The land of ice and fire has become a top tourist destination as it lures visitors in with its remote beauty. The country is the cleanest energy consumer in the world being powered by 100% renewable energy (even drilling into a volcano to get its energy). There are numerous volcanoes, hot springs and fjords which you can explore. The Icelandic Tourism Board appreciates and awards the hotels, tourist spots and hostels for adhering to green practices to conserve the ecosystem balance. Travellers can reduce their footprint by camping instead of staying in big hotels, or hiking, biking and horseback riding instead of driving when exploring the country.
Often described as the “lungs of our planet” – it produces 20 percent of the Earth’s oxygen – the Amazon rainforest surrounds the world’s largest river system and supports thousands of plant, bird, mammal, and aquatic species in the 1.2 billion acres it occupies. You can walk among the treetops in Bahia’s Atlantic forest, along a 66-foot-high suspension bridge surrounded by scores of wildlife, sights, and sounds; it’s the ultimate canopy tour for those who want to really understand how the rainforest works. Down below, you can rent a canoe and paddle down the river, past local ribereños (shore dwellers); fish for piranha (which are quite tasty); or venture on a bird-watching excursion. At nightfall, the forest emits a symphony of sounds beneath a starlit sky – one of nature’s finest spectacles.
Palau, an island nation in the western Pacific that is part of Micronesia, is known more for its oceans than for its land. Off the coast is a beautiful, crystal blue sea home to coral reefs and hundreds of species of fish. On shore, the country has diverse forests and untouched beaches. The country has dedicated itself to preserving such beautiful landscapes by making much of its reefs no-fishing zones. Additionally, the Palau Project, part of Blue Planet United, brings university students to Palau to learn about the island, makes documentary films about the country and supports ecotourism. Also, more unique is the opportunity to swim with thousands of jellyfish in a lake (don’t worry they don’t sting!).
One of my favourite European destinations that never ceases to amaze me. Unlike some other European locations, Norway actively encourages a green tourism industry. One of Norway’s top attractions has always been its environment, most particularly its rugged mountains and stunning fjords. The country’s strict environmental regulations help keep the iconic landscapes pristine. Fjord Norway is one of four pilot destinations of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s program for new criteria for destinations. Activities include scenic boat tours, kayaking, biking through rugged mountain terrain and wondering at the snow-capped mountains of the fjords.
Costa Rica is a well-known eco hotspot. Misty cloud forests, black sand beaches, thick rainforests and rushing river rapids offer outdoor activities for active travellers and nature enthusiasts. Costa Rica has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2021 and currently 93% of the country’s energy is from renewable sources. Environmental taxes act as disincentives to polluting businesses and laws such as the 1996 Forest Law have helped reorient other industries to sustainable development. If you’d like to stay in eco-friendly accommodations while there, you will have plenty of places to choose from.
The Galapagos Islands are the holy grail of eco travel. When Darwin visited these unspoiled islands 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador in 1835, he was so struck by the variation in life he saw he went on to posit his theory of evolution. In 1978, the Galapagos Islands were declared the first ever Natural World Heritage Site due to the amazing and unique fauna that call the archipelago home. Environmentalists and eco-conscious travelers alike have dedicated themselves to preserving the precious ecosystems found on the 13 major islands (as well as those on the chain’s eight smaller isles and 40 atolls); as a result, some 97 percent of the Galapagos is protected by the Galapagos National Park Service. You might be surprised to learn you can actually swim with sea lions and penguins here.
Kenya is one of the prime destinations to take an African safari due to its grasslands full of animals such as giraffes, lions, and rhinos. However, the country has more to offer than that, with beaches, coral reefs, and mountains as well. Such varied landscapes means that Kenya has a lot of biodiversity, especially of birds. Ecotourism Kenya, a watchdog organization, keeps an eye on tourism and rates accommodations based on their environmental policies. Most safari tours now offer eco-friendly options for visitors, and many of them ensure they give back to or work on behalf of the local people, thus working toward sustainability in the industry.
New Zealand is a brilliant destination for adventure seekers. The wild, untamed and often rugged landscape offers excellent opportunities for almost all outdoor activities, from hiking to mountain climbing to surfing and diving. Given that tourism focuses largely on the natural environment, it’s little wonder that New Zealand is also invested in protecting its natural assets—the country has committed to becoming carbon neutral and markets itself as a “clean, green” playground for adventurers. The country has developed numerous walking and hiking trails, such as the internationally recognized Milford Track and the Te Araroa Trail, which spans the country. Ecotourism initiatives have been on the rise, although there is some concern about tourism being a carbon-intensive industry, as many visitors travel huge distances to reach this remote country.
The Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, is a chain of 26 atolls that is threatened by rising sea levels. With this in mind, the country has been a leader in green industries, including ecotourism. The government has pledged to make the country carbon neutral by 2019. Most tourism is driven by the Maldives’ natural beauty, including extraordinary diving opportunities in clear blue waters. The islands are often promoted as a tropical paradise, and white sand beaches and sports like surfing and scuba diving are popular. Government policies have aimed to reduce damage to sensitive coral reefs and to make stricter laws for waste disposal, while resorts themselves have focused on recapturing wasted energy and recycling heat.
Antarctica remains one of the least-touched places on Earth for obvious reasons — you can only even reach the landmass during the summer. More than 46,000 tourists head to the South Pole each year to witness its monumental glaciers and icebergs, comical penguins, and magnificent whales. Cruising is the most popular way to reach this off-the-path ecotourism destination, on lines like Holland America and National Geographic-cooperative Linblad Expeditions, which operate sailings from Buenos Aires. Both lines are members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, a voluntary organization aiming to limit the impact of tourism on the continent by adhering to strict environmental guidelines.