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How to Discover Guilt-free Eco Travel Havens

bocas del toro

Travel is a great way to experience other cultures and meet new people. When we learn about others, it brings us closer together and helps us become more selfless. However, travel also leaves a carbon footprint, not only by the transportation we use, but also in some of the things we do in the name of fun. Because of this, eco travel has become more prevalent in recent years.

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What is eco travel?

Eco travel involves traveling responsibly to natural areas, not leaving anything behind. Ecotourism and sustainable tourism help conserve the environment by using money from tourists to improve the local ecosystem. It also improves local communities by providing jobs, and using the natural local economy.

Tip: Following travel hacks will help you have more enjoyable experiences when traveling abroad.

Support local communities: Sao Tome and Principe

Principe, an eco travel destination

By Heather from Conversant Traveller

Sao Tome and Principe is one of the smallest nations in the world. This tiny island duo lies off the coast of west Africa. Its remote location has helped with the country’s eco credentials. Consequently, there’s no mass tourism or development here!

To protect the pristine island environment, many of the hotels in Sao Tome and Principe operate using sustainable practices. Therefore, they build with local resources, recycle plastics and cardboard, and make their own organic products like soap and muesli. They sustainably source their food too, with lots of line caught fish and fresh fruit on the menu.

Nature lies at the heart of most tourism operations, and people make excursions often on foot to minimize impact. Explore hiking trails and go bird watching here. It makes a popular spot for wildlife holidays. The area also has coral conservation initiatives, botanical monitoring programs, and sea turtle projects that visitors can get involved with too.

As tourism is still relatively new in Sao Tome and Principe, it’s best to book activities and excursions through your hotel. Try and visit both islands if you have time – there is a short domestic flight between the two which runs regularly. If you want to take part in sea turtle conservation projects, then you’ll need to visit between November and March, when the nesting and hatching takes place. A good location for this is Praia Jale on Sao Tome.

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Ericeira, Portugal: Meet local people

vista of Ericeira, Portugal, a ecotourism location

Contributed by Michelle Cote from Ericeira Family Adventures

Looking for an eco-adventure in an incredible place? Ericeira, Portugal is worth checking out. You will find this beautiful whitewashed fishermen’s village half an hour north of Lisbon’s airport. The only World Surf reserve in Europe, it attracts all kinds of people. The incredible outdoor vibe mixes with the traditional feel of the Portuguese village to create an incredibly multicultural experience. You can enjoy trekking, mountain biking, surfing, paddling, or just wading in the waves at all 11 protected beaches in the surfing reserve.

Whether you come to Ericeira as a family, a couple, or a solo traveler, fun, and adventure is on order! The numerous surf camps in Ericeira make booking a package easy. Renting a flat or a traditional Portuguese home is also possible. Once you’ve chosen your accommodation, you can book a variety of surf schools, activities and tours on location. 

Sustainable travel, eat what the locals eat

Ericeira has long been known as one of the best places in Portugal to eat fish and seafood. Enjoy the sea view from the tops of the cliffs. Stroll along the cobblestone street in the evening before sitting at the restaurant of your choice. Visitors enjoy the relaxed atmosphere wherein meeting others comes naturally in a coffee shop. And dinner and drinks usually follow a great day of outdoor fun. Portugal is known for its friendly locals and affordable prices, and Ericeira is no exception! 

Although summer months are busier, the village has recently seen a lot of action in winter months too. If you are a seasoned surfer, you’ll want to visit between October and April to get a more challenging wave. Make sure you dress appropriately though, since Ericeira’s microclimate can be cool, even in summer months. 

Regardless of when you decide to come, the sunshine and fabulous seafood will leave you wanting more.

Caño Cristales, Colombia

waters of Cano Cristales, Columbia, eco friendly tourism destination

By Adam McConnaughhay from 

The river of Caño Cristales, sometimes called the River of Five Colors or the Liquid Rainbow, provides one of the most unique ecotourism destinations in the world. This river runs through a rugged, jungle covered area in south central Colombia. Aspecial aquatic flower called the macarenia clavigera makes its home here. This flower does not grow anywhere else in the world.

