9 mins

26 places plotting a greener more sustainable future

While travel’s on hold, enlightened destinations are looking towards more sustainable forms of tourism. Holly Tuppen looks at those vowing to build back better…

The Bahamas (Shutterstock)

1. Arizona adventure hub puts residents first, USA

Red Rock State Park, Sedona, Arizona, USA (Shutterstock)

Red Rock State Park, Sedona, Arizona, USA (Shutterstock)

The small city of Sedona, which sits amid Arizona’s spectacular buttes, canyons and pine forests, had the classic problem of many similar tourism gateways: horrendous over-crowding during peak season. But since 2019, it has worked with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council to establish how residents and visitors can co-exist. The plan includes no-fly zones over residential areas for helicopter tours, improving walking-and-cycling routes and traffic flow, and better public transport. It also features the Sedona Cares Pledge, which asks tourists to be mindful of their noise, leave no trace, minimise water use and be caring and considerate at all times. visitsedona.com/sustainable-tourism-plan

2. Okanagan goes organic, Canada

Vineyards in Okanagan Valley (Shutterstock)

Vineyards in Okanagan Valley (Shutterstock)

The laidback Okanagan Valley is often overlooked in favour of British Columbia’s showier headline acts like the Rockies and Vancouver Island. But that’s missing a trick. This landscape of furrowed canyons, dense forest and semi-desert grasslands protects some of Canada’s most fragile biodiversity. Also, the region has long championed responsible tourism that works alongside communities, supporting local makers and producers along the way. The Okanagan is Canada’s primary wine-producing region and, in 2021, will be home to the largest percentage of organic wines in the world. At wineries such as Cedar Creek, which makes 27 organic wines, foraging and tasting experiences help visitors understand the organic transition. cedarcreek.bc.ca; hellobc.com

3. Tourist dollars stay local, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia (Shutterstock)

Cartagena, Colombia (Shutterstock)

The devastating effects of 2020’s travel pause have sparked a renewed drive to ensure that tourism revenue goes to locals rather than international companies. Two projects underway in Colombia are doing just that. Portia Hart, the owner of Blue Apple Beach Club, has launched an Insider’s Guide to Cartagena’s best locally owned restaurants, bars and shops across the city’s colourful streets. Meanwhile, Much Better Adventures has been busy plotting off-the-beaten-track trips with Expedition Colombia, which helped save the Semana River from damming and has trained former FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) members in guiding. blueapplebeach.com; muchbetteradventures.com

4. Guernsey boosts on-foot adventures, Channel Islands

Guernsey (Shutterstock)

Guernsey (Shutterstock)

Meandering around the edges of five islands, the new Islands of Guernsey Way will help visitors appreciate the diversity of landscapes and wildlife across the bailiwick on foot. The 80km-ish path ranges around Guernsey, Herm, Sark, Alderney and little Lihou, taking in everything from quaint Portelet Harbour, where wild waves blow in across thousands of miles of uninterrupted Atlantic, and the L’Eree Aerodrome – Guernsey’s first airfield, which is now the Colin Best Nature Reserve. A free app provides all the information needed to piece together an adventure, including commentary on history, culture and folklore, circular routes and buses. Visit Guernsey lists places to stay along the way. visitguernsey.com

5. Bison return to the Carpathians, Romania

Bison (Shutterstock)

Bison (Shutterstock)

Europe is losing its wilderness: less than 2% of the continent remains in its original, natural state. One organisation on a mission to turn back time and restore the balance is Romania’s Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC), which hopes to make Romania a world-leading conservation success story. In 2020, the rewilding initiative took a giant leap forward with the reintroduction of over 20 bison to the Făgăraș Mountains, after more than 200 years since their disappearance. The bison provide a key role in ecosystem restoration, naturally churning up trees, plants and soils. Working directly with the FCC, Steppes’ Wildlife Conservation in Carpathia trip offers the opportunity to see the foundation’s work firsthand, and includes a £500 contribution to the project. carpathia.org; steppestravel.com

6. Central American country creates colossal wildlife corridor, Belize

A jaguar in Belize (Shutterstock)

A jaguar in Belize (Shutterstock)

