10 Ecotourism Hotspots for 2016

Eco-tourism has become something of a buzzword in recent years. Some might be quick to write it off as nothing more than fancy marketing, but the trend toward “green” travel has stayed strong through 2015, with 53% of Americans looking to book green hotels, and interest in environmentally viable and sustainable tourism is likely to grow in 2016 as talks around climate change continue. So where can we expect green travelers to head off to in 2016? Here are our 10 picks for the year ahead.

10. Costa Rica

Let’s start with the tried-but-true Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a recognized leader in ecotourism, often considered a pioneer. The country’s focus on sustainability makes sense because Costa Rica’s tourism industry is heavily centered on its natural resources, including its abundant wildlife, lush mountain ecosystems and its “cloud forests.” Costa Rica’s commitment to green extends outside of the tourism industry, however; in 2007, the country committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2021 and, as of 2015, 93% of the country’s energy needs are met by renewable sources. Environmental taxes act as disincentives to polluting businesses and laws such as the 1996 Forest Law have helped reorient other industries to sustainable development. All of this means that tourists traveling to Costa Rica can feel secure knowing they’ve made an environmentally sound choice.

costa rica

9. Laos

Two decades ago, Laos was relatively low on the list of international destinations; since the 1990s, however, tourism has grown explosively, from under 100,000 visitors annually to nearly 2 million tourists every year. The relatively quick growth of the industry might lead to concerns about exploitative development and destructive mass tourism, but Laos has also developed a strong orientation toward ecotourism—perhaps fitting for a country that has adopted the slogan “Simply Beautiful.” Luang Namtha, the northernmost province in Laos, is one of the best areas for tourists looking for a trip focused on sustainability: local villages earn alternate income from offering trekking and rafting tours through the biodiverse region around the Nam Ha Protected Area and the Namtha River, which encourages preservation of the environment as an attraction for continued tourism.

Laos

8. Cambodia

Tourism in Cambodia has long been overshadowed by violence in the country. Nonetheless, tourism is the second-most important industry in the self-proclaimed “Kingdom of Wonder,” and is based on 3 key elements. One of those elements is an embarrassment of natural attractions, and nowhere is that more evident than in Koh Kong, the country’s southwestern most province. Located near the border with Thailand, the region embraces part of the Cardamom Mountains and boasts 1 of the largest forests in Southeast Asia. The area also features untouched beaches and pristine waters along its undeveloped coastline. Cambodia’s largest national park, Botum Sakor National Park, is also located in Koh Kong, along with part of the Kirirom National Park. The rugged terrain along the Tatai River has been perfect for developing sustainable tourism aimed at keeping the natural wonders of Koh Kong intact for future generations.

Cambodia

7. Greenland

There’s been plenty of discussion about Greenland lately: the country has been named one of Lonely Planet’s top travel destinations for 2016, and much of the country’s frozen landscape seems to be melting at an alarming rate. While that might seem to be a call to travelers to see Greenland before it’s “too late,” Greenland has been working on a better plan: a sustainable tourism industry. Since much of the country’s young tourism industry focuses on experiences like dog-sledding, hiking along glaciers and whale-watching, ensuring that tourism in Greenland is eco-friendly is a must. Natural Habitat’s Base Camp Greenland is one recent eco-friendly initiative; the small-group excursion takes adventurers to a carbon-neutral expedition camp at the eastern edge of Greenland’s ice sheet. While 2016 promises to be a big year for Greenland tourism, that doesn’t mean it can’t be kept green.

Greenland

6. Norway

While it might be eco-conscious Western tourists who have been a driving force in the development of sustainable tourism, the tourist industries of most Western economies are run on less eco-friendly initiatives. One country that’s pushing toward an increasingly green tourism industry is the Scandinavian country of Norway. One of Norway’s top attractions has always been its environment, most particularly its rugged mountains and stunning fjords. While the remoteness of the fjords has kept them well-protected, so too have Norway’s strict environmental regulations played a role in keeping the iconic Norwegian landscapes pristine. Ensuring a healthy environment extends outside the realm of the tourism industry, and Norway is considered a leader in environmental policy in other industries as well. That means that scenic boat tours, biking through rugged mountain terrain and wondering at the snow-capped mountain vistas of the Norwegian fjords will be activities for future tourists as well.

