In order to keep our planet liveable, we need to embrace responsible and eco-friendly practices in all aspects of life. And that includes travel! Visiting sustainable tourism destinations is a great way to foster more responsible travel habits.
Because, of course, no one wants to stop taking traveling. Vacations are an integral part of a good work-life balance and vital to our mental health. Cultural exchange is incredibly important for fostering empathy and equality. Tourism is a huge economic driver for many people around the world. And nothing makes you want to protect our planet more than seeing all its beauty up close.
Thankfully, the travel industry is embracing sustainable and responsible tourism practices. From ecotourism holidays to flight free vacations, community based tourism and off the beaten path tours. Being a better traveler is becoming easier than ever.
And after decades of exploitative and polluting mass tourism, many destinations are embracing sustainable tourism practices and policies. Part of being a green traveler is picking the right destinations. By visiting places with robust sustainable tourism policies, we can be sure that our money is well spend. A great vacation should not only benefit you, but also the local community, and the planet as a whole!
To help you plan your next vacation, I’ve enlisted the help of fellow travel bloggers to crowdsource a diverse list op top sustainable tourism destinations for 2023. These places are all putting in effort to keep money in the local economy, protect local nature and wildlife, and protect local culture. Whether you are looking for a tropical getaway or a snowy adventure, an exciting city break or secluded nature, there is a sustainable tourism destination for you.
Sao Tomé and Principe
The island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe is a real trailblazer when it comes to sustainability and eco-friendly development. One of the smallest countries in the world, São Tomé sits in the Gulf of Guinea in western Africa and is well and truly off the beaten tourist trail. The remote location means that the islands have avoided the over-development and mass tourism that so many other destinations face across the world.
Many hotels in Sao Tome and Principe have sustainability at heart, using locally sourced materials for building and focusing on plastic recycling to protect the pristine environment. Some establishments take it even further by running their own organic farms and producing everything from soap to muesli on site. Very little is imported. As a visitor to the islands, you’ll get a real flavour of Sao Tomean culture through the food, most of which is produced locally, from the sea and the forests.
Tourist activities are sustainable too, focusing on nature hikes through virgin rainforests and snorkeling in secluded bays, often using local boats to get around. Bird watching in Obo National Park is a real highlight, and you can visit traditional fishing villages where the locals are happy to chat about their way of life.
By Heather from Conversant Traveler
Iceland is best known for its jaw-dropping landscape, from erupting volcanoes to glacier lagoons. But it also happens to be one of the most sustainable countries in Europe, due to its use of geothermal power and its byproducts. For example, the Blue Lagoon, the Instagram-famous hot spring with milky blue water, is actually run-off from a nearby geothermal power plant. Similarly, geothermal energy is piped into greenhouses, so produce like tomatoes and cucumbers can be locally grown throughout the year. You can experience this at Fridheimar, a tomato-themed restaurant in a greenhouse, where you can experience unique twists on Icelandic classics (think, a shot of Icelandic birch schnapps out of a hollowed out tomato, grown onsite).
While this small island country has taken many steps towards sustainability, its stunning landscape may be in danger of being loved to death by tourists, many of whom do not follow the Leave No Trace principles or create unsafe or damaging situations for others during their visits. For example, Reynisfjara, the most famous black sand beach in Iceland, is in danger of being closed, due to people not heeding warnings about dangerous waves and winding up injured- or worse.
To combat this, the country has instituted the “Icelandic pledge”, a list of guidelines that travelers should follow to preserve the natural beauty here, which range from not wild camping where it’s not allowed to not taking selfies in dangerous spots. While you’re here, exploring all of Iceland’s beauty, be sure to follow these guidelines so that other visitors may keep enjoying this otherworldly landscape for years to come.
By Jessica from Uprooted Traveler
Cairns, in the tropical North-East of Australia, is an eco-adventurers paradise. There are so many sustainable tourism options here, so you will need to stay awhile to experience everything.