Big cats such as jaguars are under threat throughout South and Central America since forest destruction reduces space for the apex predators to roam and hunt. Thanks to a protection order signed by the Belize Government in 2019, change is hopefully on the way. Connecting the protected landscapes of Belize’s Maya Mountains and the tri-national Maya Forest of Belize, Mexico and Guatemala, the Maya Forest Corridor will create the most extensive continuous stretch of jungle in Central America. Other animals that will benefit include spider monkeys, tapirs and river turtles. Help fund the conservation effort by staying at Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, which is part of the wildlife corridor and a critical not-for-profit partner of the vision. monkeybaybelize.com

7. Menorca slows down, Spain

Menorca island, Spain (Shutterstock)

Menorca island, Spain (Shutterstock)

Sun, sand and parties may spring to mind when thinking of Spain’s Balearic Islands, but a long-overdue image makeover is putting Ibiza, Menorca and Mallorca on the map for slower, greener trips. The entire island of Menorca is a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and a series of historic walking and horse-riding routes (Camí de Cavalls) has been revamped to lure visitors to places they wouldn’t usually go. Slow food is big on the agenda, too, especially since the island has been awarded the European Region of Gastronomy 2022 title. New trips and tours from Farmers Way and Slow Travel Menorca focus on the island’s fish, cheese, olive and wine heritage, supporting local producers and old-world farms with mindful production methods. slowtravelmenorca.com; farmersandco.es/farmers-way; menorca.es

8. The Canaries get serious about cetaceans, Spain

A bottlenose dolphin (Shutterstock)

A bottlenose dolphin (Shutterstock)

While it’s magical to see cetaceans in the wild, too much interference from noise, pollution and people can disorientate, stress and, in the worst cases, kill whales and dolphins. Several years ago the Canary Islands established a Blue Boat Badge scheme to help tourists identify wildlife tour providers that are conducting trips responsibly; the badge criteria were updated in 2020 to ensure the boats adhere to the latest ethical practices. In January 2021, the Tenerife-La Gomera marine area also became the first European destination to gain Whale Heritage Site status, making it one of the world’s most sustainable whale-watching spots. Wild Sea offers a collection of marine experiences across the Canary Islands that focus on education rather than exploitation. wildsea.eu

9. Locals reclaim Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam (Shutterstock)

Amsterdam (Shutterstock)

Amsterdam’s waterways, leafy parks and cycle culture have always appealed to green-minded souls. Yet, pre-pandemic, tourism had become almost unbearable to residents. The medieval cobbled streets of De Wallen – the city’s infamous red-light district – were overrun with gawping visitors. Thanks to 2020’s break from the influx, the city has voted to shutter De Wallen, moving the sex-workers elsewhere and resetting the city’s reputation. Cleaner, greener activities include Plastic Whale’s canal tours, which take guests on three-hour expeditions to clean up plastic while cruising through the city. plasticwhale.com

10. Tourist board advocates Aboriginal experiences, Australia

Kimberley Plateau, Australia (Shutterstock)

Kimberley Plateau, Australia (Shutterstock)

Australia’s national tourist board has spent several years building up a portfolio of Aboriginal run-and-led experiences under the umbrella Discover Aboriginal Experiences. From the Kimberley to New South Wales, each trip and tour is vetted to ensure empowerment and equality rather than exploitation, showcasing the heritage, wisdom and modern-day life of the oldest civilisation on the planet. New additions include exploring the creeks and tidal flats of Western Australia’s Dampier Peninsula, with fourth-generation Bardi man Terry Hunter, and 4WD adventures with proud Wiradjuri Mark Saddler, whose ancestors have lived in the now heavily-farmed Riverina region of New South Wales for 40,000 years. australia.com

11. Communities pick up on picnicking, Malawi

A market in Malawi (Shutterstock)

A market in Malawi (Shutterstock)

If there’s one skill we’ve finessed in the past year of restricted movements, it’s picnicking. When we’re able to travel again, switch limp sandwiches on over-familiar park benches for a bite of nthochi (banana bread) on the shores of Lake Malawi or overlooking the cedar forests of the Zomba Massif. Thanks to community-minded safari company Land & Lake, picnic sites across Malawi are getting a makeover while being put back into the hands of those that live close to them. Land & Lake provides money to local communities to signpost and maintain the picnic sites, which are then managed to suit local needs. Money received from visitors will go back to communities to keep picnic sites functioning for the benefit of all. landlake.net

