Most of us are growing increasingly tired of living in concrete jungles and choosing eco-tourism destinations around the world to rejuvenate ourselves. While these places offer travellers clean air to breathe and calming environs full of lush greenery to relax in, they also serve as one of the best ways to spread awareness about the conservation of natural resources. By Ipsita Kabiraj.
According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), eco-tourism or sustainable tourism can be defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”
As an eco-tourist, one can immerse themselves in pristine locations while taking part in the maintenance and protection of the region. Ecotourism also boosts employment by empowering locals with opportunities. It acts as a catalyst in encouraging conservation by garnering financial aid and allows economies to thrive without exploiting the local wildlife.
Being at one with nature doesn’t mean going slow and silent. Some of the best eco-tourism destinations in the world are a haven for adventure seekers as well. Swimming with sharks, adventure caving, snorkelling or witnessing the great migration — there’s no dearth of fun in eco-tourism.
And, the best part is you can do all this with reduced impacts of travelling and tourism on the environment, and without harming animals or ecosystems in the process. Such experiences are carefully curated for eco-travellers to experience the on-touristy untapped versions of the environment, while also enabling them to leave the place better than they found it.
Here are some of the best eco-tourism destinations around the world
This is the second-largest city in Sweden and is considered one of the top eco-tourism destinations globally. A majority of the former industrial port town’s public transport today runs off renewable energy, and over 90 per cent of the hotels are eco-certified. The city is surrounded by thick forests and offers vast breathing spaces in the form of parks, meadows, expansive cycling tracks as well as hiking routes.
Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia
The national park is nestled on the island of Borneo in the State of Sarawak and is famous for its extensive cave networks and rich biodiversity. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to lofty peaks, deep gorges and serene rivers. The place is home to one of the unique geological formations in the world — like the Pinnacles — which are a forest of spires made of limestones. One can engage in activities such as hiking, adventure caving and canopy walking. Tour guides also engage visitors to take part in conserving the gorgeous natural resources of the park.
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Besides being one of the world’s richest destinations for biodiversity, this archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean is also famously home to a host of unique iguanas and lizards. The islands have a delicate ecosystem, comprising thousands of species of endemic and unusual plants and animals. The authorities practise low-impact tourism — only a limited number of visitors, accompanied by a registered guide, are allowed access on a day-to-day basis.
Interesting fact: Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was inspired by a visit to the Galápagos back in 1835.
Donsol and Peleliu, Philippines
The metropolis of Donsol facilitates sustainable tourism by only allowing a limited number of tourists to sign up to swim with whale sharks, as locals try to preserve their population in the region. One can also experience scuba diving with manta rays. Similarly, Peleliu, another eco-tourism destination located to the east, is the best for kayaking. You can come across spinner dolphins and stingless jellyfish.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Often considered a celebrity hotspot (with visitors including actor Will Smith, football star David Beckham and former US President Barack Obama), the Serengeti National Park is the oldest game reserve in Tanzania. The country has gone a long way in protecting its habitat by designating 25 per cent of its land for conservation.
Home to colossal herds of animals like zebras, gazelles and gnu, it is also the only place in Africa where land-animal migrations still take place. The unforgettable experience of witnessing the great migration should definitely make it to your bucket list. The local guides go out of their way to lay emphasis on the importance of wildlife preservation and ensure visitors cause the least disturbance to the ecosystem.
Þingvellir National Park, Iceland
Pronounced ‘thingvellir’, this national park is one of the most iconic (and visited) places on the Icelandic mainland. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it offers breathtaking views of mountains on three sides, Lake Þingvallavatn at one end, and lava fields dotted with lush grass on the other. You will have to see it to believe it.
To balance the tourist footfall, the park, which is managed by the environmental agency Umhverfisstofnun, focuses on the use of sustainable resources to maintain the region’s ecological purity as much as possible.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Arguably the world’s most famous and largest coral reef ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef, has been under threat for a while now due to pollution, excess fishing and global warming.
The good news is that this home to diverse marine life, including 4,000 types of molluscs and 1,500 species of fish, is now on a slow path to recovery. The islands along the reef have taken it upon themselves to practise ecotourism in limited ways that help boost the economy and fund further conservation.
Koh Kong, Cambodia
Cambodia is one of the popular eco-tourism destinations in South East Asia. The province of Koh Kong, located near the border with Thailand, is a hidden gem and boasts of dense mangrove forests, crystal-clear rivers, tropical islands with virgin beaches and rich biodiversity, including several threatened species.
While here, visitors can enjoy the pristine location by opting for eco-friendly hotels and sustainable restaurants, as well as engage in activities such as day trekking, kayaking and snorkelling.
Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica
With tons of eco-tourism activities, Costa Rica is a haven for conscious travellers. The country has also reserved a quarter of its landmass as protected land, national parks and reserves. The Monteverde (meaning “green mountain”) cloud forest reserve is home to several endemic animal and plant species, accounting for more than 100 species of mammals, 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles, as well as 400 species of birds.
The Burren, Ireland
The place derives its name from the Irish word “Boíreann” meaning a rocky place. One of the unique locations on the island nation, The Burren is home to 70 per cent of Ireland’s native plant species and boasts of a rugged, moon-like landscape and a diversified ecosystem.
Formed millions of years ago, it is also one of the largest and most accessible Karst regions in the world. The Burren Ecotourism Network works to ensure the sustainable development of its communities, environment and heritage. The Burren National Park offers some great adventure activities like guided walking trails, imparting education about nature and a glimpse of some stunning wildlife.
One of the largest mangrove forests in the world, the delta of the Sundarbans is formed by the confluence of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal. It is spans India and Bangladesh.
One of the most far-flung destinations in the world, the Sundarbans National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its plethora of exotic flora and fauna. Home to the majestic Royal Bengal Tigers, the river labyrinths are also the natural habitat of beautiful kingfishers, estuarine crocodiles, the endangered endemic River Terrapin and other animals.
Visitors can explore the creeks on boats and support the locals in conserving nature by going plastic-free and buying local produce like honey and jute products.
The mountainous Asian paradise that is one of the best eco-tourism destinations is Bhutan’s capital city Thimphu. Located in the lap of nature, the place is surrounded by the striking Himalayan mountains and beautiful rivers, making it seem right out of a postcard.
Owing to its high sustainable and environmental standards, Bhutan received an honorary mention by World Population Review in its list of happiest countries in the world in 2022. The country has so much greenery that all the carbon it produces gets easily absorbed.
Thimphu is also the cultural capital and offers a wide range of sustainable activities like hiking at the Kuenselphodrang Nature Park, soaking up views at Buddha Point and seeing the national animal, takin, at Takin Preserve. One can also visit the Textile Museum or Choki Art School to learn about the ways Bhutan preserves its indigenous handicraft.
(Main and feature image: Courtesy Sergey Kuzmich/ @retsrollp/ Unsplash)