Eco adventures for a greener world

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Ecotourism Blog!

Welcome to the Greenloons Blog, your go-to ecotourism / sustainable / responsible (or whatever term you feel comfortable with) travel resource. Here, you will find eco travel destination profiles, environmentally friendly travel tips, ecotourism certification information, eco trip reviews and much more! Read, share and let us know your thoughts about ecotourism!

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    Researcher at Bidoup Field School VietnamLooking for a unique way to 'pay it forward' and add to your resume with your sustainable travels? Spearheading an innovative program that applies responsible tourism practices with practical scientific research, the Bidoup Field School, will be holding a special 2 week program in January for budding researchers who want to combine their sustainable travels with the opportunity to contribute and advance tropical forest research.  

    Located within the Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park in Vietnam, a newly named UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, researchers will first spend 9 days touring Vietnam with Dr. Nhu Hoa Le, bi-lingual guide and leading expert on sustainable tourism in Vietnam followed by a week of environmental research.  

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    Male Gaur asiatic wild ox at Nagarahole wildlife sanctuaryThe vast and diverse landscape of India is embedded with a rich biosphere that is home to myriad species of flora and fauna.

    I believe that with the evolution of technology and infrastructural development in India, today, there is a perpetual conflict between the Indian wildlife and humans.

    Gaur bull at Nagarhole National Park, India. Photo by Dinesh Kannambadi (Wikipedia Commons)

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    Ten years ago, my husband and I went to Thailand for our honeymoon. While we were enthralled by the vibrancy of Bangkok and the lushness of Phuket, environmental responsibility was definitely not the first adjective that came to mind during our travels – instead we could describe Thailand’s phenomenal food, extraordinarily friendly people, scarily bad taxi drivers, and unusually painful Thai massages.

    This is why I was so pleased to read last week about Thailand’s expanded focus on environmental protection – a process that began in 2003 and has expanded to the level that Governor Suraphon Svetasreni of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) announced a few weeks ago "The need to reconcile the economic and ecological impact of travel and tourism is critical to the balanced strategy that we are pursuing as part of our tourism development policies."

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    Diwali or the “festival of lights” is a celebration of the inner light that exists in all humankind. The holiday is as important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians. This year, the festival will begin on October 26 and will continue for five days. It is very much a family celebration with traditional activities including preparing colorful entrances to homes and businesses, baking special foods including sweets, wearing new clothes and jewels, lighting candles and incense sticks, and setting off lots of (not so eco-friendly) fireworks.

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    The eco-destination series continues with a summary of Ilha Formosa, or Beautiful Island, as the Portuguese explorers first called Taiwan when they discovered it in the early 16th century. Taiwan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. However, in contrast to the media images typically seen in the west, Taiwan is also distinguished for its steep mountains, beaches, national parks, lush forests and hot springs.

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    Given its topography that ranges from snowy Mount Everest to lush tropical valleys full of wildlife, Nepal has positioning itself nicely as a top ecotourism destination. Families can enjoy wilderness camps, white-water rafting, trekking and birding as well as participating in safaris all amidst spectacular flora and fauna.

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    For generations, nature and wildlife conservation has been a part of the Indian culture and heritage. From its highest peak at Kanchenjunga to the Indian Ocean, amazing India also spells variety and adventure. A land of rich and varied geography including the Himalayan Region, Kerala and the Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshdweep Islands, India offers such diverse activities such as elephant and camel safaris, and yoga and meditation retreats, to thrilling whitewater rafting adventures.

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    The term "Noah's Ark" can conjure up many images. For some, it's a biblical reference set in modern day Turkey. For others, it's traveling through the lush landscapes of southern Africa while on safari. For Australians though, the term invokes a call to action to protect the endangered species that call Tasmania home.

    Tasmania's strikingly picturesque land - with its nature reserves, beaches, clear waters, glacial remnants and World Heritage Sites – provides the perfect ecosystem for migrating blue and humpback whales, kangaroos, southern elephant seals, wedge-tailed eagles, albatrosses, petrels, skinks, wombats, the threatened subarctic fur seal, and, of course, the famed Tasmanian devil.

