The Top Ecotourism Destinations
Meeting the gorillas in Rwanda, an island escape in Panama, climbing glaciers in Chile and much more. Here are our 24 top ecotourism destinations and the best months to visit!
Meeting The Gorillas In Rwanda
Rwanda’s long dry season (June to September) is the most popular time to visit, but the shorter dry season (December to February) allows you to savor the country’s splendid ecotourism locations and offerings and avoid crowds. The #1 attraction here is the Mountain Gorillas of Volcanoes National Park, which were made famous by late primatologist Dian Fossey. There are 10 habituated gorilla families open to tourist visits, so trekking permits are limited to 80 per day. Being surrounded by mamas, babies, and massive Silverback gorillas is an experience you’ll never forget. But there are many other ecotourism attractions in Rwanda.
From the cultural immersion of Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village (which employs hundreds of former poachers) and the stunning scenic vistas of Lake Kivu to tracking Chimpanzees and monkeys in Nyungwe Forest National Park and wildlife safaris in Akagera National Park, Rwanda has a ton of options for nature and wildlife lovers. “The land of a thousand hills” has come a long way since the 1994 genocide: the benefits of ecotourism include fueling political stabilization, dramatic infrastructure improvements, and impressive economic growth.
A Wild Experience In Sabah, Malaysia
Sandakan in Sabah – in the Malaysian part of Borneo – is one of the top eco tourism locations and home to one of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, Sukau Rainforest Lodge. This is where you can see how eco-lodges work for real – they make use of everything from rainwater, used cooking oil, to the electric engine for the motorboats – all without sacrificing any comfort for guests. In fact, they have also won 19th Malaysia Tourism Awards 2014/2015 for Best Hotel Services (3 Star & Below). Its location on the bank of Kinabatangan River (at 560km, the second longest river in Malaysia) means relatively easy access to the floras and faunas of Borneo, including the orangutans, Bornean pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys and rare birds like the hornbills, in their own natural habitat. In fact, you might not have to go far to see a Bornean pygmy elephant as they have a trail inside the compound of the Lodge itself!
The Lodge is open all year round but the best times to visit are anytime between January and October, so if January is too short of a notice for you, you still have 9 months to plan for a trip of a lifetime.
New Zealand, One Of The Best Ecotourism Destinations
February is the best month to visit New Zealand as the weather is going to be warmest and the most settled of the year. New Zealand a.k.a 100% Pure New Zealand is a must visit for millions thanks to the beautiful nature around the activities. If you want an example of ecotourism activities you can do while here, a tour of Fiordland’s Milford Sound, kayaking in Abel Tasman National and Whale Watching in Kaikoura are three of the top highlights of the South Island.
Heading up to the North Island, watching the seals sunbathing by Cape Palliser is fun and you have to visit a kiwi at Zealandia or Kapiti Island. You’re obliged to hike Tongariro National Park a.k.a Mt. Doom and before I carry on too much I’ll finish off with seeing the natural wonders of Wai-O-Tapu.
Costa Rica: Ecotourism And Adventure Travel
When considering a destination for an eco-friendly vacation, Costa Rica is a must. Costa Rica is a rugged country known for its beautiful beaches, volcanoes, and biodiversity. About a quarter of Costa Rica is protected jungle, alive with wildlife including a variety of monkeys, exotic birds, and frogs. The country offers both cloud forest and rainforest, both interesting and breathtaking.
A deep respect for nature is evident wherever you travel. This respect is evident at hotels and resorts throughout the country, which offer sustainable ecotourism and are rated the ICT’s Certificate of Sustainable Tourism (CST) program. Many hotels and resorts serve organic food; landscape their grounds with lush tropical plants and flowers; and conserve and recycle their resources.Different types of ecotourism options include excursions to one of the country’s volcanos (including Poas and Arenal); daytime and nighttime nature hikes; whitewater rafting; tours of the country’s coffee region;visiting the white-faced Capuchin monkeys; birding; and visits to the thermal hot springs. For the best weather, visit between mid-December and April, Costa Rica’s dry season.
