Skip to main content

Our Top 6 Sustainable Tourism Destinations You Should Visit

As the world returns to ‘normal’ post-pandemic life, travel will remain tricky, but this isn’t stopping a surge of people wanting to get out. The World Travel & Tourism Council, in fact, projects 28.4% growth in the travel sector, reaching nearly $2 trillion, exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 6.2%.

This travel, however, features a number of unintended environmental and cultural consequences — the burning of fossil fuel and the destruction of natural flora and fauna among them. How then, can would-be travelers get out and see the world without destroying it? Well, from rewilding the Scottish highlands to contributing community service for free trips to Oahu, this guide will round up six to eight ways to travel sustainably around the world.

Related Guides

Costa Rica

Costa Rican sunset over the Caribbean Sea.

Costa Rica is the place for sustainable travel. Not only does the Central American country boast an incredible 26 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas, 11 forest reserves, and 8 biological reserves, Costa Rica was named the second most sustainable country in the world by the World Energy Council.

The tiny nation is a parable of environmental responsibility with 99 of its energy deriving from renewable sources. Costa Rica is also well on its way to being carbon neutral, a goal set in 2006, and over 25% of the country’s 19,730 square miles is protected from future development, which gives tourists plenty of ground to explore.

With so many different things to do, it can be difficult to narrow them down. There are several governmental and private organizations like Sustainable Nosara, which you can lend a hand in its sustainable projects as well as role model programs and communities promoting and enforcing environmentally friendly tourism in small Costa Rican villas.

If it’s a more far-flung adventure you’re after, be sure to check out the Punta Mona Center For Regenerative Design and Botanical Studies on the Caribbean coast. Visitors here can spend time in permaculture workshops, medicinal plant courses, and volunteer programs in an off-the-grid alliance that’s demonstrating how to better care for our planet.

Learn More

The Scottish Highlands

Scotland's Old Man of Storr seen in the morning.
Moyan Brenn/Flickr

Ready to get truly wild? Check out dozens of tours with Wilderness Scotland. Tours include biking, hiking, and boating far-flung Scottish high country and islands. In concert with 438 additional organizations on Tourism Takes an Emergency, Wilderness Scotland is committed to true 22nd-century travel: Providing access to eco-friendly accommodation providers who are working together to conserve and to rewild tens of thousands of acres of the Scottish Highlands while fueling tourism critical to economic sustainability in the region.

Become a part of the positive change and traverse mile after mile of the stunning, untouched green, mountainous terrain that encompasses northwest Scotland. Find warmth at fire-warmed Victorian lodges featuring hearty dinners and Scotch whiskey. Look out from mountaintops to lochs, pass herds of the classic Highland Cow on the hunt for the enigmatic Scottish Wildcat on the ground and the majestic Golden Eagle in the air. Sail amidst sparsely populated Scottish isles, searching for basking sharks, whales, and dolphins as you traverse medieval and even Neolithic ruins on land.

Learn More


Baobab trees in Madagascar.
Steve Evans/Flickr

Madagascar is very much a tale with two sides. On one, lush rainforests teeming with colorful birds, playful ring-tailed lemurs, ambling chameleons, and other wildlife. On the other: Desolate stretches where decades of uncontrolled logging led to a loss of nearly 50% of Madagascar’s rainforest between 1950 and 2000. This deforestation led to a decrease in biodiversity, leaving several lemur and other native flora and fauna endangered or extinct.

How can you help? In Madagascar, ecotourism can be a boon for tourists, Malagasy people, and Madagascar’s wildlife. Simply swing over to the Indian Ocean and pull into the world’s second-largest island country. Over the last two decades, the Malagasy government established a network of national parks, where hunting, logging, and even visiting are strictly controlled (most tourists are only allowed to visit with a guide).

Madagascar is one of the world’s financially poorest countries. By boosting the country’s economy, ecotourism can help Malagasy people thrive in coexistence with nature, support conservation efforts, and provide financial benefits to local communities.

Wander over to Wild Planet Adventures, for options to check out indri, safaka, and ring-tailed lemurs, assorted chameleons, giant moths, and even more giant humpback whales. The ocean surrounds this teeming island after all.

Learn More

Oahu, Hawai’i

Kaneohe Bay with Kualoa Ridge in background.
Anthony Quintano/Wikimedia Commons

Looking for a different way to travel sustainably? How about shaking a lei while lending a hand to Hawaiian nonprofits? Why not give a bit of your time to Oahu and possibly get airfare along the way?

Funded by a conglomerate of local businesses and organizations, Movers and Shakas in Oahu is offering to pay the airfare of anyone willing to volunteer work with a local Oahu nonprofit. Fifty fellows are selected to participate in a month-long program centered on cultural education and community contributions through group volunteer projects. Additional participant perks for participants include discounted hotel stays and networking opportunities.

Cohort Two just finished up in February and if you want to be part of the third group, you’d better keep an eye out on the Movers and Shakas newsletter because the program is very much in demand. The first recipients of the flight funds were selected after 90,000 applications for 50 spots.

Of course, you can always just sign up for any number of municipal, agricultural, and natural conservation efforts across the island.

Learn More


A Bhutan monastery set in the mountains.
Han Minh Chu/Wikimedia Commons.

