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Ecotourism: Everything you need to know to be a responsible eco-tourist

While travel lets you see the world, it also has a significant effect on the environment. From the high carbon dioxide outputs of short-haul flights to wasteful single-use plastic containers, your travel habits might be having more of a negative impact than you think. Enter ecotourism. 

Below we'll discuss everything about ecotourism as well as how you can be an effective eco tourist and travel responsibly and sustainably more generally. Browse our latest eco-friendly deals below for holidays that will help reduce your carbon footprintlimit your waste, and give back to local communities while you travel. Or dive in to our guide on everything you need to know about ecotourism and eco travel. 

What is ecotourism?

Ecotourism is a form of tourism that goes against the grain of typical travel. Ecotourists travel to natural environments that are not typical tourist hotspots and hope to have a positive impact on that environment - even supporting conservation efforts during the stay - and the local community.

The focus is on being responsible and sustainable, so ecotourism is usually offered on a small scale so that the travel impact is low. Ecotourism is a little different than just an eco-friendly holiday in that it actively contributes to sustaining and supporting a natural environment. Ecotourism holidays involve:

  • Travel to unspoiled environments where travellers can learn about and help with conservation efforts.

  • A focus on sustainability and raising environmental awareness. The funds raised from responsible travel go towards operating the low-impact facilities that tourists stay at, as well as conservation and the local people.

  • For the travellers - or green tourists - the goals are education and connecting with the local ecosystem.

How can I travel more responsibly?

Traveling responsibly goes hand in hand with ecotourism. The key is to think in terms of being as sustainable and green as possible and also traveling in a way that will benefit your destination. If an ecotourism trip is not for you just yet, here are some tips to be a more responsible tourist.

1. Do your homework and respect the locals: If you’re traveling far away from home, local cultures and customs are probably much different to what you’re used to. Do some research and make sure you’re aware of any faux pas, especially related to dress or hand gestures. This also applies to keeping things local in terms of what you eat and where you shop. More on this below.

2. Volunteer at a local project: If you really want to give something back to the local community, industry or environment, consider volunteering. You can find lists for NGOs and initiatives throughout the world and most will be happy for the help. From working on a farm to helping build infrastructure for small local communities, this is about the most fulfilling travel experience possible.

3. Stay in an eco friendly hotel or resort: Simply staying in a green accommodation project is a great step. There are loads across the whole world, whether you’re on a city break or in the rainforests of Costa Rica. They are also some of the most interesting places to stay. From luxury glamping experiences and treehouse cabins to glass igloos and entire eco-friendly resorts, you don’t have to sacrifice comfort to be responsible.

The 6 best eco-friendly travel tips

Want to be a more eco-friendly tourist but unsure where to start? We've collected our favourite tips for greener travel, from bringing your own reusable containers to off-setting your carbon dioxide output through charitable donations. No matter where your environmental passion lies—climate change, deforestation, threatened coral reefs—there are easy steps you can take to reducing your impact and traveling responsibly.

1. Be considerate of the flora and fauna

Eco-friendly habits aren’t just for city trips: your presence has an impact on your surroundings on nature trips and holidays to the beach as well. Besides the more obvious—leave no trace, pick up trash you find on the trail, don’t feed the animals—several conservation groups are asking snap-happy Instagrammers to stop geotagging their photos. Geotagging can lead to an upswing in visitors to a specific spot, which is particularly dangerous if it's more “off the beaten path”. Large numbers of visitors on these paths can lead to trail degradation and increased litter in the area, which park rangers may not have the resources to counteract.

Heading to the coast? While choosing a sun cream to protect your skin at the beach, protect the coral reefs as well by opting for a sun cream that’s oxybenzone- and octinoxate-free. These chemicals, found in many sun creams, can cause damage to coral reefs.

2. Be transport-savvy

It’s hard to book a holiday with zero carbon emissions (unless a local hiking trip is up your alley), but there are some things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint as you travel from point A to point B. As a general rule for short-haul trips, traveling by bus or train is usually your greenest option. The worst choices are planes and cars, particularly when the car only has 1 occupant.

For long-haul travel, taking a plane may be your best option, but you should try to take a direct flight when you can—the biggest emissions for flights are on take-off and landing, so flight patterns with layovers boost your carbon output significantly. If you're resolving to cut down on flights this year, try taking multiple mini breaks to destinations reachable by bus or train instead of choosing long-haul travel spots.

Once you’re at your destination, make fuel-efficient choices. Opt for public transport, rental bikes, or just walking from place to place when you can, instead of going for an Uber or a taxi every time you need to go a few blocks.

3. Unplug and turn off

Waste not, want not. Before you leave for a trip be sure to switch off all lights and unplug everything in your home that could be sapping “phantom” electricity. Unplugging things like laptop chargers or game consoles before your holiday can conserve energy while saving you money on your electric bill! Unplugging doesn’t just apply to your pre-trip routine: before you head out for a day of sightseeing on a city trip or relaxing on the beach, be sure to turn off the lights and unplug chargers in your accommodation as well.