Norway

5. Botswana

Botswana gets the short end of the stick when it comes to African tourism; the southern African country is bordered by South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. In the ecotourism industry, Botswana is often overlooked for Kenya. Botswana, however, has its own charms: about 70% of the country is covered by the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta, 1 of the 7 Natural Wonders of Africa and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also located in the country. The Chobe Game Reserve is home to a large herd of free-ranging elephants and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary offers guided trekking experiences, while the Central Game Reserve offers up some of southern Africa’s most unspoiled wilderness. In terms of tourism, the industry is small, but growing in Botswana, which means that the country has had time to focus on developing sustainable initiatives.

Botswana

4. Maldives

The Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, is a chain of 26 atolls that is threatened by rising sea levels. With this in mind, the country has been a leader in green industries, including ecotourism. The government has pledged to make the country carbon neutral by 2019. The islands rely heavily on tourism, which is the largest sector of the economy. Most tourism is driven by the Maldives’ natural beauty, including extraordinary diving opportunities in clear blue waters. The islands are often promoted as a tropical resort getaway, and white sand beaches and sports like surfing and scuba diving are popular. Government policies have aimed to reduce damage to sensitive coral reefs and to make stricter laws for waste disposal, while resorts themselves have focused on recapturing wasted energy and recycling heat.

Maldives

3. Seychelles

The Seychelles is a 115-island country located off the east coast of the African continent. Tourism is the primary industry in the economy and has been since the late 20th century. Since the mid-1990s, however, the government has moved to ensure that tourist development doesn’t come at the expense of the islands’ natural environment. This has included capping the number of beds in some of the most popular destinations, such as La Digue. The islands contain a number of unique ecosystems and are home to a host of diverse plants and animals, some of which live on only 1 or 2 islands. While Seychellois culture is coming to value environmental protection, the nation is not currently committed to clean energy or a carbon-neutral plan; time will tell if the environmental conscience of the tourism industry spreads to other sectors of the economy.

Seychelles

2. Kenya

Tourism in Kenya has always been driven by its natural attractions; in recent years, visitors have been attracted to coastal beaches and game reserves, such as the expansive East and West Tsavo National Park. The country boasts 19 such national parks and game reserves, the Great Rift Valley and a stunning view of Mount Kilimanjaro. Best known for its savannas, Kenya is still most popular for safaris, but you can also visit coral reefs on the coast, along with rainforests and deserts. Ecotourism Kenya, a watchdog organization, keeps an eye on tourism and rates accommodations based on their environmental policies. Most safari outfitters now offer eco-friendly options for visitors, and many of them ensure they give back to or work on behalf of the local people, thus working toward sustainability in the industry.

Mount Kilimanjaro

1. New Zealand

New Zealand is a major destination for travelers who seek adventure; the wild, untamed and often rugged landscape offers excellent opportunities for almost all outdoor activities, from hiking to trekking to mountain climbing to surfing and diving. Given that tourism focuses largely on the natural environment, it’s little wonder that New Zealand is also invested in protecting its natural assets—the country has committed to becoming carbon neutral and markets itself as a “clean, green” playground for adventurers. The country has developed numerous walking and hiking trails, such as the internationally recognized Milford Track and the Te Araroa Trail, which spans the country. In line with the country’s presentation of itself, ecotourism initiatives have been on the rise, although there is some concern about tourism being a carbon-intensive industry, as many visitors travel huge distances to reach this remote country.

Milford Track NZ

8 Interesting Travel Destinations With Low Terror Risks

The tragic events of the Paris attacks and political instability in many countries has some travelers re-evaluating their upcoming travel plans. In the wake of the attacks, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office released a list of terror threat ratings by country, and the surprising part is that more than 30 countries around the world are currently sitting at a threat level of ‘high’. Vacation favorites like Spain, Australia, Thailand and much of Europe all have a level 4 (high) rating, putting them alongside countries like Syria, Iraq and Nigeria. If you’d rather have peace of mind on your vacation here are 8 countries that currently have a low, level 1 threat rating as per the Foreign Office report:

8. Laos

If you were hoping to escape for an exotic trip through Asia this winter, you still can and Laos is one of a few countries that poses a low threat of terrorism activities. There are other dangers to be aware of in this beautiful country like drug trade and unexploded ordnance in certain rural areas but these issues are nothing new. A visit to the capital and largest city of Vientiane will allow you to enjoy the many temples and Buddhist monuments located within the city.

Laos Buddhist statue

7. Japan

If you’re looking for a far-flung vacation destination with political stability, low threat of terrorism and plenty to see and do, Japan should be a strong contender. Shop in Tokyo’s Ginza fashion district, explore the Imperial Palace and gardens and dine on some of the best and freshest sushi you can get on this planet.