12. Hikers help the mountains, Georgia & Armenia

The Caucasus Mountains, Georgia (Shutterstock)

The Caucasus Mountains, Georgia (Shutterstock)

Since 2015, the Transcaucasian Trail initiative has been carving out a walking route across one of the world’s most biologically, culturally and linguistically diverse regions. Spanning Georgia and Armenia, the 3,000km route will, once finished, not only improve access to the landscapes and heritage of the Caucasus Mountains, but also secure their protection. The trail network, which comprises many paths that have been used by villagers and shepherds for centuries, will connect 24 national parks, from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Current trip possibilities include ten-day and two-week adventures on existing parts of the trail and volunteering opportunities. All profits are fed back into the cause. transcaucasiantrail.org

13. Going Swisstainable in slow Switzerland, Switzerland

The Illbach river near Pfyn-Finges Nature Park, Switzerland (Shutterstock)

The Illbach river near Pfyn-Finges Nature Park, Switzerland (Shutterstock)

From an impeccable rail service to its hydro power, Switzerland’s always near the top of sustainability rankings yet it’s never shouted about its achievements. Its new ‘Swissstainable’ programme is inviting accommodations, attractions and transport to list a Swisstainable level – either one, two, or three – while visitors are encouraged to enjoy the benefits of slow travelling through the country, taking their time to discover its nature and local culture. Spanning landscapes from the rocky steppes of Pfyn-Finges Nature Park to Thal Nature Park’s castles and valleys, the Swiss Parcs are a good starting point for a deep delve into the country; if you want a more expansive yet equally intimate journey, La Route Verte is a new e-bike route that spans six Regional Nature Parks throughout the north-western Jura region. myswitzerland.com

14. National parks ban single-use plastic, Costa Rica

A colourful keelbilled toucan in Costa Rica (Shutterstock)

A colourful keelbilled toucan in Costa Rica (Shutterstock)

Long considered a world leader when it comes to sustainable travel, Costa Rica generates more than 99% of its electricity via renewable sources and has devised a Pura Vida Pledge to encourage visitors to ensure their trip is as responsible as possible. In February 2021, the country went one step further, banning all single-use plastics in national parks and reserves. Visitors can support the plastic-free movement by booking a trip with Cayuga Collection. From Kurà Hotel in the Uvita rainforest to the vibrant bungalows of Hotel Aguas Claras on the Caribbean coast, this group of lodges hasn’t used single-use plastic for ten years, even managing to avoid them through the pandemic. Impressive initiatives include persuading suppliers to cut their plastic use, prioritising homemade and homegrown produce, and innovating where solutions don’t yet exist. cayugacollection.com

15. Eco-lodge defends the Cerrado, Brazil

A maned wolf (Shutterstock)

A maned wolf (Shutterstock)

Covering more than 20% of Brazil, the Cerrado is considered the country’s forgotten biome. Despite being relatively unknown, it’s essential for Brazilian wildlife, holding sizeable underground water reserves. One lodge, Pousada Trijunção, uses tourism revenue to protect its 33,000-hectare patch of this endangered environment, to safeguard jaguars and maned wolves, and to raise awareness around why the destruction of the Cerrado for agriculture must stop. One alternative to this is regenerative food production; Trijunção leads the way with a low carbon Brazilian beef trial and helps farmers yield better produce using less land, ultimately preventing deforestation. pousadatrijuncao.com.br

16. Caribbean communities get their share, Bahamas

The Bahamas (Shutterstock)

The Bahamas (Shutterstock)

The largest archipelago in the Bahamas, Andros is a dazzling cluster of islets, cays, mangroves, seagrass, swamplands and the world’s highest concentration of enigmatic blue holes (a diver’s dream). Tourism here has traditionally been resort-based and international-owned but, thanks to the new Andros Community Based Tourism Initiative, there’s a renewed push to ensure local communities get their fair share of visitor revenue. The project comprises 57 small businesses and ten charities working together to co-fund low-impact ecotourism opportunities from birding to traditional medicine tours. While the project gets online, find similar experiences on the Bahamas National Trust site or Caribbean-led green experiences on See the Caribbean. bnt.bs/explore; seethecaribbean.org

