A LIST OF SOME SOMEWHAT UNEXPECTED SUSTAINABLE DESTINATIONS AROUND THE WORLD, AS WELL AS SOME OF THE MOST ECO-FRIENDLY PLACES TO EXPLORE WITHIN EACH COUNTRY. IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A SUSTAINABLE ADVENTURE LOCATION, KEEP READING.
There seems to be a growing trend for travelers looking to blend the fun of a trip abroad, with the pressing need for eco-friendly travel. This could include focusing on staying at more eco-friendly accommodations, spending a longer amount of time in one place, basing themselves in a spot that is easily walkable (or has good public transportation), or is just close to some beautiful natural areas like national parks. We like to call this trend sustainable travel.
Luckily, many destinations around the world have started focusing on moving towards more sustainable practices. Including, using less plastic, swapping out fossil fuels for renewable energy (especially solar), reconnecting with nature and minimizing harmful building practices, conserving water and protecting the animals and plants that call the destinations home.
While there is still a long way to go when it comes to righting the wrongs humans have done to the planet, we believe focusing on sustainable practices and sustainable travel in general, is a great place to start.
So if you are a traveler looking to combine fun and adventure with sustainability, then check out the list below for 8 countries that are really doing their part to make the planet a better place - especially when it comes to travel and tourism.
Similarly, we have also outlined many destinations within each country where travelers, and slow travelers especially, can combine sustainable travel with adventure.
But wait, before you think this is just going to be a list of the top sustainable countries as ranked by the EPI (Environmental Performance Index, see more below), be aware that this list is instead made up of various countries making strong steps towards sustainability at a more grassroots level. Some of the nations listed are in the "developing" world and therefore don't have all the resources many higher-income countries do (like Switzerland, the Netherlands). So the fact that they are combining modernization, development and economic growth with sustainability, is to us, even more heartening.
NOTE: we have included each countries voluntary sustainability report, provided by the UN's Sustainable Development Goals platform, as well as each nation's EPI ranking, which is "a quantitative basis for comparing, analyzing, and understanding environmental performance for 180 countries." Learn more here.
THE BEST SUSTAINABLE DESTINATIONS AROUND THE WORLD FOR ADVENTURE
Regularly ranked as one of the most sustainable countries in the world, it is no wonder that Finland made the list of most sustainable destinations to adventure in.
While this country definitely does not fall under the idea of "developing" we included it because many of the top destinations are actually pretty unexpected. This includes a historic artisan village and a small town in the northern Lapland region.
The first spot is Fiskars Village, a historic crafts village about an hour from the capital of Helsinki. This small village is considered one of the most sustainable destinations in the country due to its focus on promoting the protection of the local heritage and culture, its goal of minimizing harmful impacts to the environment and its overall promotion of health and wellbeing (the best ay to explore the area is by bike).
While Fiskars Village is a great place to explore, for a totally different sustainable travel experience, consider heading up into the Lapland region and checking out the area around the small town of Posio. This tiny Finnish town is surrounded by beautiful pine forests, large lakes and the famous Korouoma Canyon. And due to its incredible access to various outdoor areas, including Riisitunturi National Park, this is a great spot for travelers looking to combine outdoor adventures with sustainability. Plus, because of its relative remoteness, it makes sense for travelers to slow down and spend a longer amount of time in the area. Finally, with so many outdoor adventures to be had, sustainable travelers can rest easy knowing almost all guiding services in the area have been awarded a Green Key or Green Activities sustainability certification.
| CAPITAL: Helsinki
| EPI RANKING: 7th, 78.9
| FINLAND SUSTAINABILITY REPORT
Australia, like most nations around the world, has stated its focus on being more sustainable. And while only time will tell if the nation - and other nations - actually meet their sustainability goals, in some places in the country, sustainability has already become common practice.
Two of the most notable destinations are Douglas Shire (Port Douglas Daintree) and Lord Howe Island.
The first is Port Douglas Daintree, a destination that showcases and combines two highly important ecosystems: the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest (one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world).
Luckily, the stewards of the area know how special both places are and have taken massive steps to ensure that the ecosystems - both of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites - can continue to be enjoyed and protected for years to come (in 2019, the area received Ecotourism Australia’s first certified ECO Destination award).