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    Last October, the Conservation Ecology Centre near Cape Otway in Victoria, Australia announced the birth of four Tiger Quoll joeys. The announcement was significant because even 10 years ago, Wild Tiger Quolls were thought to be extinct in Cape Otway and because this was the Centre's first attempt at creating a breeding program.

    In the last few years, the Conservation Ecology Centre established the Great Ocean Ecolodge as an ecologically responsible social enterprise where all profits would be invested back into wildlife conservation. Not only are vital funds being raised, but the Ecolodge also provides opportunities for people all over the world to get involved in exciting, hands-on conservation.

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    Distinctive New Zealand is resplendent with nature, adventure, flora, fauna, and naturalist guides committed to conservation.  And, as the last major landmass on earth to be settled – humans arrived 1000 years ago in comparison to Australia, which was settled 60,000 years ago – New Zealand is also a constant study in evolution.

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    Lumnishenca Wikipedia CommonsAfter what seemed to be an endless Washington DC winter filled with errant snow storms, sleet and frigid weather, our family realized that we desperately needed to experience the rejuvenating warmth of a sun, sand, and sea vacation.

    So began the research to find a relatively uncrowded Caribbean island that would also fulfill our need for eco-adventure.

    Eventually, we settled on St. Croix and although I was a little apprehensive about the traveler warnings for getting a mosquito-borne disease (Dengue and Chikungunya had been spreading for months), ultimately we were pleasantly surprised with St. Croix's vistas, quirky history, beautiful beaches, and hospitality – and I haven't yet even mentioned the great kayaking!

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    It may not immediately come to mind, but natural rivers and springs are abundant in Jamaica. With over 120 rivers flowing through the country from the central mountain region to the coasts, and several mineral springs recognized for their therapeutic value, Jamaica is an easy ecotourism getaway for families. The fast flowing rivers, namely the Black River, Rio Cobre, Milk River, Rio Grande and Martha Brae, are not only used for transport and irrigation, but for the production of electricity too.

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    AzoresLots of people have a very mainstream view of ecotourism, imagining the same old destinations when the word ‘sustainable tourism’ comes to mind. But the real hardcore eco-warriors of the world, who are more informed on such issues, know that ecotourism can occur practically anywhere.

    You can make a difference at all corners of the world, from the mountains of Peru and Galapagos Islands to tidying up the world’s cities and keeping the British countryside alive.

    Here are five places you might not expect to find ecotourism.

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    Europe TrainAs a way to celebrate Earth Day 2017 on April 22nd, GoEuro, the travel platform for comparing and booking trains, buses, and flights across Europe, compiled a list of 15 train routes that are more environmentally friendly and (surprisingly) faster than flying.

    In collaboration with EcoPassenger, GoEuro compared the carbon emissions and energy resource consumption of the two modes of transport in order to outline the environmental benefit of opting for the train.

    The time lapse of the 15 plane journeys was then calculated with consideration to city transit time and airport security procedures in addition to actual travel time.

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    1 night RaftWith ecotourism estimated to be the fastest-growing sector of the global tourism market (UNWTO), it is imperative that those of us seeking to reduce our environmental impact while traveling find ways to easily distinguish between authentic sustainability and greenwashing.  

    While we don't want to simply latch on to the green travel trend, we must be able to recognize travel organizations that are pushing beyond universally acceptable standards of reduce, reuse, and recycle

    One may retort that any steps taken by tourism companies to reduce their impact is a step in the right direction, but the curse of traditional tourism is that the positive feedback loop (which we create through social media) also enables massive increases tourism development and access.  

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    Sustainable Tourism: Water Usage in US HotelsI was born with the travel bug. As often as I could, I was off visiting and re-visiting places near and far, soaking in sea air, language, and culture. But as my eco-conscience grew, I realized that my growing collection of seashells and jet-fuelled flights might be satisfying my wanderlust at the expense of the environment. Because my wanderlust was simply impossible to ignore, I turned my attention to sustainable tourism.

