Latest Ecotourism Travel Destinations for 2013

Our “Sustainable Travel“ series is sponsored by Global Basecamps.  Global Basecamps is specialty travel company that helps independent travelers research and book locally owned boutique hotels, off-the-beaten path lodges and multi-day excursions all over the world. Whether hiking the Inca Trail, experiencing a traditional Japanese Ryokan, or relaxing on the beaches of Thailand, Global Basecamps specializes in designing completely customized itineraries to meet each travelers specific priorities and match their travel style.

With each passing year, the sector of travel dubbed “ecotourism” continues to grow. Due in part to more and more travelers focus on protecting the environment and minimally disturbing indigenous lands and people during their visit, ecotourism has taken off as a way to travel and do the least harm possible.

The main tenets of ecotourism include reducing impact on the land, educating the traveler on conservation, using revenue to protect natural areas, providing for sustainable growth in tourism, and giving back to local people. But can travel and land conservation really go hand in hand?

In 2013, more countries – in particular, parks and lodges located within those countries – are trying to prove it is possible to increase tourism while protecting the land and the people who inhabit it. Here are seven hot spots to check out this year when it comes to ecotourism destinations, and you can judge for yourself if they are getting the job done.

1) Kenya

Hoping for custom

Filled with animal sanctuaries and natural reserves, Kenya serves as an example of the original ecotourist destination. Kenya is even home to the 2013 Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference, which will be held in September of this year.

Though it’s known for its safaris and wildlife sightings, there is another part of Kenya that is worth checking out if you are into white, sandy beaches and water-based activities.

Actually an island located just off the coast, Mombasa – Kenya’s second largest city – offers bike tours, wind-powered boats excursions, and plenty of nature trails in and around the city. But you can still fit in a much-loved safari with tour companies that focus on wildlife preservation and minimal environmental impacts.

The Kiwanjani Eco-lodge is located only a two-hour drive from Mombasa, and is bulit from local, traditional materials, and only offers accomodations for up to 12 guests at a time.

Some parts of Kenya are currently under dispute, as the Samburu people were evicted from their land near Mt. Kenya when two US-based NGOs bought the land and gifted it to the Kenyan government in order to create a national park.

Find a flight to Kenya and read Kenya for the Indie Traveler

2) Costa Rica


Though Costa Rica may be sited as one of the first ecotourist destinations in the world, there is some debate as to whether the large amount of tourists that visit the rainforests of this West Virginia-sized country, and some of the ecological practices that go along with this large number, can truly lead to long-term sustainability.

But some reserves and hotels are taking their own steps to make visiting the area a more sustainable proposition.

The Samasati Nature Preserve, located near the village of Puerto Viejo, was constructed without the use of heavy machinery or clear-cutting the trees, employs only local people, and gives money back to the local community. One of the types of wood used to construct its buildings came from trees that had already fallen naturally. A large reservoir tank sits on the land to collect rainwater, which is used for the bathrooms and showers. They also only use “chemical-free” fruits and vegetables for guest meals.

Another option is Almonds and Coral hotel, which was awarded the highest level of ecocertification given. This probably has to do with the fact that is was built entirely with environmentally safe materials, with all of the buildings on stilts to lessen the impact on the rainforest that surrounds the hotel.

They also use only biodegradable shampoos, conditioners, and soaps throughout the hotel, and no chemical fertilizers on the hotel grounds. They have a custom sewage treatment system with strict controls over the residual water. Along with developing their own trash collection process, which includes reusing, recycling, and composting, the hotel set up a garbage collection system for the community – which previously had none – when they opened in 1993.

Find a flight to Costa Rica and read The Happiest Places on the Planet

3) Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands - Day 1

In some ways the Galapagos Islands can be looked at as the best example of ecotourism. This pristine area has long employed strict rules on development and the amount of visitors each year. Much of the national park does not allow tourists to visit. Don’t even contemplate taking something from the islands upon your departure.

Unfortunately, even with all this focus on protecting the land, the Galapagos Islands faced a large oil spill in 2002 from fuel that was meant to sustain locals and tourist boats, and much of the marine wildlife was affected. The population has also grown tremendously in order to sustain tourism. So what is this UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve doing to protect the land? High fees are a part of visiting the preserve, and you are only allowed to go there with certified guides and only to specific areas.

Before going, be sure to research the most sustainable, small ships that travel to the islands so that minimal pollution impacts this uniquely clean land mass and ocean. It’s also worth looking into walking and trekking tours that start at hotels located on the islands, many of which abide by “leave no trace” standards.

Read Finally, a Galapagos Trip You Can Afford (14 Days, 3 People, $5000USD)

4) Cambodia


About 3.5 million tourists visited Cambodia in 2012 thanks in part to its current political stability, ease of obtaining visas, and expanded direct flights into the country. Although known more often for its temples, many years of war, and Angelina Jolie’s humanitarian work, Cambodia has begun touting ecotourism with its “Green and Clean” slogan.

