The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
Although mostly associated with any form of tourism that involves nature, Ecotourism is more than that. Ecotourism is, first of all, about sustainable travel and minimizing physical, social and behavioural impact.
More and more destinations are available to us; they are easily accessible and affordable to more and more people. With international flight prices being sometimes as low as the price of a local bus ticket, it’s no wonder! Unaware of the impact that these trips can have on our environment, we are drawn to start and complete our travelling bucket list sooner rather than later.
Ecotourism is also about the experience of both visitors and hosts. What we leave behind is a very important aspect of our travels. We travel because we can, because we want to, because it’s our dream, but do we provide any value to our hosts other than contributing financially?
Does promoting ecotourism defeat the purpose of having a low environmental impact? Maybe, if you think of tourism as being one of the industries that have the worst environmental impact and a very high carbon footprint. Ecotourism is the good side of tourism because it protects natural habitats and pristine ecosystems. It also helps the economy but not at the expense of the local environment.
There are a lot of great destinations for Ecotourism all around the world and this is a list of the best ones in Europe.
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1. Boginj Lake - Slovenia
Slovenija is the Europe's top ecoturism destination. In 2016 this country was the world's first green destination. Slovenija has a lot to offer, from breathtaking mountains to crystal clear lakes. No to mention it's 60% covered in forests.
Triglav National Park, Bohinjsko Jezero 4265 Slovenia
Boginj Lake gives you the feeling of landing in a magical place, almost unreal, with its crystal clear waters and surrounded by mountains. There is no right season or time to visit, the view is stunning no matter the season. Trails around the lake can sometimes be busy, but 100m up, on what is marked as the "hunter trail" you can have a better experience, that of hiking above one of the most beautiful places in the world. The usual route starts at Ribcev Laz and goes all the way up to Vogel cable car station, after crossing the Savica river. It will take you 3 hours to get back to your starting point, but that's if you don't stop for any photos or to admire the surrounding beauty.
Where to stay
For a complete eco-tourism experience, stay at the Bohinj Eco Hotel, the first ecological hotel in Slovenia. The hotel's restaurant serves Slovenian and international cuisine, as well as special vegetarian and low-calorie dishes prepared with eco-certified ingredients of local origin.
2. Lake of Fire - Azores
Lake of Fire or "Lagoa do Fogo" is a lake formed in a crater in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores.
Miradouro da Serra Barrosa Agua de Pau, Sao Miguel Portugal
Lake of Fire is your perfect ecotourism destination if you are into stunning views and hiking. And since you're reading this, you probably are. The weather changes very quickly so if you want to take that perfect photo, better hurry, because it can get cloudy and dark really fast. Works the other way around too: if you're disapointed of arriving just to see some foggy mountains and no lake, give it an hour or 2 and the view can completely change. Swimming is forbidden here, but a 40 minutes drive from here can take you to Caldeira Velha where you can relax at the thermal baths.
Where to stay
Enjoy a relaxing stay at Santa Barbara Eco Beach Resort and get direct access to the beach, a beach bar, a swimming pool and a restaurant. The hotel offers various options for guests wishing to take a relaxing break. It is possible to rent bicycles and cars and the area is popular for surfing and bodyboarding.
3. Lake Prags - Italy
There's so much beauty in this country, it's almost unfair for the others. There's no going wrong with visiting this country, because no matter where you are, there's always something to see.
39030 Braies Italy
Lake Prags, or Lago Braies is part of the Italian Alps and offers a stunning scenery: Dolomites mountains reflecting in a clear, blue water. Walking around the whole lake is a must and it takes up to an hour one way, which makes it the perfect destination for hiking for all ages. In the summer or on weekends it can get really crowdy, so make sure you visit during the off-peak season for a worthy experience. This place has also become one of Instagram's influencer's top spots.
To get the full experience, rent a rowboat right at the entrance. It doesn't come cheap at £23/hour but it's worth every penny.
Where to stay
You can stay only metres away from the lake at Hotel Lago di Braies and make sure you book a room with a view of the lake. This hotel gets bonus points for available free bikes and free permits for fishing in the lake!
4. Itinerari d'Entremesaigues - Andorra
Andorra is a microstate, located between France and Spain and most of it is mountainous. It takes about half an hour to walk from the capital, La Vela, to get to the beginning of a trail that takes you to Escaldes-Engordany.
Vall del Madriu-Perafita-Claror, Escaldes-Engordany AD700 Andorra
Itinerari d'Entremesaigues offers you fantastic views of the river and mountains. It takes about 1.5 hours to hike a 4km long trail with a 280m height difference. There are many routes you could take and that's the beauty of this place.
