Pack Your Bags: Ethical Traveler Shares 10 Best Destinations for 2013
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3. Costa Rica
Loaded with national parks and biological preserves, this Central American hotspot also made the list last year. Of note is that Costa Rica hit the top of the list for happiest countries (according the Happy Planet Index), it has banned shark finning and sport hunting (though not hunting for subsistence), and it has plummeting crime rates.
On the flip side, the Human Rights Council there decided not to guarantee economic equality for LGBT people, the morning-after pill is still not legal, and coffee production has lead to deleterious environmental effects.
A beautiful country known for its wildlife and eco-tourism, Ghana got high points in the report for being politically stable with civil rights “mostly respected.” This apparently doesn’t extend to gay rights. The report authors say, in “Ghana, however—a country with an otherwise impressive social and environmental record—active discrimination does take place. We include Ghana on this year’s list hoping that this spotlight, along with our vote of confidence, will inspire reform.”
Let’s hope that’s not just wishful thinking. The country also scores well on press freedoms and land conservation.
Earning a spot on the list for a consecutive year makes Latvian Americans like myself proud. Ethical Traveler praises the Baltic nation for press freedom, flourishing democracy, pollution-free waters, and “most improved country on the Environmental Protection Index.” The report authors write that “Virtually half of Latvia is unspoiled nature — a safe haven to countless protected species. Very strong culture of ecotourism (including preservation of habitat and culture).“
They get a demerit, however, for being tough on non-citizens.
Neighboring Lithuania is also a repeat on the list and scores high for environmental and historical preservation. And the report says, “Kaunas, Lithuania entered as candidate for European Green Capital 2015 on the basis of 12 indicators covering climate change and energy performance, sustainable local transport, air quality and noise levels, green urban areas and sustainable land use, nature and biodiversity promotion, waste management, water consumption and waste water treatment, eco-innovation and sustainable employment, and the environmental management practice of the local authority.“
Mauritius, also included on last year’s list, scores high for literacy, human rights, life expectancy, as well as per capita income in Africa. It’s also shifted to a focus on sustainable development and energy efficiency. However, the country lacks in gender equality, with domestic violence a “prominent issue.” Ethical Traveler also reports high rates of HIV and diabetes.
If you’re looking for a beach vacation, you can rest easy on the shores of Palau which is “a vanguard in its conservation efforts through the Green Energy Micronesia Initiative,” according to Ethical Traveler. Palau made the 2012 list as well and scores high for human development, human rights and conservation.
But look out for environmental impacts from oil drilling, overfishing, poor waste disposal, and the dredging of coral reefs.
If you can’t make it Palau you can still hit the beach in breathtaking Samoa. “Samoa’s constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status,” writes Ethical Travler. And “the government has proactively sought protection of the environment through the designation of national parks and improved management of the coast, both done in consultation with local communities. The government has been very vocal in its support of finding solutions to climate change impacts.”
The downsides to this paradise are gender discrimination, legal spousal rape and domestic violence, not to mention that “same-sex sexual acts are illegal,” although Ethical Traveler says there are “few incidents of LGBT discrimination.“