Some of the most easily observable ways Port Douglas Daintree is being more sustainable is by pushing the use of bikes, including mountain bikes, having a wide array of walking trails, and using eco-friendly shuttle services throughout the area. Similarly, there are a number of volunteer activities for travelers to join, including beach clean-ups and reforestation projects. Finally, if you are looking to do a tour, including to the Great Barrier Reef, rest assured that almost all of the tour companies available are Ecotourism Australia certified.
Another spot in Australia that really embodies sustainability is Lord Howe Island; which due to its remoteness - 600 kilometers from the nearest large landmass - is one of the cleanest places on Earth. In fact, it has no litter, air pollution or sea pollution.
And, thanks to the Lord Howe Island Act of 1981, more than 70 percent of the island is protected as a park preserve; including, the island’s surrounding waters - which were declared a Marine Park in 1998. Because of this protection, approximately 75% of the island’s original natural vegetation remains intact and undisturbed. Likewise, its beaches, coral reef, and marine environments are pristine (which is why it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982).
Finally, in the last couple of years, the island has celebrated the removal of the last human-introduced feral mammal pests. Which included cats, pigs, goats, dogs, and rodents (most notably rats). The removal of these feral mammals has led to a resurgence in the once highly threatened Woodhen population, a local flightless bird, as well as numerous endemic plant species.
Learn more about Lord Howe Island here.
| CAPITAL: Canberra
| EPI RANKING: 13th, 74.9
| AUSTRALIA SUSTAINABILITY REPORT
Likely not a country that comes to mind when you think of sustainable travel destinations, but in fact Estonia is quickly becoming one of the most popular countries for outdoor enthusiasts and slow and sustainable travelers.
Some of the best places to see sustainable practices in action are Jarvamaa, one of the central regions of the country and home to various small culturally rich communities, Lahemaa National Park, the largest national park in the country, and Tartu, an incredibly culturally rich city with a strong focus on the environment.
Jarvamaa is a cyclist’s paradise. Due to the closeness of many of the main points of interest, various biking paths have been created - making it easy for travelers and locals alike to get between places quickly on two wheels. Similarly, because many of the local communities are quite small, sustainability and self-sufficiency have long been an integral part of the DNA of the local people. Plus, many modern-day environmentally friendly practices are being implemented regularly, from water management to event organizing.
Another great spot to explore in Estonia is Lahemaa National Park, the oldest and largest national park in the country. Home to forests, marshes and coastal ecosystems, Lahemaa also focuses on protecting semi-natural communities, and geological, historical and architectural monuments.
Today, Lahemaa National Park is one of the most important protected forests in all of Europe, and because of that, it is part of Natura 2000 - the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world and a haven for some of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. The park was also recently given a Europarc Federation quality label - a certificate of sustainable tourism charter.
And hands down one of the best ways to experience these habitats is with your own two feet: in fact, there are 20 various hiking trails in the park, with many of them being part of the much longer Oandu-Aegviidu-Ikla hiking trail, which cuts through the whole of Estonia.
Finally, there is the city of Tartu, also known as the intellectual capital of Estonia. Home to modern amenities, a strong culture, and a real focus on the environment, Tartu is a great spot to combine your interest in Estonian culture and nature.
One of the clearest ways to understand the city’s focus on sustainability is in its focus on biking, public buses (which run on Estonian green gas), and overall connectivity within the city. In fact, Tartu has a goal of reducing the number of trips made by cars to 25% of all traffic by 2040.
Learn more about Tartu’s focus on connectivity and sustainability in this video.
| CAPITAL: Tallinn
| EPI RANKING: 30th, 65.3
| ESTONIA SUSTAINABILITY REPORT
Many people add Peru to their travel list for one specific place: Machu Picchu. Which we totally understand - it is incredible (if not a bit too touristy now). But for travelers looking to explore more natural wonders (both popular and not), Peru is a great place to base yourself. And luckily, many places in the country are starting to focus more heavily on, and undertake, sustainable measures to ensure that the country's natural wonders are around for years to come.
One of the best examples of this is Colca Canyon - one of the largest canyons in the world, and also home to the largest flying bird on Earth: the Andean Condor.
Besides taking in the breathtaking natural beauty of the canyon and surrounding mountains, travelers can also dive deep into various local cultures, including exploring traces of past civilizations that are still visible today in the form of ruins and by visiting local artisan communities that surround the canyon.
