Travel is one of the best ways to open your perspective. Seeing and experiencing new places can be a strong catalyst for making us aware and more conscious, but those experiences can also come at an environmental cost.
With a rise in eco-tourism, it’s tempting to think that sustainable travel is easily achievable, but in some places, exploring and voyaging have a higher impact than the supposed benefits. In fact, many organizations around the world are constantly working to develop stricter regulations that will protect local environments, cultures and populations. Thinking about our travel impact is essential.
When it comes down to it, no matter how badly we want to visit, there are some places that we just shouldn’t go, and if we do travel to them we need to be very conscious of our impact. We’ve pulled together a list of places that we hope travelers will pass on, be it for environment, social or cultural reasons. But since we do believe in the power of seeing the world, we’ve also provided some great alternatives.
1. Galapagos Islands
Although a popular destination for seeing biodiversity at its purest, the Galapagos is under threat. In 2007 UNESCO deemed increasing human immigration and uncontrolled development of tourism as threatening the “outstanding value and physical integrity” of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ecuadorian government sees the same problem, and last year raised the entrance fee to the park.
So where to go if you still want to see some of South America’s island biodiversity? The Islas Bellestas. Often called the Galapagos of Peru, Islas Ballestas is a natural reserve comprised of over 700,000 acres. In order to protect the wildlife, visitors are not allowed to land on the island, but you’re sure to spot sea lions, penguins, pelicans and a diverse array of bird species from the comfort of the boat. You’ll have much less of an impact but still get to see some amazing wildlife.
A pristine environment threatened by climate change, many travelers are flocking to Antarctica to see the continent up close before it’s too late. But the increase in tourists has not been beneficial for Antarctica. Over 45,000 people visited Antarctica in the s2008, up from 10,000 a decade ago.
An increased number of tourists has meant increased methods of travel, and cruise ships pose a significant concern to the continent and its surroundings. After the MS Explorer cruise ship sank in 2007, leaving a diesel stain five kilometers in diameter, the countries of the Antarctic Treaty came together and decided to limit tourism to the region by controlling the size of cruise ships and the number of tourists taken ashore in order to prevent environmental damage.
If you’re looking for a southern adventure, leave Antarctica to the scientists who are doing ground-breaking research on the continent and opt for a chilly experience with less of an impact instead. How about Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina? You’ll find snowy mountains and icy glaciers as well as plenty of penguins in this beautiful region of Argentina.
Once the seat of the Khmer Empire, Angkor is a stunning area of ornate temples and structures that is one of the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia. But such a reputation draws a crowd. Bus loads of tourists fill the area everyday, most opting for a walk around the most well-known of the structures, the Temple of Angkor Wat. Thousands of feet pass across the stone buildings, not always with a delicate impact.
If you do travel to Angkor, make time to see the less visited temples. Exploring the temples in the east and northeast parts of the park will be quieter and more enjoyable; watch the sunrise at Srah Srang and you might be just one of a few tourists. Angkor isn’t the only place for temples in Cambodia. You can also visit Preah Vihear, another UNESCO site but far away from the hustle and bustle of Angkor.
The epicenter of luxury, development Dubai has turned into an environmental catastrophe and financial boondoggle. Rich investors hoped to build a series of islands shaped like a map of earth. Now a pile of rocks, the area is the world’s most expensive shipping hazard and has been referred to as a “pile of muck.” That’s only the beginning of a long laundry list of environmentally unfriendly aspects of the city, including a proposed three billion square foot “Waterworld” type structure in an area where water scarcity is already a problem, caged endangered species, a refrigerated swimming pool and artificially cooled beach and, of course, the world’s tallest building.
If you’re on the lookout for sand and palm trees with a sane focus, check out Abu Dhabi. The average per capita worth here is around $17 million, but the oil rich locale does have environmental aspirations. The city recently installed 60,000 water saving devices in offices and homes and it’s the host of the World Future Energy Summit, the world’s platform for future sustainable energy developments.
In recent years, slums tourism has become fairly popular. From Kenya to Indonesia, travelers are paying tour operators to take them into impoverished areas, in the hopes of an “authentic” view that might open up their eyes to global inequalities. Going after an authentic experience is great, and it’s important to not turn a blind eye to the economic problems that Westerner-friendly tourism often leaves out. Slum tourism doesn’t have to be slum voyeurism, but make sure that you are doing for the right reasons and that your tour operator is not taking advantage of the local population and culture.
No matter where you go, it’s important to travel with the environment in mind. The Rainforest Alliance has a great list of 10 questions to ask before you book your next trip.
- What is your environmental policy?
- What percentage of your employees are local citizens?
- Do you support any projects to benefit the local community?
- Do you support conservation? How?
- Is your business certified?
- Have you won any eco-awards?
- Are you recommended by any reputable NGOs or conservation groups?
- What sorts of policies have you implemented to reduce water consumption, conserve energy or recycle wastes?
- How do you educate visitors about local natural areas, wildlife, energy conservation, and local culture?
- How do you monitor these practices?