Tired of the concrete jungle? More travellers are choosing eco-tourism for a breath of fresh air. While we enjoy the best of what Mother Nature has to offer, we can also do our part for the planet, spreading awareness about the conservation of natural resources or giving back to local communities while we travel. Ahead, we’ve rounded up five of the most underrated eco-friendly destinations that are worth checking out.
Costa Rica stands as the poster child for eco-tourism, with 12 different ecosystems from verdant tropical rainforests to colourful coral reefs and almost 6% of the world’s flora and fauna. With a well-connected system of national parks and protected areas, Costa Rica is a haven for travellers looking to immerse themselves in nature.
Visit these places in Costa Rica for an ethical and awe-inspiring adventure:
- Camino de Costa Rica
- Cocos Island National Park
- Tortuguero Village
Costa Rica plays its part to protect its plentiful biodiversity as well, devoting almost 26% of its land to national parks, wildlife reserves and protected lands. The “Bandera Azul Ecológica” (Ecological Blue Flag) Program and Voluntary Certification Program launched by the Costa Rica Tourism Board also encourages the local tourism industry to be environmentally conscious through its publicised evaluations of businesses’ eco-friendly ratings. Additionally, the 280 km Camino de Costa Rica is a world-class hiking trail established to promote sustainable tourism by bringing tourism dollars to the rural areas of Costa Rica.
The stunning island paradise of Palau captivates visitors with numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Jellyfish Lake, Thousand Man Cave, and Rock Islands. Nicknamed the ‘underwater Serengeti’, Palau’s dive sites are world-class, with World War II wrecks and waters teeming with marine life.
The small archipelago of Palau packs a big punch with these natural wonders:
- Rock Islands Southern Lagoon
- Jellyfish Lake
- German Channel
As the first nation in the world to change its immigration laws for environmental protection, Palau takes the protection of their natural wonders seriously. Under the Palau Pledge, visitors must sign a pledge upon entry to explore the country in culturally responsible and environmentally consicous ways.
Palau also offers a world-first initiative of “gamifying” responsible tourism with its Ol’au Palau program, whereby travellers will be offered exclusive experiences based on how they treat the environment and culture, such as by using reef-safe sunscreen and eating local sustainably sourced foods.
Nestled amidst the vast expanse of the Pacific ocean, these mystical and isolated volcanic islands famously inspired Charles Darwin’s studies in natural evolution. Home to the famous endangered giant tortoises, these islands boast a breathtaking array of endemic species. You don’t need a degree in evolutionary biology to marvel at this rare virgin sanctuary, where humanity’s touch remains scarce.
Step into this untouched paradise of the Galápagos Islands, where nature’s wonders reign supreme:
- León Dormido
- El Chato Tortoise Reserve
- Charles Darwin Research Station
As part of Ecuador’s Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve, these islands are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Apart from various conservation efforts conducted by the Galápagos National Park Service, strict legislation and management of the tourism industry have helped keep one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world intact and sustainable.
On the edge of the Himalayas, the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan enchants visitors with serene monasteries, formidable fortresses, and dramatic landscapes. From lush subtropical plains to vertigo-inducing mountains and valleys, this Buddhist kingdom offers a picturesque tapestry where nature’s grandeur and spiritual enlightenment intertwine.
Visit these places shrouded in mystery and magic in Bhutan:
- Trans-Bhutan Trail
- Punakha Dzong
- Changangkha Lhakhang
Besides an extensive network of Protected Areas, Bhutan implements strict protocols to preserve its scenic natural beauty and ancient Buddhist culture. This includes mandatory visas which help to prevent a mass influx of tourists from ‘taking over’ the small country with a population of only 300,000. Additionally, tourists have to pay the expensive Sustainable Development Tax at $200 per night, which will help fund conservation efforts and the local economy.
Also called the Hawaii of the Mid-Atlantic, this hidden gem beckons thrill-seekers with its unparalleled offerings: from heart-pounding whale encounters, to soaring through the skies with paragliders. It’s not just adrenaline that awaits – the Azores’ volcanic heritage has created surreal landscapes with bubbling mud pots, mystical caverns, and kaleidoscopic crater lakes.
Visit these fairytale-like locations in the Azores:
- Mount Pico
- Angra do Heroismo
- Sete Cidades
As the world’s first island archipelago to be certified under the EarthCheck Sustainable Destination Program, the Azores holds itself to a high standard in actively protecting and preserving its natural gems. Efforts include restricting the level of urban development, utilising local geothermal energy and extensive conservation efforts in its UNESCO World Heritage Reserves, funded by tourism.