As we as a society have become more conscious of our impact on the planet, and look to minimise this impact, it's no surprise that responsible tourism has become a growing industry. More tourists than ever are looking for ways to travel responsibly, honing-in on destinations which are ecologically sound and kinder to the communities they visit.
While many Explore tours favour destinations that promote responsible tourism, there are many places across the world that implement eco-friendly practices to reduce tourism's impact on the environment. Read on to explore the most eco-friendly places to visit on Earth and discover your next responsible travel destination.
Iceland is a fantastic destination to visit at any time of year, thanks to its stunning natural scenery, and you can visit with the reassurance that the capital city of Reykjavik is officially considered one of the 'cleanest' cities on the planet. Thanks to its location on the mid-Atlantic ridge and its geo-thermal activity, Iceland is almost entirely powered by geo-thermal energy, which makes it one of the greenest countries in the world. In fact, Iceland's renewable energy programme is said to produce the largest amount of green energy per capita compared to other nations.
Explore offers a number of immersive tours to Iceland which allows the visitor the chance to enjoy the country in its natural beauty. View the Northern Lights well away from any light pollution with an expert astronomer, or unwind in the natural heated pools of Myvatn Nature Baths, surrounded by snow-covered hills. Whatever trip you choose, Iceland is a great place to visit for the environmentally-conscious.
The Azores Islands
As an autonomous region located off the west coast of Portugal, some 1,360 kilometres out into the Atlantic Ocean, the scenic Azores islands were recently listed among the Sustainable Destinations Global Top 100 regions in the world. This group of volcanic islands, with their lush tropical landscapes and crater lakes, are exciting to visit at any time of year; the conservation of local wildlife and commitment to green energy has earned the Azores important eco-credentials as a responsible travel destination.
The Azores Islands rely on a number of renewable energy sources including wind, geothermic and biomass, and are increasing clean energy targets each year. Many of the activities you can participate in, such as whale-watching, are well-regulated to protect the wildlife and marine life which flourishes here. This means that you can make the most of what the Islands have to offer, without worrying about damaging the fragile ecosystem.
Explore's tours to the Azores allow you to discover these stunning landscapes on foot, taking in the sights of vast valleys and gorges, visiting the capital of Ponta Delgada and even enjoying a traditional lunch of cozido - a type of stew - cooked in a volcanic fumarole, all while minimising the impact on the environment.
Costa Rica is one of Explore's most popular destinations, due to its impressive array of wildlife, unspoilt rainforests and a true sense of adventure. This tiny corner of Central America, which shares its borders with Panama and Nicaragua, is one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world, producing almost 93% of its electricity from renewable sources. This tropical and volcanic landscape is also fiercely protected to preserve the country's diverse wildlife and ecology, which is said to hold around 5% of the planet's total biodiversity.
With both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, Costa Rica provides the perfect opportunity to travel green, with coast to coast cycling trips and cycling tours, which allow you to see and experience sandy beaches, miles of rainforest and volcanic craters up close. There are also a number of national parks and reserves such as Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Manuel Antonio National Park, or the CATIE Research Centre, which works to protect Costa Rica's natural resources. Aiming to become the first carbon neutral country by 2020, Costa Rica is a sustainable tourist destination that should be on everybody's list for eco travel.
It should come as no surprise that New Zealand, which is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular countries in the world, works hard to protect its natural beauty through practising sustainable travel, having also turned its focus over the last twenty years towards becoming a more eco-friendly nation.
Now largely considered a 'green' nation, with geothermal power accounting for an impressive 22% of New Zealand's energy in 2015, many responsible tour operators are regulated here to ensure that the industry is well preserved. Whether you're exploring the natural beauty of the North Island, or the Maori heritage of the South Island; admiring enormous glaciers and snow-dusted mountains, or sampling wine in Hawke's Bay vineyards, you can do it all in the safe knowledge that you're travelling responsibly. New Zealand may be on the other side of the planet, but when booking with Explore, your flights will be offset as part of our project with Cool Earth, so that you can enjoy this fascinating destination to its fullest.
Frequently voted as one of the best and happiest countries to live in, this mountainous country, located at the tip of Northern Europe, is also one of the greenest. Conservation is a big part of the culture here and no less than eight Norwegian tourist destinations have been officially certified as sustainable by the international Sustainable Tourism initiative.
As their official slogan goes, Norway is 'powered by nature', with many green initiatives working to promote responsible tourism. While Norway is one of Europe's largest providers of hydropower, in 2013 Norway reportedly also used waste as a key source of eco-friendly fuel, to power everything from homes to shops and schools.
Norway is working towards a goal of becoming CO2 neutral by 2030 by investing in technology that will reduce emissions countrywide, and it's easy to see why: Norway's glacial landscapes and stunning fjords are proudly preserved. Escape to Norway with Explore and take a walking tour of Oslo, or embark on one of our trips to the Arctic, which will take you to Spitsbergen to view the fascinating wildlife up close.