When the flowers bloom, they bloom in various shades of red, pink, white, and green. The Rainbow River of Colombia creates a lovely sight, and a true natural wonder. If you’ve seen the Disney film Encanto, the colorful river in it is based on Caño Cristales.

Only eco friendly travel products allowed

The Colombian National Park Service has done a great job protecting the area, which has only recently opened up to tourism after being a former conflict zone. They do not permit sunscreen, bug spray, or other pollutants.

Besides seeing the lovely colors of the river, the trails make for great hiking. You will view a number of waterfalls along the river. You will also witness an abundance of wildlife.

Caño Cristales provides a true off the beaten path destination, near the isolated and little developed town of La Macarena. It is a long and difficult journey to get here overland. Flying from the cities of Bogotá or Medellín is recommended.

You are required to register with a local guide to enter the park. So for most travelers, booking a tour package that includes accommodations and the excursions makes sense. While 3 day packages are common, 4 or more days is best so you can see multiple trails along the river.

Finally, be sure to plan a trip during the July to November season when the flowers bloom. The rest of the year the colors cannot be seen and the park remains closed.

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Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve

Contributed by Erie from  Everywhere Ontario

You will find one of the most spectacular places for ecotourism in Africa in South Africa’s oldest game reserve. Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve lies in the eastern coastal province of KwaZulu Natal.

Situated in the heart of Zululand, Hluhluwe Imfolozi earns the title of one of South Africa’s best Big 5 Game Reserves. Boasting the five most in-demand animals to see on a safari, namely Africa Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino (black and white) and African Buffalo, Hluhluwe Imfolozi provides a safari paradise.

Not only can you expect to see some of these Big 5 (or all, if you’re lucky), you can do so in a way that has minimal ecological impact and keeps wildlife wild. South Africa’s Game Reserves bring you to the animals, rather than the animals to you. Just the way it should be!

Hluhluwe Imfolozi is also a hotspot for Wild Dog, Giraffe and Nyala sightings. And the watchful eye may even be rewarded with a rare glimpse of a Cheetah. The reserve also takes part in intentional conservation of the White Rhino.

Travel tips

For first time travelers, I definitely recommend booking a guided safari tour. Safari options range from one day to multiday and even multi-park, with options to pair a visit to Hluhluwe Imfolozi with iSimangaliso Wetland Reserve at St Lucia Estuary.

You can also self-drive through Hluhluwe Imfolozi, giving you the flexibility to travel at your own pace through this magnificent park.

If you choose this way of taking a safari, you’ll want to come in a reliable vehicle that can rough the bush roads. Breaking down in the park wouldn’t be fun! You’ll also want to make sure to stay in your car at all times. Take seriously the park’s rules for approaching wildlife. For example, engine rumbling can intimidate and provoke animals. And a charging elephant or rhino is nothing to mess with.

Remember that Hluhluwe Imfolozi’s animals are truly wild, and therein is where the beauty and the reverence lie!

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Madagascar Eco Tourism Destination 

plains and mountains of Madagascar, friendly eco travel spot

Deirdre Jenkins from

Located off the coast of Africa, Madagascar renders a true paradise, filled with exotic lemurs and pristine virgin rainforests and reefs. As beautiful as it may sound, the harsh reality of climate change combined with excessive deforestation has taken its toll. The island’s unique biodiversity of both plant and wildlife are continually put at risk as the forest cover diminishes. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as Madagascar’s government began implementing measures in the early 90s to help prevent further destruction. 

The Environmental Action Plan was created and implemented in Madagascar with the intent to promote biodiversity conservation, and improve environmental awareness within rural and urban communities. The act has allowed eco-tourism to become an essential part of preserving Madagascar’s unique lands and animals. 

