Our top five eco-conscious destinations
By Martha Hales
We’re all keen to minimise our impact on the planet and its inhabitants, yet we all love to travel. If we are serious about travelling conscientiously, we need to vote with our feet and prioritise destinations and operators that take sustainability seriously and have implemented measures to safeguard important aspects of their region. Eco-friendly tourism can be defined in various ways, but essentially it is tourism which has a low impact on the environment and has a positive impact on the local community, something which is of fundamental importance to TravelLocal and underpins everything we do.
Responsible tourism is growing in popularity, meaning that forward-thinking nations are always on the lookout for ways to improve their eco-friendly credentials in order to attract the conscientious visitor. Some countries stand out for their laudable efforts to preserve their natural and cultural heritage, protecting it for us - and for future generations - to enjoy.
Ecuador, to which the Galapagos archipelago belongs, passed a new constitution in 2008 which enshrined environmental protection into its laws. The unique biodiversity of the Galapagos is well documented, and the islands have long been recognised as an important stronghold for pristine nature and scientific research.
90% of the archipelago enjoys protected status as a national park, and small scale tourism is closely monitored to ensure that its impact is not damaging the pristine ecosystems that thrive in this isolated spot. People who live on the islands are educated from childhood about the value of the environment they call home, and the importance of sustainable use of water and power is a community priority.
The government of Costa Rica is blazing a trail for conservation, low impact tourism and sustainability, standing head and shoulders above many other popular destinations in terms of its eco-conscious credentials. 25% of the landmass is protected, it is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2021, and much of its energy is generated by renewables including solar, geothermal and wind.
Because Costa Rica’s major attraction for visitors is its natural bounty, the authorities are aware that protecting their unique ecosystem needs to be top priority, so they have stepped up their efforts and are rewarded for this by being one of the best known and best loved ecotourism destinations in the world. Hike up volcanoes, discover rainforests brimming with wildlife, flop on wilderness beaches and immerse yourself in all that natural beauty.
Tourism chiefs are proactive in promoting Belize as a destination with sustainability and conservation at the forefront of its priorities. They recognise the importance of eco-tourism in order to ensure the future of their fragile ecosystems - which include the world’s second largest barrier reef - and have implemented several initiatives to encourage visitors and locals alike to take the ‘low-impact’ approach.
Belize claims it has a greater percentage of its territory protected as national parks and reserves than any other country, and many of these areas have been established in recent decades. Efforts to conserve water and energy are paramount and widely promoted, and similarly initiatives to educate communities and visitors about reef conservation are well established. A drive to increase community based tourism projects has been very successful, and these projects directly benefit rural populations and promote a sustainable tourism model which will benefit present and future generations.
Top marks to Rwanda for taking the initiative and creating policies which have established it as one of the front-runners in environmental protection in Africa. Plastic bags have been banned in Rwanda for more than a decade, making it among the first to implement such a law. Authorities punish use of plastic bags or packaging with fines, or even prison for anyone found importing or distributing substantial amounts of plastic.
The ban has some exceptions, mainly involving commercial food storage, but be aware that if you arrive in Rwanda with plastic packaging, it will be removed. Another Rwandan initiative with far reaching positive impacts is the national Umuganda Day, which is a community event every last Saturday of the month. ‘Umuganda’ means ‘coming together to achieve a common goal,’ and the community collaborates on tasks like erosion management and environmental conservation.
There’s a reason why relatively few people have visited Bhutan: The tourist authority has implemented strict measures to ensure that this mystical kingdom receives low tourist footfall. It has achieved this by capping tourist numbers and introducing rules which require all arrivals to be booked on a guided tour.
These measures have ensured that the distinctive, ancient cultures which make this country so unique are not diluted by streams of visitors, and maintains a low quantity / high quality model of tourism. Bhutan’s particular approach to protecting their heritage extends to its natural resources. A law has been passed which safeguards the forest cover for future generations in Bhutan, stating that a minimum of 60% of the territory must remain forested.
Make it happen
Finding ways to balance our adventurous spirit with our list of must-sees and must-dos is ever more pressing. Luckily, the promotion of responsible tourism is a high priority for TravelLocal and our conscientious local experts, so you can book your trip with a clear conscience. Find out more about our most eco-friendly destinations by clicking on the links above. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.