The best things to do and places to go for ecotourism, whether on a budget or a bit of luxury. We have popular eco-destinations and gems for everyone to discover
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Central and South America
This region is pretty much where the whole concept of ecotourism began (or at least where it became known as such), with tourist boards finding a new angle to lure visitors to places that weren’t necessarily destinations before. So we start in Panama, a beautiful and ecologically diverse country and home to the Coiba Island National Park. The largest island in the region, it separated from the mainland around 15,000 years ago, and at that time plant and animal life diversified from that of anywhere else. It was also untouched for a darker reason: between 1919 and 2004, the island was used as a prison, with no visitors. Isla Coiba became a UNESCO protected site in 2005, and Panama is, understandably, proud of this very unique place, so you can understand their wish to protect what has become known as the ‘new Galápagos’. “. If you want to visit you will need a permit from the National Environment Authority, but there are tour operators who can organize this.
Something wild in a different sense now, as we head towards Costa Rica for a whitewater adventure spot. From San Jose, you can hire guides and rafting gear for a wild descent down the Pacuare River: raging rapids propel you between canyon walls and soaring waterfalls, deeper and deeper into the rainforest, before finally reaching the eco-lodge of Pacuare. . It’s a beautiful place, and this seemingly simple but deceptively luxurious lodge offers delicious local cuisine and magnificent views of the rainforest and distant mountains from your pool, balcony or bed. When you’re relaxed enough, hike into the hills to meet the Cabécar people and learn about their culture and traditions, or explore the rainforest canopy on a 2-hour tour, rappelling and ziplining between flats -high wooden shapes in the trees.
Finally for this section, we leave for Peru. You might think we’d be obvious and pick the Machu Picchu trek, but despite being a classic Peruvian experience, Peru tries to deny the effects of mass tourism there. Instead, we go to the Sacred Valley. It’s an amazing place, not only to learn about the traditions of the Inca Empire, but it’s also one of the country’s agricultural centers, supplying Cusco and the surrounding area with delicious produce. Tourism authorities now support these local communities by encouraging visitors to join tours with local guides and learn about the crafts, art, language and history of the Sacred Valley region.
A country that takes its ecology and nature incredibly seriously is Namibia. It has one of the oldest conservation programs in the world and an entire branch of government created specifically to protect its wildlife. It has strict rules regarding game drives, encourages interaction and learning about local village traditions and history, and helps set up social enterprises to benefit people both locally and nationally. Most of Namibia’s national parks contain ecolodges, all built with local materials and employing locals. If you are taking your first steps into the world of ecotourism and what it has to offer, Namibia might just be the destination for you.
The Okavango Delta National Park in Botswana is a good choice for those who want a bit of luxury and also for those who want to experience nature up close. How? ‘Or’ What? Well, in addition to the luxury eco-lodges dotted around the area, you can also choose to just grab a tent and camp under the stars. Eco-resorts are lodges where you can live in luxury without the guilt: Botswana’s ecotourism certification system means you can be sure everything is local and sustainable, from food to energy supply. As for things to do, you can hike through the beautiful teak forests, take an overnight nature trip with a guide, or paddle mokoro (a traditional canoe) to encounter the varied wildlife like hippos, lions and buffalo that live in and around the sparkling lagoons.
Our last African destination is mozambique where Banhine National Park works to help locals see ecotourism as an opportunity to earn money for themselves and their communities. The park is a refuge for hundreds of species of birds, both on its vast grassy plains and in the wetlands, so conservation and anti-hunting laws are extremely strict, but the area is also a center of illegal charcoal production that destroys their natural habitat, thereby indirectly damaging wildlife. Programs are being put in place to foster better relationships between park rangers and local residents, encouraging them to see ecotourism as a viable and sustainable way to earn money.
So you like the sand, huh? Fraser Island, north of Brisbane, is the world’s largest sand island at 123km long, and also the only place on the planet where rainforests grow on sand dunes. You can explore the island on a day trip or spend up to five days not missing out on anything, from whale watching to seeing the rare and unusual animals and plants that make up this unique ecosystem. : it is not uncommon to see a pack of dingoes basking along the beach or an ancient lizard basking in the trees. In the hollows between the sand dunes and in the forest there are dazzling freshwater lakes for swimming, and in the evening you can set up your tent at one of the designated campsites and listen to the chatter and rustle of nature all around you.
Covering over 12,000 square kilometers of the Northern Territory, Kakadu National Park home to Aborigines for 20,000 to 40,000 years and is rich in indigenous culture, including around 5,000 recorded art sites, preserved ancient rock paintings and providing insight into Aboriginal life and history. There are four rivers (including the self-explanatory Alligator River), along with estuaries, floodplains, lowlands, hills and pools, and hiking, boating and birdwatching are all popular activities. Today the land is returned to its rightful owners under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976, with around 500 Aboriginal people living in the park.
It’s not necessarily the continent you think of when talking about ecotourism, but there are corners where the hustle and bustle of everyday life can be forgotten. One of these places is the Western Isles of Scotland, and the Hebrides count renewable energy production as one of their main industries. Discover the islands by bike, hire a sea kayak and paddle, hike the gloriously lonely hills or treat yourself to a tour of some of the traditional whiskey distilleries on the islands of Jura, Islay, Uist and other romantically windswept places.
All the way north of Finland, the Wild Taiga region is an amazing place to see incredible wildlife, including some of Europe’s only brown bears. Between April and September, the neighborhood teems with life; not only bears, but also wolves, moose, reindeer, foxes, beavers and more. In order to make the public discover these animals but also to allow them to flourish in peace, some sixty companies are now part of the professional travel association Wild Taiga. This means that all accommodation and transport used during the trips are locally owned and the tour guides are trained in responsible and sustainable tourism, meaning you can see this spectacular land and its people knowing you are not affecting not their habitat or their happiness.
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