Destination Earth

Eco-tourism efforts within the country have resulted in the protection of over 48 national parks and reserves. This includes the UNESCO Heritage Site of Rainforests of Atsinanana, including two of Madagascar’s most famous parks: Ranomafana and Andringitra. 

The jobs created with eco-tourism within Madagascar also boosts its local economies. Eco travel employs local Malagasy as guides, trackers, porters, cooks and drivers. This money goes back to the local community and contributes to the preservation of the parks and surrounding areas. These jobs allow communities to stay less reliant on the farming of natural resources and more focused on helping the natural environment. 

If you want to experience this firsthand, try visiting Anja Community Reserve. This community run reserve houses the highest concentration of ring-tailed lemurs. Here you can see the community come together to help wildlife, community and environment. 

Lake District: Now increasing eco friendly travel

view of the Lake District in the UK, a great eco travel spot

By Paulina from the UK Every Day

Every tourist can reduce their carbon footprint by making the right choices, regarding where and how to travel. The Lake District in England makes a perfect option for those looking for an eco-friendly destination. You can support environmentally friendly hotels during your visit such as Victorian House Hotel or Southwaite Green Farm.

Not only do many of the accommodations in the Lake District use green energy, but you can also find good transport links to this beautiful part of England. By using public transport you can reduce your carbon footprint significantly.

However, millions of people want to see some of the best Lake District attractions which can result in over-tourism in some of the areas of the National Park. That is why eco-tourism is so important in Lake District. They have created many projects to make it one of the best eco-friendly destinations in the UK.

Raising awareness of tourists through marketing and creating many paths for walking and cycling make up only a few goals that the Lake District achieved in recent years. Due to the incredible amount of breathtaking views, this National Park in England allows for slow tourism. Whether you want to hike the mountains, relax at the lake or explore local traditions, staying longer in one place will be a great way to learn more about the Lake District. 

Mallorca: Improving green travel

Mallorca, beaches, another eco travel destination

Joanna  from The World in My Pocket

Mallorca represents a fantastic eco-friendly destination. It continuously develops more and more sustainability goals. During the past few years, more and more hotels on the island have become sustainable and started using water concisely, preserving and re-using the water. Mallorca is an island and has limited sources of natural water. Many hotels now use energy produced by the solar panels installed on the rooftop.

You will find plenty of sustainable hotels and fincas around the island, where you can experience an off-the-grid holiday filled with activities in nature. In addition, you will select meals from menus designed to use the local, seasonal ingredients. One such place is Tramuntia, in the heart of the island. 

Many small producers on the island use sustainable methods in their business. You can find such a place at the small Mesquida Mora vineyard, which produces bio wines in small batches. Visit Mesquida Mora and have a wine tasting accompanied by some of the best local foods in Mallorca,  homemade by a woman in the village.

The public transport in Mallorca is pretty good, but it doesn’t cover all corners of the island. If you want to hire a car in Mallorca, it’s good to know that most companies are now offering hybrid cars which charge up when you use the break. It’s not just an eco-friendlier way of road tripping, but it also saves a lot of money on fuel.

In Palma de Mallorca, you can always hire a public bike to move around as well.

Turtle Sanctuary: Explore the Phillipines

shows a turtle swimming in blue waters at a turtle sanctuary in the Philipines

Recommended by Elizabeth of Two Week Traveller

The Philippines is composed of over 7,000 islands located near the Pacific Ocean. This make’s it understandable why water activities are one of the best attractions in this destination. Aside from people visiting the Philippines’ beaches, many sea turtles also found this region a great home for them, especially during the hatching season.

Human activity in the waters of the Philippines affected sea turtles for a long time. The local government made a small province in the heart of the country, called Panglao, a marine sanctuary. This sanctuary is on a small island called Balicasag. The sanctuary’s main job is to protect and ensure the safety of sea turtles and other marine animals that live in the massive coral ecosystem near and around Balicasag.