    Eco/Geo/Green/Sustainable Tourism
    No matter the name, the intent is the same: travel with the lightest environmental and socio-cultural footprint possible to maintain or improve conditions in all communities around the world and ensure their health for years to come. A lofty goal, but with a change in perspective and a little bit of effort, travel can be not only guilt-free, but rewarding in unexpected ways.

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    We can all play a part in improving our environment, whether we become more aware of recycling to educating our children about the importance of being environmentally conscious. Governments and city councils too have a responsibility and in this infographic, we can see that some cities have been more serious about energy efficiency than others.

    For example, in Copenhagen, you can see for yourself just how much they have embraced environmental responsibility whereby over one-third of residents use their bicyles regularly.  In addition, there are manysafe cycle paths that allow you to see the city plus get some fresh air.  More closer to home, consider a visit to San Francisco where they encourage the use of electric cars, thereby helping to reduce smog.  

    Check out these other green city destination options for some additional inspiration.

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    Car Free Island of Hydra GreeceOne of the easiest ways to support sustainable travel is to select a car-free island for your next family vacation.

    Car-free islands, generally, have a healthier population due to less air pollution and a less sedentary population, improved conditions for culture and leisure facilities, more space set aside for gardens and parks, more energy-efficient and water-efficient buildings (due to necessity), higher real estate values, and lower rates of crime, among other benefits.

    To provide some additional eco-inspiration, while I've written about our travel experiences in Hydra, Greece and more recently Mackinac Island, Michigan, here is a list of other U.S States and countries who have designated entire islands as car-free.

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    Picking Vegetables and Fruits from Backyard Farm on Family VacationOver the years, I've come to realize that one factor that makes a family vacation a fantastic vacation is picking out the right accommodations.

    For us, that means renting a locally-owned home, wherever possible, as it is more environmentally conscious and more fun.  We've rented apartments and villas in many countries including the United States, Italy, Canada, and Spain, and during this past summer, we rented a villa in Cyprus.

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    Finding Love While TravelingWhen my husband and I first met – almost 18 years ago – he didn't even have a passport. He had traveled to Canada and Mexico of course, but back then, one only needed a valid U.S. driver's license to cross the border back into the United States.

    This may have sated him, but given my frequent inclination to travel overseas, I plainly declared a couple of months into the relationship, "If you want this to work, you're going to need to get a passport."

    Tagged in: Culture Vacation Ideas
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    Turkey resizeNot sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way - maybe between the marketing of hemp clothing and natural cleaning products - the concept of a having green lifestyle became a bit, dare I say, boring. Fortunately, this is not the case with green travel.

    While there are many meaningful and unique travel experiences to choose from that also happen to benefit communities socially, economically and environmentally, some of these voyages are downright extreme! Here's a few that will get your heart-pumping!

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    One of the bona fide signs of spring in the Washington DC area is the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  Commemorating this lovely gift from Japan, there are art shows, concerts, tea and sake tastings, bike tours, cruises, food tours and photo safaris – and along with that, there's traffic!  Lots and lots of traffic! For proactive green travelers heading to the festival, here's how you can lower your impact.

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    Last year, our family traveled to Namibia with 600 other intrepid travelers for the annual Adventure Travel World Summit.  Given Namibia's recent nod by the New York Times, as number 6 of the 52 Places to Go in 2014, we were not disappointed at all when witnessing amazing wildlife in the Kalahari Desert, staying in phenomenal lodges in Namib Desert, and learning about communal conservancies.  By the same token though, we could not understand why, at every turn, tiny 8 ounce water bottles were distributed (and wasted), rather than the option to refill our reusable water containers with fresh water.

    Tagged in: Green Living Namibia
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    So many of us are on the hunt for bargains - whether they be food, furnishings or travel bargains. For the extra money saved, some of us will drive an extra 30 minutes to get to the store, overlook the lack of quality, and in the case of sustainable travel even miss what makes a region unique. However, did you know that if every family in the United States spent an extra $10 a month at a locally-owned, independent store (or B&B accommodation) rather than a national chain, it would put back over $9.3 Billion to the economy?