Korkusung / Shutterstock.com
Korkusung / Shutterstock.com

6. Vietnam

Another exotic Asian destination and popular place for backpackers and budget travelers, Vietnam currently has a low threat of terrorism activity. In visiting the country, you’ll quickly find it’s a place of breathtaking natural beauty, abundant in beaches, historic architecture and friendly people.

Vietnam Rice fields

5. Madagascar

If a trip to the mysterious island of Madagascar has always seemed out of reach, perhaps now is the time to consider this popular eco-travel country for a holiday. Though the threat of terrorism is low in Madagascar, there are other safety concerns to be aware of such as political issues which sometimes result in violence. Still, thousands travel to this country annually and without issue to see the amazing scenery and wildlife that can only be found here.

Madagascar trees

4. Cuba

Canadians and Europeans (and soon to be Americans) will be pleased to hear that Cuba is currently low on the threat level. The popular winter vacation destination is a favorite for offering an affordable escape from the chilly winter months. Visitors can opt for the popular resort life offered in many towns around the country or instead, head to the capital city of Havana for an authentic cultural experience without the worries of many other countries.

Cuba

3. Costa Rica

This Latin American gem is perhaps one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Central America, so thankfully for travelers there is little threat of terror at this time. The green country famously abolished their army in 1949 becoming one of only a few nations without a standing army. It’s a perfect retreat for beach seekers, eco-travelers and adventure types looking for their next big thrill.

Cloudforest Monteverde, Costa Rica

2. Ecuador

While bordered by higher threat countries like Colombia and Peru, Ecuador remains at a loe level 1 threat level. Good news for travelers who have been thinking of visiting this country whose popularity has been growing exponentially in recent years. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed city of Quito where every angle provides a picture perfect view, rich in colonial history.

UNESCO old town in Quito Ecuador

1. Iceland

While already wildly popular in recent years, Iceland remains a place of safe travel. The Nordic nation, like Costa Rica, has long been considered a peaceful country and has no standing army of its own. Visitors will be nothing short of awestruck when they take in landscapes that seem almost otherworldly. A visit to the famous Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa is a must and you won’t want to miss out on the notoriously fun nightlife in the capital city of Reykjavik, not to mention catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights in action.

Arseniy Krasnevsky / Shutterstock.com
Arseniy Krasnevsky / Shutterstock.com

8 Natural Pools to Visit For Ultimate Relaxation

There is nothing more relaxing and awe-inspiring than visiting a pool that has been carved from nature, untouched by the human hand and surrounded by breathtaking scenery. All over the world Mother Nature amazes us with superior swimming holes, towering waterfalls and beautiful lagoons. From the top of the largest waterfall in the world to crystal clear turquoise pools complete with spa fish; here are 8 natural pools to visit for the ultimate relaxation.

8. Havasu Falls -Supai, Arizona

This breathtaking waterfall/swimming hole is located way off the beaten path and requires a $40 permit to enter. It’s awfully hard to get to as it requires either a chartered helicopter ride, a 10-mile steep hike or a pack animal that you have hired. The price, the hassle, it is all worth it as you approach this magnificent natural oasis. A torrent of water streams across the rock face of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, cascading into a pool 100 meters down. The water stays about 72 degrees down in the pool and looks as turquoise as the waters of the Caribbean. Because this swimming hole is so hard to get to, plan on having this spot to yourself. Float on your back, gazing up at the surrounding crater and you will feel the ultimate relaxation.

Havasu Falls

7. Erawan Falls -Erawan National Park, Thailand

This seven-tiered waterfall spans over 1.5km and each tier falls into a wonderfully bright blue swimming pond, full of harmless fish. This waterfall is named after the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology, as the falls are said to resemble it. The first four tiers are easy to get to, while the final three require some fitness and good shoes. The cascading white waters, the lush tropical rainforest and the clear waters in the pool makes you feel as though this is heaven on earth. We suggest going during the week to avoid the crowds and starting with the highest waterfall and making your way down, stopping to swim at each pool. It is easy to find a quiet pool to sit in and relax while the spa fish nibble at your feet and enjoy the warm sun, the cool waters and the absolute stunning scenery around you.

