top ecotourism destinations around the world

We've all got our bucket list vacation destinations - some of mine are Iceland, Santorini, French wine country, Amsterdam and Italy - but how many of those destinations are great ecotourism spots?

To be considered as an ecotourism destination, regions should minimize impact to the natural environment; build environmental and cultural awareness and respect; provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts; provide direct financial benefits for conservation; provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people; and raise sensitivity to the host country's political, environmental and social climate. Natural, outdoors and educational!

There's no one definitive list of the top ecotourism destinations in the world, but there are some that tend to find a spot on many lists! And ecotourism doesn't have to mean sacrificing a great vacation - they can be the best vacations!

Costa Rica is possibly the most well-known eco destination, and for good reason. They are working to become a carbon-neutral country by 2021. Misty cloud forests, black sand beaches, thick rain forests and rushing river rapids provide many outdoor activities for active travelers and nature enthusiasts. A dazzling array of creatures, including monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, jaguars, sea turtles and poison dart frogs, live in Costa Rica's many national parks. Go surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, zip lining, biking, among many other things. Stay in eco-friendly hotels. Take tons of pictures and make your friends and family jealous!

In South America, the Peruvian Amazon Conservation Adventure puts travelers in direct contact with several nonprofit groups in the Tambopata Ecotourism Corridor in Peru. The Reserve was created in 1990 to help protect the forest and the wildlife living there from threats like deforestation and mining. Volunteers can work with wild animals at the Amazon Shelter, spend the night in a jungle platform eco-lodge and meet with local families who live and work in the Amazon. The journey ends with a trip to Machu Picchu and Cusco.

Heading to South Africa, you can take a walk on the wild side at the Siyafunda Bush experience in the Makalali Game Reserve! Participants in the Siyafunda experience spend a week or more in an eco-friendly tent camp in the wilderness, surrounded by lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and rhinos. Part of the experience includes bush survival and navigation skills to biodiversity conservation. Volunteers also get to assist in alien vegetation control, road maintenance and habitat rehabilitation.

Closer to home in the United States, visit natural Alaska, Half Moon Bay in California or Hawaii for unique natural and sustainable experiences. 

Stay in a Green Seal-certified hotel or lodge in California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington DC, Washington state, Wisconsin or Wyoming. Green Seal is a nonprofit organization dedicated to evaluating products and services on their sustainability and attention to green practices.

Other renowned ecotourism destinations include:
Madagascar Ecotours
Australia's Blue Mountains
The Himalayas

If you're an uber-adventurer, check out Mother Nature Network's list of overlooked ecotourism destinations.

If you're a dreamer, take a mental vacation to these seven extremely eco-friendly hotels around the world.

No matter where you visit, be an an environmentally responsible tourist. Don't litter, reduce your trash and recycle as much as possible, don't endanger your surroundings, and support local shops or artisans over national or international chains. Immerse and educate yourself in the local culture instead of being an ignorant tourist.

louisiana ecotourism destinations and activities

Vacations and traveling often end up involving extra natural resources and waste, from using extra fuel or using more disposable items…but it doesn't always have to! By following ecotourism principles, getaways can have a smaller impact on the environment.

Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." Ecotourism tends to give you a closer connection and appreciation to nature.

There are many popular ecotourism destinations around the world, but today I'll focus on what's closer to home - destinations in Louisiana!

Farmland in South Louisiana

Louisiana has about 20 national wildlife refuges and almost 20 state parks, giving visitors many opportunities to get closer to nature while staying close to home. These areas provide visitors with miles of hiking and biking trails and have lands for bird watching and exploring. Many areas have long canoe trails - and canoeing is a great eco-friendly form of transportation! Your arms are the only fuel you need!

Canoeing at Vermilionville

For nature lovers, the unique fauna and flora provide opportunity to enjoy Louisiana's unique (usually hot and sticky) environment. Go out for a swamp tour (take a tour of Cajun Country or Pearl River), go deep-sea charter fishing, fish along the inland waterways, or go bird watching.