    Tagged in: Green Living
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    When I first read this infographic on water usage from Loch Ness Water Gardens, I was amazed at how many gallons of water it took to produce one glass of orange juice (45 gallons) or just one egg (53 gallons). It got me thinking that from a sustainable travel point of view, as healthy and fresh water becomes more scarce in many parts of the world, it would be relatively easy for me to forgo certain foods while traveling. What do you think? What would you try giving up during your travels?

    Tagged in: Green Living
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    One of my travel bucket list destinations is Rio de Janeiro in Brazil during Carnival. This year, Carnival, a festival that is all about parties and fun (and dare I say lots of deadly sins), will run from February 9-12, 2013.

    If you are one of the lucky ones who will be there and are wondering whether you can travel sustainably during Carnival, here are some responsible travel tips for cost-conscious accommodations, guides and restaurants in the Rio de Janeiro area:

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    Over the years, I've had a couple of medical curveballs thrown at me – some even while I was traveling outside the United States. But, up until a few weeks ago, I never had to go further than the local pharmacy or clinic to fix the ailment.

    That was not the case in Interlaken, Switzerland where I all of a sudden found myself at the E.R. wondering if I had broken my hand after an afternoon of canyoning. I had just spent the week in Luzern at the Adventure Travel World Summit and decided to take an early train to Interlaken (for a post-Summit conference) so that I could go paragliding – a calming, scenic, safe adventure excursion. What I didn't count on was the rain, which of course negated any possibility of paragliding that day. The other choice was canyoning.

    Tagged in: Insurance Switzerland
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    By now, you are probably experiencing the lazy days of August in the run up to September, where school starts, fall sports and cooler weather change the dynamic of weekend getaways. However, if you’ve got one more weekend getaway left in you and want to do something really different – check out these great festivals in the United States and around the world.

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    It’s just about time for the start of one of the most hallowed traditions in football (aka soccer for us Americans). It’s time for UEFA's Euro 2012 and the host countries of Poland and Ukraine are ready to showcase their stadiums, culture and sportsmanship to the world.

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    It’s that time of year when winter doldrums turn to revelry and fun in New Orleans. Considered to be the biggest free show on earth, Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday”, signifying the last celebration before Lent, will be held this year on February 21.

    But Mardi Gras is not the only day of festivities. The Carnival Season in New Orleans actually began on January 6 and continues with celebrations each week culminating to the main Parade Krewes (complete with floats, music, and beads) starting on February 4. The experience provides a wonderful vacation break for the entire family.

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    Perhaps it's the American mindset of independence, but the concept of working with a travel guide is not as popular for seasoned travelers. I admit that for many years, I was of the belief that traveling on my own offered the most authentic travel experience given that I could vacation without a schedule or a timeline – and not be bothered by a so-called expert guide.

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    One of my most favorite moments during a vacation comes when another tourist asks me (or my husband) for directions.  That gesture represents a couple of concepts to me.  First, it means that we do not look out of place – even in a foreign country – and second, it means that our family is doing as the locals do and therefore we are appearing relaxed with our surroundings.

    Tagged in: Culture
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    It is never too early to teach children about the wonders of nature. In honor of the back to school season, here are my recommendations for kid’s travel books that focus on environmental issues in an informative, yet empowering manner.

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    Oktoberfest, which is the world's largest annual fair and one of the best festivals in Germany, starts on September 18. Each year, millions of people from all around the world come to beautiful Munich to drink beer, eat sausage, admire traditional costumes and join together in song with Bavarian bands. If you are participating this year or perhaps making your plans to attend next year, here are some eco-travel tips for an eco-Oktoberfest to remember.

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    Seaside Village in CreteWhat are the first thoughts or images that come to mind when you think of Greece?  Is it its beautiful clear waters and beaches?  Strikingly blue skies?  Its whitewashed buildings?  Music and dance?  Its history?  Contributions to philosophy and our political process?  Its delicious and healthy food? 