Home to two World Heritage Listed icons – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, you have the choice of both land and water excursions and will meet an abundance of unique flora and fauna along the way. Local tourism operators are extremely conscious of their responsibility to protect the natural heritage of the area, and many run environmental stewardship programs. Cairns also has the highest concentration of eco-certified operators in Australia.
The Quicksilver Group who run several boat trips out to the reef are leading the way, ensuring the natural wonder is there for the generations to come. They are part of a reef health and monitoring project, as well as actively restoring and protecting the coral through planting and restoration. All their boats are carbon conscious, and they use solar power and greener energy.
If you are interested in the rainforest, then a visit to the Daintree Discovery Centre needs to be top of the list. The multi-award winning attraction is passionate about protecting the rainforest, and they have been bestowed with Advanced Eco-Tourism status for their design, education and practices.
Finally, to learn about the indigenous history of Cairns, the Mandingalbay hands on eco-tour will take you on a discovery of the Country. 100% indigenous owned and run, Mandingalbay are passionate about conservation of the land and the preservation of the history and culture of the Traditional Owners of the region.
By Bryony from Coasting Australia
Monteverde, Costa Rica
Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica has long been a popular destination for eco-conscious travelers. The small town is nestled among some of the most biodiverse and pristine forests in the world, and its native residents have gone to great lengths to preserve this natural beauty. In recent years, the town has made even greater strides in sustainable tourism, with new initiatives to reduce waste and protect the environment.
There are a number of eco-friendly accommodations available in Monteverde Cloud Forest. For example, Hotel Belmar is officially certified as carbon neutral by the Institute of Technical Standards of Costa Rica (INTECO). Many local restaurants have even started composting food waste or using organic farming methods.
Other than visiting one of the large forest preserves, one of the best ways to experience Monteverde Cloud Forest is through one of the many waterfall hikes in Monteverde. These activities are done with conservation in mind, and many involve planting trees or cleaning up local waterways.
Monteverde Cloud Forest is truly a magical place and sustainable tourism destination. From its stunning scenery to its commitment to sustainability, there’s nowhere else quite like it in the world.
By Brodi from Our Offbeat Life
For a tropical destination that has a big focus on sustainability, look no further than Fiji! Fiji has long understood how important environmental sustainability is, and they have many initiatives which makes it a must-visit for conscious travelers.
Both the Government and residents work hard to ensure they reach sustainability goals, protect Fiji’s coral reefs, and reduce plastic waste. Plus, there is also a Government initiative to plant 1 million trees in Fiji this year to offset climate change! One of Fiji’s social initiatives is Vinaka Fiji – a volunteering organization that creates sustainable communities in under-developed Fijian villages.
For a socially responsible day-trip, head to the idyllic Tivua Island, where you can plant coral with their Marine Biologist!
If you want to stay at eco-friendly accommodation – check out Uprising Beach Resort and Leleuvia Island Resort. Uprising is 100% carbon-neutral, achieved by planting mangroves to offset their daily emissions. So far they have planted over 10,000 mangroves!
Leleuvia is also eco-friendly with its coral planting initiatives and how they only allow reef safe sunscreens on the island. Many people are unaware that most sunscreens contain chemicals that damage coral, so Leleuvia aims to raise awareness on this.
By Catrina from 24 Hours Layover
Losinj Island, Croatia
Tucked away on a small island in the Adriatic, just off the north coast, you’ll find an absolute hidden gem in Croatia.
The island of Lošinj often gets overlooked in favor of Croatia’s much more visited destinations such as Dubrovnik. However, if you’re looking for a sustainable tourism destination somewhere off the beaten track, you can’t go wrong here.
Losinj is affectionately known as the island of vitality, thanks to the abundance of natural and fragrant plants that grow here. The air is filled with the scents of pine, sage, mint and lavender.
The island of Losinj is part of a scheme called Natura 2000. This is an initiative set up by the European Union, which has a listed network of protected areas with a focus on protecting their ecosystems and habitats on both the land and sea.
Eco-conscious tourists can enjoy things like vitality hikes, cycling, and paddleboarding as well as the sensory garden, filled with hundreds of plants that hold medicinal properties.