17. Creative Coast moves art outside, UK

Towner Eastbourne (Thierry Bal/England's Creative Coast)

Towner Eastbourne (Thierry Bal/England's Creative Coast)

Stretching 1,400km from the Thames Estuary to the Channel, the England’s Creative Coast project was originally conceived to open up the south-east’s artistic heritage to a greater number of people, promoting its wealth of galleries, studios, workshops and cultural events. This year, the UK’s first art geo-tour will offer a socially-distanced dose of creativity too: seven new outdoor sculptures will be dotted around the vibrant Kent, Essex and East Sussex shores, with each piece reflecting its unique location. Visitors can happily stumble upon them or plan itineraries with England’s Creative Coast, which also feature cultural tours, places to stay, activities and experiences with local makers. englandscreativecoast.com

18. Female guides rock the Pamirs, Tajikistan

The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan (Shutterstock)

The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan (Shutterstock)

The travel industry can open up a world of opportunity for women, especially in destinations where they remain tied to traditional roles. A heartening example is Women Rockin Pamirs, a charity that helps Tajik ladies understand their potential and take up mountain guiding. Although trips paused through 2020, training continued; seminars covering biodiversity, climate awareness and conservation received record interest. Adventure specialist Untamed Borders runs Trekking Tajikistan trips guided by women who have graduated from the programme. womenrockinpamirs.org/en; untamedborders.com

19. Landowners turn to ecotourism, Mexico

Puente de Dios, San Luis Potosi, Mexico (Shutterstock)

Puente de Dios, San Luis Potosi, Mexico (Shutterstock)

The rugged Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in northern Mexico is vast and varied. Ranging from 260m to 3,100m above sea level, encompassing 15 habitat types and supporting a wealth of wildlife – including jaguar, black bears, otters, macaws and toucans – it is one of Mexico’s most significant ecosystems. Despite being a designated UNESCO reserve, the region is mostly privately owned and slash-and-burn agriculture and cattle rearing are huge threats. However, ecotourism organisations such as Sierra Gorda Ecotours, which works alongside the Sierra Gorda Conservation Alliance, are experiencing an upturn in interest from landowners wanting to protect their patch via ecotourism. Virtual tours, a new online shop and smaller, socially-distanced experiences are also keeping revenue coming in despite Covid-19. sierragordaecotours.com

20. Cyclades fisherman fights back, Greece

Fishing boats on Mykonos island, Greece (Shutterstock)

Fishing boats on Mykonos island, Greece (Shutterstock)

The sun-kissed Cyclades islands are home to some of Greece’s finest tavernas: think soft sand, sparkling- sea views, cold beer in hand, the daily catch smoking on the grill. Fishing and tourism dominate livelihoods here, and last year one young fisherman, Lefteris Arapakis, won a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Young Champion of the Earth prize for taking action to make both more sustainable. Having noticed fish stocks declining, Arapakis set up Enaleia, an organisation providing education about sustainable practices and the dangers of over-fishing to locals. The initiative is funded by the Cyclades Preservation Fund, which is also working to reduce plastic waste. Visitors can immerse themselves in the islands’ natural wonders in a low-impact way on Responsible Travel’s series of Cyclades nature tours. cycladespreservationfund.org; responsibletravel.com

21. Ski city earns Green Capital status, Finland

A ski jump in Lahti, Finland (Shutterstock)

A ski jump in Lahti, Finland (Shutterstock)

Sitting on Lake Vesijärvi, one hour by train from Helsinki, the city of Lahti is a winter sports hub and an eco pioneer. Thanks to more than ten years dedicated to greening up its infrastructure, including a plan to be zero waste by 2050 and carbon-neutral by 2025, it’s been named European Green Capital for 2021. Plus a new urban City Skis programme (like Boris Bikes for skis) allows the free sharing of equipment, providing an affordable and sustainable way to enjoy the snow. Visit Finland’s Trip Planner tool allows you to plan a sustainable trip to the Lakeland region, encompassing its green-certified accommodations, shops and activities, including Slow Food menus, eco fashion boutiques and lakeside log cabins relying entirely on renewables. greenlahti.fi/en; trip-planner.visitfinland.com

