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Pack Your Bags: Ethical Traveler Shares 10 Best Destinations for 2013

The annual list looks at how developing countries stack up in terms of environmental protection, human rights and social welfare.

Photo Credit: © LarissaD/ Shutterstock.com


This article was published in partnership with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

Ready for a vacation — or just ready to start dreaming of one? Ethical Traveler, a nonprofit organization that is a project of Earth Island Institute, just released its annual list of the top places to hit if you want to pack your conscience on your holiday. “Where we go—where we spend our travel dollars—has real economic and political significance,” the organization says. “Ethical Traveler believes that mindful travel can bring many benefits, both personal and global. By choosing our destinations well and remembering our roles as citizen diplomats, we can create international goodwill and help change the world for the better.”

Ethical Traveler’s annual list looks at developing countries and how they stack up in terms of environmental protection, human rights and social welfare. Of course, the organization says, no country is perfect and even among its best picks there is room for improvement. (Read about its methodology here.)

Six of the countries on the list this year were also on last year’s list. Three of the countries that were dropped this year lost their spots because of declining in the environmental protection arena — Chile, Serbia and Argentina (Chile and Argentina also failed this year on human rights concerns). The Bahamas was also cut. The report’s authors said, “We applauded the country’s social welfare and human rights record while spurring it to pay more attention to environmental issues. A year later, however, we conclude that the Bahamas lacks genuine environmental will; as one of the highest GDP generating countries in the Caribbean, the Bahamas has the power and capacity to implement innovative environmental awareness policies, but it failed to do so in 2012.”

When it comes to human rights, Ethical Traveler says that some countries were excluded because of legislation that is homophobic (although it doesn’t list which countries those were). There are some on the list that “do have anti-gay statutes on the books,” but the laws are “laxly enforced” (more on this below).

While the countries on this list have been selected in part because of their commitment to environmental protection, it’s worth mentioning that travelers considering any far-flung destination should consider the environmental impact of even making the journey. There is so much to consider about one's economic, social and environmental impact when visiting another country, it's nice that Ethical Traveler has done a lot of research for you and lists not jut the highs of each country, but also the lows (or needs improvement). Like any compilation, it's a great starting point for each person's individual research before traveling.

Without further ado, here are the winners Ethical Traveler has selected this year, listed alphabetically. (View the full report on their Web site.)

1. Barbados

The popular Caribbean vacation spot gets high marks for putting together a green economy study in collaboration with the United Nations Environmental Program. The report also points to its strong rates of literacy and education and its eco-conscious scuba programs, and it was ranked second in the Americas “in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.”

However, the negatives listed for Barbados seem troubling: “Areas it could work to improve are human trafficking, including more women in the government, and progressing LGBTQ rights.“ And the report mentions that, “Homosexuality criminalized, possibility of life imprisonment.” As a gay traveler, I wouldn’t care how lax the enforcement, I wouldn’t take my chances.

2. Cape Verde

An island off the coast of West Africa, Cape Verde has the region’s highest standard of living and is a relative newcomer as a tourist destination, which can make a visit much more pleasant. Ethical Traveler reports that the country is headed toward 100 percent renewable energy and creating a zero-emissions plan for tourism. It received, “the second-highest ranking for governance performance in the 2011 Ibrahim Index of African Governance,” the report says.

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