Sustainability and travel don’t exactly go hand in hand. Most of us are more conscious of our carbon footprint than ever, and cutting back on flying seems like the obvious way to shrink it. But taking a train or staying put aren’t the only solutions. The rise of eco-tourism has made it possible to explore destinations in a greener, cleaner way.
To celebrate Earth Month, Big 7 Travel has selected 50 destinations around the globe that are doing good for the planet. Each of these cities, regions or countries has committed to protecting natural resources, people or heritage. From renewable energy, ESG financing to community-led projects and initiatives.
This might be through any number of initiatives, from investment in renewable energy to innovative community-led projects.
50 Best Eco-Friendly Places To Visit In 2022
Nijmegen – Netherlands
The largest city in the Dutch province of Gelderland, Nijmegen is committed to achieving happier, healthier lifestyles. It’s no pipe dream either, it was awarded the European Green Capital in 2018 in recognition of how well it looks after its citizens. How so? The city is committed to becoming energy neutral and very, very green – in 2018 authorities replaced 190,000 paving stones with 10,000 trees and bushes. Green Friday sees locals and visitors roll up their sleeves to tidy up the city, while the river park on the Waal doubles up as a flood-defence system. Plus, Restuarant de Nieuwe Winkel was the first restaurant awarded a green Michelin star for its plant-based menu sourced from the local forest.
Swedish Lapland – Sweden
Swedish Lapland – or Sápmi – is teeming with old-growth forests, mountains, glaciers, free-flowing rivers and wetlands. It’s the most uninhabited and road-less landscape in Europe. The indigenous Sami community has lived here for millennia, along with big elk, bears, wolverines, lynx and reindeer migrating between the mountains. Now, several initiatives are focussed on telling the story of this once excluded society, promoting the Sami community’s long-held sustainable practices and respect for nature too.
Ecotourism is playing a huge role in revitalising declining local communities. Eco-friendly accommodation providers like White Mountain Lodges are attracting crowds of eco-conscious travellers and the money is re-invested in the local economy. Rewilding efforts have ensured the full protection of remaining old-growth forests too.
Oder Delta – Germany & Poland
Strategically located on one of Europe’s ecological crossroads, Oder Delta sprawls across more than 250,000 hectares of heaths, wetlands, forests, lagoons and grasslands. It’s wildlife-rich and a stop-over site for migrating waterbirds using the East Atlantic Flyway. Thanks to rewilding efforts, two-thirds of the region is now protected and providing new sources of income for a once-declining population. The Oder Delta Safari Company offers luxury safaris in the region now too.
Lech-Zurs – Austria
Sustainable isn’t a word often associated with skiing, but Lech-Zurs is aiming to change that. Not only does it offer some of the best off-piste antics in Europe, but visitors can also enjoy them guilt-free. The village has capped beds at 10,000 and limited lift pass numbers to ensure longer-term preservation. They’ve also introduced a biomass heating plant that uses regionally sourced wood chips to provide heat and communal hot water. Guests can choose to leave their cars at home thanks to the village’s free ski bus, e-bikes and scooters rentals. And, when you’ve tired of chasing white stuff, you can explore the native-plant garden, which authorities add to every year.
Vilnius is serious about sustainability. Firstly, they’ve cut annual CO2 emissions by 35,000 tonnes through shared mobility services such as the Bolt scooter sharing team. The city also introduced an innovative deposit return system to boost recycling by adding a €0.10 tax to the cost of glass and plastic bottles. This resulted in 92% of plastic bottles and 85% of glass bottles were returned for recycling in 2021. Plus, in 2020 locals were asked to continue to care for their Christmas trees, which were replanted in the city’s Verkiai Regional Park in March, creating Vilnius’s Christmas Forest.
Patagonia – Argentina & Chile
Patagonia is home to some of the world’s most diverse landscapes and pristine wilderness. To keep it that way, there are now dozens of local tour operators, accommodation providers and eateries dedicated to preserving local landscapes and communities. Take the award-winning tour operator Cascada Expediciones, which offers soft-adventure trips throughout the region. They recently opened the world’s first geodesic dome hotel. Visitors are encouraged to get involved with local initiatives too. The Fiesta de la Limpieza helps keep the Torres del Paine National Park clean and the Tu Mejor Huella is busy rebuilding the base torres trail in Torres del Paine National Park.fdsfs
Suriname has a carbon negative economy thanks largely to the vast rainforest that covers 93% of the country. In fact, Suriname has one of the largest protected areas of rainforest in the world – the Central Suriname Nature Reserve UNESCO World Heritage Site. This rainforest covers the southern four-fifths of the country. The forest contains more than 1000 species of trees and hosts a great diversity of flora and fauna including many protected animals, for instance, the giant river otter, the giant armadillo and jaguars.
Suriname has pledged to “maintain the share of electricity from renewable sources above 35% by 2030″ and increase its focus on climate smart agriculture.
Galapagos Islands – Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands is a biodiversity hotspot, beloved for staggering wildlife below the surface and on dry land. It’s home to nearly 3,000 marine species, as well as the largest biomass of sharks on the planet. But that makes it popular too. Recently, local authorities have introduced measures to limit the impact of tourism on the island, such as capping the size of boats and investing in renewable energy. Conscious community tourism has become more of a focus too. There’s now a variety of forward-thinking eco-friendly lodging options for visitors to choose from. Pikaia Lodge, a carbon-neutral hotel made from steel, is. real highlight.
Estonia has a bit of a head start when it comes to eco-tourism, with nearly 70% of the country covered by forests and bogs. It means that, as well as clean air, visitors are never too far away from the wilderness. A whopping seven regions from across the country made it into the Sustainable Top 100 Destinations competitions too: Hiiumaa and Saaremaa, Pärnu, Rakvere and Tartu, Järva County and Lahemaa National Park. The country’s colourful capital Tallinn is also the European Green Capital for 2023. The title comes with a €600,000 ($710,000) fund to invest in green projects. That should enable it to meet its target of a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050.
Slovenia is green, in every sense of the world. More than 13% of the entire territory is protected parkland, 35% of it is a Natura 2000 designated Special Area of Conservation and 60% of the country is covered in greenery. The tourism industry encourages intimate relations with nature, be it through hiking and biking or diving into local gastronomy. Even Ljubljana, the country’s capital, is going above and beyond. It was the first capital city in the EU to take part in the zero-waste program, became European Green Capital in 2016 and introduced a huge no-car zone in the centre of town last year.