From planting trees to ethical safaris check out this list of 10 ecotourism activities that protect the environment, provide economic benefits to local communities and guarantee an unforgettable trip.

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As we become increasingly aware of our environmental footprint, more people are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the planet – including how they travel. 

With it, there’s a growing appreciation for the natural world and interest in authentic, meaningful, immersive experiences. As a result, ecotourism is on the rise and becoming one of the fastest-growing sectors in tourism. 

But what exactly IS ecotourism and how can it be put into practice? Ecotourism is defined as:

‘Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the wellbeing of local people and involves interpretation and education.’

International Ecotourism Society, 2015

Ecotourism is all about using tourism to protect the natural environment, empower local communities and educate travellers. It’s primarily a hands-on and nature-based form of travel. 

Ecotourism activities can look like cycling, hiking, small-group wildlife tours, kayaking and tree planting, alongside low-impact ways to get out in nature and give back to local communities.

The easiest way to build this responsible form of travel into your itinerary is to take part in ecotourism activities. Some are specific to a destination, and others you can do anywhere once you know what to look for!

If you’re looking for adventure and ways to minimise your carbon footprint, read on to discover 10 eco-friendly nature tourism activities.

Each one of these environmentally conscious trips gives back to the planet and guarantees a spectacular holiday. 

Editor’s tip: In my detailed guide, you can read more about the benefits of ecotourism, sustainable tourism, ecotourism examples, and how to be an eco-friendly traveller.

10 Amazing ecotourism activities to do around the world

Don’t have time to read the whole post? Check out the video below for a quick summary of the 10 types of ecotourism activities you can do.

Read on to discover 10 of the best nature-based things you can do that protect the environment and give back to the local community while you’re at. 

I’ve also included top ecotourism destinations around the world you can do these rewarding activities!

1. Do a small-group eco-tour 

A baby ountain gorilla in Uganda looking at the camera. This one of G Adventures' ecotourism activities with the Jane Goodall Collection.
See Uganda’s famous mountain gorillas ethically with G Adventures!

Small-group tours are a fantastic way to see the world, particularly if you’re looking for nature, ecotourism and adventure. 

One such tour operator is G Adventures. They offer a range of wildlife experiences called The Jane Goodall Collection, and they’ve all been endorsed by the renowned ethologist herself. 

Each tour has been carefully designed to be ethical and immersive to help travellers see some of the world’s most incredible wildlife responsibly. 

Working in partnership with The Jane Goodall Institute, G Adventures ensures that all tours uphold their Animal Welfare Policy so that all wildlife is protected and respected.

Popular ecotourism holidays include a culture & wildlife experience in Uganda and Rwanda which features the famous mountain gorillas. 

Others include island-hopping in the Galápagos and polar bear spotting in Norway. 

Wildlife-focused travel is always exciting, but sadly not all experiences are ethical.

Going on a tour with a responsible travel company like G Adventures allows you to see some of the most incredible creatures in the natural world as ethically and safely as possible.

These ecotourism tours raise awareness of their subjects and the threats to their habitats. They also empower local communities through employment opportunities which is exactly what eco-friendly travel is about. 

2. Go hiking or trekking 

A girl in a red coat walking along a hiking path in Picos Ruivo in Madeira.
Hiking in Madeira is one of my favourite experiences

Some of the best ecotourism activities you can do are hiking and trekking. It’s just you and nature, passing by local communities along the way. 

Depending on your experience level, you can go as beginner-friendly or advanced as you like. Do local one-day hikes or go on multi-day excursions exploring deserts, jungles and mountains! 

The great thing about hiking holidays is that you can do them almost anywhere and get the same level of enjoyment. You don’t need to fly halfway around the world when there is nature to be explored close by.

United Kingdom

Since I’m based in the UK, I would be remiss not to mention some beautiful multi-day walking holidays I have at home. These include but are not limited to:

  • Cotswold Way, a 102-mile footpath from Chipping Campden to Bath
  • South West Coast Path, running 630 miles from Minehead to Poole Harbour
  • Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a 186-mile trail from Amroth to St Dogmael’s
  • The West Highland Way, a 96-mile trail from Milngavie to Fort William
  • Causeway Coast Way, a 33-mile route from Belfast to Derry Londonderry

Spain

For hiking in Europe, consider Los Picos de Europa, a biosphere reserve and mountain range in Northern Spain. One of Europe’s biggest national parks, it’s home to a stunning mountain range of the same name. 