For a different kind of experience, you can also volunteer and help with the sea turtle conservation or volunteer with local coffee growers who practice sustainable farming.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Every Traveler's Dream Destination
For us, the absolute best ecotourism destination is the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. This group of islands is at the top of every traveler’s dream destination list. Being both geologically unique and geographically remote, these islands have spawned voyages of discovery. The islands of the Galapagos are so isolated the animals have evolved into whole new species, something Charles Darwin observed on his voyage. Visitors can retrace his footsteps and check out the amazing wildlife. One of the best places for ecotourism, the Galapagos archipelago is so unique and surreal that it was recognized as the very first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ecotourism And Sustainable Tourism In Sumatra
Situated in the northern region of Sumatra, Indonesia, only a short 1-hour flight from Asia’s hub of Kuala Lumpur, lies one of the most bio-diverse places in the world – The Gunung Leuser National Park. Home to the second largest concentration of orangutan, as well as many other endangered species like the Sumatran tiger and rhinoceros, the Gunung Leuser National Park has become a sanctuary for these creatures, and the people of this region have become their guardians.
Locals practice responsible tourism that aims to protect the forest and its inhabitants. Many of the rainforest regions of Indonesia are destroyed by deforestation and although some are protected from logging under federal law, illegal logging practices still occur. Tourism acts as an alternative income for many people here who have moved away from illegal means of income.
By visiting the region and participating in eco-tourism activities such as trekking, tree planting and water rafting you are supporting the guardians of the Gunung Leuser, and you have the chance to get up close with the beautiful orangutans that call this place home.
Jamaica: Sexy Beaches And Much More
Jamaica is predominately known for its gorgeous turquoise blue water and white sand beaches, however very few people know that Jamaica is one of the top ecotourism destinations in the Caribbean. The amount of things you can do in Jamaica that don’t cause harm to its ecosystem is endless! You can go bamboo rafting on the gorgeous Martha Brae River, hike the UNESCO World heritage site, Blue Mountains, relax on undeveloped beaches like Winnifred Beach, explore Jamaica’s largest wetland ecosystem at Black River, or discover Jamaica’s diverse plant and species at Cockpit County.
Jamaica is pretty much sexy all year around, however the best time to visit is in April. In April, Jamaica is not overcrowded with tourist, it barely rains, and you can still get the benefit of things costing less than in the high season! The island of no worries and ultimate relaxation is one ecotourism destination you don’t want to miss out on in 2017!
An Island Escape At Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Bordering Costa Rica, Bocas del Toro, on the northern tip of Panama is one of the top 10 ecotourism destinations in the world. Beautiful islands with gorgeous beaches, sailing, snorkeling and other outdoor pursuits are easy to arrange with many tour operators that offer island tours and other eco adventures. I stayed at the uber cool La Loma Jungle lodge which is an amazing chocolate plantation with wonderful wooden tree houses that exude a total sense of place and eco cool. The farm to table approach and exciting food selections were simply spectacular – worth the experience when visiting this area.
Sorsogon, Philippines: Volcanos And Giant Whales
As a favorite “hangout” place of typhoons and other natural calamities, it is quite hard to predict exactly when is the best time to visit the Philippines specifically the Bicol Region. Safe to say though that April and May are the best months to pursue that Bicolandia trip – the official summer season of the country!
Sorsogon is where are most ecotourism destinations found in the Bicol region. If you love mountains and courageous enough to climb an active volcano, there’s Mt. Bulusan. Just within the area is the Bulusan Volcano National Park, which is now becoming a favorite destination for foreign travelers due to the fact that’s an eco tourism park and to the number of activities that you can do! You can go kayaking, camping, trekking and even try to learn how to cook local cuisine.
Did you know that the Butanting (Giant Whalesharks) are found in Donsol? They are well taken good care of and an indie film shot ten years ago was the Philippines entry to the Oscars in 2008. Whale shark watching tours are available. Another one of the best eco tourist attractions in Sorsogon is the Buhatan River Cruise. You can also do waterfall hopping!