4. Pack smart

To avoid stacking up single-use plastics, bring your own refillable containers for shampoo, lotion, and other toiletries from home and say no to wasteful hotel plastics. Take it to the next level by packing a reusable container, set of utensils and portable mug as well- that way you can get your morning coffee or afternoon snack to go without creating unnecessary waste. This tip is especially good for budget travellers - hit up the local farmer’s market or grocery and pack your own lunch before you head out each morning to save money. Don’t feel like toting your Tupperware? Resolve to eat in instead of taking away when you can.

5. Keep it local

Tourism is often a major strain on an area’s infrastructure, which can negatively affect its residents. Do your part by shopping and staying at locally-owned businesses.

For example, you can ditch the big supermarkets to do your shopping at farmer’s markets offering locally-sourced produce and stay at locally-owned bed-and-breakfasts instead of hotel chains. Shopping at independent local shops is also a great way to get unique Christmas, birthday, or holiday gifts for friends and family. Not only are you contributing directly to the local community, but you are also reducing your carbon footprint by choosing products that come from nearby and don’t need to be shipped in from other places.

6. Offset your impact

No matter how hard you try, most trips will inevitably produce some kind of carbon dioxide output. If you want to give back, use an online carbon calculator to measure the carbon dioxide output of your trip. These sites will usually offer suggestions for projects you can donate to in order to offset your travel, such as reforestation or clean energy initiatives. Some airlines even offer this offset option as you book your tickets online!

If you want to start your New Year off right with better eco-friendly travel habits, this is a great place to start.

8 ecotourism destinations to visit in 2024

There are lots of eco friendly destinations for ecotourists. In fact, many countries have grown ecotourism to be a big industry. Responsible travel is now easier than ever thanks to this and many eco-friendly certified hotels are popping up throughout the world.

1. Costa Rica

A classic ecotourism destination. Much of the country is made up of rainforests but nature here is diverse. There are volcanos, picture-perfect beaches and exotic wildlife. Ecotourism has helped Costa Rica develop into a green tourism oasis and there have been many environmental and financial benefits. That means that there are also loads of activities within nature to take part in that do not impact the local ecosystems, so the fun never ends here.

2. Iceland

Iceland has started to see mass tourism in recent years thanks to its stunning natural beauty. As a response, a number of eco-friendly accommodation options have popped up and many tours are focused on being responsible, through traveling via bike or even hiking. Some of these accommodation options are just as unique as the landscape. For example, you can spend a night under the stars whilst laying in bed in a glass igloo resort like in the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort.

3. Kenya

Kenya is tough to beat when it comes to green travel to Africa. Poachers have already devastated many animal populations, but the ecotourism industry in Kenya is helping to protect wildlife. Responsible travellers will be aware of the safari tours possible here, but Kenya is another incredibly diverse country, with mountains and other landscapes to visit too. Thanks to its popularity, there are now a number of eco-friendly accommodation options available.

4. Antarctica

Green travel to Antarctica is easier than you might think. You can travel by boat to see icebergs and, if you’re lucky, whales and penguins. A number of operators offer trips with responsible travel as a mantra. Remember that it’s only possible to reach Antarctica in summer, so plan accordingly. With Antarctica showing the clear signs of the effects of global warming, a sustainable holiday to Antarctica takes on extra special meaning for many.

5. New Zealand

High up on most green tourists itinerary is New Zealand. There are endless green activities and sights here. From kayaking and hiking the rivers and national parks to whale and sea watching, New Zealand has endless wonders to be discovered. There are also some of the best eco-friendly accommodation options, such as luxury treehouse cabins. The wonder and beauty of New Zealand is no secret to travellers, but the number of ecotourism opportunities may surprise you.

6. Ecuador

With an incredibly diverse ecosystem, all the projects here are unique, and are integrated with the local communities and cultures, such as trips to stay with indigenous communities. No green trip to Ecuador would be complete without a visit to the famous Galapagos Islands and most operators have sustainable tourism certificates. Located practically on the equator and by the Pacific Ocean, you can visit Ecuador responsibly any time of the year.

7. Chile

Salt flats, Patagonia and the Andes are just a few of the main draws of a holiday to Chile and all of them can be done sustainably. Patagonia has perhaps the most established ecotourism initiatives, with riding on horseback or trekking through the national parks popular. Chile is established as an ecotourism destination and that means there are loads of sustainable accommodation options, including 5 star eco-luxury cabins, as well as endless activities.

8. UK

Ecotourism in the UK is still lagging a little but things have improved drastically in recent years. The organisation Wild Days has launched a programme of conservation holidays where volunteers can help with releasing animals back into the wild. Glamping is big here and many glamping parks have sustainability in mind. There are many national parks and areas of conservation, while The Green Tourism Business Scheme provides a great list of eco-friendly accommodations across the UK