//The world’s best ecotourism destinations

The world’s best ecotourism destinations

Travel journalist Victoria Beardwood picks out seven destinations where sustainability is a top priority.

A few decades ago, the most important criteria when booking a holiday were good weather, nice digs and proximity to the beach, city centre or slopes. Today, there’s a new factor to consider: sustainability.

As travel customers become more conscious of their impact on the environment, they apply the same philosophy to their travel plans. According to research from Booking.com, 83 per cent of global travellers think sustainable travel is vital – and 61 per cent say that the pandemic motivated them to travel in a more eco-friendly way.

If sustainability is important to you, then ecotourism is the answer. Simply put, it’s a way of travelling responsibly, with an awareness for the environment, wildlife, local people and cultural practices. Some destinations have had eco offerings for years, while others are newer to the game. Either way, these are the best ecotourism destinations you can visit right now.

Costa Rica

This Central American country is the OG of ecotourism. Having put an emphasis on sustainability since the 60s, it now runs on 99 per cent renewable electricity and plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. With a quarter of the country made up of protected rainforests, there’s plenty of nature to explore. Manuel Antonio National Park and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve are particularly worth a visit for their respective pristine beaches and rich biodiversity.

There are copious green options for accommodation, with ecolodges available up and down the country. At Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, on the banks of the Tortuguero River, you can see hatchling turtles if you come in autumn – while guests at La Quinta Sarapiqui can take part in rainforest excursions and community activities such as tree planting and school visits.

Alonnisos, Greece

A newer addition to the ecotourism clan, Alonnisos has been promoting its green efforts for the past two decades. Part of the Sporades archipelago, floating in the Northern Aegean, the island is home to the Natural Marine Park of Alonnisos. Its limestone caves form the habitat of the Mediterranean monk seal – visitors can only encounter these endangered creatures as a rescue and rehabilitation volunteer.

Beneath the park’s waters also lies the well-preserved Peristera shipwreck, which opened as Greece’s first underwater museum in August 2020. There’s plenty to see on land, too, and the best way to discover it is on foot. Stay at Ikion Eco Boutique Hotel in Patitiri, then venture out on one of dozens of hiking trails through the rocky but lush landscape. Just make sure you don’t pack your picnic in a plastic bag – they’ve been banned since 2015.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Cyclists by the river in Copenhagen, Denmark

The Danish capital has approached the ecotourism concept in its own innovative way. CopenHill, for example, is a ski slope and hiking path that makes use of the otherwise-ignored space on top of a waste-to-energy powerplant. Or, tourists can see the sights from the water in a solar-powered GoBoat. ØsterGRO is Denmark’s first rooftop farm, and you can taste its organic produce during a meal at onsite restaurant Gro Spiseri. Visitors can even get their hands dirty being a farmer for the day or taking part in a cooking class.

Also worth tasting is the honey from Bybi, Copenhagen Urban Honey Factory. Learn about how honey is made and interact with some buzzy buddies during an urban beekeeping tour.

For a sustainable stay, book a room at Hotel Coco, a carbon negative and plastic-free establishment. It’s not all substance over style, though – it has the sleek hipster aesthetic you’d hope for from a Copenhagen hotel.

San Francisco, USA

California Academy of Sciences

It might well be famous for its tech industry, trundling cable cars and fog-enshrouded bridge, but San Francisco is also getting a reputation as one of the most eco-friendly cities for tourists. In comparison with other US cities, it has more green hotels (book a room at The Argonaut Hotel), vegan restaurants (Wildseed is a must), and eco tours.

It also has the California Academy of Sciences (pictured above), a solid example of environmentalism in action. The building itself, which looks a bit like the Teletubbies’ hilly home, is an impressive feat of sustainable architecture. Its conservation efforts, such as breeding endangered African penguins, are even better.

Mo’orea, French Polynesia

Dolphins

There’s plenty to learn about French Polynesian culture and biodiversity from eco-museum Fare Nature, on Mo’orea (Tahiti’s sister island). Perhaps the best way to understand them, though, is to immerse yourself in them. A hike through the lush tropical jungle will see you stumble across waterfalls and striking cliffs.

Eco-tour company Moorea Ocean Adventures leads the way here in its support of the conversation of marine wildlife, via tours of dolphin watching and swimming above humpback whales in the lagoon and ocean. There’s also Coral Gardeners, an organisation set up by a small group of Mo’orea island kids when they realised the island’s coral reef was deteriorating. So far, they’ve planted 25,000 corals.

Kenya, Africa

Kenya landscape

Kenya’s ecotourism offerings revolve around its incredible wildlife – particularly the ‘the big five’ (elephants, rhinoceroses, buffalo, lions, and leopards) and its huge variety of birds. Visitors can experience these beautiful creatures in their natural habitats in one of the country’s 23 national parks or 28 national reserves. There’s also a growing number of community-owned sanctuaries, such as the Koija Starbeds in the Laikipia Bush, which is owned by the Koija community; and Il Ngwesi Group Ranch, owned by the Maasai people.

The best way to discover Kenya’s natural world is on an eco-friendly safari. Kuoni’s Porini Wilderness Safari uses local guides and puts a focus on wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism. For guests that want to make a lasting difference to a local community in Kenya, African Adventures runs volunteering programs in Nakuru. Participants can choose to teach or coach sports in schools there, or to build and renovate them.

Slovenia

Boats on Lake Bled, Slovenia

A Central European country that’s nearly 60 per cent forest and about 30 per cent farmland, it’s little wonder that Slovenia is known as a green destination. Add to that its thriving Apitourism sector and vineyards, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better ecotourism destination. What the country does well is make its nature and customs easily accessible for tourists.

An abundance of tourist farms like Megušar and Urška Tourist Farm (where 80 per cent of the food served is grown on the premises) allows visitors to interact with local people, taste farm-to-table products and help on the farm, too. Hiking and biking trails such as the brand-new 290km Juliana Loop Biking trail in the Julian Alps make it simple for travellers to delve into their natural surroundings. The Loop also aims to introduce visitors to exciting experiences at the villages and towns they encounter along the way, giving back to the local communities.

Slovenia is also now home to Hotel Bohinj, a luxurious but eco-friendly stay on the edge of the Triglav National Park. It’s considered one of the best hotels in the region and one of the most energy efficient hotels in Central Europe.