The valley was once home for various agricultural and farming practices and you can still encounter ruins of shepherds huts, concentraded more on the Pleta de l’Estall Serrer and the Tancat de Graus area. They used to be a temporary refuge for sheperds, like a second home. Also, The Bordes (barns made of dry stone) are a statement of what once used to be a territory dedicated to agriculture. They served as a shelter but also as a place to keep farming essentials.
With the increase of tourism in the valley, many refuges have turned into places where hikers could rest for one night. Claror, Perafita, Fontverd, Riu dels Orris and L’Illa in the parish of Encamp are in the valley and Prat Primer, Els Agols, Ensagents and Montmalús are in the buffer zone.
Where to stay
Hotel Arbella is a fabulous and cyclists friendly hotel, only a 14 minutes drive from the starting point for Escaldes-Engordany. or 10 minutes to the capital city, La Vela.
5. Connemara Ireland - Conemara National Park
Ireland is the land of legends and fairy tales. There's beauty everywhere you go, and you might feel tempted to believe that you could encounter a magical creature somewhere around the corner.
Galway County, Ireland
Opened all year round, Conemara National Park is spread through 2000 hectares of woodlands, mountains and grassland. There is a lot to discover here, so make sure you plan to spend at least 3 days here.
Start your trip from Galway, a small but vibrant city and go through Maam Cross and the wooden town of Maam. You will find beauty everywhere around you and Maam Cross is one of hikers favourite spots for taking incredible photos. It is also very popular among cyclists.
A shorter route for those with less time on hand is starting from Clifden, then going to Sky Road all the way to Inagh Valley. Sky Road is one of the most popular places in the area and it offers stunning views from the highest point car park. The road is very narrow and it can be challenging to drive close distance from a car coming from the opposite direction. Especially if you're afraid of heights.
Add Kylemore Abbey to your itinerary and be amazed of one of the most beautiful castles in all Ireland.
Where to stay
Stay at the Glenlo Abbey Hotel and dine like never before at The Pullman Restaurant aboard the Orient Express, a historic Pullman train where the carriages have been transformed into a restaurant.
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6. Nera Gorges - Romania
Romania is a place of untamed beauty and wilderness. The quality of the roads has always been an issue here, but that somehow proved to be good thing when it comes to nature preservation. There's plenty of remote villages and stunning mountains to visit.
Nera Gorges National Park, Caras-Severin County, Romania
Following the path of the Nera river, Nera Gorges are the perfect nature escape. It's not easy to get here, mostly because the quality of the roads is not the best. But once you start this journey it will all be worth it. To hike the whole route, it will take a full 8 hours and it can be exhausting. Most experienced hikers would normally take a camping gear with them and camp at Vogiun's Shed. Start in Carbunari, a small old miner's village and make your way down through the narrow abrupt path to the Devil's lake. The lake is so blue that it almost looks unreal and legends say it got it's name from a deal with the devil made by a shepherd.
One of the most spectacular views is probably the Tunnels, which no one knows when or by whom they were built. There are three tunnels you have to go through if you want to go ahead and finish the hike and one of them is often flooded.
Finish the hike in Sasca-Romana, but before that, there will be one more obstacle to cross: a suspended moving bridge that terrifies tourists.
Where to stay
To get the full experience, camp somewhere along the river. It's free and very much worth it. If the weather doesn't allow it, check-in at La Vechea Moara (translates as The Old Mill) and get the experience of living like a local.
7. Egirdir - Turkey
Many people travel to Turkey to visit Istanbul or Cappadocia, but the majestic country has tons of interesting places. Eğirdir is one of them.
Isparta, Lake District, Turkey
Eğirdir is a place where sports, history, and tradition meet.
Surrounded by a beautiful lake, the small town has been a must-visit spot for those who love trekking, ancient ruins, beautiful mountain scenery, and traditional old villages.
St. Paul's trail crosses Eğirdir. The ancient path is full of history and you need more than a month to finish it and it offers everything hikers love.
If you like ancient history, the ruins of Sagalassos are very close to the lake. The ancient Roman city was founded in 1200 BC. The remaining structure includes an amphitheatre and a carpet of flowers that grow every end of April while she's wandering around. Sagalassos is just one of many ancient ruins surrounding Eğirdir, such as Adada, Antioch, and Men Tapinagi.
If you love nature and particularly lavender, apples, and roses, you will love Eğirdir. The production of such products is iconic in the regions. Çayköy village, in Eğirdir, is full of apple trees and you can spend time in a traditional Turkish teahouse.