Nicaragua: An Up And Coming Destination
Nicaragua is an up and coming destination that has been on travelers’ radars for a few years now. It’s even better than more popular ecotourism destinations such as Costa Rica and Panama, as it’s less crowded, rather undiscovered and it’s still much cheaper to travel within this pristine country. One of the best places to take advantage of sustainable activities is in Ometepe, which at first glance can seem too popular. There’s a long list of ecotourism activities available here; grab a kayak and float through the isthmus where you’ll see tons of animals, bugs, and flowers without ever crossing a soul.
Many initiatives are being put into place to make sure the wildlife is protected and I was quite impressed by Nicaragua’s green philosophy, availability of recycling bins, eco-responsible initiatives and the people’s desire to keep their country safe. Although Nicaragua can be enjoyed all year round thanks to changing temperatures in each part of the land, May is a great month to come, as it’s right between the dry and the wet season. You’ll get to see the greenery awakening without the more negative side of having endless rainfalls.#
Raja Ampat, Indonesia: A Pristine Destination
Raja Ampat is an archipelago of islands, located just off the tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula in Indonesia’s West Papua province. It is an unmissable ecotourism destination as it is pristine, because it is difficult to get to, but entirely worth the effort. The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International claim that 75% of the world’s marine species live here in the islands. Raja Ampat is one of the most beautiful destinations in Indonesia and one of the greatest ecotourism places in the world. It is very popular with divers and has a lot to offer any traveler wanting to see somewhere that is off the tourist track. Any time of the year is good to visit as the climate is equitable, and while there might be some rain in June, it is short-lived.
No Need To Go Far Away: The United StatesEcotourism destinations in the United States are plenty all over the country. Not many people realize indeed that the US is one of the top ecotourism destinations in the world! June is a great month to discover the National Parks or to go on a road trip through the wild spaces of America. It’s not too cold and not too hot, and the most famous places aren’t overcrowded with tourists yet.
For a special experience, why don’t you try glamping? It’s a great way to get in touch with nature with all the comforts of a luxury hotel.
Iceland: Inspiring Scenery At Every Turn
Iceland is one of the top ecotourism countries in the world, and visiting during July means taking advantage of the midnight sun. With 24 hours of daylight, you can truly make the absolutely most of each and every day!
In terms of ecotourism options, exploring Iceland’s landscapes is the main attraction here. It is one of the last untouched destinations left on earth, and the scenery will take your breath away. Between waterfalls, glaciers, dramatic fjords, volcanoes, cracked lava fields, gushing geysers and geothermal lagoons, Iceland is a country defined by its outdoors, and there is inspiring scenery at every turn. There is naturally a lot of opportunities here for adventure, and you can try your hand at anything from white water rafting, to horse riding, caving, quad bikes, or strapping on crampons and climbing a glacier if that takes your interest.
Finland, Where All Tourism Is Ecotourism
In Finland, ecotourism isn’t really a thing. That is because all tourism is ecotourism – respect for nature and the environment has been part of people’s minds for decades. Most of my Finnish friends take solace in nature when daily life gets too much – as a result, there’s wonderful nature on every city’s doorstep and plenty of national parks all over the country. The best month to enjoy nature is July, when days are at their longest, the weather is warm and there’s plenty of sun, but winter also has its magic. A wonderful place to enjoy Finnish nature without having to travel too far from the city are the Helsinki islands, there are over 300 to choose from!
Ecuador, Where Dreams Come True
Ecuador, one of the smaller yet most diverse countries in South America. The country, located by the Pacific ocean and straddling the equator, boasts a wide range of eco-systems and possibilities for visitors to learn about the environment while at the same time becoming more aware of their impact on it. There are several inspiring ecotourism projects in the country. I have been able to visit Kichwa Ecolodge in Yasuní National Park, the park which is considered to be housing more diversity in flora and fauna than anywhere else on the planet. This is an extremely rewarding experience, as you combine ecotourism and community-based tourism.
