Image Source: Flickr. By: Randihausken.

School is ending, summer is rearing it’s blistering hot head, and the vacation season is upon us. Will you take to the beach again this year, or perhaps go camping in the mountains? Have you been eyeing one of those Caribbean cruises or thinking of trudging through an over-crowded amusement park? While some destinations may offer green hospitality or eco-friendly activities here and there, much of the world has yet to catch up with eco-tourism. However, some places have definitely gone above and beyond the call and are worth mentioning in this list. Check them out:

10. Norway
First, we head to the colder areas of the north with this well-known Scandinavian country. This European nation can boast of having some of the most amazing scenery in the world, thousands of native species, and they’ve also done excellent work with the environment and sustainable living. The Green Fjord Experience is one way to see part of the country. You’ll travel along part of the western coast (via bus), visiting cities, glaciers, and fjords; plus, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy a number of activities, including skiing, sailing, cycling, or simply checking out a museum or festival happening at the time of your visit. You can also check out an eco tour suggested by Gordon’s Guide, which offers you a chance to get up close and personal with some of the native wildlife. For more information on eco tours and lodgings, check out the following sites: Ecotrotters – Eco Hotels, and Norway Ecotourism Holidays & Vacations.

9. Kenya
This African country is a fantastic place to start your eco-vacation adventure. To start with, you have great features, such as the Great Rift Valley, Tsavo National Park, and Mount Kenya. Kenya also offers a wide variety of eco-safaris, including those by: Wilderness Journeys, Ontdek Kenya Safaris, Berngo Safaris & Tours, and Journeys International. On one of these safaris, you may encounter a number of animals, including cheetahs, giraffes, and Africa’s “Big 5”—buffalo, elephants, leopards, lions, and rhinoceroses. As for accommodations, there are numerous eco-lodges available. At the Campi ya Kanzi Eco Lodge, you’ll find solar energy, rain collection, organic vegetable gardens, milk and eggs, wildlife ponds, and more! At Ol Seki Mara Eco Camp, you’ll find solar panels, water conservation, eco-friendly lighting, recycling, composting, renewable natural furnishings, local food, and many other green perks. To find out more about Kenya’s eco-tourism, check out these sites: Eco Destinations, Frugal Monkey: Kenya Eco-Tours, Ecotourism Kenya, and Kenya: Led by Real Eco-Warriors.

8. Borneo
Part of Southeast Asia and the 3rd largest island in the world, Borneo is well-known for its biodiversity. Thousands of species call this island home—many of which have only been recently discovered. It is known as a center of evolution and a sanctuary for many creatures. Now, as for exploring this fascinating island, you could start by going on one of Destination Borneo’s eco-tours, which include a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, a hike up Mount Kinabalu, or a boat ride to Selingan Turtle Island (plus a number of other options). You could also check out a National Geographic-approved Jungle Trek, where you will have a chance to see a lot of wildlife (which may include elephants) and stay at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge. For lodging, check out the Rimba Orangutan Eco Lodges, which offers a chance to see and hear many creatures, eco tours, picnic lunches, and more. They also donate a percentage of their profit to environmental protection. However, if jungle life isn’t your “thing”, you might be interested in the Gayana Eco Resort, which offers views of the jungle, mangroves, and ocean; non-motorized water sport facilities (such as snorkeling and canoeing), local food, and even a marine laboratory that focuses on the conservation, rehabilitation and restoration of coral reefs (plus they grow giant clams!). To find out more about Borneo’s eco-tourism, check out these sites: Borneo Eco Adventure, Borneo Eco-Tour, and Borneo Eco Tours.

7. The Amazon
The Amazon Rainforest can be found throughout 9 South American Countries: Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Rich in biodiversity, one tenth of the world’s known species can be found in the Amazon. Unfortunately, this great place is being destroyed by deforestation and climate change—all the more reason to visit it while you still can. One unique tour offered here is a Sketching Adventure, where aspiring artists can take part in sketching and drawing workshops right in the jungle; adventures may take you to the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve or Iquitos (Peru). You can also check out an eco-tour provided by the Rain Trust Foundation. If you’ve ever sponsored an acre of the Amazon Rainforest through this foundation, this is your chance to visit it. A trip down the Amazon River offers you the chance to visit your acre(s), explore the jungle, and meet local villagers. The Amazon also offers some spectacular accommodations, including the largest treetop hotel in the world! Inspired by Jacques Cousteau, Ariau Amazon Towers offers guests a scenic boat ride, a great view of the jungle, 5 miles of elevated catwalks, local cuisine, jungle adventures, and a lot more. Another option is the Juma Lodge. Designed to be completely integrated with the rainforest, the lodge is actually built on stilts and offers eco-tours, swimming, and canoeing. They also have a conservation project and you’ll have a chance to see some of the local wildlife. For more information on Amazon eco-tours, check out these sites: Amazon EcoTours, Wasai, Brazil Nuts Eco Adventures, and Explorations Inc.