    Perhaps, is it all of these combined images that make Greece one of the most iconic “bucket list” travel destinations in the world.  

    As Greenloons’ Founder, I’ve been fortunate to travel to many countries (and even live in a few) around the world and, in my humble opinion, there is no comparison within the six continents I’ve visited, to Greece.  

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    Bulgaria Girl near Belasitsa Nature ParkMy first impression upon crossing the border from Macedonia to Bulgaria was of the sweetness of both the air (its smell of hyacinths) and people of Bulgaria. 

    Over the days, almost like a slowly blooming flower, I then began to discover its stunning vistas, burgeoning wine industry (not to mention their fantastic walnut liquor), variety of delicious food, fascinating history, adventure options, and an inherent joie-de-vivre of people who will sing and dance without much persuasion.

    To me, Bulgaria is the next “hot” destination for family travelers because it’s safe, family-friendly, offers a very good standard of service, and has many options for hikers and foodies to history buffs and beach bums.

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    Rock Climbing Outside SkopjeWhen I was four years old, my family moved from Athens, Greece to Lausanne, Switzerland so that my father could pursue a career opportunity.  

    Thinking that it would be a fun adventure, my parents decided to drive to Switzerland through Yugoslavia.

    All I remember from that mid 1970s road trip was seeing lots of mountains. However, last month, I had another opportunity to explore more closely Macedonia (also known as the Republic of Macedonia or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - FYROM) and what was most surprising to me was how many options there are for adventure travelers.

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    Monte Rufeno Olive PickingAs we walked along the short trail back from the olive grove, I began to smell fresh mint and other aromatic herbs underfoot, wildly growing on the side of the farmhouse, and instantly felt transported to a simpler time when families had to grow their own food and raise their own livestock to survive.

    Although paling in comparison to those more likely difficult times, I still was satisfied with having taken part in the harvesting of an olive tree’s lovely green and purple colored olives ready for the first press. We collected nearly 90 lbs. of olives that morning and, once again, found ourselves at a large family-style Italian table ready for a feast.

    For anyone who has traveled throughout the Mediterranean, the scene may be a familiar one. But, once you account for the details, you realize it is anything but common.

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    Greek CuisineI may be biased given my Greek heritage, but I think authentic Greek cuisine (I am not including the ubiquitous gyro) still represents the values of slow, farm to table cooking made with fresh, wholesome ingredients.  Whether you are a vegetarian, pescatarian or omnivore, it's easy to find a wide variety of healthy dishes when traveling to Greece.  For many though, the act of making Greek food seems arduous.  However, it does not need to be difficult.  

    Meet Chef Maria Krina.  Maria is a co-owner of Droseriko restaurant in Patras, which is the capital city of Western Greece, in the northern Peloponnese.  She has made a splash in Greece for being outspoken about what is happening with food production around the world and for using purely organic, raw materials from local producers in Greece and Cyprus.  Her specialty is highlighting the forgotten Greek dishes of yesteryear.  

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    Musical Performance in front of Cathedral, ZagrebLast summer's travels with my son was part social experiment, part field research on how sustainability is viewed through the eyes of a nine-year-old child. Each country we visited, namely Cyprus, Greece, Croatia and Scotland had their own flavor of what sustainability and green travel meant.

    For Croatia, sustainability generally translated to a more personal construct of preserving all things local rather than living what we, in the United States, have come to know as a green lifestyle filled with hybrid car or bus use and renewable energy resources.

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    Wild Atlantic Way SceneThere's so much that surprised me during my trip to Ireland last October from the people (extraordinarily friendly souls who have a penchant for going out of their way to help others) to the vistas (there's a reason people call it the Emerald Isle) to the music (celebrating humanity's full range of emotions from sadness and tragedy to joy and passion) to the food (sustainably sourced by necessity and simply delicious) that it's hard to pick out a moment that stood out above all!

    But, I can and that moment was during an e-biking trip along the Wild Atlantic Way.

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    Bus Travel from Split CroatiaWith classic rock music playing, reliable Wi-Fi access, and spectacular scenery (think of the Pacific Coast Highway in California times two for beauty), who knew bus travel in Croatia could be so fun!

