Guest post by Benjamin Kolenović
Sustainability can have a positive impact not only on the environment but also on the preservation of culture and growth of the economy of a country. That’s why sustainable travelers are encouraged to travel to not only to the most beautiful destinations, but lesser traveled to destinations where their impact will be greatest and often the most needed. This way, you support efforts to combat overtourism and support local businesses and entrepreneurs during your visit.
As for sustainable vacation activities that sustainable-minded travelers can do, there’s a multitude of options. Whether by buying locally made products instead of foreign made, mass-produced tourist souvenirs, or using public transport, or eating at local restaurants that only use local ingredients, these are all good ways to have a more sustainable trip. Then there’s skipping tourist highlights in favor of less busy and sometimes more rewarding sights. Finally, opting for a place to stay that is a certified eco-accommodation over a property that is not as a great way to travel sustainably.
Moreover, sustainable travelers are advised by National Geographic to drink locally purified water in recyclable glass bottles, rather than buying plastic water bottles, or bringing your own non-plastic reusable water bottle. As stated in an article about sustainable innovations, ‘plastic is not biodegradable and can live in the oceans for up to 450 years, raising toxicity levels for oceanic flora and fauna.’ And protecting nature of the place we’re visiting is the least we can do, don’t you think?
As a SUMAS writer puts it,
“Eco-friendly destinations make us feel a little less guilty for getting on a plane when we know that the money we’re spending to enjoy these beautiful natural wonders is put back into preserving and conserving their natural environment. In other words, we get to experience the nature, and they get to develop their economy.”
Here are the best eco-destinations you can visit as a sustainable traveler:
When you think of travel to any African country, the first thing that comes to mind are savannahs rather than pristine beaches. Well, you might be surprised to learn that Kenya has both. These savannahs are full of majestic animals, and the beaches are bordered by coral reefs, searing deserts, and beautiful snow-capped mountains, as TIES describes. It seems like Kenya has something for everyone to experience, whether you’re a mountain, beach, or desert fan.
In Kenya, there are 5 biodiversity hot spots and 61 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Moreover, there are three national parks where even famous movies like Tomb Raider were filmed. In addition, Kenya has four UNESCO world heritage sites, among which you have Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests and Kenya’s oldest town, Lamu.
Other highlights you need to visit are The Maasai Mara National Reserve where you can see zebras, lions, hyenas, cheetahs, hippos, and black rhinoceros. Finally, have a swim in the beautiful sandy, white beach of Watamu.
Costa Rica was among the first to find a way to connect nature and wildlife conservation with responsible travel. Costa Rica is well known for its beautiful beaches, volcanoes, and biodiversity. A quarter of the country’s land is protected from development, preserving its natural beauty and surroundings. A total of 5% of the world’s biodiversity happens to be located in this exotic paradise of Costa Rica.
In total, Costa Rica has 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 26 national parks, 15 wetland areas, 11 forest reserves, and 8 biological reserves. Deep respect for nature is evident among Ticos; their unofficial slogan is “Pura vida” meaning “pure life.”
Many hotels and resorts throughout the country offer sustainable ecotourism and are rated by the ICT’s Certificate of Sustainable Tourism (CST) program. Organic food is easily found in many of hotels and resorts. The most adventurous sustainable travelers can visit the country’s volcanoes, or visit (and/or volunteer in) the local coffee growers who practice sustainable farming.
Bhutan is a country known for its pristine landscapes, diverse wildlife and its commitment to biodiversity conservation and cultural preservation. This nation might be small in size, but it is huge on sustainability.
As found in an article by World Wildlife Fund,
“evidence of this commitment to conservation is everywhere in Bhutan. Native wildlife—including endangered royal Bengal tigers, elusive snow leopards, elegant black cranes and elephants—all roam free in the country’s 5 million acre network of protected areas. The world benefits, too. Bhutan is in a region that provides water for one-fifth of the world’s population. Bhutan also is at the heart of the Eastern Himalayas, which is one of the world's 10-most biodiverse regions. And Bhutan’s forests help keep the world's climate change at bay by absorbing carbon dioxide.”
Another fun fact about Bhutan: its population is incredibly young! Data from 2015, shows that roughly 60% of Bhutan’s population is under 35 years old which makes its median age is 26.3 years.
Albania might as well be Europe’s hidden gem. With beautiful beaches along the Adriatic and Ionian coastlines and mountains crossed by the Albanian Alps, both relatively unexplored by the world, they offer a unique setting for ecotourists that seek something only a few people have experienced.
There are five UNESCO world heritage sites in Albania, one of which is Butrint, the rare combination of unspoiled archaeology and natural beauty. It’s an archaeological site containing a variety of ruins representing each period of the city’s development. Not far from Butrint you’ll find Ksamil, also featured in The Travel’s 25 Surprisingly Stunning Places Found In Developing Countries. Words don’t do justice to the beauty of all Albania’s beaches; go ahead and Google images of them and you’ll surely be convinced to buy a ticket there ASAP.
In Albania, there are currently 799 protected areas including 14 national parks (and a marine park) you can choose from, 2 nature reserves, 22 managed nature reserves, 5 protected landscapes, a biosphere reserve, 45 important plant areas, and 16 important bird areas.
If you do decide to go, there are tour operators, such as Outdoor Albania, who have sustainability as a priority. This way you can enjoy nature and also contribute to the protection of the environment, authentic culture and the local communities’ lifestyle of Albania. There are also other ecotourism development initiatives, like the OAA, who promote experiencing Albania as Albanians do. In their words,
“Make a guided hike or rafting trip a part of your holiday plans, or stay in one of our backpacker hostels, and live the “land of the eagles” for yourself!”
Other places for you to check out in Albania are the Albanian Riviera (particularly Jal beach), the Blue Eye, Dajt National Park, and towns full of history such as Gjirokastra and Shkodra.
Galápagos Islands (Ecuador)
Galápagos islands consist of 127 islands and islets, 19 of which are volcanic. They are located in the South American country of Ecuador and are, unquestionably, protected by UNESCO World Heritage Center. Along with the surrounding marine reserve, they have been called a unique ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’. The Galápagos are influenced by three ocean currents and are a ‘melting pot’ of unique marine species such as the land iguana, the giant tortoise, and the Galápagos penguin.
Only 3% of the area, on four of the largest islands is populated by people. The highlight of these islands is the multitude of animals. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, which surrounds the islands, is the second largest in the world. As WHC puts it,
“is an underwater wildlife spectacle with abundant life ranging from corals to sharks to penguins to marine mammals. No other site in the world can offer the experience of diving with such a diversity of marine life forms that are so familiar with human beings, that they accompany divers.”
There are many animals you won’t find anywhere else in the world but on the Galápagos Islands. This diversity of animals was first discovered by Charles Darwin, but they are still there for visitors to admire. Among these endemic animals, you’ll have the chance to see land and marine iguanas, the Galápagos giant tortoise, frigatebirds, Darwin’s finches, flightless cormorants, Sally Lightfoot crabs and the waved albatross.
These 5 places are obviously not the only eco-destinations you can visit, but I presented ones that wouldn’t cross your mind at first thought. The important thing is that you travel consciously, and be respectful of every country you visit.