6. Alaska
If you journey to the northwest of North America, you’ll find Alaska: the largest US state and possibly also the least explored. It’s known for its beautiful pristine wilderness, which includes glaciers, volcanoes, lakes, and forests as far as the eye can see. Here, you may see wolves, bears, orcas, and other forms of wildlife. For an eco-adventure, you might be interested in their kayaking, rafting, or hiking expeditions. At Denali National Park, you can check out glaciers, tundra and amazing mountain views, or you can visit the fjords at Kenai Fjords National Park. Go on a whale or orca watching tour, take a horseback ride, or simply indulge in some photography. For a place to stay at, you should definitely check out the Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge, which uses hydroelectric power, fresh water from a nearby mountain spring, follows the 3-R mantra, provides eco tours, local food, and has been ranked one of the top eco-lodges in the US and the world. Another place to stay at is the Alderwood Retreat & Eco Lodge, where every room or cabin overlooks the Pacific Ocean. They also make use of hydroelectric power and spring water, plus they supply guests with all-natural bath and body products, use only non-toxic cleaning products, prepare meals from locally caught food or their organic garden (when in season), and they implement mandatory or routine recycling and composting practices. For more information on Alaskan eco-tourism, check out these sites: Alaska One – Eco Tours, Alaskan Tour Guides – Eco Tours, Alaska’s Ridgewood Wilderness Lodge, Alaska Eco Vacations, Ecotourism Vacations in Alaska, Seaside Adventure Eco Tours, and Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge.

Image Source: Flickr. By: WanderingTheWorld.

5. New Zealand
This island nation has become increasingly popular in the past decade. So many people I know have said that they would like to go to New Zealand at some point in the future. If you want to catch a glimpse of the beautiful scenery, watch any of The Lord of the Rings trilogy movies—most of the footage was filmed in New Zealand. Here, you will find fjords, volcanic markings, and awesome beaches. Here, you will find a unique variety of plants and animals, such as the kiwi, geckos, and the kauri. Plus, New Zealand has been a leader in island restoration projects around the globe. As for their eco-tourism, you could check out Ecotours New Zealand’s Top 10 List of Things to Do, which includes: whale and dolphin watching, bush walks, and learning about the Maori culture. The New Zealand Tourism Guide has a list of quite a few tour and travel options, including hiking, kayaking, and even a tour that will take you to the locations where The Lord of the Rings was filmed. Another option is the tours provided by Respect Nature Tours, which may include a dolphin watch, horseback riding on the beach, and a visit to Waimangu Volcanic Valley. If you already have a trip in mind, but are looking for an eco-friendly place to stay, check out the Magic Cottage & Takou River Eco Lodge. Located amid acres of sub-tropical gardens, organic pasture and native bush, this place is a timber cabin set along the banks of the Takou River. Solar panels and gas are used, rainwater is collected, cleaning is done with the help of non-toxic and biodegradable products, and they have an extensive native tree planting program. To find out more about New Zealand eco-tours and accommodations, check out these sites: Exclusive Ecolodges of New Zealand, It’s a Green, Green World: Eco Friendly New Zealand Accommodations, Eco-Destination: New Zealand, New Zealand Activities and Attractions, and Hiking New Zealand.

4. California
Along US the Pacific Coast, you’ll find the state of California, which has made headlines over the years for its conservation efforts, mandatory recycling, and strict ruling for greener electronics and appliances. In this state, you’ll find beautiful state parks, such as Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, and also the famed John Muir Trail. You can head out on a hiking, biking, or kayaking adventure with Central Coast Outdoors, which may include a journey across Big Sur and a chance to see whales or even California Condors! San Francisco Bay Adventures offers humpback whale watching trips, a trip to Angel Island, and photography expeditions—among other eco-tours. If you really want to make a difference, check out Nature Corps: they offer one day projects and volunteer vacations for those wish to give something back to nature. Programs include planting trees at Yosemite or restoring trails at Sequoia & Kings Canyon, among other activities. Now, as for eco-accommodations, California is definitely not in short supply. You can find cabins, resorts, and even bed & breakfasts that all provide green hospitality. To get an idea of what’s all available, and find out about more eco-tours, check out these websites: Eco-Friendly Bed & Breakfasts, Kunde Family Estate Eco-Tours, Green People Eco-Tourism and Eco-Lodges, Terranea Resort, and Pacific Life Eco Tours.