Tourists are welcome to arrive on the island on a boat. But they may not stay on the island, touch the sea turtles, or feed them. If you plan to visit the sanctuary, you will take a boat from Panglao, assisted by licensed boatmen and tour agencies. They use the fees paid by visitors to fund the conversation effort of the sanctuary.

The best time to visit is from November to January, not only because the weather is great during this time but it’s also the turtle hatching season. If you have 2 weeks in the Philippines, you can include Bohol on your itinerary, which includes Panglao. There are direct flights from Manila to Panglao.

Maria Island: Eco travel in Tasmania

shows an animal in its natural habitat in Tasmania

Natalie & Steve from Curious Campers

Maria Island off the east coast of Tasmania makes a wonderful eco-tourism destination. The island has abundant wildlife, spectacular coastal scenery, mountain hikes and many historical ruins from the island’s time as a convict settlement and farming center. Today, they do not permit vehicles on Maria Island. And they have just a few remote campsites which makes it a nature lovers paradise.

The ferry to Maria Island leaves from Triabunna, a 70 minute drive from Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. The cruise to the island takes 45 minutes. A visit to Maria Island makes a great day trip, but we recommend staying for a night or two on Maria Island. Then you can see more of the island. Plus you will experience its beauty once the day trippers have left. There are campsites and basic dorms in the historic Penitentiary building. You can also take your camping gear and even your bike across on the ferry.

Feast your eyes on native wildlife

The highlight of Maria Island and what makes it such a great eco-friendly destination is the unspoilt wildlife habitat. The native animals flourish since there is little development on the island. There are no feral animals and you get around on foot or bike. On a visit to Maria Island, you will spot wombats, kangaroos, wallabies, Tasmanian devils, and bandicoots. Over 125 bird species make their home on the island, including the endangered swift parrot. The pristine water around the island provides great for snorkeling. Bring a wet suit. You can also spot whales and dolphins from shore.

As well as wildlife, you will find great scenic views. Short walks will take you to the colorful Painted Cliffs and amazing Fossil Cliffs. After the tough hike to the top of the Bishop and Clerk, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views along the east coast of Tasmania. Maria Island is great to visit year-round. But for the best weather and to see baby wildlife, November to April is a great time to go.

Panama: Eco travel for beach goers

eco travel photo of a beach in Panama

Marjut from The Smooth Escape travel blog

The archipelago of Bocas del Toro is situated in the Caribbean Sea and is one of the top ecotourism destinations in Panama. Consisting of six main islands and numerous uninhabited islets, this tropical paradise is among the most biologically diverse places on earth. 

One of the best things to do in Bocas del Toro is to see its exotic wildlife. Of course, the archipelago’s lush rainforests and warm seas are home to a large variety of species – from sloths, monkeys and red frogs to dolphins, stingrays and colorful fish. 

A fun way to discover the islands and the animals that live here is to take a guided boat tour of the archipelago. This will allow you to explore some of the more remote parts of Bocas and increase your chances of seeing wildlife. If you’d like to get to know the fascinating underwater world and the marine life of Bocas del Toro, go scuba diving or snorkeling.

Besides spotting wildlife, the islands also offer excellent conditions for water sports like surfing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. On the other hand, if you prefer to stay on land, you can explore a variety of hiking trails, visit cacao farms or simply relax on the gorgeous sandy beaches.

In order to protect the pristine ecosystem of Bocas del Toro, local communities and international organizations are working together on various environmental initiatives such as mangrove reforestation, coral restoration and education for local tour providers.

Cabo Pulmo, Mexico: Snorkel or scuba dive with local travel guides

scuba diver in Mexico

Contributed by Sally Sees

Cabo Pulmo is a tiny town in the southeast of the state of Baja California Sur in Mexico. Best known as a scuba diving destination, the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park is one of the only coral reefs on the west coast of North America.

Cabo Pulmo is an amazing case study of ecotourism. Formerly the town survived off commercial fishing. But by the 1980s, local fishermen realized they had over-fished the area, having to travel further out to sea to find fish, and catching much less.