Some additional ecotourism options include, but are not limited to, visits to rainforests such as Casa Divina Lodge in Mindo and visits to some indigenous tribes like with Napo Wildlife Center in Yasuni National Park. Many eco travel companies have had the Smart Voyager sustainable tourism certification for over 10 years. I was lucky enough to work with Metropolitan Touring, a company that is leading the way in the sustainability work. Metropolitan Touring owns and runs Finch Bay Hotel and the yachts La Pinta and Isabela II, all having the Smart Voyager certification and offering wonderful experiences in the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador. Because of its location, Ecuador can be visited all year round. I invite you to discover a mega-diverse country perfect for ecotourism.
Singapore: A Green City Escape
Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay has become one of the most talked about man-made garden in the whole of Asia. These 101-hectare gardens consist of the stunning man-made ‘SuperTrees” that not only light up beautifully at night but serve as water catchment points when it rains.
Some have equated this garden as ‘Ávatar in real form”, due to the surreal mystical design of the Supertrees and the quirky artsy design of the park with its exotic sculptures and plants. This tourist spot is very popular all year round and hosts tons of concerts and festive activities, but the month of August is a good month, as it is the month Singapore celebrates its independence, so you might just catch some fireworks in the nearby vicinity.
Galicia, Spain: An Off The Beaten Path Eco Destination
September is a great month to explore the North West region of Spain. The crowds (that are never too large there, thank god!) are gone and the weather is still awesome due to its location by the Atlantic Ocean and Cantabric Sea. Nice temperatures and lower prices will welcome you in Galicia.
But why did I pick this region? Well, Galicia is home. The place where I was born and bred and the one I return to in between my travels around the world. And believe me, I would have definitely changed that should it was not a dream destination.
Lacking the big hotels and tourism complexes other areas in Spain are filled with, the development of tourism is still at a good pace in Galicia. People have finally understood sustainable ecotourism is the way to go and all the efforts entrepreneurs are making go towards an environmentally friendly tourism.
The best example is St. James Way, a pilgrimage that comes from the Middle Ages that has been bringing hiking enthusiasts to Galicia ever since. Slow tourism, locally produced food, Galician managed initiatives and a great natural environment make the rest. It’s not a case that a road trip around Galicia is one of the best road trips in Spain! But hey, it is not just me the one who thinks Galicia is a place that should be topping this list of top ecotourism destinations for 2017.
Mai Chau, Vietnam: An Enchanting Valley
Last year I spent an entire month in Vietnam, visiting the whole country from south to north. It wasn’t always easy, but Vietnam is a beautiful country that will reward you with some breathtaking landscapes. One of my favorites ecotourism spots in Vietnam is Mai Chau, a village located 130 km north of Hanoi. This is an enchanting valley made of paddy fields and lush green hills, a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. And if this wasn’t enough, there’s a reason more to visit Mai Chau. Mai Chau Ecolodge must be the most beautiful ecolodge I’ve ever seen, no kidding. It’s so beautiful it doesn’t even seem real.
September is a great month to visit northern Vietnam; the weather will be nice and cooler than in the middle of the summer. It’s the perfect time for some hiking or biking around Mai Chau and the surrounding valleys.
Portugal: A Destination For Anyone
Even if Portugal is good to visit any time of the year, October is one of the best months to do so. Reason number one: almost no tourists!
Besides that, the weather in Portugal in early autumn is just perfect for longer hikes as the temperature is very moderate. Let’s not forget that Portugal is famous for its 300 sunny days per year, so odds of getting cloudy or rainy days on your vacation here are pretty low.
If you visit Portugal at the very beginning of the month, pack your swimwear, too. The sea and small lakes will be warm enough for a nice dip. Make sure you also visit Lisbon, it’s a beautiful city that will charm you with its narrow alleys and azulejos.
Magical Encounters In Apo Island, Philippines
Swimming with turtles in Apo Island was one of the best travel experiences in my life, and the highlight of my recent trip to the Philippines. Apo Island is a magical island, one of the top eco tourism places in the country for sure. The coolest thing is, you don’t need to scuba dive in order to meet these magical creatures. Snorkelers will be able to swim and meet the turtles just a few meters away from the shore.
