11 Eco-Friendly Destinations Around the World You Must Visit

A visit to Finland, one of the most eco-conscious countries on the planet, can be done in a sustainable, responsible way
A visit to Finland, one of the most eco-conscious countries on the planet, can be done in a sustainable, responsible way | © iStock / Getty Images
Photo of Jenn Parker
30 December 2020

Countries across the globe are stepping up their efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment and that means responsible tourism – for the good of our wild inhabitants and our planet. Here are some of those places that are finding sustainable solutions, with our suggestions as to where to stay and what to do when you get there.

Iceland

Iceland has consistently been viewed as one of the most environmentally conscious countries in the world, with good reason. It uses its natural geothermal resources for heat and electricity production; it also fights against ocean pollution and supports sustainable fishing practices. Iceland is well known for its fjords, natural hot springs and volcanoes, as well as opportunities for whale watching and seeing the Northern Lights.

It’s for these reasons among many others that we’ve selected Iceland as one of our top feel-good destinations of 2021.

The geothermal swimming pool at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Finland

Finland and Iceland seem to be locked in continuous battle for the title of the world’s greenest country, their rankings being so closely matched year on year. According to the Environmental Performance Index, Finland ranks high on its societal commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. It has also continued to focus on water and sanitation, biodiversity and habitat conservation. Finland is home to 40 national parks, a population of almost 200,000 reindeer, and more than 1,000 species of flowering plants, besides being the most forested country in Europe.

A summertime vacation promises lots of adventure; the bay city of Oulu is a gateway to unspoiled countryside and tiny islands, and there are some great hotels to call home. Meanwhile, Lapland is the ever-reliable winter wonderland for Northern Lights sightings and cross-country skiing. Here’s our pick of the best hotels in Lapland for every traveller.

Finland is one of the best places to see the Aurora Borealis

The Netherlands

For more than two decades, the Netherlands has had a national environmental policy plan in place and has met more than 70% of its goals to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, clean up rivers and improve waste management. Amsterdam has even been voted the fifth most environmentally friendly city in Europe by the European Green City Index. One of the best ways to tour around the cities and smaller towns is by bicycle – the Netherlands has more than 15,000km (9,320mi) of bike paths across the country, making it one of the world’s most bike-friendly nations.

If you’re feeling inspired, you can plan a trip to the Dutch capital using our Ecofriendly Traveller’s Guide to Amsterdam and keep your carbon footprint to a minimum.

The Netherlands is famous for its windmills, tulip fields – and eco-friendly cycle routes | © Noppasin Wongchum / Alamy Stock Photo

New Zealand

New Zealand is on a quest to be free from fossil fuels by 2025 and is working to use its abundant geothermal energy sources instead. Made up of two islands that are both diverse in landscape, ecosystems and wildlife, New Zealand is at the forefront of ecotourism, so you can experience the unique and awe-inspiring natural wonders of the islands, including glowworm caves, whale and dolphin watching, pristine beaches and ancient forests, in a responsible way.

You can even go the extra carbon-free mile and stay in one of New Zealand’s luxurious eco-lodges or resorts – we’ve rounded up seven of the best right here.

New Zealand has nature in abundance, including Roy’s Peak, on the South Island | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Australia

The Great Barrier Reef, Gondwana rainforest, Kakadu National Park – these are among many must-sees in Australia that make it such an amazing eco-destination. And it has the potential to become a green superpower, with plans in place to build the world’s largest energy hub in the outback. Called the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, it aims to build 1,600 giant wind turbines and a 20,000-acre (7,800ha) field of solar panels that will produce more energy than the whole of the country’s current coal output, yet entirely emissions-free. The country is also promoting large-scale carbon capture and storage programmes in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint.

To find out more about how you can travel sustainably while down under, head over to our guide for handy tips and recommendations.

Lizard Island Resort

Boutique Hotel, Resort
Lizard Island Resort © Hotels.com
Courtesy of Lizard Island Resort / Hotels.com

Lizard Island Resort is the ultimate planet-friendly accommodation if you’re planning to explore the Great Barrier Reef. This exemplary eco-resort practises an impressive amount of environmentally friendly initiatives, including using solar power and LED lights, composting and recycling, as well as serving locally sourced, sustainably produced cuisine. They are also dedicated to protecting and preserving Lizard Island and the surrounding reef, which is part of a national park.

