Given the increased popularity of ecotourism and greater understanding of its foundational pillars – namely local economic prosperity that raises standards of living, environmental reverence that lessens degradation and conservation education that demonstrates our shared ecosystem – certain green destinations are becoming quite popular.
While this trend is wonderful for sustaining the environment and some economies, travelers hoping to escape from the crowds and discover roads less traveled while also being responsible, may want to consider these off the beaten path, but unique green experiences.
These distinctive eco-journeys provide spectacular scenery and boundless inspiration.
Jordan is a fascinating mix of modernity, ancient wonder and hospitality with nature tourism taking a foothold. Whether you mix it up in the modern city of Amman, embark on a horse or camel safari through the desert to Wadi Rum, learn ancient customs from a Bedouin tribe member, encounter the endangered Arabian oryx, discover the spectacular city of Petra, take a dip in the salty waters of the iconic Dead Sea, trek through the Dana Nature Reserve to appreciate ibex and mountain gazelles or stay at eco-lodges that sustain local heritage and provide educational experiences to guests, Jordan will impress you.
Borneo’s dense jungles, sandy beaches, mysterious caves and exotic wildlife await the eco-conscious traveler looking for something different. Visitors can trek relatively untouched Mt. Kinabalu encountering more than 5000 diverse and endemic plant species of Himalayan, Australasian and Indomalayan origin along the way, as well as explore the waterfalls and thermal pools of the area. Alternatively, travelers can journey along the Kinabatangang River, which is the Sabah region’s longest river and home to an incredible variety of wildlife including wild boar, orangutans, elephants, king fishers, macaque and proboscis monkeys. After a day’s exploration, guests can stay at award winning eco-lodges that harvest rainwater, use solar power and manage wildlife rehabilitation among other efforts to work with the environment.
The Philippines was named by National Geographic as one of the 20 Best Destinations for 2011 and Palawan Island its top eco-destination. Whether it’s swimming with whale sharks in their natural environment, discovering endangered sea turtles nesting on the beaches, spying on the rare Philippine eagle or witnessing the mountain-to-sea ecosystem of the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, the 7000 islands are just waiting to be explored. Then, after a hard day, guests can relax in eco-lodges that serve locally-sourced food and focus on wildlife education.
Belize is host to more than 87 distinct types of ecosystems, which make ecotourism lifeblood of its economy. There are 150 identified species of mammals ranging from the jaguar to the howler monkey. Belize is already well known for its rainforests and Mayan temples, but you may not have known that it also has the world’s second longest barrier reef and can be counted on for great snorkeling and scuba diving where manatees, stingrays, sharks, dolphins, coral and turtles are easy to spot. Eco-lodges abound in Belize all with the focus on educating travelers about the fragility of its ecosystem.
Botswana has largely abandoned mass tourism in favor of low volume, high quality and environmentally conscious safari travel into the Okavango Delta and surrounding Kalahari Desert. The three main areas to experience besides the Okavango Delta are the savannas of the Moremi Reserve and the forests of Chobe and Linyanta Game Reserves. There are large concentrations of elephants, lions, hyena, wild dogs, buffalo, hippopotamus and birds with plenty of activities to enjoy wildlife including game drives, walking and elephant back safaris, horseback safaris, bicycle safaris and boating as well as extraordinary youth explorer programs that emphasize conservation and teaching bush survival skills. Environmentally-friendly tented bush camps round out a unique eco-adventure.
Poland is blessed with striking mountains and rolling hills, as well as wild rivers and wetlands. It is a haven for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well as avid hiking enthusiasts who can enjoy hiking tours throughout the northeastern and southern parts of the country. With 23 National Parks and forests covering nearly 30 percent of the country, travelers will marvel at unique wildlife viewing where guides can expertly show you Poland’s own Big Game including the European bison, lynx, stoats, martens and red deer. Finally, given the Polish affinity for horses, there are even a few eco-ranch lodges throughout the country that provide that extra bit of immersion with nature.
Croatia has focused on ecotourism and agritourism as a major differentiator with its neighboring European countries. As such, the experiences are focused on culinary tours that emphasize locally-sourced organic food and stays at family farms. In addition, nature tourism for adventure travelers is well organized as one can easily make his way to a hiking or biking trail in one of the national parks or find a rafting or canoe disembarkation point on its rivers.
Guyana is a nature lover’s paradise filled with mountain ranges, savannahs and jungle canopy walks. River and rainforest eco-lodges allow just a few travelers up close and personal views of exotic birds, jaguars, red howler monkeys, giant river otters and other wildlife. Also home to the famed Karanambu Ranch, which rehabilitates orphaned giant river otters so they can be released back into the wild, Guyana will open up South America’s hidden corner for you.
Argentina’s glaciers will remind all naturalists of a time that has long since passed. You can explore Glacier National Park and witness the active Perito Moreno, which is one of the world’s only advancing glaciers. Whether it is exploring the tropical rain forests of Iguazu Falls near Brazil, the Antarctic environment of Tierra del Fuego, the Andean mountains, the wind-swept Patagonian steppe or the coastal marine habitat of the Valdes Peninsula, Argentina will not disappoint. Eco-lodges made from local materials, set in harmony with nature shapes and totally integrated with the surrounding environment round out a splendid journey.
Ethiopia’s diversity of culture, history and natural scenery will astound you. Whether you visit the unique and colorful market of Bati or follow the footsteps of religious pilgrims to Lalibela, considered to be the greatest of the spiritual-historical sites of the world, Ethiopia sights and sounds will not be soon forgotten. Depending on the season, you can trek across the Roof of Africa through the virtually untouched Simien Mountains filled with remarkable flora and fauna including the Gelada baboon, Walia ibex and endangered Ethiopian wolf. Alternatively, you can marvel at the Bale Mountains, Rift Valley Lakes and Blue Nile Falls. Eco-lodgings, built in the traditional “tikka” style and solar-powered, are also becoming more prevalent.
About the Author
Irene Lane is the founder & president of Greenloons, which is a company dedicated to providing nature enthusiasts and wildlife conservationists worldwide with trusted information about responsible, sustainable, and certified ecotourism travel vacations and volunteer conservation efforts both in the U.S. and internationally.