Sustainable travel is ingrained in our philosophy and design processes, but so is being conscious of the impact we have on the planet. We learn about different cultures and experience phenomenal sights, but oftentimes, it comes at a price. Tourism has a vast number of issues, from environmental to cultural. With disconcerting exploitation of humans and resources caused by over-tourism, many countries have (partially) closed their borders to irresponsible travellers. However, with more awareness about responsible travel, we are learning how to mitigate our carbon footprint and be more respectful to the cultures we visit. Fortunately, more countries are seeing the advantages of a sustainable travel tourism model, where they actively use tourism to make smart choices about the environment. With eco-tourism on the rise, it is easier to find destinations to travel to while still being responsible.
Here are 20 sustainable travel destinations for you to explore in 2020:
For the hustle and bustle of a sustainable city
Berlin is a city that’s beaming with sustainable practices and redesigned to mix its history with the present. With green spaces spanning from lush famous gardens to permaculture gardens hidden in local backyards, you really see how green this city is.
Who loves traffic? No one, especially not in Ljubljana, because they’ve been traffic-free in their city-centre since 2008. This city has immensely high environmental standards, which is evident in its lush green spaces, and sustainable forms of public transport.
Leave it to San Francisco to trailblaze the sustainability tracks by leading the ban on single-use plastic bags way back in 2007. This (almost) waste-free city initiated the country’s first large-scale urban food waste and composting program in the country and has a great public transport network.
Aiming to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025, Copenhagen’s bikes outnumber cars, buildings are found with green roofing and roads scattered with all-electric buses. This Danish city also offers climate-friendly and organic produce at all price ranges to promote clean eating.
San Blas Islands, photo by The Curious Travel
For a clean, trash-free beach
The Pacific Island of Palau might not be a common name amongst beach destinations, but it is a diver’s paradise. A sanctuary containing nearly 80% of the country’s waters, Palau protects the ecosystem from commercial fishing expeditions.
In the Northwest archipelago of Panama, the islands of San Blas are natively inhabited by the Kuna’s, who are keen on conserving their natural environment. All tourism on the islands are arranged by the Kuna’s, thus contributing to their economy directly.
This palm-covered, surfing capital of the Philippines has smouldering views you have to see to believe. It might be called the next Borocay, but it is trying to develop in a sustainable manner to provide employment opportunities to the locals. It is classified as a conservation area, with lagoons and beaches that are hard to ignore.
Consisting of five main islands, this southern Carribean archipelago boasts of stunning beaches, soaring mountains, superb food and spectacular diving. Enjoy national parks and campsites, as 77% of Guadeloupe’s lands are Natural Reserves. Indulge in the local cuisine, coffee and spices as you learn some french to brag at your next dinner party.
Masai Mara National Reserve and Conservancies, photo by Kenya Safari
For biodiversity and wildlife
If you are impressed by mighty volcanoes and pristine hidden beaches as we are, take a trip to the island of Sumatra. This Indonesian network aims to help responsible travellers learn about eco-tourism, improve the quality of life of those who depend on the fruits of tourism, and focuses on sustainable wildlife and community-based cultural activities.
Get to see Africa’s Great Migration at one of the world’s finest wildlife reserves. Savour fewer crowds and get the chance to see the big cats and learn about the Maasai culture. This conservancy employs responsible waste disposal and water recycling initiatives and offers tourists with the opportunity to leave the region behind better than they found it.
Focussed on ecotourism, this South American country is home to 18% of the world’s tropical forests. Catch a glimpse of highly endangered species in this area, such as jaguars, anteaters and giant river otters, go on culture hikes in wild and untamed landscapes and learn all about the Makushi culture.
12. Kerela, India
This South Indian coastal state supports community-based initiatives when it comes to eco-tourism. Filled with eco-friendly tours, and immersive cultural programmes, Kerela is delighted to open its beaches, forests, tea estates and tiger reserves to the likes of responsible travellers.
Alay, photo by Kalpak Travel
For the great outdoors
A unique destination on this list is an ancient archaeological site, the Lost City, or La Ciudad Perdida. This region does not suffer from over-tourism as it is only accessible on foot. The trek route passes through indigenous land, so your Lost City tour operator will be one of the Wiwa and Kogi people, and will educate you on the community’s traditions.
For those trekking enthusiasts, take full advantage of the mountainous range of Kyrgyzstan’s Alay Mountains. Delve into the otherworldly sights of these trails, and keep an eye out for turquoise alpine lakes and yaks. For accommodation, local families run the guesthouses and yurt stays, and locally source their food and guides.
After Costa Rica redistributed military spending into conservation, it has been called the “most biologically intense” place on the planet. 95% of the country’s electricity comes from green energy, and the country boosts the local businesses by promoting eco-tourism and encouraging tourists to sign up with local guides on tours of raw, untamed rainforests.
From fishing to water sports, this beach-town plunges you into adventure with its impressive waterfalls, coastal cliffs and unexplored caves. You can find many eco-friendly accommodations as this region is a hub of eco-tourism. Here, you can take part in an active vacation and enjoy the vibrant Carribean community and cuisine.
Bhutan, photo by Jack Harries
For an appreciation of other cultures and histories
This country preserves its culture through tourism, with sustainable initiatives to find the sweet spot of economic development while avoiding over-tourism. Every guest to Bhutan pays a daily tariff while visiting the country, and 30% of the tariff also goes back into environmental preservation and community development, such as free health care for all residents and visitors.
The UNESCO World Heritage town, Luang Prabang promotes eco-development of the region and local communities, and forces towards reducing plastic waste. Every public toilet has cloth towels for wiping hands, instead of tissue papers. Most hotels even replaced small plastic shampoo bottles with refillable ceramic ones.
With a commitment to sustainable tourism for water-related leisure activities, this old town perched on a 300m limestone hill features a historical Roman defensive wall and footpaths over the shore’s perimeters. Partake in water activities to preserve natural marine habitat, and take yourself back to a different time as you gaze over its well-known castles.
20. Gozo, Malta
While Valetta is a more common attraction in Malta, Gozo is buzzing in the responsible travel world for protecting its culture, promoting eco-education in school, and involving the local community to avoid human exploitation. As the clear waters beckon divers, this green-conscious island extends something to all kinds of tourists, with beaches, historical monuments and museums galore.
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