    Last summer, my nine-year-old son and I traveled for 17 days throughout Croatia. We started out in Dubrovnik and continued on to Split, then Opatija, Rovinj, and finally to Zagreb.  It was a fantastic trip filled with historical sites, great food, outdoor adventure, and friendly people.  

    Taking a bus, however, was not my original plan for traversing the coastline.  Instead, I wanted to travel by train or boat as I thought it would be more fun for my son and more green. However, I quickly figured out that the only reliable form of public transport in Croatia is taking a bus.

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    View of Dubrovnik from FortressDubrovnik, Croatia is high on many people's travel bucket lists – and with good reason!

    When our family traveled there this summer, I was awestruck by this beautiful coastal city from the moment we first walked through Pile Gate into the Old Town.  The sound of the birds, the lively chatter of families strolling along the Straden, and the lack of advertisements and restaurant hawking were apparent.

    I also was immediately struck with the idea that Dubrovnik was completely different from any other southern European city we've visited because of its compact layout, focus on local products and provision of numerous family-friendly activities.

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    GreeceSwimmingWith almost 10,000 miles of coastline and 6,000 islands to swim, snorkel and sunbathe the days away, you may find it hard to narrow down your vacation options when traveling to Greece.  In my opinion, Athens is a must for the first-time visitor to Greece.  

    Seeing the Acropolis, having a fresh fish meal beside the sea, visiting the Panathenaic Stadium (site of the first modern Olympic Games), learning about local turtle rescue center's conservation efforts, listening (and dancing) to bouzouki music, bargaining with the Plaka shopowners - it's all part of the fun of Athenian life!  

    But, when the crowded city gets a bit too stifling and you want to take a break that's not far and car free, the island of Hydra is a great green getaway choice for the entire family.

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    There are various times throughout the year when I make a conscious decision to unplug from the world and, instead, reconnect with myself and my natural surroundings. Ultimately, while I do feel balanced, once I endeavor to rejoin the greater world again, I also realize that I missed some interesting news stories along the way. One such story occurred last summer while I was in Greece. The story was about a traveler's touching moment with a polar bear who was trying to push away a cruise ship from its Arctic homeland.

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    Earlier this year, our young son proclaimed to my husband and me that he knew we were Santa Claus. Gone for good were the days of writing letters to Santa, phone calls to Santa if he was behaving badly, discretely hiding presents in various closets, and laying out cookies and milk on the 'Big Night'.

    While a part of me was crushed that he had lost a bit of innocence, I felt compelled to introduce more simple Christmas traditions – ones that would negate the need for far too many presents and instead evoke relaxed family memories. The idea was visit the Christmas Markets of Munich, Salzburg and Vienna and even though it had been more than 35 years since I had been to these markets, for me, they were the same as I had remembered.

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    As our bus driver expertly weaved around the bends and curves of the Tuscan countryside in Italy, I found myself totally transfixed by the rolling hills that surrounded us. Looking out, I felt that the scenery was almost too beautiful, that if I blinked I would suddenly wake up back in my bed in New Jersey. But there I was, in the heart of Tuscany, backpack at the ready and best friend at my side. Our decade dream of backpacking through Europe during our college years was coming true, and we were finally at the Italian portion of our journey.

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    Have you ever visited a foreign country that immediately felt like 'home' to you? Of course, the scenery, cultural customs, accents and food are all different than what you know. But, instead you experience a strange stirring of familiarity and comfort. I felt that way when traveling through Scotland last month – with the added benefit of sensing that time had slowed down for just a few days.

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    After days of overcast and rain, the morning sun over Luzern was a very welcome sight! I was not reveling alone as (it seemed) many of Luzern’s residents, visitors and children came out in droves either for a stroll along the city’s main tourist attractions or a moment of contemplation in one of its many quiet, hidden corners.