“Happiness is a place,” is the slogan of one of the Earth’s last remaining Buddhist kingdoms.  One of the 23 founding signatories of the Future of Tourism, a guiding set of principles to keep tourism thriving while remaining sustainable.

As the world’s largest employer, travel helps to redistribute wealth, reduce poverty, and provide social mobility while protecting natural and cultural heritage. Bhutan fits this light-touch, high-value tourism to a tee.

The world’s only carbon-negative country carefully regulates visitors to preserve its forests, sprawling glacial valleys, and ancient Eastern culture. Bhutan takes a targeted approach to visitors, keeping entrants low while requiring a high contribution in its minimum daily package rate. Once entering, however, foreign guests are welcomed into its inclusivity with compassion and few barriers to connection with the Bhutanese way of living. Amid emerald-green forests spread below the towering Himalayas, visitors are thrown back into another epoch with relaxing in sustainable high-end hotels like Gangtey Lodge, Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, and Six Senses. And for the nation’s premier bespoke experiences, make sure to check out MyBhutan.

Learn More

Columbia River Gorge

A Columbia River Gorge lookout point.
Hjawale/Wikimedia Commons

From a far-flung magical mountain valley to a much more accessible North American gorge, get ready for wind and wine in the Columbia River Gorge.

The last 309 miles of North America’s longest river to the Pacific Ocean defines the Oregon-Washington state border, constituting the largest national scenic area in the United States. Comprising 293,000 acres of public and private lands, the Columbia River Gorge attracts more than two million annual visitors. They come for some of the world’s finest pinot noir, kite-surfing, and sightseeing with waterfalls galore and towering Mt. Hood standing along the route.

To help reduce the impact of tourism on the local environment and endemic living, the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance has molded a model for best practices in sustainable tourism along these mighty waters. This includes the visitor education program Ready, Set, Gorge, the East Gorge Food Trail, a network of farms, historic hotels, wineries, and other homegrown experiences that all benefit and feed into keeping the gorge healthy and flourishing.

Learn More

Editors' Recommendations

Matthew Denis
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Matt Denis is an on-the-go remote multimedia reporter, exploring arts, culture, and the existential in the Pacific Northwest…
The Best Spring Break Beach Destinations for 2022
The tide pools at Arroyo Burro County Beach, Santa Barbara, California.

Spring break season is about to begin, and travelers have already begun to book flights for their spring break coastal getaways. We already know which beaches will attract the largest and wildest crowds. If you’re not in the mood to revisit your college student glory days, or even if you simply want to try somewhere new, where should you go?

Fortunately, we have some answers. Come along with us as we travel across America for spring break beach destinations.
Is it Time to Change Your Spring Break Travel Routine?
Photo by Andrew Davey Andrew Davey/The Manual

Read more
Medellín Travel Guide: Where to Stay, What to Do, and More
Panorama of Medellín sitting under the Andes.

Looking for travel adventure, eats, and endless experience in a perfect urban mountain metropolis? Medellín, Colombia should be high on your list. Medellín is almost always between 63 and 83 degrees Fahrenheit. In Colombia, the weather is dictated by elevation rather than location. With its borders both above and below the equator, the country remains hot n' steamy at sea-level Cartagena, cool on Bogotá’s plateau high in the Andes Mountains, and, not unlike the best of Goldilocks’ burglary, Medellín is juuust right, tucked into the Aburrá Valley under mountains that keep the warm air in and the rain out.

There are almost endless places to visit, view, and eat under the Medellín sun. Colorful homes line up next to colonial hotels, modern museums, and swanky hotels. Music adds spice to the air, as do grilling meats and the lights that splash across the evening. After you’re done with consumption, the city offers an abundance of urban retreats. Swim, hike, fly across the sky via this Manual guide.

Read more
The 5 Best Tropical Vacations You Need to Experience
Tropical beach image.

Picture this: White sandy beaches, room temperature seas, lush flora, and of course, sunshine. We call this the perfect cocktail for an ideal tropical vacation. But choosing where to spend your free time basking under the sun can be difficult as each destination offers its own charm. Some intrigue you with their natural beauty. Others offer unique cultural attractions. And a few offer memorable adventures. It's just a matter of finding the perfect fit. From the Caribbean to Mexico, this list of tropical vacation destinations covers some of the most beautiful (and not too far) places in the world. Vacation mode starts now!
Riviera Maya, Mexico

The Riviera Maya is a stretch of Caribbean coastline on Mexico’s northeastern Yucatán Peninsula. It's known for its all-inclusive resorts, yoga retreats, ancient Mayan ruins, and long, white-sand beaches. Fairmont Mayakoba offers the ultimate tropical beach vacation and is the best way to experience what Riviera Maya has to offer. At Fairmont Mayakoba, guests can spot exotic birds, turtles, and even crocodiles from a resort boat in the mangrove-filled jungle. Marine wildlife lovers can snorkel among sea fans, giant sponges and moray eels, or take a catamaran out on the water. Golfing, spa services, mezcal tastings, or Mexican delicacy cooking classes are also offered within this tropical paradise. If you can imagine it, they probably offer it at the resort! The private, gated 240 hectares property is surrounded by lush rainforest (that can be cycled along) lined with waterways, right on the Caribbean shoreline.
Explore Fairmont Mayakoba

Read more