Charter fishing trip in Cocodrie, LA

Another aspect of ecotourism is agri-tourism, where you can visit and take a tour of local food businesses or working farms. Louisiana is known for many crops, such as rice, sugarcane, cotton, soybeans and corn. And don't forget all the delicious seafood! Hot sauce may not be considered an actual crop, but it's certainly one of our finest local products!

The beauty of ecotourism is that it gives you a closer look at nature in the area, and you learn a bit of history in how our ancestors truly had to live off the land. Sometimes a trip out of civilization and into nature is just what you need to reset yourself.

As with any trip, ecotourism or not, it's important to remember the basic rules of environmentalism. You should make the smallest impact possible on nature. Bring reusable items, recycle what you can, DON'T LITTER (we all remember those photos of turtles getting stuck in six-pack rings, right?), and don't use more than what you need. If you're camping, make sure you leave your campground exactly as you found it.

It's also important to follow the laws wherever you are. For example, if you're fishing, you need the proper fishing license for where you are, and you must adhere to the fishing limits. Many areas in Louisiana are protected natural habitats, but even if they aren't, wouldn't you want to make sure the areas stay clean and natural for future visitors? Littering and trashing nature hurts everyone.

More Louisiana ecotourism resources:

What's your favorite ecotourism spot close to your hometown?

Green Travel | Oahu, Hawaii

Hawaii is known for its beaches, surf, scenic views and vacation spots, but it's also known for being very green. Because so many tourists visit every day of the year, there's a stronger sense of pride for keeping the island clean and beautiful.

I recently got to visit Oahu on vacation and appreciated the work the island does to stay green. There was a recycling bin next to every trashcan out in public.

There are charging stations for electric vehicles. 

EV charging station in Honolulu.

There are bike lanes everywhere, allowing you to ride to almost any part of the island. 

Bike rack in Kailua.

There's even a wind farm out on the North Shore (which seems to come with controversy, of course). 

North Shore wind farm

There are solar panels on at least half the homes that I saw, and I loved how common they are on homes across the island. Because imported energy costs so much, solar energy is a feasible solution for many homes. In 2011, the available tax credits for solar panels in Hawaii (35% state, 30% federal) were second only to tax credits in Louisiana (50%). It at least seems that more homes in Hawaii took advantage of the tax credits.

Solar panels on homes in Lanikai

Not to mention, all the fun activities are outdoors! We hiked mountain trails and waterfall trails, we swam, we snorkeled and we kayaked. While difficult in ocean waters (especially with my tired chicken arms) , kayaking was a great way to travel without using any kind of fuel. 

Hiking was probably one of my favorite things we did on the trip. Each hike was so different from the others, and each one offered its own amazing views. What I love is that hikes allow you to be part of a mostly uninterrupted nature. Of course people hike these trails every day, and some do have man-made structures, but for the most part, it's venturing into these amazing places that nature has created. Manoa Falls will probably always be one of the most gorgeous, surreal and green places I have ever visited. When the wind blew, the tall bamboo stalks would clap against each other and make this incredible sound.

Crouching Lion

Moku Nui off Lanikai

Bamboo forest along the Manoa Falls trail

Manoa Falls trail

Manoa Falls

Natural freshwater pool at Waimea Falls.

Even with the easy access to recycling bins everywhere, I still came across litter strewn about, and it seemed to aggravate me even more than usual. I'm sure most people only have a chance to visit Hawaii once, and to find trash in the most scenic places can put a damper on that exotic getaway feeling. There's no real way to know who's to blame...except for the lazy people. :)

This toy shovel handle literally washed up on the shore next to me at Hanauma Bay, and I picked it up and brought it to the nearest recycling bin. I am sure the fish and sea turtles that live in the bay are happy that this piece of plastic is no longer littering their home.

This was one of the pieces of litter I came across on the Makapu'u Point trail one morning. Not sure that food wrappers are a native island plant.

Most of the island was beautifully clean though. We made sure to bring and use our Klean Kanteens on the plane and on our hikes and beach excursions. One thing I can say about Hawaii is that you need to drink a lot of water! We spent almost all of our available daylight hours outside doing physical activities, and we had to stay hydrated to be able to keep up. There is NOTHING like taking a cold sip of water hours after you've poured it!