    Tagged in: Switzerland
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    The Global Sustainable Tourism Council recently spotlighted Norway's efforts toward ecotourism:

    The Norwegian fjords have a tourism history dating back to 1850. The area is known for its pristine natural beauty and its stunning fjords and has won many accolades. In 2006, two of its fjords were named among the world’s best-cared-for UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and in 2009 the region was rated the world’s most iconic travel destination by National Geographic’s Traveler Magazine.

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    This short video (shot entirely on June 8, 2012) encapsulates the festive nature of Warsaw during the opening day of the Euro 2012 football (soccer) championships. Co-hosting with Ukraine, Poland's capital city was well prepared for guests ensuring plenty of public transportation for fans to get to the big game, and open areas with large screens so revelers could watch Poland play Greece.

    Tagged in: Poland
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    As an Athenian born Greek, I had the pleasure in my younger years of discovering archeological treasures such as the Acropolis and Delphi as well as traveling to many beautiful Greek Islands including Zakynthos, Sifnos, Tinos, Mykonos and Santorini. I’ve also traveled to Athens during one of many taxi, garbage, journalist, metro, pharmacist and even public worker electricity strikes. The electricity strike was particularly fun since we would be sitting in the dark wondering when the lights would come on again. But, it would only last a few hours every few days, so no one got particularly upset.

    It still astounds me how the Greek people accept these strikes as a way of life. And, to be frank, I have said to myself more than once, that this will be the last time I come back to Greece for a very long time. Yet, every couple of years, I feel an attraction or pull that makes me long to visit this crazy, but stunning country again.

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    The United Kingdom, which is made up of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales is consistently a top international destination for travelers. Earlier this year, even our family visited London to both introduce the city to our young son and discover what it had to offer eco-conscious travelers.

    While our son immensely enjoyed visiting Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, and some of the city’s parks, we also appreciated the great variety of sustainable restaurants in London. However, venturing out of the city offers the responsible traveler many more choices to appreciate the pristine areas of the nation, including the wide selection of 28 natural and cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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    Blessed with striking mountains and rolling hills, as well as wild rivers and wetlands, Poland is a haven for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well as avid hiking enthusiasts. About the size of New Mexico and a destination for all seasons, Poland also has a thriving ecotourism and nature tourism industry that offers plenty of eco-activities for families.

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    Just as London was preparing itself for the Summer Olympic Games, we decided to take a quick weekend trip over the pond to visit my family and get a feel for the city’s preparedness for the greenest Olympics ever. The marketing team that won the Games for London 2012 did so based on the premise that London would hold the first sustainable Olympic Games – ultimately going further than Vancouver did in 2010 with its LEED certified buildings and stadiums. So, of course I was very excited at the prospect of visiting Green London.

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    As one of the top tourism destinations in the world, Greece is best known for its relaxed lifestyle, white-washed buildings, beautiful beaches and seas, gorgeous blue skies, ancient culture and mythology, and delicious food. Perhaps, I am a little biased since I was born there, but Greece is an extraordinary family-friendly destination as well. Now, with a burgeoning ecotourism industry that is emphasizing the contrasts of its spectacular landscape and ecosystems, Greece is actively appealing to nature conservationists worldwide with its wide range of eco-activities including hiking, mountain climbing, paragliding, skiing, rafting, bird-watching, snorkeling and sailing,

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    Probably best known for the rolling hills featured in the film The Sound of Music, Austria is a country with an immense geographic diversity of mountains, forests, and lakes that account for a wide variety of flora and fauna. Most of what constitutes ecotourism in Austria includes nature-based hiking or mountaineering at one of its national parks or nature reserves and staying at an eco-labeled hotel or agritourism site. The country is safe to travel, clean and offers many activities for all age groups.

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    Although the least densely populated country in Europe, Iceland is fast becoming a popular family ecotour destination. Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and about the size of Kentucky, the “land of fire and ice” is a country with a rich geological landscape of volcanoes, mountains and hot springs. Iceland is safe to travel, clean and offers many enriching activities for all age groups.

