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Last Updated on 18/06/2021

From planting trees to snorkelling, here’s a list of 9 ecotourism activities that protect the environment, provide economic benefits to local communities and guarantee an unforgettable trip.

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 and immersive experiences. As a result, ecotourism is on the rise and becoming one of the fastest growing sectors in tourism. 

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. 

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!

Discover 9 ecotourism activities and nature-based tourism adventures and their top destinations around the world. These amazing things to do will help you be a more sustainable traveller.

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If you’re looking for adventure and ways to minimise your carbon footprint, read on to discover 9 eco-friendly nature tourism holidays. Each one of these environmentally conscious trips gives back to the planet and guarantees a spectacular trip. 

Editor’s tip: You can read more about the benefits of ecotourism, sustainable tourism and how to be an ecotourist in my detailed guide here. 

9 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!

Read on to discover 9 of the best nature-based things you can do that protect the environment and give back to the local community while you’re at. 

Also, find top destinations around the world to do these rewarding activities!

1. Do a small-group eco tour 

Mountain gorillas in Uganda, one of G Adventures' ecotourism activities

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 20 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 get a deeper understanding of some of the world’s most incredible wildlife in a responsible way. 

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 adventures include a Culture & Wildlife experience in Uganda and Rwanda which features Jane Goodall’s 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 tours raise awareness of their subjects and the threats to their habitats. They also empower local communities through employment opportunities which is exactly what ecotourism is all about. 

2. Go hiking or trekking 

Hiker taking a photo of mountains on his trail.

Some of the best ecotourism activities you can do are hiking and trekking. It’s just you and nature, and 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! 

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 that you go with an ethical tour so you can trek in this unspoilt landscape safely. 

Spain: For hiking, consider Los Picos de Europa, a biosphere reserve since 2002 on Spain’s Iberia Peninsula. 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. 

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

Two cyclists biking down a track in the hills in the background. One of the best ecotourism activities.

Cycling holidays are becoming increasingly popular 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 all the way with opportunities to go more 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 cycling tours to suit every level. They transport your luggage for you so you’re free to ride unencumbered. 

4. Go kayaking 

Red kayak on a beach in a Norwegian Fjord.

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 which makes it unobtrusive to the natural world around you. You also have time to relax and take in your surroundings. 

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

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 snorkeling

Marine life underwater with coral and colourful fish.

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 snorkelers 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. Wicked Diving 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 encourage beach cleanups. They do regular marine research and have a Thai dive instructor program for local communities. 

6. Set sail on an eco-friendly cruise 

Expedition cruise in Antarctica. Hurtigruten offer eco-friendly cruises and ecotourism activities.

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… 

However, 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 get a deeper understanding of the places you visit. 

7. Venture on a canopy walk 

Image of a canopy walk over Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica.

Ziplining and canopy walks are a thrilling way to explore cloud 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 ecotourism activities 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. 

Then zip past jaw-dropping vistas of ancient forest, waterfalls and valleys. 

Founded in 1994, the Canopy Tour is committed to providing incredible experiences whilst raising awareness of the surrounding delicate ecosystem of the cloud forest. 

They give you an 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 it continues to be protected. 

8. Experience tree planting holidays 

Trees surrounding a loch in the Scottish Highlands. Planting trees is vital for rewilding.

Tree planting is an ecotourism holiday that offers a hands-on and rewarding way to give back. Plus you can see first-hand the 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 with the aim to restore the Caledonian Forest which once covered most of Scotland. 

You can take part in voluntary Conservation Weeks run by Trees for Life (pandemic restrictions permitting) and spend a week in the Scottish Highlands planting trees and monitoring wildlife. 

All your food and accommodation is included in a set price and you’ll get transfers to and from Inverness. The days usually run from 9am-5pm and Wednesday is your day off to do as you please. 

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

9. Book eco-friendly safaris 

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

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 a 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, there are a number of operators that 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, do a little research into 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. 

Don’t forget insurance!

Mountain tops of Los Picos de Europa in Spain.

No matter where in the world you’re going it’s always a good idea to get insurance that covers all the ecotourism activities you plan to do. 

Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

I personally use World-First because they offer a wide range of packages at affordable prices. 

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