More info

Chumbe Island, Zanzibar

Chumbe Island, a privately owned nature reserve near Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania, is an inspiring example of coral-reef conservation and sustainable management of a protected area. The island includes a coral-reef sanctuary, a forest reserve, a small ecolodge and nature trails. The island uses eco-technology, such as solar water heating, photovoltaic energy, rainwater catching and composting toilets, to greatly reduce environmental impact.

Chumbe Island Coral Park

Hotel
5/5 (14 Reviews)
aerial view of the chumbe island coral park, Zanzibar
Chumbe Island, off Zanzibar, is surrounded by coral reefs | © Moiz Husein / Alamy Stock Photo

There is only one small ecolodge located on Chumbe Island. The lodge comprises seven bungalows outfitted with everything to minimise the impact on the environment. An eco-friendly approach is followed across the island to ensure it stays healthy and pristine, and since there are only seven bungalows, it’s very rarely fully booked.

More info

The Republic of Palau

When you imagine a tropical paradise, you might be dreaming of Palau. This group of more than 200 volcanic and coral islands in the Pacific Ocean is surrounded by crystal-clear waters that are teeming with marine life. The islands themselves are covered in lively forests and pristine beaches. Palau is dedicated to sustainable tourism practices, as well as to protecting its coral reefs, where no fishing is allowed. Diving in Palau is one of the draws, especially in the famous Jellyfish Lake.

Coral reefs are protected in the Republic of Palau

The Azores

An archipelago of nine islands located 1,288km (800mi) off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores combine rugged coastline with lush mountains and valleys, volcanoes, hot springs and waterfalls – as well as exceptional bird, whale, and dolphin watching opportunities. The islands have maintained a laid-back and environmentally-conscious way of life; there are no towering resorts, most of the food is locally sourced and unique to the part of the Azores you are staying, plus there are plenty of ecotours to give a whirl.

For somewhere to stay, try one of these fabulous eco-first Airbnbs, curated by travel experts here at Culture Trip.

The Lake of Fire on Sao Miguel, one of the green islands of the Azores | © Murad RM / Alamy Stock Photo

Ecuador

One of the most biodiverse countries in the world, Ecuador is home to more than 5,000 species of mammals, a variety of thriving ecosystems, and of course the sensational Galapagos Islands. In 2008, Ecuador’s new constitution included rights not only for humans, but for the environment too. Ecotourism in Ecuador is on the rise in order to protect places such as the Galapagos Islands – and you can now book and stay in eco-lodges all over the country, from the lofty highlands all the way to the Galapagos Islands themselves.

Finch Bay Eco Hotel

Hotel
4.5/5 (59 Reviews)
Finch Bay Eco Hotel-fee655d4
Courtesy of Finch Bay Eco Hotel / Expedia

Finch Bay Eco Hotel, on Santa Cruz Island, in the Galapagos archipelago, is leading the way in sustainable tourism and accommodation in the Galapagos. Here, they are dedicated to providing guests with an extraordinary experience while leaving a very light footprint. Finch Bay employs locals, sources food locally wherever possible, funds coastal clean-ups, hosts environmental conservation meetings and has created several educational initiatives.

More info

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been at the forefront of the ecotourism and travel movement for years. Roughly 25% of its territory is made up of national parks and biodiverse reserves; it uses 95% renewable energy, and is working to become the world’s first ever carbon-neutral country. With 12 main ecosystems, 5% of the world’s biodiversity, a warm and inviting culture and a great selection of ecolodges, Costa Rica is a must-visit destination for any eco-minded traveller.

With 5% of the world’s biodiversity right here, Costa Rica leads the way in responsible ecotourism

British Columbia, Canada

British Columbia has been ranked the greenest province in Canada, according to the quarterly Green Provincial Report Card, topping the charts in terms of green jobs and buildings, energy efficiency and organic food. With its rugged coastline, dense forests, beautiful lakes and national parks, it’s a nature and adventure lover’s playground. You can go hiking, rafting, canoeing, fishing, horseback riding and wildlife-watching all on the same trip. And when it comes to accommodation, keep your trip extra green by booking a stay at one of these luxury glamping sites – in BC and beyond.

These recommendations were updated on December 30, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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