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13 Destinations For Sustainable Travel In 2020

As a sustainable traveler, you have the opportunity to “vote with your dollar” on every trip. That means supporting tourism operations and experiences that prioritize environmental responsibility, local empowerment, and cultural immersion, while steering clear of overtouristed destinations.

With the help of some fellow passionate sustainable travelers, we’ve compiled a list of 13 destinations for ecotourism, ethical travel, off the beaten path travel, and sustainable tourism in 2020. Take a look — and if you think we’ve missed any must-see sustainable travel destinations, be sure to let us know.

1. The Amazon

You’ve seen the headlines. Much of the Amazon is burning at its highest rate in more than a decade, especially in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged rural landowners to clear land for cultivation by burning large swathes of the rainforest.

If the current deforestation rate continues, the Amazon rainforest could be headed towards total collapse within just a few years. This would result in the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide and signal a devastating blow in efforts to slow climate change.

As a traveler with limited insight into or power over Brazilian environmental policy, what can you do to push back against this disturbing pattern?

You can let your tourism dollars talk.

By taking an Amazon vacation, you can contribute to an economic sector which will suffer a great deal in countries like Brazil and Peru if the Amazon collapses: tourism.

That’s a $6 billion sector in Brazil and $5 billion sector in Peru.

By demonstrating international interest in Amazon tourism, you can help prove the economic shortsightedness of deforestation to governments like Bolsanaro’s. At the same time, you can support local communities that aim to profit from tourism and conservation instead of destructive agricultural practices.

The Amazon rainforest stretches across nine countries in South America, and local people within all nine countries stand to benefit both short-term and long-term from your visit.

As always, we encourage you to ask the right questions when booking an Amazon tour: is this tour or lodge locally owned and operated? Does the lodge enforce environmentally sustainable practices amongst all staff and guests? Does the tour ensure fair treatment of wildlife?

It can be difficult to find answers to these questions prior to arrival, as many locally-operated Amazon tours lack a strong online presence.

That’s why we’ve started working with Hidden Jungle Expeditions, an Amazon tour company in Iquitos, Peru. Hidden Jungle is owned and operated by Miguel Tello, an Amazon-born guide with more than two decades of experience as a jungle guide and conservationist.

And if you’ve already explored other regions of the Amazon with tour companies that you’d consider sustainable, please send us a recommendation.

2. Puerto Rico

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
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Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico with an estimated $80 billion dollars in damages. Recovery efforts will take years, if not decades. Short of volunteering or donating, the best way to aid the recovery process is to help jumpstart the island’s tourism industry, which has taken a big hit in the storm’s wake.

Though some country roads are still inaccessible, one could argue that now is the best time to visit Puerto Rico. You can tour many of Puerto Rico’s best destinations, from El Yunque National Forest to the Bioluminescent Bay, without having to battle scores of other tourists. 

A visit to El Yunque — the United States’ only rainforest — has to top your list of things to do in Puerto Rico. El Yunque boasts some of the best ziplining, camping, and hiking in Puerto Rico, and many locally owned adventure companies, eco lodges, and eco resorts in the region are eager for visitors to help re-establish El Yunque as a prime destination for ecotourism in the Caribbean.

Where To Stay in El Yunque National Forest: El Yunque Rainforest Inn

Where To Stay in La Parguera: Turtle Bay Inn

Where To Stay Near Bioluminescent Bay: Finca Victoria

3. New Zealand

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Whether you’re backpacking New Zealand, living the IG-approved #vanlife, or spending time in one of New Zealand’s cities, there are plenty of places to visit and things to do in New Zealand for sustainable travelers.

A big reason why? The New Zealand Sustainability Commitment, which was introduced in 2017 with the intention of getting every tourism business throughout the country to commit to sustainable practices by 2025.

Many lodges are already leading the way — you can choose from crashing in converted grain silos at SiloStay, enjoying free access to a wildlife recovery and arts center at Lochmara Lodge, or taking in ocean views from a treehouse at Hapuku Lodge. Hard to go wrong.

4. Iceland, Beyond The Golden Circle

 
 
 
 
 
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Iceland’s reputation as a sustainable destination has taken somewhat of a hit in recent years, largely due to complaints of overtourism at popular sights within the country’s famous Golden Circle. So, instead of spending too much of your time in the most densely touristed corner of the country, venture out onto Ring Road to take in Iceland’s vast, empty spaces and awe-inspiring swathes of unspoiled nature like Dettifoss Waterfall and Lake Myvatn.

Sustainably built and operated hotels including Ion Adventure Hotel, Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel, and Hotel Eldhestar dot the Ring Road, but if you’re looking to travel Iceland on a budget, wild camping — responsibly — may be the way to go.

5. Colombia

Tourism at its best can be transformative for a country’s reputation, and as a result, can create opportunities for its most disadvantaged people.

Take Colombia as an example: considered a no-go for many travelers not long ago, Colombia has seen a welcomed influx of tourists in recent years — and not just at its long-popular historic port city of Cartagena.

Whether you’ve heard about the simple but stunning Sierra Nevadan village of Minca or Medellin’s locally-run, eye-opening tours of its once notorious Comuna 13 district, chances are, you’ve heard somebody gushing about their recent trip to Colombia.

Why? Most likely because everyone who’s visited knows that Colombians have a rich, complicated story to tell, and the best way to hear that story isn’t to watch a show in Netflix — it’s to visit Colombia yourself.

Where To Stay In Medellin: Los Patios Hostal Boutique
Where To Stay Near Parque Tayrona: EcoHostal Yuluka
Where To Stay In Minca: Mundo Nuevo
Where To Stay In Bogota: Biohotel

6. Huasteca Potosina, Mexico

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
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Believe it or not, it’s plenty possible to take in Mexico’s natural beauty without having your view obstructed by tequila-swigging coeds.