The local community lobbied the government to have the area declared as a marine park, which it was in 1995. During the past two decades, since scientists started studying the area, there has been a 465% growth in life on the reef.

Cabo Pulmo is still inhabited by the same families, who adapted from fishing, to diving and snorkeling for their main source of income. Activities in the marine park are tightly regulated to protect the thriving reef.

How are they encouraging responsible travel?

The number of divers and snorkelers in the water at any one time is restricted, and each operator has a schedule on when they can access certain sites. Because all the tour companies operating in Cabo Pulmo are locally owned, you can be assured that you are diving or snorkeling with locals who are committed to protecting the area and keeping it pristine.

The town itself is tiny. In addition, the tourism development is low impact with minimal disturbance to the natural environment, making it a very eco-friendly destination. Cabo Pulmo is also very socially sustainable. The locals have retained control of the tourism industry. When you visit you know you are staying and eating local, and your tourist dollars are supporting the community, not large international tourism corporations.

Visiting Cabo Pulmo is a true, off-grid, remote experience. As a result, you’ll need your own rental car to reach the town, and the only access is via a bumpy dirt road. In short, there are no ATMs, no proper supermarkets, limited phone and internet service, and you’ll be lucky if you get a hot shower! However, experiencing the wonders of the underwater world and soaking up the stunning natural surroundings makes it worth it!

Vincentina Coast Portugal: Enjoy well preserved nature

Alya of the Algarve Family

The Vicentina Coast or Costa Vicentina is a beautiful protected area divided between two regions in Southern Portugal: Alentejo and Algarve. The Costa Vicentina Natural park occupies a long stretch of the Atlantic Coast between Porto Covo in the north and Burgau in the south. It’s often called the wild coast for its untouched landscape and well-preserved nature. Likewise, the coast is famous for its breathtaking scenery, unspoiled sandy beaches, rugged limestone cliffs, and hidden bays. Some of the highlights of the Vicentina Coast include Praia de Odeceixe, Bordeira Beach, Praia da Arrifana, and Cape St.Vincent, the southwestern most point of continental Europe. 

The coast is a popular ecotourism destination in Portugal, because it is just as wild as it was 30 years ago. There are no big cities with hotels or resorts on the Vicentina Coast, only small fishermen’s towns with guesthouses and home stays run by locals. 

View eye-opening vistas on foot

The best way to explore the beautiful coast is on foot or cycling. The Vicentina Coast is an amazing destination for outdoor and nature lovers. For example, there are over 700 kilometres of hiking and cycling trails, including circular day trails and multi-day routes. The Fishermen’s Trail, one of the most scenic coastal trails in Europe, goes through the Vicentina Natural Park. The area is famous as a surfing destination. Several beaches offer great waves for both experienced and novice surfers. Meanwhile, kayaking along the limestone cliffs is another great activity here. 

The coast is also known as a great destination for birdwatching. Many endangered species including the fishing eagle and the white stork can be seen here. The Vicentina Coast is the only place in the world where white storks build their nests on the edges of the cliffs. During April and May, there are hundreds of stork nests along the rocky cliffs. 

Karijini: Eco friendly travel in Australia

By Steph of A Nomad’s Passport

Karijini National Park is located in Western Australia’s Hamersley Range in the Pilbara Region. With its imposing red gorges and natural swimming holes, it certainly is a wonderland for nature lovers.

Thanks to fire stick burning by the Aboriginal people thousands of years ago, Karijini now has a flourishing and diverse flora and fauna. Moreover, you can visit the visitor center to learn more about it.

While there are many gorges in Karijini National Park, the ones not to miss are Dales Gorge, Weano Gorge, and Hancock Gorge. Of course, be sure to watch the sunset while at the serene Fern Pool and to go for a swim in the Handrail Pool. Some of these places are of great cultural importance to the park’s traditional custodians.