You can also go out dolphin watching. The Blue World Marine Research and Conservation Centre is located in the photogenic town of Veli Lošij. They take care of the welfare of the 200 bottlenose dolphins that reside in the waters surrounding the area and take groups out to observe them. There is strictly no touching, swimming or feeding the dolphins, instead, you enjoy them behaving naturally in their habitat.
By Becki from Meet Me In Departures
Santa Marta, Colombia
When on the lookout for sustainable travel destinations, you can’t miss out on the chance to visit Santa Marta in Colombia. Home to places such as Minca and Tayrona Park, which are popular ecotourism destinations. Indigenous communities live in the nearby mountain range.
For example, it is around the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range you can encounter the Wiwa, Arhuaco, Kogui, and Kankuamo peoples; who are different ethnic communities that all have a unique set of rules, laws, and codes for living and inhabiting the region.
Immersing yourself in the local culture here via eco tours is the norm. Excursions to archaeological sites such as La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) are a popular thing to do. All these attractions can be reached from the nearby port city of Santa Marta by way of public transport. Another must is a stay at Mundo Nuevo in Minca – an eco-lodge that offers its guests the chance to learn all about permaculture, coffee, and cocoa via its local ecological partners.
By Daniel from Layer Culture
Many come to this small country in the Balkan region of Europe to experience Albanian hospitality and visit the stunning beaches and mountains. Before setting off to experience the natural beauty, take time in the capital to visit some museums to learn about Albania’s complicated but interesting past.
What most don’t know is that Albania uses mostly renewable energy. 97% of the electricity for the country is renewable, coming from hydropower. Unfortunately, governmental policymaking isn’t at the forefront of sustainability in Albania. Instead, citizens, activists, and organizations take action to fill the gap – most recently saving the Vjosa River, one of the largest wild rivers in Europe (and the last of its kind).
Besides a few chain restaurants in the capital, restaurants are run locally, and often times family establishments. That means no Starbucks and no Mcdonald’s. When eating out, tourism revenue directly supports local families. It gives a small peek into Albanian cuisine when trying these traditional meals that have been passed down for generations. It is embedded into the culture that families grow their own food products. Most families have their own grapes to make wine and raki make their own olives, their own honey, etc. There are plenty of opportunities to observe these practices when visiting.
By Maria from Maptrekking
Are you looking for a sustainable destination to visit for your next trip? Look no further, because French Guiana is the perfect place for you!
This remote region of France has 96% of its surface covered by the Amazonian rainforest, which is protected from irresponsible and uncontrolled deforestation. It also hosts one of the richest ecosystems in the world.
Besides its ecosystem, what makes it a great destination for responsible travelers is its approach to tourism. In fact, there are no fancy hotels or resorts in French Guiana. Tourists here are more like the descendants of the ancient explorers. You take a hammock, and a machete, and you are off to explore the forest. It’s like going back in time and the experiences are really authentic.
Because of this unfiltered contact with nature, you can expect also some surprising encounters. Animals can hide easily in the Amazonian forest, but even so, you may always spot a rare animal or insect.
By Anita from Anity Beyond The Sea
Abu Dhabi is not the first place that comes to mind when considering sustainable tourism. However, there is a clear shift within the region to sustainability, not just in the tourism sector. The country is looking to become more future-proof and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. The country is currently also putting in a train line to neighboring countries to completely change the landscape of travel in the region.
A lot of money is being invested into research and development. One such project is Masdar City which is set to be the world’s first carbon-neutral city. Featuring eco residences, electric vehicles, sustainable power solutions, restaurants and so much more, it will be interesting to see the project evolve. Visiting eco projects like this is a great way to support the sustainable tourism efforts of Abu Dhabi.
Pura Eco Retreat is the top choice for sustainable travelers visiting the capital city. Based within a protected natural habitat of a Mangroves Park on Jubail Island is the incredible glamping paradise. The dome shaped tents are beautifully decorated with sustainable and recycled products. Serving food for all diets including vegan and vegetarian dishes from a converted shipping container, the menu is kept small to avoid food wastage. There are plenty of activities available on site. It is the ultimate Abu Dhabi glamping experience on the beach.
