Eco-travel - while many have been spouting its importance for years - 2017 is the year it goes mainstream. The UN World Tourism Organisation has made 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development so expect to see a lot of fuss being made about eco-travel and responsible tourism measures.
What most of us want from eco-travel isn’t rocket science - to support local economies and communities, to experience (and not damage) unique environments, to learn about new cultures and meet real people who live differently to us. But with so many ways to do this, it’s hard to know where to start. Luckily for you, we’ve gathered some of our best eco-travel ideas for 2017. Question is, will it be rescuing sloths or sliding past Inca ruins on a luxury train?
If we’re talking ‘sustainable travel for development’ next year for the UN, then many countries could take a leaf out of Bhutan’s book. Not only does the country build in environmental protection into its citizens' responsibilities and Gross National Happiness index but it’s also looking like being the first country to go carbon negative in 2017. Trek to cliff-top temples strung with prayer flags, potter around both the new and ancient capitals and stay with local families on a G Adventures 10 day long tour.
Just over the other side of the Himalayas is Nepal, whose popularity amongst tourists wanting to climb or visit the mysterious mountains has come with its own set of problems. Don’t contribute to recent deforestation - stay in an eco-camp that runs on yak dung. Yup, World Expeditions’ campsites use the traditional dried dung fuel for heating, giving the forests a chance to recover after being decimated by humans and natural disasters.
Yes, yes you’ve cycled around your city and you own a bike. That’s so 2015. Take on a cycling holiday with a difference to experience communities and landscapes that are only accessible on two wheels. Intrepid Travel has a new 13 day Masaai guided bike adventure that takes you into the heartlands of Tanzania. You will be one of the first to experience Arusha National Park by bike, home to giraffes, monkeys and elephants. You’re looking at just over 100kms in under two weeks and you’ll get to buddy up with Tanzania’s amazing people and animals.
Eco-travel doesn’t have to mean easy on the glamour. From May, Peru will host the first luxury sleeper South American train, the Belmond Andean Explorer. It will wind along the high altitude tracks between Lake Titicaca and the Inca capital Cusco, serving up local delicacies like Lake Titicaca trout and quinoa before taking in Machu Pichu and an Inca fortress at Ollantaytambo. Save the emissions and revel in some of the world’s most untouched landscapes without having to get your boots dirty (if that's what you prefer).
Oh Finland, you’ve stolen our hearts. This quiet but amazing country is 100 years old in 2017 and to celebrate, the government has opened a new National Park in the east, called Hossa. A huge camping site will sit at the heart of 11,000 hectares of pristine forest that also takes in a canyon lake and Stone Age rock art. For outside-lovers, Finland is a dream come true - you can camp, walk, fish and forage almost anywhere (as long as you do no harm) and ditching everything to head out into the great outdoors is positively encouraged - there will be an official Nature Day every three months in 2017, with different activities, festivals and forest walks arranged each time. And then, there’s the bi-annual Sauna Day held in Helsinki - see here for more.
It’s never been easier to access the eco-escapes that Costa Rica is famous for. Last year direct flights from the UK to the island appeared, cutting down the time it takes to get up close and personal with a serious slice of paradise. One of the most bio-diverse countries on earth, there’s a conservation project to suit pretty much anyone and a strong responsible tourism industry makes it an eco-travel favourite.
“In terms of sustainable and eco-tourism Costa Rica, as a destination, has always been at the forefront of our industry. They have a lot of really great private and public initiatives (some of which you can find here),” says Joe Stevens at Ecocompanion.
Try some of their Costa Rica eco-experiences that include watching humpback whales and rescuing sloths (if you didn’t lose at least ten hours to watching sloth videos in 2016 then where were you?).
The 18 islands that make up the Faroe Islands, halfway between Norway and Iceland, are a lesson in local living. With more sheep than residents, the islands jut out of the Atlantic and offer up a remote experience like no other. What we think of as sustainable, the Faroese see as their normal way of life. Ten years ago there were no restaurants here, everyone fished and hunted all the birds, meat and fish they needed and today things haven’t moved on all that much. Hike to fairy tale style waterfalls, learn to knit the world famous sweaters or watch the huge bird colonies swoop around the wave battered cliffs. Life on the Faroe Islands is rugged, wild and free and you’ll come home wondering why on earth you live near so many people.
Over the last few years Colombia has shaken off its drugs n’ guns image and shaped up to be a pretty serious player in the eco-travel stakes. Responsible tourism experts World Expeditions will be hosting four day treks in 2017 to the country’s 'lost' city of Teyuna, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s long been considered a holy site by local tribes and sees far less tourists than the million strong stream that flows through Machu Pichu each year. Finish up taking in the cobbled-streets of romantic, exotic Cartagena (a city we can’t write about without thinking about Michael Douglas in ‘Romancing the Stone’).
For more ideas on eco-travel check out our Check In section of eco-hotel reviews.
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