5 Eco-Friendly Destinations That Might Surprise You
Need some inspiration in planning your next eco-friendly vacation? These five under-the-radar destinations provide the sustainable getaway you’re looking for.
When the subject of ecotourism springs up, the first place that springs to mind is usually Costa Rica, with its strict animal protections and renewable energy. Or maybe Iceland, with its abundant geothermal energy that heats the water in houses and hotels while providing ample natural spa opportunities. But there are other places around the world that are setting ambitious goals toward making their countries in general, and tourism in particular, more sustainable. And several are succeeding to various degrees!
Before you head anywhere though, make sure you’re packing to fit your sustainability goals. A sustainable vacation needs an eco-friendly bag. The roomy Gear Warrior bag and its smaller carry-on counterparts are made from 100% recycled PET ripstop with recycled coating. They’re water resistant, have outside straps for extra gear, and many can be carried as a duffle bag or backpack or rolled on their wheels (three bags in one!). In short, these bags are built for wherever your adventure vacation might take you. Then, reduce your plastic consumption by using reusable packing cubes to save space, stay organized, and separate wet and dirty clothes from clean ones.
Once you have the gear to travel, you’re ready to visit one of these five hidden green-travel gems that make ideal destinations for responsible travelers. We won’t say they’re perfect (who is?), but they’re making measurable strides. Your ecotourism dollars might provide the incentive they need to continue.
Green Credentials: About 60% if this Eastern European country is covered in forest and 53.6% of its land is protected, making it the European country with the highest percentage of such territory. Its 40 parks and reserves have myriad hiking trails from which to view some 20,000 different plants and animals. Its capital city, Ljubljana, has also won accolades for its many sustainability initiatives.
Things to do: Tour Ljubljana’s car-free historic center via electric trams or by bicycle (the city’s bike-sharing program has 580 bikes). Stay at the Park Hotel, with its roof-top garden and apiary. Get out of the city and stay at one of several glamping facilities that feature extras like nearby walking trails, geothermal pools, or produce gardens where guests can help themselves.
2. Whistler, British Columbia
Yes, we know, there is a lot about
that’s not all that green. But the Whistler community,
including the ski resort, is trying its best with an ambitious goal
of being carbon neutral by 2030. Since beginning of this initiative
in 2000, the resort has reduced waste by 70%. Since 2009,
hydroelectricity has powered the resort’s snow cannons, ski lifts,
restaurants, and hotels.
Green building standards are also in place for all new construction. And Canada’s Partners for Climate Protection recognized Whistler as the first community in the country to complete its five milestones toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Things to do: If you visit, you can park your car and use the resort’s extensive shuttle system to get around. Use the area’s extensive off-street trail system to bike in summer or cross-country ski in winter. Go hiking, bear-watching, or explore a tree-top walk. And of course, ski.
Green Credentials: Can a Caribbean Island whose economy runs on all-inclusive resorts and cruise-ship visitors possibly green its tourism? Aruba thinks so. By 2020, the island aims to rely 100% on renewable energy, including wind farms and solar panels. Starting in 2019, the island is transitioning to a total ban on single-use items, including plastic shopping bags, cups and straws, Styrofoam containers, and disposable coolers. Perhaps most important, starting this year, the island is banning sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, which has been shown to bleach coral reefs.
Things to do
: Pack your own chemical-free sunscreen when you go, or
by locally made, reef-safe sunscreen from Aruba Organics. Snorkel
along the newly protected reef, hike in the national forest that
covers 20% of the island, and visit the donkey sanctuary. Also, the
Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is Aruba’s first carbon-neutral
property. Guests can participate in beach cleanups and
sea turtles hatch
on protected beaches (at the right time of year).
4. Sanibel & Captiva islands, Florida
Green Credentials: Two-thirds of Sanibel Island is a permanent nature preserve, and it’s the more developed of these connected barrier islands. The J.N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to 230 bird species, plus otters, alligators, armadillos, and gopher tortoises. Plus, 50 types of fish swim in the islands’ partially protected waters, and 15 miles of ungroomed beaches are home to 250 types of seashells.
The islands recently joined the growing list of destinations banning plastic straws and eight of Sanibel’s hotels are part of the Florida Green Lodging Program. This means they might have geothermal-heated swimming pools and employ practices aimed at water conservation, energy efficiency, and recycling—and they use green cleaning products and organic fertilizers.
Things to do:
Walk on the beaches collecting shells and keeping your
eyes peeled for wildlife, explore the national wildlife refuge,
kayak protected waters, bike on 25 miles of beautiful off-road paths.
Green Credentials: This South American country’s sustainability efforts begin in the capital city, Santiago. Here, the steady addition of new bike paths, an expanded underground metro system, and car restrictions in the city center have cut down on congestion and reliance on fume-spewing buses.
Moreover, the city increasingly relies on solar energy to fuel the metro system—part of a nationwide effort to cut the national carbon footprint by 30% by 2030. Additionally, the government has set aside 35 million acres of land for conservation and Santiago and is promoting renewable energy nationwide.Five years ago, the National Service for Tourism of Chile initiated an “S” certification for three levels of sustainability. Now more than 70 tourism services have achieved at least one level.
Things to do: Visit one of four regions in Chile that have made it onto Green Destinations’ top 100 list of sustainable destinations. These include Huilo Huilo, one of Chile’s top attractions for its waterfalls and large canopy network; the Chiloé Island, where the local community has been brought into the process of building sustainable tourism; the town of Curacaví, known for local food that incorporates regional organic ingredients and sustainable municipal policies; and Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, which includes three national parks. You can also stay at any number of certified sustainable hotels, resorts and glamping facilities in Patagonia and other parts of the country.
No matter where you visit, remember to pack lightly in a carry-on bag to reduce your own travel footprint as much as possible!
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By Eileen P. Gunn
Eileen P. Gunn is a veteran journalist, parent and traveler. She’s written for Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News and World Report. She’s traveled on five continents (three with her daughter). And she founded the family travel website FamiliesGo! You can follow her on Pinterest.