One of the best things to do is kayak through the local mangroves with a guide and learn how the park is protecting Abu Dhabi’s coastline. It is a haven for birds and marine life.
The local cuisine is typically Middle Eastern, and it is quite easy to eat vegan whilst exploring local cuisine. Head to a ripe market in Umm Al Emarat Park on the weekend and speak to the farmers trying to revolutionize agricultural methods in a bid to reduce imported food.
By Karen from Secret Abu Dhabi
Bernese Oberland, Switzerland
The Bernese Oberland is located in the canton of Bern in Switzerland. This area is well known for its unique natural beauty, but the alpine region has also been working on a sustainable future. Tourism is a major bread winner for the locals, and many are actively involved in the development of the area.
Most hotels are run by native families, and they have been investing in renewable technologies for their establishments. Some of these hotels and chalets are in Mürren and Wengen, two completely car-free villages, located some 300 to 400 meters above the Lauterbrunnen valley. One can only access these villages with a mountain train or a cable car.
Hikers to the region will notice that cows and other cattle wander alone around the mountains. While farmers tend to fertilize their lands in the valleys with animal manure, this hasn’t been done in the higher parts of the Oberland area. The results are lush and diverse mountain pastures and a healthy ecosystem for plants and insects.
The Jungfrau alps, which are in the Bernese Oberland, are a grant-aided UNESCO World Heritage Site and the authorities have been working hard on getting the Swisstainable badge, a Swiss sustainability program. These are just some of the first steps towards a greener future in the area!
By Paul from Paulmarina
Eco-tourism has been a part of Oaxaca for decades and today these initiatives are stronger than ever. While Oaxaca City is widely considered to be the cultural capital of Mexico, beyond the city Oaxaca is an eco-friendly paradise.
The Sierra Norte mountains are home to the unique initiative, Pueblos Mancomunados, a commonwealth of eight remote villages turned eco destination. This natural playground features over 100km of walking and biking trails connecting the villages. Eco-travelers can rent a cabin and enjoy adventure activities, volunteer opportunities and community projects like traditional medicine and support for artisan women. 90% of the tourism profits from this area go directly back into these communities.
And on the coast, Ocean lovers will fall for Oaxaca’s eco-diversity. The Bays of Huatulco have been designated a National Park which is home to over thousands of bird, butterfly, reptile, and marine species. Further along the coastline, Puerto Escondido is a nesting area for four species of sea turtles protected by the local communities to help improve the turtle population. One of the best things to do in Puerto Escondido is to visit one of the turtle research centres and sanctuaries to release baby turtles into the ocean after hatching.
Oaxaca is one of the least developed states in Mexico and sustainability is at the heart of their tourism industry, making it a perfect sustainable travel destination for 2023.
By Ashlea from She Roams About
Sapa, near the Vietnam-Chinese border, is a top sustainable travel destination in Vietnam. The Sapa in northwest Vietnam is a popular travel destination among nature lovers and cultural enthusiasts.
Sapa is home to Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam, and indigenous hill tribes in Vietnam. Breathtaking rice terraces, hills, and valleys make up the landscape of Sapa. Visiting Sapa hill tribes and learning about their cultures is one of the best culturally immersive experiences in Vietnam. There are several hill tribes in Sapa with their unique language, culture, and historical roots.
Ethical and sustainable travel with long-term benefits for local communities to preserve cultural heritage and nature in Sapa is crucial. The Sapa area, as a sustainable travel destination, offers many eco-friendly stays and socially responsible activities. Buying local handcrafts and local produce offered at the market in Sapa contributes to the economy of the unique community of Sapa!
Visitors to Sapa can stay in homestays with locals and learn about their culture. Culinary classes that teach about local cooking traditions are on offer as a part of a sustainable travel experience. Tourists can also stay in eco-friendly lodges, like the Topas sustainable resort. Topas Ecolodge employs local villagers, uses recyclable materials, and offers local produce on their menus. Besides that, the Topas ecolodge grows its vegetables and even raises chickens.
