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Discovering Ecotourism

Ecotourism is about doing more than simply enjoying your surroundings; it’s about understanding them while making sure that your travel doesn’t affect them negatively. As an ecotourist, you enrich your mind, spirit, and the local economy without harming the local ecosystem. More than anything, ecotourism is traveling with care and awareness.

Defining ecotourism

There’s a lot of confusion, even in the travel industry, about what ecotourism is. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) says that ecotourism is “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of the local people.” TIES believes that ecotourism should

  • Minimize impact

  • Build cultural and environmental awareness and respect

  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts

  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation

  • Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people

  • Raise sensitivity to a host country’s political, environmental, and social climates

  • Support international human rights and labor agreements

Local communities see ecotourism as a way to bring in travelers who are willing to pay a bit extra if they know that their money goes toward saving endangered species or conserving their natural ecosystems.

Hitting the ecotourism hotspots

Internationally, a growing number of regions are becoming popular ecotourism destinations. Some of the most popular locations with an increasing number of ecotourism attractions and services include:

  • Africa: Kenya and Swaziland have become two of the most popular hotspots. Their national parks, deserts, and forests, as well as rich wildlife and traditional culture (such as the Kenyan Masai tribe), make them extremely popular places to visit but also put huge pressure on the tourism industry to make sure that the recent marked increase in tourism is managed sensitively.

  • Caribbean and Central America: Some of the fastest-growing ecotourism spots in the world are beach and rainforest areas found in small countries like the Dominican Republic, Belize, and Costa Rica. Costa Rica has become one the most popular ecotourism destinations in the Americas thanks to government support for tourism and the country’s unmatched variety of rainforests, volcanoes, mountain ranges, and beaches.

  • Europe: Although museums and historical sites immediately come to mind, European countries offer plenty of ecotourism options, too. Cycling and hiking holidays are especially popular.

  • North America: The beautiful, extensive, but increasingly overcrowded national parks continue to attract visitors to North America, with Alaska and Canada growing in popularity. Heading to some of the slightly less popular but equally stunning parks spreads out the impact more equally.

  • South America: Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru are high on ecotourism lists, especially the Amazon region in Brazil, the snow-capped volcanic mountains and indigenous populations in Ecuador, and the Andes in Peru.

  • Southeast Asia: Indonesia and Thailand are the most popular destinations in this region, with their rainforests and mountain ranges contrasting with stunning beaches. An increasing number of ecotourists also are visiting countries such as Cambodia, Laos, and Nepal — although garbage on the popular route toward Mount Everest has been a problem in Nepal.

An increasing number of guidebooks highlight the attractions of these natural parts of the world. You also can type ecotourism into your favorite Internet search engine to find plenty of ecotourism options.

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