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Eco-travel isn’t just trendy; it’s something we should all be striving for as we wander the globe. Here’s where to start.

Unfortunately, in many cases eco-travel has become more of a marketing tool than a commitment to sustainable tourism, displaying all the hallmarks of trendiness by being more concerned with style over substance. It seems as though anyone can build a tree house nowadays and call it an eco-lodge, whether it is truly environmentally friendly or not.

And as ever-more corners of the world open up to tourism, it appears inevitable that travellers’ footsteps will become ever-more keenly felt. Just think of the story we reported last week about rare tarsiers in the Philippines committing suicide under the glare of tourists’ flashbulbs’. Though you might like to think that people know better in this day and age, there is plenty of evidence that they do not.

One of the best ways to limit the impact of rogue operators and irresponsible governance is for you to set the standards – only take your business to places that leave you with a clear conscience.

Here are some of our favourite eco-experiences from the road. Not an exhaustive list, but it makes a good place to start.

Eco-trekking

Annapurna credit: iStock

NEPAL

Fortunately, one of the best places in the world for trekking is also one of the best for doing it responsibly. Eco Trek Nepal is something of a one-stop-shop for ethical treks around the must-do Annapurna range, and also offers adventures in nearby India, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bhutan.

HOW GREEN? The operator’s eco-camps rely on recyclable accessories, as well as using non-polluting fuel supplies and bringing back non-degradable materials from the trip for recycling. The company also supports a cleaning campaign that removes waste from the mountains.

SUSTAINABILITY Guides are employed from the local community to ensure sensitivity to local customs and culture. The company also purchases local products where possible to give back to the economy.

DO THIS Eco Trek Nepal offers a boggling array of adventures, from scaling peaks to jungle safaris. You can choose between camping or teahouse trekking (the latter guarantees you a comfortable bed and a hot shower), and remote trekking is also a speciality, allowing you to discover the hidden Himalayas.

ALSO AVAILABLE Trekking and mountain-biking in Tibet; exploring the mountain hamlets of Bhutan. Tours range from four to more than 20 days; prices will vary. You should also check out Imaginative Traveller’s range of treks from the 4 day trek through the Annapurna foothills to the 19 day Everest & Gokyo trek, where you stay at locally run lodges in the area’s more remote, untouristed parts. Imaginative Traveller offers trips all over the world – from South Africa to Burma – and keeps group sizes small to limit environmental disturbance. 

THAILAND

Pooh Eco-Trekking in northern Thailand has garnered an exemplary reputation for authentic and respectful hill tribe treks – to the extent that rogue operators have started trading under similar names to benefit from Pooh’s repute.

The man himself (that’d be Pooh) warns that ‘eco-trekking’ is often used merely as a marketing term in Thailand, and that many treks visit hill tribe villages that exist for tourists rather than being genuine local communities.

Pooh offers a more ‘real’ experience, taking small groups further into the hills and using local guides with in-depth knowledge of the tribes and their environment.

Eco-safari

Lake Natron credit: iStock

AFRICA

An African safari is one of the most thrilling experiences a traveller can have – but you want to make sure that you don’t get close enough to disturb the wildlife.

SUSTAINABILITY Rainbow Tours works with African camps and lodges that have been certified by the FTTSA, the South African fair trade in tourism body. Operators have been chosen for their “groundbreaking contributions to sustainability”, which include using solar-panel-powered lighting and making hefty donations to local communities (including, in the instance of the base camp in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, providing school bursaries for the children of staff).

ALSO AVAILABLE It’s also worth noting that Rainbow Tours operate in South America, allowing you to go trekking all over the continent with a clear conscience. Check out the Amazon tours in particular; prices vary.

Back to Africa, and Mumbo Island on Lake Malawi is highly recommended. The island is uninhabited by people, save for a community-run eco-camp complete with solar-power bucket showers, wind-up torches and compost drop loos.

Each private tent features a locally carved bed, reed-walled showers and hand-stitched hammocks, all of which have been lovingly created by local hands using sustainable materials.

It’s an incredible chill-out spot, albeit one punctuated with the odd jump when a 1.2-metre-long monitor lizard shuffles over. You’ll also spot blue crabs, acid green vine snakes and pied kingfishers.

 


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Eco-travel around the globe
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