If you’re salivating thinking about spring break or summer vacation, you’re not alone. Millions will make travel plans this year to visit popular destinations that offer sand, surf, and sometimes, a bit of culture and cobblestone streets to go with it. And of course, for all you language learners out there, vacation is a chance to flex your conversation skills.
Travel has many benefits but it also has unintended consequences, especially for the planet. In fact, air travel has doubled since 2003, and the corresponding carbon footprint of tourism is having a devastating impact on climate change. Don’t give up on your bucket list just yet, though. There are ways you can minimize the impact of your travel and still see the world. Tactics such as establishing sustainable habits on the road and choosing eco-friendly destinations can go a long way towards reducing the footprints you leave behind.
Like last year’s picks for eco-friendly locales, this year’s destinations span the globe but share a focus on things experts consider essential for a green destination. This includes places that are committed to minimizing emissions, protecting biodiversity, reducing waste, and conserving water. These destinations are part of an ecotourism trend that seeks to preserve the planet for future generations so we can all enjoy exploring every nook and cranny of the place humans call home.
1. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Reward eco-friendly innovation
Leave behind nothing but footprints is a nice motto for a postcard, but the reality is more challenging. That’s why rewarding eco-friendly destinations like Slovenia with your tourism dollars is crucial to encouraging innovation and changing the face of travel. This European country might not be the first locale that comes to mind, but its commitment to becoming a top-rated green destination should catapult it onto your 2020 bucket list.
Snuggled up to the Italian Alps, Slovenia has less notoriety as a word-class destination than its neighbors, but that just means less crowding and more affordability. Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, is packed with parks and has swept awards across multiple organizations for European green cities. With 75% of electricity coming from the country’s hydro-electric dams and a large area of the city center designated as a car-free zone, Ljubljana does a fantastic job of reducing emissions. Many restaurants in Ljubljana also focus on a farm to table approach that vitalizes the local economy and certainly gives foodies plenty to write home about.
Rewarding eco-friendly destinations like Slovenia with your tourism dollars is crucial to encouraging innovation and changing the face of travel.
2. Republic of Palau
Preserve the biodiversity of paradise
The Republic of Palau is a smattering of over 500 islands in the western Pacific Ocean. Crowded with palm trees and surrounded by crystal-clear, turquoise waters, this island nation could be easily confused for paradise. The locals are vigilant about protecting it from the erosive forces of tourism, specifically the coral reefs that are home to a diverse population of marine life.
The Palau reefs are a no-fishing zone, but divers are welcome to take the plunge and get up close and personal with all that underwater biodiversity at locations like Jellyfish Lake (recently reopened to the public). Be prepared, however, to honor the eco-pledge below that Palau requires all visitors to sign before entering this piece of paradise:
“Children of Palau, I take this pledge as your guest, to preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home. I vow to tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully. I shall not take what is not given. I shall not harm what does not harm me. The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away.”
The locals have been vigilant about protecting Palau from the erosive forces of tourism, specifically the coral reefs that are home to a diverse population of marine life.
3. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Embrace pedal power
In the Netherlands, eco-friendly isn’t a catchphrase but a way of life. Consistently ranked as a top sustainable city, Amsterdam manages to balance being a popular tourist destination with initiatives that reduce waste and focus on green transportation options.
All those Instagram-worthy pics of colorful bikes leaning against the bridges of Amsterdam’s canals aren’t just for looks. Bikes are the primary mode of transportation in Amsterdam, but pedal power isn’t the only way the Dutch maintain the lowest energy consumption rates in Europe. Those famous windmills create plenty of sustainable energy, powering 5.7 million Dutch homes in addition to being popular tourist attractions.
Consistently ranked as a top sustainable city, Amsterdam manages to balance being a popular tourist destination with initiatives that reduce waste and focus on green transportation options.
4. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Minimize your impact
As the first UNESCO Natural World Heritage site, the Galapagos Islands have a reputation, established by Charles Darwin, as home to some of the world’s rarest species. Only five of the 19 islands in the Republic of Ecuador are inhabited by humans and protecting this biodiverse region has become part of the Ecuadorian way of life.
While diving and wildlife viewing are top attractions, travel to the Galapagos Islands is limited, with boats only permitted to carry 100 passengers or less. Park officials work with tour companies to determine the best routes to minimize disturbance to wildlife and lessen environmental impacts.
Ecuador also has many other eco-friendly destinations worth exploring and is considered one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet. Environmental rights were enshrined in the Ecuadorian constitution back in 2008 and remain a cornerstone of the country’s approach to ecotourism.
Ecuador has many other eco-friendly destinations worth exploring and is considered one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet.
5. The Azores, Portugal
Keep it local
Portugal is a popular European tourist destination, so it’s a bit surprising that the Azores, an archipelago of nine islands off the coast, has managed to remain fairly pristine. With dramatic coastlines, mountains, and lush valleys teeming with wildlife, the Azores focus on environmentally conscious practices that place them at the forefront of ecotourism.
Because the islands are so remote, resorts and hotels are typically small and much of the food is locally sourced. The extraordinarily diverse climate of the Azores makes it possible to grow both coffee and tropical fruit like bananas, while at the same time raising large herds of cattle that produce some of the best cheese and beef in Europe.
Traveling to an eco-friendly destination? Take Rosetta Stone along.