You can take in the scenery on a series of short well-marked hiking circuits, two long-distance hiking trails and four high mountain hikes. 

Borneo

One of the best places in the world for jungle trekking is the tropical rainforests of Borneo. From orangutans to elephants, this nature lover’s dream is teeming with wildlife. It’s also been around since the dinosaurs. 

I highly recommend you go with an ethical tour so you can safely trek in this unspoilt landscape. 

If you want to do some of the most beautiful hikes in the world with a guide, Much Better Adventures has an extensive collection of trips for every level.

Editor’s tip: Whether hiking, trekking or taking part in any outdoor activity, always stick to the principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ and leave nature exactly as you found it. 

Read Next: Incredible One-Day Walking Trails in the UK

3. Do a cycling holiday

A girl wearing a helmet while posing on a bike in a dress. The forests of Cypus behind in the Troodos Mountains. Cycling is one of the most popular ecotourism activities.
Do a different kind of road trip! I don’t recommend cycling in a dress though…

Cycling holidays are becoming an increasingly popular ecotourism activity, and it’s easy to see why. It’s exercise and a good dose of the great outdoors all in one. 

There’s also a certain level of freedom in strapping your bag to your bike and cycling off that you don’t get with driving. Perhaps because you can go places, cars can’t like mountain trails or off-road routes!

It’s more eco-friendly, too (my eco-packing list will make the trip even greener).

Portugal

Portugal is growing in popularity with cyclists. Most roads are well-kept, and the sunny maritime climate all year round makes it perfect for cycling. 

There’s also a diverse range of landscapes to explore. One of them is the 200km long Ecovia do Litoral cycling trail which takes you all along the Algarve coast to the Spanish border. 

You have rugged, sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, with opportunities to go inland to visit communities typical tourists in the Algarve rarely see. 

Wales

Another excellent cycling destination is Wales. It offers an exciting terrain of challenging mountain peaks, cool countryside rides and stunning coastal trails. 

You also have a wealth of dramatic scenery, castles and villages to explore along the way. You can do a self-guided trip or build your route with companies like Wheely Wonderful Cycling. 

They do a range of self-guided eco tours to suit every level. They also transport your luggage for you, so you’re free to ride unencumbered. 

Slovenia

A growing sustainable travel destination, Slovenia has launched a brand new Green Gourmet Route which combines great food and cycling. Honestly, what could be better?

The itinerary is 11 days and takes cyclists through destinations bearing the Slovenia Green label. It runs mainly along paths and features culinary delights such as Michelin-starred restaurants, vineyards, farms and spas.

You can do this eco activity by yourself or with a local tour group.

4. Go kayaking 

Photo pf kayaking through mangroves on a sunny day in Costa Rica.
Kayaking through the mangroves of Costa Rica

Kayaking is an eco-friendly way to enjoy waterways and coastlines because it’s all self-powered. No gas, oil or loud noises are involved, making it unobtrusive to the natural world around you.

You also have time to relax and take in your surroundings. It’s the perfect way to travel slowly.

Below are some amazing ecotourism places that are perfect for kayaking trips. 

Costa Rica

During a trip to Costa Rica, I spent a morning exploring the mangroves near San Antonio National Park by kayak with an environmental scientist / tour guide.

I learned about the importance of mangroves as an ecosystem and the life it supports. My guide also highlighted the threats to mangroves and how small-group, low-impact tourism is helping to protect them.

Afterwards, we tucked into a delicious home-cooked lunch. It was one of my favourite ecotourism activities in Costa Rica!

Norway

The Norwegian Fjords are one of the most magnificent sites on Earth, and paddling through them allows you to experience every part of this dramatic landscape. 

Don’t miss the stunning Nærøyfjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s 17km long, and the narrowest point is only 250m wide. 

As you paddle through, you’ll be greeted with snow-capped mountains, pretty farms and cascading waterfalls along the way. 

Greece

Greece’s Peloponnese Peninsula is a fantastic spot for sea kayaking. The coast is rich with hidden coves, mysterious caves and plenty of ancient history. 

Begin your trip at Voidokilia, one of the best beaches on the peninsula, before paddling towards the beautiful seaside town of Pylos. 

You’ll also come across the formidable sight of Old Navarino Castle, a 13th Century Frankish castle with dramatic views out towards the bay below. 