If planning a trip to Colca Canyon, make sure to put aside enough time to explore the area. Including at least 2-3 days to hike along the the valley floor where there are numerous walking trails and accommodations available (and hot springs). And then a couple of days to adventure around the colorful town of Chivay (we spent a week there and absolutely loved it), and to visit the glorious natural hot springs which are located just outside of Chivay (within walking distance).
NOTE: one of the best ways to get around the area is by renting bicycles, though be aware that there are some steeeep hills.
| CAPITAL: Lima
| EPI RANKING: 90th, 44
| PERU SUSTAINABILITY REPORT
Just as it has increasingly become one of the most popular countries to travel to and explore, Portugal has also similarly become an increasingly sustainable destination. Thanks to its exceptional range of protected landscapes and natural areas, its wide array of adventures and a strong cultural heritage - not to mention delicious food, fine wines, and hospitable people - all together make Portugal an amazing destination for the sustainable traveler. In fact, Portugal even won the Best of Europe Award for Sustainable Tourism in 2019.
Some must-visit spots include the Azores, a group of islands offering numerous outdoor adventures, including hiking and swimming, plus just darn beautiful scenery, Torres Verdres, a culturally rich town along the coast with beautiful beaches, hiking and biking and a strong focus on sustainable events and preservation of culture (they also are said to have the most authentic Carnival celebration in the country), and finally, Cascais, another coastal city that sits along the Portuguese Riviera, and which focuses on combining outdoor adventures and tourism with sustainable practices - most notably at Sintra-Cascais National Park.
In fact, Cascais was included on the list of the most sustainable coastal tourist areas in Europe and in 2016 and 2017 the city received the Gold distinction from the Green Destinations Awards for Best Coastal Destinations with Sustainable Environmental Policies.
| CAPITAL: Lisbon
| EPI RANKING: 27th, 67
| PORTUGAL SUSTAINABILITY REPORT
Even though this country is home to the largest city in the world (Tokyo), it is also undeniably focused on preserving its natural regions and beauty. In fact, nature is deeply present in the Japanese culture and people's life. Which is why ecotourism is such a wonderful way of discovering both the Japanese culture and its landscapes.
Presently, Japan has its own Sustainable Tourism Standards for Destinations, which helps guide destinations through implementing sustainable practices. Some of the best destinations to see this in action are the towns of Kamaishi and Niseko.
Located along the rugged Sanriku Coast and surrounded by the ocean and mountains, sits the small town of Kamaishi. This beautiful natural area, including Sanruiku Fukko National Park, has been conserved through strong land management and a focus on prioritizing local rights to natural and cultural sites.
Similarly, Kamaishi is a top destination in Japan for the use of renewable energy and the reduction of solid waste. And for innovation in general. Due to the 2011 tsunami that wreaked havoc on the area, the town was forced to rebuild and look towards new ideas for the future. For example, a subsidy system has been set up to introduce new energy sources, such as solar power and combustion equipment that uses biomass fuel.
NOTE: one great way to explore Kaimaishi, as well as the surrounding area, is to hop on the spectacular Michinoku Coastal Trail, a hiking route that runs approximately 900 kilometers in Northeast of Japan.
Another sustainable spot worth checking out, especially for adventure travelers, is Niseko, a small, cozy town located in the western part of Hokkaido. Niseko is nestled between Mount Yotei and the Niseko Annupuri mountain range, and along the bank of the Shiribetsu River, which has been designated as the clearest river in all of Japan.
Niseko is a well-known international resort with stunning natural scenery and a variety of outdoor activities available. Including skiing and snowboarding, mountain climbing, rafting and cycling - in fact, one of the best ways to explore the area is by bike for you can easily find designated cycling roads and walking paths throughout (and if biking isn’t your thing, then consider exploring the town on your own two feet for there are numerous walking paths).
When it comes to sustainability, Niseko doesn’t just focus on preserving the environment and pushing for biking as the main form of transportation. No, they also have created a Landscape Ordinance, which regulates all new developments and effectively prevents excessive, unrestricted commercial development from happening. Similarly, Niseko has set high goals for CO2 reduction in response to climate change and has been selected as an Environmental Model City and an SDGs Future City.
| CAPITAL: Tokyo
| EPI RANKING: 12th, 75.1
| JAPAN SUSTAINABILITY REPORT
Likely another country that doesn’t quickly come to mind when thinking of sustainable destinations. But in fact, Namibia is taking huge steps towards a more sustainable future; including focusing on conserving and protecting numerous wild animals - most notably the highly endangered rhinoceros.
