seeking a serene escape, there are countless sustainable travel spots worth exploring across the globe. From the breathtaking landscapes of Iceland to the wildlife-rich reserves of Costa Rica, and from the pristine beauty of Antarctica to the enchanting Azores Islands, the world offers a plethora of destinations that not only satisfy your wanderlust but also prioritize environmental conservation. So why not embark on a journey that not only exhilarates your senses but also leaves a positive impact on the planet? Choose a sustainable travel spot that aligns with your values, and let your footsteps lead the way towards a brighter and greener future for all.
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