Read Next: How to Visit Greece on a Budget

5. Go diving or snorkelling

An underwater photo of a coral reef in Fiji. Blue fish swim around coral.
My attempt at underwater photography in Fiji. You get the idea!

Whether you’re diving or snorkelling, exploring the marine world can be an unforgettable experience. You just need to be aware of how to do it safely and ethically so as not to harm the fragile environment. 

Above all, make sure you’re wearing reef-safe sunscreen to prevent harmful chemicals like oxybenzone from entering the water and bleaching coral reefs. 

Always go with reputable guides that are respectful of marine life and work to protect it. 

Fiji

Home to some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, Fiji is popular with scuba divers and snorkellers alike.

For this reason, many local resorts have developed ecotourism activities to help protect the environment from the effects of mass tourism. 

One example is Mantaray Island. The waters in front of the resort are a marine reserve that has allowed life there to flourish. They also carry out yearly environmental surveys to monitor the impact of the resort on the reserve. 

Thailand

No strangers to a busy tourism scene, Thailand is working hard to mitigate the damage to the marine environment caused by overtourism.

The Smiling Seahorse is a dive company specialising in Liveaboard holidays in the Similan Islands. They have a responsible tourism policy, only use eco-friendly products on the boat and are part of the Manta Trust Operator Wall of Fame.

6. Go dolphin or whale watching

Dolphin fin in the water. Dolphin watching is an incredible ecotourism activity.
Admire whales and dolphins – also the ethical way!

Dolphin and whale watching is another fun water-based activity to do on your travels. It can give you an exhilarating experience and benefit the marine environment if done right.

When choosing to do this activity, look out for responsible travel companies that have a marine biologist onboard the boat or donate a portion of the profits to conservation efforts.

Make sure the dolphins or whales are wild and in their natural habitat. They must be allowed to behave naturally and come and go when they choose. This means no feeding or touching the animals.

The noise of the boat’s engines is also important – particularly for whale sonars!

As for swimming with dolphins, there’s some debate about whether or not it’s truly ethical. Again it’s worth checking how the tour interacts with them before making up your mind.

As a general rule, stick with watching them safely from the boat if you’re unsure!

Below are some incredible ethical places to go dolphin and whale watching.

Portugal

If you like dolphins and feeding your adrenaline, Sea EO Tours offers speed boat tours in Lisbon.

The 3-hour tour takes up in a speed boat up the Tagus Estuary into the Atlantic Ocean, searching for resident common dolphins and other marine life.

It’s an exhilarating trip, and you can get pretty close to the dolphins. I did it, and although the dolphins were a little slow to appear, we were soon surrounded by a pod of 25 leaping and diving all around the boat.

Afterwards, we glided back down the river, stopping for a quick tipple of sweet wine in front of Belém Tower.

If you need any help booking this tour or any of your Portugal, I recommend Original Travel. They offer some fantastic sustainable self-guided travel itineraries.

You’ll also get access to a travel concierge who can help you every step of the way!

New Zealand

Another great to see dolphins and whales is New Zealand – specifically, Kaikoura on the South Island.

The area is a haven for marine life thanks to a deep water trench which offers a bounty of food for sperm whales, seals and dolphins.

I did a whale-watching boat tour with Whale Watch Kaikoura. During this catamaran ride, I saw sperm whales and, as a bonus, dolphins, seals, penguins and an albatross!

7. Set sail on an eco-friendly cruise 

Expedition cruise in Antarctica. Hurtigruten offer eco-friendly cruises and ecotourism activities.
Set sail on an expedition cruise of Antarctica

For the most part, cruises are notoriously bad for the environment.

In 2017, one major cruise corporation was found to emit 10 times more sulphur oxide into the atmosphere around European coasts than more than 260 million cars in Europe! 

At high concentrations, sulphur emissions damage fragile ecosystems, increase human health risks and contribute to acid rain. Now imagine being on deck and breathing that in every day… 

Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten proves that cruising can become an ecotourism excursion. 

Hurtigruten has been a leader in sustainable exploration travel since 1893. They’ve avoided the use of heavy oils for over 10 years, and they’re building the first-ever hybrid electric-powered expedition cruise ships. 

These emissions-free ships are set to be the greenest cruises in history. 

Hurtigruten expeditions take you to some of the farthest corners of the world, including Antarctica, where you get to go whale watching, penguin spotting and explore the vast continent on foot. 