One good example of Cambodia’s move into ecotourism is their Community-Based Ecotourism Network, which offers up a plethora of options for the eco-minded tourist. Offerings such as bike tours and canoes save on pollution, while homestays with locals provide an opportunity to get to know Cambodian life as it is truly lived. As part of a homestay, you can participate in rice flattening with the local women, or learn about the music of the village. You also often have the option to go fishing, learn bee-keeping, and weaving.

There are also plenty of options when it comes to eco-hotels and lodges, such as the Rainbow Lodge in the village of Tatai, east of Koh Kong town. Relying on solar power for electricity, local foods for meals, and even the sand used in the construction of the lodge being sourced locally, Rainbow Lodge focuses on being as green as possible, while also giving back to the community.

If you are interested in taking your accommodations up a notch, check out 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, where your room is located on the water and is crafted from environmentally-friendly materials.

Check out our Cambodia Indie Travel Guide and Cambodia on $25 Per Day

5) Dubai


Unlike most of the other spots on this list, Dubai is very new to the world of ecotourism, and not necessarily one that would jump to mind. Due in part to the degradation of the wildlife because of the massive influx of tourists over the last ten years, Dubai has set out “Strategic Plan 2015” to promote sustainable economic development in the region, including ecotourism.

With the prevalence of snorkeling and scuba diving in the area, the government has begun the somewhat daunting task of restoring fragile reefs even as these activities continue. If you are into underwater adventure, be sure to be on the look-out for dugongs, also known as sea cows.

If you want to get to know the culture beyond the regular tourist offerings, check out a Bedouin Village just outside Dubai, which showcases nomadic life before development. Mud-brick houses, traditional mosques, and traditional markets line the streets, and many of these tours offer camel rides through the village. If you are into history, don’t forget to visit the ancient fortress of Hatta, or one of the other historic sites that tourist money helps to preserve.

Check out the Dubai Indie Travel Guide and find a flight to Dubai

6) Tanzania


Tanzania has plenty to boast about, ranging from Mt. Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti. What some people don’t realize is that Tanzania is where Jane Goodall conducted her chimpanzee studies, and her Institute continues to promote conservation for both chimpanzees and biodiversity in Gombe National Park.

If you are interested in something other than the traditional safari, check out the Multi-Environmental Society, which offers trips around Karatu and the Rift Valley regions. These trips are led by experienced guides who not only have an in-depth understanding of indigenous wildlife, but also work to minimize the environmental impacts of travel tours. They also distribute surplus income to local residents. Rates are affordable, starting at around $40 per day, which includes meals, sightseeing, and admission.

If you are looking for eco-hotels, your best bet will be on or just off of Zanzibar, such as the Chumbe Island Coral Park reserve in Chumbe Island, which includes a protected coral reef and forest reserve with endangered animals. The lodge located there offers solar-heated water, composting toilets, and greywater filtration. The reserve was recognized by the UN Secretary General just last year for its work on sustainability development.

Also worth checking out is Pemba Lodge, which is located on the Shamiani Island off Pemba, about 50km off the Tanzanian coast. There, you can experience rainwater showers, solar-powered lighting, large beds with mosquito nets, all with being the only lodge on the island.

Catch a flight to Tanzania and read Trek Around the World

7) Tasmania


A whopping 20% of Tasmania – that small island off the coast of southern Australia – is listed as a World Heritage area. For Tasmania’s size, it boasts pretty much everything a traveler could be looking for: mountains, beaches, rainforests, caves, lakes, and national parks.

The Tahune AirWalk will make your stomach drop as you witness lush trees and rushing waters below this jutting bridge. Experience a different type of chill when you visit Port Arthur, where many convicts were shipped from England. Or take a soak in the warm springs pool at the Hastings Caves State Reserve.

Since most of Tasmania’s residents live in and around the capital city of Hobart, much of the rest of the island is vast wilderness and beaches. One option for eco-lodging is Freycinet Eco Retreat, located near Coles Bay. Accommodations range from a luxury eco-lodge with electric blankets, fully equipped kitchens, large decks, and DVD systems with surround sound to simple camp sites.

Another option is Forest Walks Lodge in Jackeys Marsh, where you can enjoy “bushwalking”, flyfishing, and plenty of the local food while staying in an environmentally-designed building.

Read Endless Summer: Chasing Beach Season Around the World

If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that Global Basecamps is on the forefront of eco-tourism to the world’s most popular destinations, and then some! There is no greater introduction to Tanzania than a cultural safari, including camping in the Serengeti and a meeting with the Maasai tribesmen. Our Galapagos small boat cruises are picked by our travel specialists for their environmental friendliness. The destinations continue from Africa, to Asia and all across South America. Begin planning your custom trip today!

Photo credits: mckaysavageAndrew Morrell PhotographyGen DeeCIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture, jagermeshpocketvillageJulie Edgley

Filed under: Eco Travel, featured