There are hikes of all levels within this national park. Subsequently, you can take in viewpoints alongside some cliff edge walks. These are great for those that do not dare to tackle the more difficult gorge hikes.

The only accommodations within Karijini are campgrounds and the Karijini Eco Retreat. The Eco Retreat was built to be eco-friendly and even uses rainwater for the showers, which ensures that it is a self-reliant accommodation. This makes it the perfect place to stay if you are looking for an eco-friendly getaway.

Riviera Maya: Eco travel in Mexico

Contributed by Brodi Cole of Our Offbeat Life

The Riviera Maya is a beautiful region in southeast Mexico that is known for its incredible ecotourism destinations. Some of the most popular ecotourism attractions in the Riviera Maya include the freshwater cenotes and the nearby Mayan ruins.

The Riviera Maya is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, which is known for its dozens of freshwater cenotes. These cenotes are limestone sinkholes that have been carved out by centuries of rainfall, and they offer some of the clearest swimming waters in the world. The cenotes are a major draw for ecotourists, as swimming in them is an incredibly unique experience.

In addition to the cenotes, the Riviera Maya is home to dozens of Mayan ruins. These ancient ruins offer a fascinating glimpse into the past, and they are a popular destination for tourists from around the world.

The Riviera Maya is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico. The beaches here are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling, and they offer some of the best views of the Caribbean Sea.

Tips for visiting the Riviera Maya:

-Wear sunscreen: The Riviera Maya is located in a tropical climate, so it’s important to wear sunscreen when you’re visiting. Make sure to choose a sunscreen that is eco-friendly and doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals.

-Visit during low season: The Riviera Maya is a popular destination for tourists, so it can be quite crowded during high season. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit during low season.

-Visit smaller villages: If you want to get away from the crowds and see more of traditional Mexican culture, visit one of the smaller villages in the region. These villages offer a more authentic experience than the larger tourist towns.

What are some more eco-friendy ways to travel?

You can also decrease your carbon footprint by using eco friendly travel essentials. Using a reusable water bottle helps cut down of the build up of plastics. You can also use green laundry sheets when washing clothes at a laundry facility. My sister, Karin, says my aunt taught her to wash out clothes in the sink and hang them to dry overnight instead of wasting resources on a full washer and dryer cycle. Karin also recommends using compostable trash bags when camping.

author profile picture

Donna Emperador is a travel and food blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and cocktails. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time exploring the road to find unique places to share with readers. She can be found on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.

5 thoughts on “How to Discover Guilt-free Eco Travel Havens”

  1. Lisa at

    I’ve visited a few of these destinations. They definitely fit my values and they’re also good for the environment. Turtle Island sounds amazing.

  2. These are some great options for eco travel. We always try to eat where the locals do. That is always the best food at a much better price. Cano Cristales looks like an amazing spot to see. Sure hope it is protected to ensure this beauty is maintained.

  3. There seems to me a running theme to all of these guilt-free eco-travel havens you shared, and that maybe outside of the Riviera Maya in Mexico, the island of Mallorca, or even the Lakes District, you found a lot of less traveled places!
    I mean everyone who thinks eco-travel thinks the Galapagos which is great by why not get a similar experience at the Bocas del Toro islands of Panama. Plus, since it is less popular or known it may actually be less crowded and most importantly CHEAPER!
    I do love that you added Madagascar. That island definitely intrigues me cause I can just imagine walking down the avenue of baobab trees looking for unique birds and primates!

  4. I like that how most of these places are using local ingredients or materials because I think that’s how it should be. It’s like eat or use whatever in season. No need to import things. I, for one, like to eat local food made from local ingredients. Definitely they tasted fresh and better.

  5. I have been thinking about travel and the carbon footprint a lot lately. As you mentioned in your post, there are ways to reduce the carbon footprint while travelling. But no the other hand travel as such is not sustainable. Especially flights, but all sort of on-ground transport too.

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