Erawan Falls

6. Gunlom -Kakadu National Park, Australia

Gunlom is the magical combination of waterfall and serene plunge pool, surrounded by tall gum trees in Kakadu National Park. Climb to the top of this steep waterfall for some amazing views of the southern most parts of the park. At the top of this climb are amazing, clear rock pools just beckoning you to come in and swim. If you swim upstream at the top of this waterfall you will come across another secret hidden waterfall that many miss. The deep clear, green pools that feed the waterfall and large pool beneath are crocodile free and offer a great way to cool off after your hike. The plunge pool at the bottom of the falls has to be one of the most picturesque scenes in the world, and although this area receives many visitors, it never feels overcrowded.

Gunlom Pools Kakadu

5. Pools of Oheo -Maui, Hawaii

These famous pools that are often referred to as the seven sacred pools are found just south of Hana on the beautiful island of Maui. These beautifully tiered pools are fed by stunning waterfalls and weather permitting, visitors can take a dip in them. The stream enters into the mighty deep blue ocean while waves crash against the coastline. To avoid the crowds here you will want to explore these pools before noon, preferably on a weekday. Although these pools are often referred to as seven, there are in fact many more than seven pools in the gulch, each surrounded by the unique Hawaiian flora. You will see many visitors and locals jumping into the pools, although officials don’t recommend it due to the dangers. These pools are often closed due to flash flooding that occurs but if you happen to be there when they are open; this experience is on any bucket list for visitors to Maui.

Seven Sacred Pools

4. Kuang Si Falls -Luang Prabang, Laos

The amazing waterfalls and pools here look so serene you have to see them to believe they actually exist. The water is bright blue, clear and refreshingly cold and while the three-tiered waterfall is quite the site, it is the numerous blue pools that catch our eyes. Walkways and bridges guide visitors around the pools and although one is closed as it is a sacred site, the rest are open to visitors. The very top pool is our favorite, loaded with spa fish that love to nibble at your feet, taking the need away to get a pedicure when you get home. Make sure you hike all the way to the top of the falls for quieter, more relaxing pools. Visitors should make sure they come early in the day and pack a picnic lunch that can be enjoyed in the lush surrounding area.

Kuang Si Falls

3. To Sua Ocean Trench -Samoa

To Sua actually translates into big hole and that is exactly what this amazing, breathtaking natural pool is. The swimming hole is actually 98 feet deep and requires swimmers to climb down a ladder to reach the platforms to jump off into the water. The pool itself is tidal and the water goes in and out, taking swimmers with it so make sure you hang onto one of the ropes provided in the trench. During low tide you can actually swim from the trench into the ocean, an amazing experience that should never be missed. The surrounding sites are just as beautiful, lush tropical gardens, an incredible small beach, blowholes, lava fields and tidal pools. If you can close your eyes and imagine what paradise looks like, this is it.

Photo by: Amazing Places on Earth
Photo by: Amazing Places on Earth

2. Devil’s Pool -Victoria Falls, Zambia

It may just be the most dangerous natural pool in the world and is certainly not for the faint of heart, but that doesn’t mean soaking in this pool isn’t relaxing. Visitors will literally feel as though they are on top of the world, as the pool lies on the top of Victoria Falls, a drop of 360-feet to the bottom. Swimming here is only possible from September to December when the water is low, and at least one person dies going over the falls a year, but if you are a thrill seeker, the pictures and memories are priceless. This is indeed the ultimate infinity pool as the rock lip keeps swimmers from going over the falls. With the force of the Zambezi flowing past you and crashing over the edge, there is no place on earth you would rather be sitting. Just remember, make sure you are a strong swimmer and there are plenty of guides to make sure you aren’t swept off the falls.

Photo by: Flickr/Meraj Chhaya
Photo by: Flickr/Meraj Chhaya

1. Fairy Pools -Isle of Skye, Scotland

These beautiful crystal clear pools are located on the River Brittle and entice visitors from all over the world. Although the water is chilly, on a hot sunny day these pools with views of the Black Cuillins are hard to beat in terms of awesome experiences. Visitors here will need good walking shoes and at least an afternoon to spare to find these pools that form in the waterfalls. Hike from the bottom up and as you pass more and more crystal clear blue pools, you will wonder how they get any better. A natural infinity pool sits high on a grassy island bounded by a natural stone wall, and above that are two pools high up on the glen. One choppy from the current of the waterfall, the other prenaturally still, separated by an underwater arch. Although cold, these pools are great for hopping in and out of, enjoying a world away from your own.

Fairy Pool Isle of Skye