You can get off the beaten path in La Huasteca Potosina, a region within San Luis Potosi, Huasteca Potosina offers some of the best ecotourism in the entire country, complete with waterfalls, canyons, caves, and eco-friendly, family-run lodges, including Eco Hotel Casa Kima and Hostal Casa Huasteca.

For a deeper look at the region, check out our friends at Deer Traveler’s in-depth guide to the Huasteca Potosina here.

7. Madagascar

Madagascar boasts some of the most unique wildlife on the planet, as more than 70% of its flora and fauna is only found there.

Unfortunately, deforestation has plagued much of the country, due in large part to widespread poverty and the relative financial value of the country’s natural resources.

By traveling to Madagascar and working with organizations like Fanovana, your tourism dollars can provide an economic boost to the island that will reduce the incentives of deforestation. 

Because Madagascar can be somewhat difficult to travel through on your own — especially if you do not speak French — a tour with a sustainably operated company like G Adventures or Intrepid Travel may be the best choice to ensure that you get an authentic view of Malagasy life while properly supporting local communities. And of course, be sure to visit Madagascar’s many nature sanctuaries to encourage conservation efforts and enjoy the island’s wide array of lemurs, chameleons, fossas, and more.

8. Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Time seems to stand still in the most remote corners of Ireland. And while a handful of sites — like the Cliffs of Moher and the Blarney Stone — welcome tourists by the busload, County Mayo’s Clare Island is a perfect example of what makes Ireland so special, combining untouched, rugged nature with remnants of a complicated past.

It’s just one of many stops you can make along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, which extends for more than 2,500 km along the west coast in Ireland, providing a perfect route for touring Ireland by car.

9. Northern Vietnam

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Sa Pa has drawn travelers in with its stunning Muong Hoa Valley (affectionately nick-named the Tonkenese Alps) for decades.

What most backpackers don’t know is that there is much more to explore than just the scenic tiered rice-paddy fields that Sa Pa and the surrounding region are known for. Instead of staying in the main touristy town of Sa Pa, we recommend renting a motorbike and traveling roughly 11 KM (45 minutes) to the village of Ta Van and staying at the Ta Van Ecologic Homestay.

Here you’ll be sharing a home with three generations of a family nestled in a village of less than 1,000 inhabitants. Home cooked meals served family-style with all guests are a daily staple, featuring only locally-sourced ingredients.

They also offer guided tours through the Muong Hoa Valley and provide access to a tranquil grounds that are great for travelers looking for respite. All in all, Ta Van is both a great base camp for exploring Northern Vietnam or the perfect area to relax, recharge, and find yourself in one of the most beautiful and remote places on Earth.

~Written by Ben Fusaro

10. Ghana

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Long a beacon of peace and progress in West Africa, Ghana still qualifies as a well-kept secret within the travel community.

You can brave a ride through Accra in a tro-tro — Ghana’s DIY take on public transit — seek sanctuary in Mole National Park, and visit Elmina Slave Castle on Ghana’s Cape Coast for a haunting look back at the region’s role in the international slave trade.

This history looms large over much of Ghana — but what looms just as large is the local people’s continued march towards a brighter future. A Ghana vacation through a locally-run tour company like Blas Tours can provide a first-hand view of a country still well off the beaten path — perhaps not for long.

11. Dominica

 
 
 
 
 
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For those looking for a Caribbean vacation sans all-inclusive resorts, look no further than Dominica. The tiny south Caribbean island is on its way to becoming the world’s first climate resistant country as it continues to recover from Hurricane Maria.

Family-run lodges like Hideaways Dominica dot the island, and you can easily explore many of Dominica’s natural treasures — most notably, Mornes Trois Pitons National Park and its array of volcanoes, waterfalls, and hot springs.

12. Cotopaxi, Ecuador

 
 
 
 
 
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Too often overlooked in favor of its more commonly visited neighbors, Ecuador offers a smorgasbord of ecotourism experiences. Among Ecuador’s most popular destinations: Cotopaxi Volcano and its surrounding region. Hidden Lemur contributor Justin Ratra recommends Secret Garden Cotopaxi as a base for exploring the area:

Lay down on a hammock, sip on some tea and stare out at the natural beauty in the distance. The volcano is perfectly blissful and picturesque from afar, yet ominously powerful and chaotic from within. A real life beauty and the beast. As long as she’s not feeling shy and hiding behind the clouds, Cotopaxi volcano is visible from every point of the Secret Garden Hostel.

Everything at the hostel is designed to be self-sustaining and environmentally conscious. It’s not uncommon to see hoards of alpacas, horses, and a few straggler chickens roaming around. Follow any of the hiking trails connected to the property and expect to find a few waterfalls.

After working up a sweat, you can head back for a delicious family-style dinner made from locally sourced meats and produce, and then you can wrap up the last few hours before bed, chilling by the fireplace enjoying the unlimited supply of tea and banana bread. What more could you ask for?

13. Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

Looking for a truly off the grid travel experience? Uruguay’s Cabo Polonio is a self-sufficient community in which everybody lives without running water or regular power supply.

Solar panels, wind turbines, and some generators keep the lights on, but for the most part, the presence of candles into empty plastic bottle light up the night. Being in close contact with birds and other animals is an essential feature during the stay in Cabo Polonio, a National Park and wildlife protection area.

~Photo and writeup by Angelo, founder of Walkscape Somewhere

 

Conor is the founder of Hidden Lemur. He's deathly afraid of bees.

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