Enjoy Nature Without Destroying It: 5 Top Ecotourism Destinations


The key part of ecotourism is observing the beauty of the land while also making a concerted effort to preserve it. Environmentally conscientious travelers aim to keep their carbon footprint to a minimum and make sure their money is being spent in a place that truly deserves it. Here are five ecotourism destinations that have been recognized for their commitment to preserving the environment.

1. Bonito, Brazil. Each year, key players in the ecotourism industry partner with editors at Responsible Travel and give awards to high-performing regions in the responsible tourism sector. Bonito, Brazil was the most recent recipient of the award for Best Destination for Responsible Tourism. It was selected because the judges were very impressed by Bonito’s voucher system, which regulates the number of tourists so that the region's natural beauty remains intact. Pristine rivers, hundreds of waterfalls, a lush landscape and a diverse range of wildlife are considered Bonito’s major draws.

The Caiman Ecological Refuge in the Pantanal region of Brazil was named one of National Geographic Adventure Magazine’s “Best Green Adventures” due to its eco-success. This 132,000-acre cattle station practices a sustainable approach to ranching, saving the world’s largest wetlands from destruction due to grazing and serving as the model for 30 other private nature refuges.

2. Costa Rica. It’s one of the leading ecotourism destinations and the pioneer for other Central American countries. As of one of the hottest vacation spots, particularly for the budget-conscious and backpacking set, there are concerns that Costa Rica’s popularity may have a detrimental affect on its environment. But Costa Rica is doing a good job of promoting sustainable tourism, setting aside 25 percent of its land for conservation.

According to GoVisitCostaRica.com, there are now “27 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas/mangroves, 11 forest reserves and eight biological reserves, as well as 12 other conservation regions” in the country. Costa Rica ranked fourth in Huffington Post’s recent roundup of earth-friendly trips, thanks to an eco-volunteer program run by the Sea Turtle Conservancy in Tortuguero. This conservation group is the oldest and one of the most successful organizations involved in sea turtle protection and recovery. Volunteers are able to work hands-on with the turtles while tracking, tagging and scouring the beaches for turtle nests.

ShermansTravel.com also placed Costa Rica among its Top 10 Ecotourism Destinations for its abundant wildlife, national parks, uncrowded beaches and outdoor activities.

3. Dominica. Editors at ShermansTravel.com selected Dominica as their top pick for ecotourism in the Caribbean. It was the first country in the Caribbean to partner with EarthCheck, an organization that certifies sustainable travel and tourism operators. Dominica promotes itself as the “Whale Watching Capital of the Caribbean.” Because its deep waters are so close to shore, it’s an ideal environment for whale feeding and mating. According to ShermansTravel.com, “visitors are promised a 90 percent chance of spotting one up close.” ShermansTravel.com also cites its superb diving, hiking tails, pristine rainforests, waterfalls and natural hot springs as major draws for ecotourists.

Dominica was included in Ethical Traveler’s top picks for the world’s best ethical destinations.The organization praises Dominica for a commendable effort to save its mountain chickens, a species that is incredibly endangered and endemic to only two islands in the world: Dominica and Montserrat. Dominica has also made considerable strides in protecting its native iguana and frog populations.

The Commonwealth strives to be on the cutting edge when it comes to carbon emissions. The island is aiming to cut its carbon emissions by a staggering 45 percent over the next few decades. In keeping with its goal to “not only be carbon neutral, but carbon negative by 2020,” Prime Minister Skerrit plans to build a 10 to 15 megawatt geothermal plant on the island by 2015.

4. Kenya. Driving through an African game reserve in a gas-guzzling Range Rover may not seem like the greenest way to travel, but Kenya is often commended for offering some of the world’s most responsible safaris. Kenya has about 50 national parks and reserves, where wildlife and unique ecosystems are well protected. Kenya is one of Independent Traveler’s top five ecotourism destinations. According to its roundup, all tourism is regulated “under the watchful eye of Ecotourism Kenya,” a civil society organization that promotes responsible tourism, supports local communities and controls wastes and emissions. Ecotourism Kenya also rates accommodations based on their sustainable tourism practices.

Three lodgings in Kenya were named as Green Traveler’s top picks for the best responsible safari holiday. Praised for their prime locations and ethical business practices, Koiyaki Wilderness Camp, Kutazama Lodge and Amboseli Porini Camp employ staff from the local community and have received some of the highest eco-ratings.

5. Palau. Each year, the non-profit group Ethical Travel studies the practices of developing countries to see which is doing its best to improve the lives of its people and protect its environment. Ethical Traveler named Palau one of the Ten Best Ethical Destinations, most notably for preserving its environment. According to their study, “28.2% of precious marine and terrestrial area is protected, the highest percentage of this year’s countries.”

Palau is probably most recognized as the island-country where the 10th season of “Survivor” was filmed. It’s also one of the world’s premier diving destinations, renowned for its incredible biodiversity. Palau has over 700 species of coral and about 1,400 species of reef fishes. According to NOAA's Coral Reef Information System (CoRIS), Palau’s marine ecosystem also includes seven out of nine of the world’s giant clam species, the most secluded colony of dugongs (cousin to the manatee), and the only saltwater crocodiles in Micronesia.

Palau is also included in Independent Traveler’s roundup of top destinations for ecotourism. Local conservationists are making great efforts to preserve the islands’ ecosystems: About 460 miles of reefs and lagoon have been designated no-fishing zones and there are 40 other protected areas, all managed by the Palau Conservation Society.

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