Travel has many benefits, but it also has relatively dramatic consequences on the planet. Indeed, air transport has doubled since 2003 and the carbon footprint of tourism is enormous.
There are ways to continue to travel while minimizing its impact on the planet. By choosing accommodation with sustainable practices and environmentally friendly countries, you can leave with a little more peace of mind.
To get away from it all in 2020, we offer 7 “eco-friendly” destinations – places that are committed to reducing emissions, protecting biodiversity, reducing waste and/or conserving water.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands: the power of the pedal
In the Netherlands, respect for the environment is not just a slogan, but a way of life. Always ranked as one of the best sustainable cities, Amsterdam manages to balance its popularity as a tourist destination with its environmental initiatives. Efforts are mainly focused on waste reduction and environmentally friendly transport options.
Bicycles are the main means of transport in Amsterdam, but this is not the only way the Dutch can maintain the lowest energy consumption rates in Europe.
In fact, the famous windmills produce a lot of sustainable energy, powering 5.7 million Dutch homes and being a popular tourist attraction.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Minimising the impact
As the first UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, the Galapagos Islands have a reputation, established by Charles Darwin, for being home to some of the rarest species in the world. Only 5 of the Republic of Ecuador’s 19 islands are inhabited by humans and protecting this region of biodiversity has become an integral part of the Ecuadorian way of life.
Although diving and wildlife viewing are the main attractions, travel to the Galapagos Islands is limited, with boats carrying no more than 100 passengers. Park officials are working with tour operators to determine the best routes to minimize disturbance to animals and reduce environmental impacts.
The Azores, Portugal: staying local
Portugal is a popular European tourist destination, so it is very surprising that the Azores, an archipelago of nine islands, has managed to remain fairly untouched.
With spectacular coastlines, mountains and lush valleys teeming with wildlife, the Azores focus on environmentally friendly practices that place them at the forefront of ecotourism.
Resorts and hotels are generally small and much of the food comes from local sources. The Azores’ extraordinarily diverse climate allows for the cultivation of both coffee and tropical fruits such as bananas, while also raising large herds of cattle that produce some of the best cheese and beef in Europe.
Arosa, Switzerland: recharging your batteries
Arosa is home to the Hotel Valsana, the first hotel in Switzerland to be heated by an “ice battery”. This energy recovery system uses excess thermal energy that would otherwise have been lost to the environment.
This charming alpine resort village also contributes to the environment in other ways. Several hotels have charging stations for electric cars and there is even a free charging station in the town centre.
The area has also been awarded Alpine Pearl status in recognition of its “green mobility” and environmentally friendly practices.
Pangulasian Island, Philippines: an ecological paradise
The island of Pangulasian in the Philippines is a true ecological paradise. This private seaside resort is dedicated to supporting the local population through several economic initiatives. One of these businesses teaches local women the traditional art of weaving, whose products are then bought and sold at the hotel.
There is also an extensive nature conservation programme that oversees bi-monthly coastal clean-ups, protection measures against illegal fishing, the installation of Eco Reefs (to help resuscitate damaged marine environments) and mooring buoys (to prevent continued anchor damage to coral reefs) as well as a turtle conservation programme.
Catalonia, Spain: symbiosis between man and nature
Catalonia is the first entire region to obtain the Biosphere Responsible Tourism Certification, a programme supported by UNESCO and the GTSC (Global Sustainable Tourism Council), in recognition of the symbiotic relationship between man and nature in this region.
It’s also easy for visitors to think green: look for companies with a European eco-label, a certificate that highlights high-quality, environmentally friendly products and services.
Some of the attractions in the region include former coal, lead and salt mines that have been turned into cultural areas. Walk in the fossilised tracks of dinosaurs in the old open-cast coal mines of Fígols-Vallcebre Fumanya, now a designated palaeontological site.
Another great area is the Cardona Salt Mountain Cultural Park. After the closure of the mine in the 1990s, the park now offers visitors the chance to discover the unique natural geology of the area.
Costa Rica: carbon neutral by 2021
Costa Rica aims to become the world’s first carbon-neutral country and is on track to achieve this goal by 2021. Almost all of its electricity comes from renewable resources. The United Nations was so impressed with these conservation efforts that it made former Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís the country’s special ambassador to their World Tourism Organization.
25% of the territory is either a national park or a protected area, and the current government aims to further expand the protected area.
Its next project is aimed at an ecological transformation of coffee growing. It is Costa Rica’s biggest export, but also the biggest source of CO2 emissions. The Coffee Institute of Costa Rica has partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture to develop a process that captures the gas produced by the decomposition of coffee waste and uses it to fuel combustion engines. We will never drink coffee the same way again!
Which of these destinations turns you on the most? In addition to visiting sites that promote good environmental practices, it is possible to offset your emissions by paying an amount equivalent to your travel footprint at certain accredited sites or even to encourage “slow travel”.