Imagine hiking through Kenya’s famous Maasai Mara National Reserve with local tribe members guiding you through their homeland. Or picture kayaking through the Galapagos Islands and watching sea turtles swim along while sea lions bask in the sun on the beach.
Trips like these are once-in-a-lifetime getaways, and traveling with a nod to ecotourism means visitors support conservation efforts and benefit local communities.
Ecotourism has its roots in the global environmental movements of the 1970s. Unlike simple “nature-based” tourism, ecotourism seeks to combine conservation, communities, and sustainable travel, according to the International Ecotourism Society, the world's oldest and largest international ecotourism association.
“Offering market-linked long-term solutions, ecotourism provides effective economic incentives for conserving and enhancing bio-cultural diversity and helps protect the natural and cultural heritage of our beautiful planet,” the group explains on its website.
When traveling with ecotourism in mind, it’s important that travelers seek out sustainable trips so their visits have a positive impact on the region. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council offers a few tips for travelers as they contemplate ecotourism, such as reading any written policies hotels have regarding their environmental impact, employment, and cultural policies.
Most eco-minded tourists will seek out local products and services, and the council says before making a purchase, ask where a product came from to avoid buying goods made out of threatened natural resources. It’s also common to bargain for a good price, but avoid being overly aggressive. The hotel where you’re staying can give you guidance.
“Remember that the purchases you make directly affect vendors’ livelihoods, so decide if you really need to hang on to that extra dollar or if it could impact the vendor more,” the council said.
Planning Your Eco-Tour
For travelers who want to do their own research and book their own trips, sites like Ethical Traveler review developing countries based on a host of criteria, including environmental protection, social and animal welfare, and human rights. A few countries on their 2016 “The World’s Ten Best Ethical Destinations” list include Cabo Verde, Dominica, Mongolia, and Tonga.
For people who would rather leave the planning to others, consider booking a trip through organizations that focus on conservation. This not only benefits the organization’s efforts, but travelers can also be more certain all aspects of the trip are handled by principled professionals who have experience in booking these trips.
For instance, the World Wildlife Federation partners with Natural Habitat Adventures to create a multitude of exotic-destination trips across the world. Ten-day trips to Africa start at around $6,000 per person, while a trip to the Galapagos Islands starts at around $5,800 per person.
Closer to home, the Nature Conservancy offers multi-day trips and tours in the U.S. for both camping or staying in guest lodges, such as Muleshoe Ranch in Arizona, which straddles the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts.
Ecotourism makes it easy to get away and do some good for the environment at the same time. That’s the kind of souvenir that we can all appreciate.
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