Stay At Atmosphere Resorts, one of the best eco-luxury resorts in the Philippines. The hotel takes great care in protecting the environment and giving back to the local communities, leading the way in the country. Atmosphere Resorts is located in Dauin, Negros Oriental, and organizes day trips to Apo Island several days a week. Apo Island is just 30 minutes away by boat: this is the best and easiest way to get to the island and live one of the most memorable experiences of your life.
Desert Adventures In Jordan
Jordan in November is an excellent month to visit as the scorching summer sun has turned into pleasant fall weather. Jordan’s varied landscapes from pine forest’s in its nature reserves, to desert landscapes in Wadi Rum leave something for everyone. While Petra, the Dead Sea and Jordan’s Roman ruins may be the countries popular draws, it features several ecotourism sites. Fenyan Eco-Lodge should not be missed for the eco-adventurer. Completely solar powered and featuring candle-lit rooms, guests are treated to an amazing meal and spend the evening gazing up at the stars. Fenyan Eco-Lodge is accessible by hiking 16 km through the Dana Biosphere Reserve or by vehicle. Jordan is a top leader in ecotourism in the world and offers programs that benefit the local community and helps to preserve its natural wonders.
St.John, Usvi: Ecotourism In The Caribbean
When I see the term “ECOTOURISM”, my mind is immediately transported to St. John, USVI. 3/5 of the Caribbean island is protected from development (preserved as a National Park) and St. John is the site of the first eco-resort in the world (Maho Bay). Other eco-resorts are now found on St. John and the island remains dedicated to protecting the surrounding reefs and water.
In addition to being a pioneer of ecotourism around the world, St. John is committed to non-commercial tourism; the island has no high rise building, no airport (you must arrive by water), and no large cruise dock. St. John does not have the hustle and bustle of nearby St. Thomas and that is exactly the way the residents, visitors, and I love it. Although St. John can be visited any month of the year, November is ideal because hurricane season is over (although hurricanes usually skip St. John anyway), humidity has decreased, and the island is entering holiday fever phase.
Chile, Not Just For Mountain Lovers
December is summer in Chile, a perfect time for those in the northern hemisphere to head south. Chile can be divided into four different ecotourism areas: North and the Atacama Desert, Santiago and the Central Valleys, Lakes and Volcanoes district and Patagonia. In the north, the bohemian San Pedro de Atacama is a perfect jump off point to explore the geysers, salt flats, flamingoes and volcanos of the region. Near Santiago, wine tasting, skiing, and hiking in the Andes are on tap. Heading to the lake district, there are plenty of areas to get off the beaten path including Pucon, the world heritage site of Chiloe, and the azure waters of Chile Chico.
Finally, and probably most famously, is the ChileanPatagonia. Here, you can undertake numerous ecotourism trips including cruises on iceberg busting vessels, galloping through the pampas on horseback or hiking in the Torres del Paine National Park (TDP). In particular, the W-Trek in TDP is an awe-inspiring hike with gorgeous views and accommodation from camping to 5-star luxury ecotourism options. Being one of the best countries for ecotourism in South America, Chile most certainly has something for you.
Auroville, India, An Experimental TownshipNot one of the most-known eco tourist destinations, Auroville is however an experimental, very interesting township near Puducherry in Tamil Nadu, India. Popularly known as the City of Dawn, it was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (known as ‘the Mother’) and designed by architect Roger Anger. The ideology behind the creation of Auroville was ‘a universal town where men and women from all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all politics and all nationalities.’ Aurovillians run a huge variety of projects ranging from schools and IT to organic farming, renewable energy, and handicraft production employing nearly 4000-5000 villagers from nearby villages.
It is one of the destinations promoting ecotourism projects like no other in India. The economy is self-sustained and there are a variety of volunteering programs in alternative healthcare, ecological practices, building maintenance, renewable energy, etc which keep on happening in the township. The best time to visit Auroville is in December because of the comfortable weather and to get the chance to welcome the New Year with global citizens united by the common thought of ‘human unity’.
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