Sapa is a renowned trekking destination in Vietnam. Eco-conscious hikers, trekkers, and nature lovers love to trek with local guides. Hiking in the Sapa rice paddies is a once in a lifetime experience.
So, if you are a conscious traveler who likes to support local communities and travel sustainably, let Sapa in beautiful Vietnam be your next destination.
By Milijana from World Travel Connector
A wild and adventurous road trip through Alaska is a nature and outdoor lover’s dream. Alaska is home to the world’s largest brown bears, some of the world’s most productive wild salmon runs, and one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet. But Alaska is also the second-largest oil producer after Texas. The impacts of drilling near national parks and wilderness areas are many, ranging from the destruction of wildlife habitat to air and water pollution.
For this reason, Alaska has enacted a number of special environmental laws to protect its greatest asset and develop sustainable tourism.
To counteract the damage caused by the oil industry, Alaska is developing renewable energy. Thousands of people living off the grid have moved away from diesel generators and are using wind turbines. As a sustainable means of transport, the Alaska Railroad is the best idea. It connects Alaska’s most exciting places, from Fairbanks to the Kenai Peninsula, and offers great travel packages. Breathtaking views are included in the ticket price.
One of the biggest differences between Alaska and the rest of the US is the level of control Native indigenous communities have over the land that surrounds them. Alaska Natives (who make up about 15 percent of Alaska’s 730,000 residents) live on their traditional lands, not on reservations. Alaska has established native businesses that people must work with when planning a trip, for example, to go polar bear watching or fishing. Many businesses have been set up by Alaskans to provide an authentic experience. It is a good idea to visit the Alaska Native Heritage Centre in Anchorage to learn more about indigenous communities and heritage preservation.
When buying local goods, look for the following symbols: “Made in Alaska” for products handcrafted in Alaska, “Silver Hand Program” to identify the work of Alaska Native artists, and “Alaska Grown” to support the state’s agricultural industry.
Since 2009, Alaska businesses have also been certified by the Adventure Green Alaska (AGA) Certification Programme, which offers travelers an environmentally friendly choice of sustainable tours and accommodations. Depending on what activities you prefer, choose Alaska Rivers Company for fishing and glacier watching, Alaska Sea Kayakers for kayaking adventures in Prince William Sound, or Alaska Wildland Adventures for bear and whale watching. In addition, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has established a code of ethics for those who observe wildlife in their natural environment.
A perfect idea is to stay at the Orca Island Cabins in Seward or the Alyeska Resort, which is surrounded by the Chugach Mountains. If you want to hike in Denali, choose Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. All are environmentally friendly.
By Agnes from The Van Escape
Lake District, UK
The preservation of local customs and protection of the stunning landscape are very important in the Lake District. Their efforts make it one of the most sustainable tourism destinations in the UK. This UNESCO World Heritage Site constantly improves public transport links and creates new trails for walks and cycling to reduce carbon emissions by its visitors.
Travelers in Lake District can stay in eco-friendly accommodations such as YHA Borrowdale or Ambleside Salutation Hotel. Additionally, the Lake District urges its guests to use less plastic. The fill up your water bottle program attracted a lot of nearby businesses. So, if you will see the “Fill Up” label, you will be able to get free refills of your eco-friendly water bottle.
To find out more about how to travel responsibly in the Lake District, you can join one of their Facebook groups, such as Plastic Free Cumbria. Exploring this picturesque countryside, but also learning how to help out the community while you’re there, is a great way to support sustainable tourism.
By Paulina from UK Every Day
As you can see, there are plenty of options for conscious travelers who want to plan a sustainable trip. Each of the sustainable tourism destinations listed here are taking steps to protect the environment and local culture. By traveling here, you can support their efforts and enjoy a guilt-free vacation. Let’s make the world a better place by doing the thing we love the most: travel.
I would like to thank all the travel bloggers who helped me put this list together for their contributions. Be sure to check out their blogs and follow them on social media.
What sustainable tourism destination should I add to next year’s list? Tell me all about it in the comments.
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