Travel bloggersTravel trends are leaning more and more toward eco-friendly options, with travellers seeking destinations that not only offer natural beauty, but also spots with fewer human visitors. They’re looking for holidays that benefit the local community, and where conservation is a top priority in day-to-day life – as well as in tourism. These four destinations have thriving eco-tourism strategies and each one offers a great combination of wilderness, rich wildlife and options for minimal environmental impact, to the delight of eco-travellers everywhere.
When it comes to safaris and African tourism, some argue Kenya and South Africa outshine Botswana. But Botswana isn’t one to be overlooked, with 70 per cent of the country covered by the vast Kalahari Desert, which offers travellers plenty of space for wild bush and desert adventures, plus wildlife aplenty. In northwest Botswana lies UNESCO World Heritage Site the Okavango Delta, appropriately dubbed Africa’s last Eden. The Okavango Delta is home to some of the world’s most endangered species, like cheetahs, lions and rhinos, and 1,061 species of plants around the area. Botswana also has the world’s largest population of elephants, all reliant on the Okavango Delta for survival (pictured above). Since the country is a sensitive ecosystem for so many plant and animal species, the Botswana Tourism Organisation implemented a national “Ecotourism Strategy” to ensure that its wildlife, natural resources and cultural heritage are protected and preserved. The system has served to encourage the private sector to adhere to a few standards to provide guests with an eco-friendly experience.
To enjoy the expansive natural wildlife of Botswana, visit the Chobe Game Reserve for sightings of free-roaming elephants, big cats, endangered African wild dogs and blue wildebeest. Many companies offer guided tours and drives through the country for truly off-the-grid, unspoiled wilderness experience. Take a guided trekking experience at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary or do a self-drive through the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Eco-friendly, sustainable options are available for travellers to immerse themselves in everything the country has to offer. Visitors are encouraged to pay in the local currency, Botswana pula (BWP), as remote locations have limited electronics access.
Beyond the powdery white sand beaches, tropical islands and natural gardens, more than 35,000 hectares (86,400 acres) of this east coast African archipelago are classified as part of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Aldabra Atoll and the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve (May Valley). With minimal urbanisation and few, albeit narrow and steep, roads, the natural resources and wildlife are well-preserved here. It helps, of course, that locals use bicycles as a popular form of transportation and have integrated conservation into their daily lives, all of which travellers respectfully incorporate whilst visiting the islands. Many of the islands of Seychelles have strict rules regulating how people interact with the natural ecosystems, and some have even been virtually untouched by man.
Bicycle your way around the island of La Digue or take a ride on an ox-cart, which still reigns as one of the most used forms of transportation on La Digue. Snorkel off Praslin Island beach Anse Lazio (pictured above), where you can spot unique and magnificent marine life in their natural habitats. Dive in the national marine park of Anse Petite Cour while you’re on the Island too, where motorised water sports and activities are banned, and immerse yourself in the biodiverse landscape of the May Valley natural garden with a tour along the designated pathways. SUP (stand-up paddle board) off Port Launay beach on Mahé island or simply sit and look out for whale sharks in the distance. You’ll find the Aldabra Atoll in the southwest of the Seychelles archipelago, home to the world’s largest population of giant tortoises. If ‘eco-voluntourism’ is your thing, look out for opportunities to volunteer with organisations that assist with data collection on tortoises, nesting sea turtles and other marine species in Seychelles.
The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands is an archipelago made up of 19 large islands, located at the convergence of three ocean currents, making it one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. A whopping 97 per cent of the Galapagos has been declared a national park, also surrounded by the Galapagos Marine Reserve, restricting the remaining three per cent as rural villages for humans. Well protected and with few natural predators, the islands have maintained a healthy environment for wildlife. Many of the animals are so at ease here that they willingly interact with humans, swimming alongside them in the ocean or allowing people to get up close to them on land. The diversity of the Galapagos Islands allows for a huge range of species, from the marine iguanas, sea lions, penguins and many of subspecies of finches to massive cacti and other endemic plants. Each island is unique, offering sites of volcanic rock or dense forest, allowing for more than one breathtaking experience during your holiday.
Ecotourism for the Galapagos Islands ensures low visitor density numbers, as all travel is heavily restricted and requires guided visits on most islands. All people involved in Galapagos Islands tourism seek to protect the environment as much as possible, and much of the profit earned goes back into environmental protection. When visiting the islands, be sure to remain on specified paths and do not take any food with you to uninhabited islands or attempt to feed or touch any animals. Take a guided small boat tour to experience the best of the islands, scoping out marine life during the journey, or climb aboard a liveaboard yacht for diving amongst the sharks, coral and fish. Snorkelling is offered off many of the islands too. If the water doesn’t take your fancy, opt for a guided hiking tour instead over dried lava beds (pictured above) or into the highlands for vast vegetation. There’s plenty to do and see here that allows you to take in the beauty of the environment while creating limited human impact.
As the world’s largest green energy producer, Iceland’s commitment to environmental conservation cannot be denied. It sources its energy from hydro and geothermal resources to power 100 per cent of the country’s electricity and an incredible 85 per cent of all primary energy sources – and Iceland’s reliance on renewable resources will likely continue for many years to come. As such, Iceland proudly stands as a world leader in pollution control, with its admirable commitment to nature conservation and a cooperative government making Iceland an obvious and attractive eco-destination. Iceland has a small population density, pure water sources, eco-conscious citizens and tourism that serves to enhance rather than destroy the land, ensuring that this country is miles ahead when it comes to sustainability.
Visit the world famous Blue Lagoon (pictured above), a natural geothermal spa about an hour outside Reykjavik, for the ultimate relaxation experience or dare to join Icelandic mountain guides for ice climbing. Take a horseback ride through the countryside, and don’t forget to admire the lusciously long and thick manes on the Icelandic ponies. While you’re out and about enjoying the outdoors, head off on a mountain trekking experience to try and spot the elusive arctic fox or a herd of reindeer, or head toward the shore for whale watching. If you’d rather ride than walk, local guides also offer snowmobile trips around Iceland’s glaciers and uninhabited natural interior country landscapes. If the temperature doesn’t scare you, go for a dive in the crystal clear Thingvallavatn lake to sneak a unique peek at the earth’s crust below, namely the mid-Atlantic ridge underwater mountain range. And of course, you’d be remiss to miss out on views of the Northern Lights, so be sure to keep your eyes to the sky on clear nights.