3. Galapagos Islands
This archipelago (located 605 miles west of continental Ecuador) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was explored by Charles Darwin, and has some of the most amazing (and fragile) ecosystems you will ever find. There are 15 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and over 100 rocks and islets. If you were to travel to each part, you would find cacti, trees, volcanic remains, beaches, coral reefs, mangrove forests, and so much more. On top of that, you’ll also have a chance to see a variety of wildlife, including the marine iguana, the flightless cormorant, and the extremely well-known Galapagos Tortoise. Faced with numerous threats, like climate change, invasive species, and human development, the Galapagos is at a critical point and it’s hard to say which way things will turn. If you’re keen on exploring this amazing place, you could start by taking an eco-cruise, or you could go on a Natural Habitat Adventure, which also offers cruises as well as hiking adventures and even a chance to snorkel with the sea lions. Eco-friendly accommodations are also easy to find here; take the Finch Bay Eco Hotel, for example. It has solar panels, reduced energy consumption by 16% and fresh water consumption by 6%, provides eco-friendly and biodegradable bath & body products, provides environmental training to their staff, and is committed to restoring the local coastline. These efforts only name a few things off their rather long list of environmental dedication. To find out more about eco-tours and lodging in the Galapagos, check out these sites: Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Eden, Progreso Verde: Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands, Go Ecuador: Galapagos Island Hotels, and Ecuador Explorer: Galapagos Ecotours.

2. Australia
Here in the land down under, you’ll find a never-ending supply of wilderness and activities to enjoy. Neighbored by the previously listed New Zealand, this island nation (and main portion of the continent—for those who forget that point), holds some of the most well-known natural places on Earth, including the Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock (Uluru), and the Great Dividing Range. Mountains, tropical rainforests, sandy beaches, and dry desert-like areas can all be found on this vast island. The inhabitants of each ecosystem are also worth checking out, such as the koala, kangaroo, frilled-neck lizard, wombat and platypus. Beware though, not all of the natives are friendly—this includes crocodiles and sharks, but don’t let them put you off! Discovery Ecotours offers a chance to visit Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon, or Kakadu National Park. Ozeco offers a chance to hike the Blue Mountains and eat breakfast with koalas, explore the Outback, or go dolphin watching, surfing and diving at Jervis Bay. Total Eco Adventures offers snorkeling, kayaking, and standup paddling adventures, and there are countless other eco-tours and activities worth checking out. However, now we are going to talk about checking in to one of their eco-friendly accommodations. Like California, there are so many options available that it’s rather difficult to narrow down to one or 2 suggestions, so I will let you be your own guide for this venture. To find out more about all the awesome eco tours, adventures and lodging that Australia offers, check out these sites: Eco Tours – South Australia, South Australia Eco Tours, Margaret River Vacations, Eco Green Vacations, Ecologic Holiday Destinations, Eco Cabins in Australia, Ecohotel, Eco Friendly Accommodation Australia, and Blue Mountains Australia: Eco-Tourism Accommodations.

Image Source: Flickr. By: Wha'ppen.

1. Costa Rica
We have finally made it to the number one eco-vacation spot in the world. According to the 2010 Environmental Performance Index, Costa Rica ranked 3rd in the world and 1st among the Americas. It ranks first in the Happy Planet Index and has also been dubbed the greenest country in the world. Bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, on this island nation you can find mountains, rivers, rainforests, volcanoes, waterfalls, and more. Hundreds of species roam the island, including the Jaguar and giant anteater, but unfortunately, a lot of these animals are listed as endangered. Costa Rica Tour offers an eco tour that will take you to the Poas Volcano, a cruise through Tortuguero Park, and even a Cloud Forest hike and Canopy tour via hanging bridges. With Pizotes Eco Adventure Tours, you can check out the wildlife, visit waterfalls and white sandy beaches, and take a ride on a zip-line through the forest. EcoTeach offers a chance to help the environment and have some fun while doing it. You can visit a macaw project and then take a swim in the ocean, help with reforestation while staying with a local family, or even take a hike and learn about the ways of the BriBri—one of the last indigenous peoples of Costa Rica. If you’re looking for a place to stay, try the Crocodile Bay Resort & Spa, which supports conservation, recycling, and sustainability efforts. To find out more about Costa Rica’s eco tourism and why it’s made the number one spot, check out these sites: Ecotours in Costa Rica, Costa Rica Ecotourism, My Costa Rica Ecotourism, Eco-Vacations Costa Rica, Selva Verde Eco Resort and Rainforest Lodge, Lookout Inn, Rainforest Tours, and Nature Vacations.

That’s it for this top 10 list; you can expect another one in a couple weeks. As for eco-tours, apart from the suggestions in this article, I also recommend checking out expeditions or conservation tours that allow you to not only visit these amazing places (or others), but also provide programs for you to help the environment through, such as studying wolves in Europe or monitoring turtle hatchings in Mexico. Wherever you go, leave nothing behind and take only memories and photographs!

By Heidi Marshall