Another magnificent spot in Eğirdir is the Kovada National Park, a majestic place of a picnic at the lake or you can continue a little further to Çandır Canyon National Park crossing by castle ruins and old trading routes. Both places are sumptuous to be visiting biking.
Do you fancy skiing? The Davraz Ski resort at Mount Davraz offers amazing trails for alpine skiing, ski touring, Nordic ski, snowboarding, hiking, climbing, and paragliding a fraction of the cost in other places such as European countries.
We could spend hours writing about all the fantastic activities you can do in Eğirdir, cooking classes, sailing, and canoeing climbing the Sivri mountain, water sports, fishing, visiting traditional villages, nomadic markets, oak forests, cannons, rose fields, relaxing in traditional Turkish baths, go mushroom picking.
Where to stay
Just a few steps to the lakefront, Fulya Pension is a family-run guest house, located on the St. Paul trail where you can enjoy fantastic views over the lake.
8. Lysefjord - Finland
Everyone knows Finland is mostly famous for its fjords - a deep, narrow and elongated sea or lakedrain, with steep land on three sides. Norwegian fjords were formed during several ice ages by the giant glacier tongues.
Ryfylke area, Rogaland county, Norway
Lysefjord offers a spectacular view from above 740m of sea level. To get there you will need to climb no more and no less than 4444 steps. It will normally take around 2 hours and yes! it will be exhausting. This is the world's longest wooden staircase.
Preikestolen (the Pulpit Rock) is a must-see plateau and offers an incredible view towards the Lysefjord, one of the best views in Norway. It takes around 2.5 hours to get there from Preikestolen Mountain Lodge. There is also the option of enjoying the view from a different perspective, by going on one of the Fjord Cruises available.
In 2018, Lysefjord received the certificate of Sustainable Destination, to celebrate the continuous efforts of fighting the battle of reducing the negative impact tourism has on the environment. Everything here seems to be in direct harmony with nature.
Where to stay
Stay at the closest location to the Pulpit Rock, at Preikestolen BaseCamp and get up early for the hike of your life! A variety of popular activities are available in the area around Preikestolen BaseCamp, including hiking and fishing.
9. Gozo - Malta
If Paradise was a place on earth, Malta must be it! Malta has eveything you can hope for: unique landscapes, clear sea water and amazing food. The Maltese are famous for their hospitality and everyone speaks english there because Malta was part of the British Empire for 160 years.
Gozo Island, Malta
Gozo aims to become an eco-friendly island by 2020. EcoGozo is a vision the people of Gozo have for the transformation of their island into a sustainable reality.
Gozo is easily accessible by ferry from Cirkewwa port and it takes around 30 minutes. Once you reach the port of Mgarr, try to get further away from the crowded areas around the port and discover the real beauty of this island. The Gozitans do not identify as being Maltese and some might take offence in being called that. They have their own dialect that maltese don't understand.
One of the most interesting things to visit here are the Xewejni salt pans, belonging to the Cini family who have harvested sea salt for over 150 years.
The number one tourist attraction in Gozo was The Azure Window, or Dwejra, until 2017 when it collapsed due to centuries of pressure and erosion from the ocean.
Where to stay
Botanica B&B is absolutely stunning! It offers spacious rooms, a pool and an outdoor garden. If you find yourself willing to escape this piece of Paradise and enjoy a night out, it will only take a 5 minutes stroll to the city centre.
10. Bristol - United Kingdom
South West region, England
Bristol is the top eco-tourism destination in the UK and was voted European Green Capital in 2015. With more than 450 parks in this city, it has more parks for its size than any other British cities.
The best time to enjoy the treats of Bristol is during the summer months when you can take part in numerous free festivals that happen here every year. One of the best is the International Balloon Fiesta, held normally in August.
Bristol has a lot to offer: from amazing street art and a good variety of places to enjoy delicious vegan food to rolling green hills and thick forests. It also has it's own currency, called the Bristol Pound, which seems to be a great solution to encourage residents to shop local.
Cycle your way through the city on excellent and long cycle lanes and get the full experience.
Where to stay
The Beech House is an exquisite and stylish apartment complex, less than 20 minutes’ walk from the city centre and 10 minutes away from the University of Bristol.
Have you already visited these amazing destinations or planing to? Let us know in the comments!
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About the author
Adela loves researching and writing about sustainability! Her passion for ethical living started early in her childhood, being born and raised in a beautiful remote village in Romania, where life was much simpler. Life took her to the great city of London where she discovered that sustainability in a big city is not only needed but also possible. When she’s not at her desk , she loves discovering hidden gems of London and travel to unique places.