The Pearl Harbor memorial had this clearly marked sign at the entrance, and the recycling bins were plentiful.

One thing I learned is that the buildings at the Pearl Harbor museum are LEED-certified. They are naturally ventilated by incorporating trade winds, large roofs for shade and strategically placed landscaping and shade. They also use automatic lighting to save energy, conserve water and use natural sunlight.

Many residents like to pick up cans for recycling because of the redemption program. This guy was set on getting his five cents a can back from the local recycling company!

Hawaii was a surreal, incredible experience, plus it was wonderful to see sustainability in action! Most of the island takes pride in its beautiful landscape, and while conservation practices and alternative energy sources may be part necessity, it's also a great benchmark for other regions!

traveling and touristing sustainably

Whether you're spending a week at the beach, visiting a new city, or simply visiting far-away family, there are plenty of ways to make your trip greener.

I'll start by using one of my favorite green words to describe packing: EFFICIENCY. 
  • Instead of packing everything you own into a set of suitcases, pare it down and bring only what you'll need. Pack pieces that match more than one other piece so you can wear it more than once. Wrap jewelry in socks or scarves and pack those inside shoes, using that available space to cut down elsewhere. 
  • Bringing a smaller or lighter suitcase is not only easier on you, it's less of a weight load on your vehicle as well. Of course, that won't make a lick of difference on an airplane, but it at least might save you an overweight bag charge!
  • Pack a reusable water bottle to encourage yourself to drink more water and use less water bottles. Metal water bottles ARE allowed through the TSA checkpoint if they are empty. It's even better to leave the top off during screening to help go smoothly.
  • If you plan on shopping on your trip (and seriously, what female doesn't!?), stuff a reusable bag into your suitcase or purse to use as your shopping bag. It'll come in handy more than you realize. 
  • If you fly with only a carry-on suitcase (which I usually do!), you get to follow the TSA 3-1-1 rules for liquids. Instead of purchasing travel size toiletries, get a set of empty travel size bottles and refill them for each trip with your existing toiletries. 
  • For those of you going on beach trips, aka, everyone in South Louisiana who migrates over to the Gulf Coast at some point, you know how much stuff goes along with your suitcase. Skip the styrofoam coolers for your beer and food, and bring a regular one. Bring large containers of snacks and make your own snack bags instead of bringing the individually bagged versions. Use food storage containers instead of disposable zip-top bags. 
  • Once you're packed and before you leave, take a walk around your house to make sure unnecessary electronics are unplugged to avoid drawing power. Adjust your thermostat so it runs less, because there's no point to cool an empty home. Just set it to be cooled down when you're scheduled to arrive home. It's also extra important to unplug electronics that draw vampire power as a safety precaution as well.

  • Fuel efficiency is super important on vacation, since there are already enough other expenses. If you're going on a road trip in your own car, make sure your tires are inflated and everything is in proper working order. A smoothly running car is more efficient than one that needs work. It's also safer to travel farther in a car that doesn't need service.
  • If you have multiple cars traveling together, see how you can cut down on the number by carpooling. If there's extra space, maximize it! Plus, when you carpool, chances are, you'll get some gas money recouped.
  • On to flying. Of course, airplanes burn a metric crap-ton (scientific fact) of fuel. I'm not sure what kind of impact any carbon-neutral initiatives are having, but I don't imagine it would be very much. By packing more efficiently and having a lighter suitcase, however, you can reduce your personal load impact. While you're in the airport, you can also be less wasteful. Ask for drinks in your reusable bottle, and refuse a plastic bag at the newsstand. Chances are, you have some kind of bag with you already! I believe at least United has recycling collection onboard the plane, where they accept drink cans and newspapers in a separate bag for recycling instead of trash. Put your items in the recycling collection!
  • Nonstop flights are greener than multiple-layover flights because the majority of fuel is burned during landing and takeoff, but of course, sometimes that's just out of your control. Where you have the option, consider it.