In fact, the country has made considerable efforts in combating poaching, mostly by strengthening coordination efforts between various groups. This has resulted in the reduction of about 70% of poached elephants and rhinos (from 97 elephants and 49 rhinos in 2015 to 31 elephants and 11 rhinos in 2020).
One great spot to see Namibia’s focus on sustainability in action is at the Khoadi-Hoas Conservancy.
Characterized by the granite hills and flat-topped basalt ranges - a remnant of volcanic activity from millions of years ago - the Khoadi-Hoas Conservancy offers something for every traveler: an upmarket lodge, a full-service camping site, and a sidetrack route for explorers just passing through. Travelers who choose to spend a long amount of time at the conservancy can explore the rugged wilderness either by foot, solar bicycle, or car.
In fact, Khoadi-Hoas Conservancy was the first of four conservancies proclaimed in 1998 (all four were created in the hopes of developing tourism experiences that enabled a range of travelers to enjoy the area's vast landscapes).
Grootberg Lodge, located within the conservancy, is a landmark in the Namibian tourism industry as it was the first middle-market establishment in the country that was (and is) 100% owned by the conservancy. The lodge contains 16 units - all off-grid and built out of natural rock and thatch. Similarly, the Hoada Campsite is a fully staffed campsite that is nestled among the beautiful granite hills and mopani trees. Each campsite is positioned to minimize disturbances to the existing vegetation and is equipped with a kitchen and braai/BBQ facilities. Plus, as an added eco-friendly touch, the hot water system works in combination with the braai, so the same fire used for cooking your food is also used to heat up the water for your shower. This helps minimize the use of wood.
NOTE: both the Grootberg Lodge and the Hoada Campsite have had their responsible tourism commitments verified by the country's sustainable tourism certification scheme, Eco Awards Namibia. Both obtained the highest possible accolade of 5 Desert Flowers.
| CAPITAL: Windhoek
| EPI RANKING: 104th, 40.2
| NAMIBIA SUSTAINABILITY REPORT
Another somewhat unexpected destination for sustainable travel, but one that will surely make you want to come back for more. Malta, a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea, actually is ranked 23rd in overall sustainability by the EPI (read more about their ranking below). In fact, according to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals National Review, “the concept of sustainable development is at the heart of Malta’s economic, social and environmental development. In fact, back in 2012, the Maltese Government adopted the Sustainable Development Act, resulting in a legislative framework which mandated the Government to mainstream sustainable development in its policies.”
One great spot to see those sustainable policies in action is at Gozo, Malta’s smaller sister island. Although only a 25-minute ferry ride away from Malta, the contrast between the two places is stark: Gozo is quieter, greener, and more rural than its big sister.
Gozo pulls the adventurous traveler in with its clear waters (perfect for swimmers, divers, and snorkelers), its lush, rolling farm-dotted countryside, and its colorful coastal paths. Similarly, Gozo has a long, intriguing history and culture - both of which can clearly be examined by tasting its delicious local cuisine and exploring the still-standing Ggantija Temples, which happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site (they also happen to be the world’s oldest freestanding temples).
Thanks to Malta’s focus on sustainability, initiatives have been taken to encourage visitors to spend more than a day in Gozo - thus limiting the negative impact of day trippers on the island’s infrastructure (aka slow travel). Similarly, three of Gozo’s beaches have a Blue Flag status - a standard only achieved through a diligent beach management plan. Finally, the island also promotes environmentally-conscious programs in schools as well as overall clean energy use.
| CAPITAL: Valletta
| EPI RANKING: 23rd, 70.7
| MALTA SUSTAINABILITY REPORT
These are just a few destinations around the world that are focusing on sustainability. While you might be wondering why we didn’t just list the top 10 most sustainable countries in the world according to the EPI, we thought it would be more interesting and useful to discuss lesser-known places that are making significant progress towards a sustainable future. Many of these countries are focusing on small, grassroots sustainable practices - which to us is even more exciting and awe-inspiring.
If you are curious to learn more ab