Each trip is designed to be an educational and meaningful experience. 

A dedicated Expedition Team hosts you throughout the journey and provides lectures on wildlife, geography, culture and more to help you understand the places you visit. 

8. Venture on a canopy walk 

The back of a girl looking up while on a canopy walkway in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica.
See a new perspective of the Cloud Forests of Costa Rica

Ziplining and canopy walks are thrilling ways to explore forest terrain. What’s more, you’re seeing it all from above – a view which is usually reserved for scientists and researchers. 

One of the best examples of ecotourism in the world is the canopy tour in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. 

Climb high into and above the trees on secure walkways and harnesses. Here, low-hanging clouds kiss the treetops, and you can spot exotic birds and monkeys in the branches. 

To get the adrenaline pumping, swap walking for ziplining and zip past jaw-dropping vistas of ancient forests, waterfalls and valleys. This one is by far the most popular ziplining tour in Monteverde!

These tours are committed to providing incredible experiences whilst raising awareness of the delicate ecosystem of the cloud forest. 

They give you invaluable insight into the balance of nature and what’s being done to protect the inhabitants of this reserve for years to come. 

Costa Rica accounts for 6% of the world’s biodiversity, so it’s vital that we protect it.  

9. Experience tree planting holidays 

The Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. Young fir trees dot the brown heather-covered landscape with hills in the background. Helping to rewild is one of the most important ecotourism activities in Scotland.
See the young trees? I learned about the importance of rewilding with SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

Tree planting is an ecotourism holiday that offers a hands-on and rewarding way to give back. Plus, you can see first-hand the positive difference you’re making to the environment. 

Trees for Life is an organisation that’s working to rewild the Scottish Highlands by planting trees and recovering declining forests. 

To date, they’ve planted more than 2 million trees in and around Dundreggan near Loch Ness to restore the Caledonian Forest, which once covered most of Scotland. 

You can take part in voluntary Rewilding Weeks run by Trees for Life and spend a week in the Scottish Highlands planting trees and monitoring wildlife. 

All your food and accommodation are included in a set price, and you’ll get transfers to and from Inverness.

Trees for Life is also involved in other environmental projects, including research into the possibility of bringing the lynx back to Scotland and increasing the red squirrel population. 

Another way you can get involved in rewilding is through an eco-tour with SCOTLAND: The Big Picture.

This charity runs five-day immersive Rewilding Journeys where you’ll see first-hand the key projects involved in restoring the Scottish Highlands.

This ecotourism experience is one of my personal favourites as I was lucky enough to do it myself!

10. Book eco-friendly safaris 

Elephants on safari with people watching from a boat. Only go with ethical safari operators.
Go on an ethical safari

Safaris are understandably one of the biggest bucket list activities. Seeing the ‘Big Five’ (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and African buffalo) in the wild is a truly unforgettable experience.

However, there’s some debate about whether or not they can be considered ethical. 

Safaris and the term ‘Big Five’ is rooted in trophy hunting and although it’s far better to shoot with a camera than a gun, there is still pressure to find and track animals for tourists to photograph. 

Animals are followed around by noisy jeeps and become accustomed to human interaction. Another problem is animals contracting human illnesses with fatal consequences. 

Luckily, some operators use safari tourism to empower local communities and protect and conserve wildlife. 

One example is Volcanoes Safaris in Uganda and Rwanda, which have restored local wetlands that were previously used as illegal brickworks and now attract 200 different animal species. 

The slightly more budget-friendly Botswana Lodge Safari in the Okavango Delta works with a wildlife rehabilitation centre and provides them with funding and vital equipment. 

Both operators employ trained staff from nearby communities. These ecotourism attractions only run small-group tours so as not to cause any anxiety to the animals. 

Editor’s tip: When choosing an ethical safari, research how they operate and what’s been said about them. Look at how they interact with the wildlife – there should be no opportunities for feeding, touching or getting up close. Observe how they give back to local communities through employment and funding. 

The world’s best ecotourism activities: Final thoughts

I hope these examples of ecotourism activities have inspired your next travel goals!

It’s getting increasingly easier to fill your travel itinerary with nature-friendly experiences that are gentle on the environment.

Ecotourism holiday destinations are also growing around the world as nations get more serious about their impact.

Whether you have a thirst for adventure or want to take things easy, there’s something for everyone.

What’s your favourite ecotourism activity on the list?


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