A few eco-friendly gadgets can make your trip a whole lot easier! I've already hammered in the reusable shopping bag and water bottle, but to go further than that:
  • Look into getting a power bank for your cell phone or other battery-powered gadgets. It should charge through your computer's USB port, which doesn't add much electricity generation, if any. The power bank will come in tremendously handy while you're out exploring and your phone is draining quickly. Plug it into your phone, turn the bank on and throw everything back into your bag! A good power bank should be able to fully charge a smartphone without dying itself.
  • GoToobs are food-safe, BPA-free silicone squeezy toiletry bottles. Among the reusable travel size containers, these are more eco-friendly than simple cheap plastic.
  • If you're really set on reducing your waste, pack a set of reusable silverware (or rather, bambooware!) Bamboo is very sustainable and fast-growing, and these utensil sets are heat and stain resistant and won't absorb food flavors. They even come in a handy recycled bag!
  • I would suggest solar-powered chargers for electronics, but the few experiences I've had with solar powered chargers have not been very electric (waka waka!). Read your reviews before investing in solar-powered chargers. 
  • Need portable speakers? Use a cup! Lifehacker has a "DIY" speaker for an iPad (aka cut a hole in a cup), but for phones or iPods, you can simply use the cup both as a holder and a speaker.

Wherever you travel, don't forget your green habits at home! Take the effort to reduce, reuse and recycle.
  • Instead of requesting a fresh towel every day in your hotel, save your towel an extra day. Hotels that practice conservation (or at least put a little card in the room to make it look like they practice conservation, but that should probably be reserved for another post) will let you know where to place towels you want to keep and towels you want to exchange. The EPA acknowledges Green Seal and Green Leaf as reputable organizations that measure and rate the environmental initiatives in hotels.
  • Don't waste water or electricity. Yes, I know hotel air conditioning is like free air conditioning, but it's still pulling extra power from somewhere! You may not have to conserve as much as you would at home, but you should still conserve.
  • Recycle plastic bottles, glass bottles, cans, paper and plastic wherever there are recycling bins, especially as you're out exploring.
  • Respect the natural environment around you. Don't trample landscaping or leave litter everywhere. Don't feed the animals.
  • Look for eco-friendly transportation methods. Rent a hybrid vehicle (or a fuel-efficient compact if price is an important factor), take public transportation (and some large cities have eco-friendly public transportation!), rent bicycles or simply walk around if you can. 
  • If you packed a reusable water bottle and shopping bag, use them!
  • Learn about the green initiatives in your home-away-from-home. What do they do differently from your hometown? It can be interesting and inspiring to see how others practice environmentalism. 
  • Eat local foods! Not only do you get to experience the real culture of your destination, you can be greener knowing the food doesn't travel as far to get to you. One of my favorite vacation rules of thumb is "If I have the same restaurant in my hometown, I won't eat it on vacation."
Other sources for tips:

When you're on vacation, it doesn't mean you have an excuse to trash someone else's hometown. As Sweet Greens puts it, leave no trace! Leave a beautiful place for others to have as good a vacation as you!

a happy fourth of july

However you are spending this holiday, I hope that it's enjoyable, the food is delicious, the company is fun and the beer cans are recycled!

And please don't shoot anyone's eye out with fireworks! Safety first, y'all.

Those of you along the East Coast, crack open a beer and enjoy the hurricane party.



summertime and the livin is...sweaty

I'm not sure how we're already beginning the second half of 2014, and I'm not sure I like it yet, but I'll embrace it nonetheless! The summertime nights are filled with backyard frisbee, the humidity is out of control, vacation is coming up this month, and two of my favorite guys - my dad and brother - are celebrating birthdays!

This month on Eco Cajun, I'll be featuring green travel! Vacation season is in full swing, judging by my Facebook news feed, so it's a good time to share tips to make traveling greener. Whether you take the eco-friendly approach to packing or you visit an eco-friendly destination, you can still take care of the earth while you explore it!

What are you most excited for this July?
Back to Top