22. Scotland gets serious about carbon, UK

Isle of Eigg, Scotland (Shutterstock)

Isle of Eigg, Scotland (Shutterstock)

In late 2020, Scotland became the first national tourist board to Declare a Climate Emergency, signing up to Tourism Declares, a collective hoping to shrink tourism’s hefty carbon footprint. Visit Scotland’s vision includes encouraging accommodations to use more local suppliers and improving the nation’s public transport network – ideal for slower, more authentic experiences. Flight-free travel operator By Way – launched in 2020 – can arrange a seamless, low-carbon rail and ferry Scotland adventure, whisking you from Glasgow’s bars to eco isolation on the off-grid Isle of Eigg. tourismdeclares.com; byway.travel

23. Sabah reforestation provides wildlife hope, Malaysia

Proboscis Monkey (Sabah Tourism Board)

Proboscis Monkey (Sabah Tourism Board)

The state of Sabah in northern Borneo is a wildlife wonderland: endangered orangutans, proboscis monkeys, saltwater crocodiles, hornbills, pygmy elephants and many other species make their homes in its dense rainforests and snaking rivers. Logging and palm oil plantations are a constant threat here, but reforestation projects are helping to restore habitats. Recent success stories include the Bukit Piton Forest Reserve; heavily logged in the past, it has now been replanted with over 300,000 trees and hundreds of orangutans are thought to have moved back in. Visitor contributions to tree planting and maintenance are highly encouraged. borneoecotours.com

24. Krakow takes small steps to going green, Poland

A view across the Vistula River towards Wawel Castle (E Marchewka/Polish Tourist Board)

A view across the Vistula River towards Wawel Castle (E Marchewka/Polish Tourist Board)

Kraków, Poland’s cultural capital, is now home to 18 ‘pocket parks’ – small, communal patches of greenery, fashioned from formally neglected spaces, that are designed to give residents, visitors and local wildlife a little burst of nature. Some are shaded roadside areas with seating and tables, others are tiny wildflower meadows with stepping-stones and gazebos. For a bigger hit of nature, head 7km out of the city to Wolski Woods, a huge expanse of hilly forest. Other sustainability-minded travel ideas in Kraków include an Electric Car Tour and a Kazimierz Food Tour, which explores family-run restaurants and street-food in the Old Jewish Quarter. getyourguide.co.uk; viator.com

25. New company supports African rangers, Kenya

A rhino roams the Ol Chorro Conservancy in the Masai Mara, Kenya (Graeme Green)

A rhino roams the Ol Chorro Conservancy in the Masai Mara, Kenya (Graeme Green)

Despite headlines about poaching being on the rise during the pandemic, the Kenya Wildlife Service reported zero rhino poaching incidents in 2020 (the first time since 1999). This is partly thanks to conservancies using residual funds to keep rangers employed. To ensure rangers receive the training and equipment required to continue doing their vital jobs, conservation advocates Sam Taylor and Pete Newland established For Rangers Adventure in 2020. The tour company donates 40% of all profits to the For Rangers charitable campaign, which currently supports the welfare and training of more than 2,500 rangers across 14 African countries. A nine-day Conservation of Kenya trip includes a visit to Borana Conservancy with the charity’s founders to learn more about Borana-Lewa, which protects 200-plus black and white rhinos. borana.co.ke; forrangersadventures.com

26. A pioneering Slow Food community, Switzerland

Verbier in summer, Switzerland

Verbier in summer, Switzerland

In Valais' high pastures, cowbells tinker and goats bleat as hikers pick their way through a carpet of wildflowers, a scene unchanged for centuries as farmers move herds up the mountains once the snow thaws. Traditional cheesemakers once dotted the hills, minimising the time and effort needed to transport milk before being churned into Switzerland's infamous cheese. Today, just one of these 'fromageries' remains active at La Chaux, just above Verbier. Thanks to a new partnership between Valis and the Slow Food Movement, these gentle, old-world rhythms and morsels of heritage have been joined up to form specialised itineraries. Slow Food Travel trips include bread making, wine tasting, an introduction to medicinal plants and craft breweries. 
slowfood.comvalais.ch/en/home

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