Driven by concern for the preservation of Earth’s ecosystems and enjoyment of its natural beauty, travelers increasingly choose ecotourism destinations for their vacations. These include safaris and wildlife tours, volunteer tours, adventure tours and visits to remote natural settings. Generally, ecotourism means responsible travel, which benefits local communities and does as much as possible to protect the environment. An eco-conscious traveler typically will shop locally, will seek out accommodations and travel that reduce impact on the environment and will embrace culture and customs in the chosen area.
With the different types of tours, there is no shortage of things to do. Popular ecotourism destinations are safaris or wildlife tours. Most people never get to see exotic animals in their natural habitat, only in zoos. Antelopes, lions, seals and sea birds attract many travelers every year to their ranges and rookeries. Responsible tour companies and guides take precautions to minimize disturbance to the animals.
Volunteer tours take travelers to places where they have the opportunity to lend a hand locally. Agricultural programs provide willing assistance with projects such as raising chickens, seed propagation and harvesting. Programs usually include training if needed, housing in apartments or dorms or with local families, food and transportation. Some programs even have language classes for participants. Whether it’s helping sea turtle conservation groups in Costa Rica or working in a preschool in Africa, volunteer tours are a great way to learn new skills or to use existing ones to get involved.
Other ecotourism destinations have adventure at their heart. Travelers can go diving with marine life in the Galapagos, mountain biking in Ecuador or canoeing deep in the Amazon, for example. Most participants in these programs already have an interest in the activities described and want to do them in an exotic, challenging location. Participants should be physically fit and prepared for primitive accommodations such as camping in tents or staying in simple native dwellings. Adventure tours usually build in activities that allow participants to mix with indigenous cultures, such as workshops, visits and presentations.
Some visitors like to choose their vacations based on the opportunity to see natural settings and events far removed from their homes. Frontier ecotourism destinations such as subzero Antarctica or rarely seen African jungles inject excitement into travel the way no other trip can. Some people have argued that tours to these places should be limited. Repeated invasions by careless and uneducated tourists can damage fragile ecosystems and stress native animals. Limits on group sizes and visits per year can help minimize negative impact.
Ecotourism destinations offer unique cultural and nature experiences, but travelers should take care to research tour companies, lodging and ways to travel that ensure sustainability. This can be as simple as staying in green hotels that try to reduce demands on local resources. Using bikes or carts instead of cars reduces fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. Respecting local customs helps build mutually beneficial relationships between people. In these ways, ecotourism stays responsible as well as educational.