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    In the last installment of the family ecotourism series that takes you through the highlights of Northern Europe, I invite you to appreciate lovely Gothenburg. Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden, after Stockholm. It is located on the southwest coast of Sweden and is equidistant between Copenhagen, Denmark and Olso, Norway. According to the Gothenburg city council, each resident enjoys 300 square feet of green space, which explains how one can readily reach the forests, meadows, lakes, parks and gardens that are peppered throughout the city.

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    In the seventh installment of a family ecotourism series entitled Ecotourism in Northern Europe, I invite you to appreciate the beauty of Copenhagen. Personally, I have never visited a city so environmentally conscious. From carbon neutral taxis to taxi bikes to eco-labeled hotels to specially designated bike and pedestrian paths that surround the city, Copenhagen is a wonderful mix of history, maritime industry, business, culture, and tourism. It is impossible to walk down a street day or night and not see hundreds of residents (some with toddlers wearing helmets) safely meandering through the streets on their bicycles. The city also is resplendent with parks and canals that allow for many opportunities to quickly step away from city-life and get back to nature.

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    In the sixth installment of a family ecotourism series that provides suggestions for families traveling through Northern Europe, I invite you to appreciate Oslo. A remote Scandinavian land of a thousand fjords and islands, Norway always ranks high in environmental surveys for its water quality and hydro power plants. Its capital, Oslo, is located at the start of the 100-kilometre Oslofjord. The fjord’s 40 islands each have unique character and abundant recreational activities. Over half of Oslo is covered by forests and parks, making it a truly green city. What I found most appealing about its architecture was the abundant use of turf roofs, which allows for natural insulation.

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    In the fifth installment of the family ecotourism series entitled Ecotourism in Northern Europe, I invite you to appreciate the promise of Stockholm. Built on 14 small islands joined by bridges, Stockholm is a wonderful mixture of busy city life and plentiful, beautiful parks. As the capital of Sweden, it enjoys a reputation for taking the best of socialist and capitalist economic systems as people are extraordinarily egalitarian yet technologically dominant and environmentally strong-minded. Sweden, together with Norway, shares the top spot for the world’s greenest country and Stockholm is a city filled with young people and young families eager to put its city on the world stage.

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    In the fourth installment of a family ecotourism series entitled Ecotourism in Northern Europe, I invite you to appreciate the potential of Visby.  Visby is the capital of the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.  It is located 53 miles off of coast of Stockholm and for the typical Swedish family, Gotland is the main island to visit for a summer vacation.  With picturesque beaches and cliffs, Gotland is also home to the Swedish sheep farming industry. 

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    In the third installment of a family ecotourism series covering Ecotourism in Northern Europe, I invite you to appreciate the wonder of Gdansk. A coastal city on the Baltic Sea, Gdansk combined with the rest of its “tri-city” Polish neighbors, Gdynia and Sopot, features a great amount of lakes and forests; lots of recreational activities including kayaking, canoeing and hiking; and spa and health rejuvenation vacations all with a conscious eye toward environmental preservation. Although 12 miles separates the “tri-city” neighbors, car and bus transportation is a bit difficult due to a lack of road infrastructure – a legacy from the days of Soviet rule. A better alternative is the electric train that runs frequently through the “tri-city” neighbors and only takes 35 minutes.

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    In the second of a family ecotourism series entitled Ecotourism in Northern Europe, I invite you to appreciate the splendor of Riga. On the banks of the Daugava River, the capital of Latvia is not only a UNESCO heritage site but is widely considered to be the cleanest city in Europe. In addition to it being one of the few countries that actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions year over year, Riga has the lowest carbon dioxide emission per capita among the EU countries and has the second best (after Sweden) policy related to renewable natural energy sources.

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    Recently, I had the pleasure of touring Northern Europe. Besides relaxing and spending time with my family, my objective was to test the outer limits of the trip by discovering at least one family ecotourism activity in each of the cities that we would be visiting. In the first of a series entitled Ecotourism in Northern Europe, I invite you to appreciate the potential of Helsinki. As the capital of Finland, Helsinki combines elements of both Swedish and Russian cultures, cuisines and attitudes. During the summer, Helsinki nights are brief and only last a few hours, which allows for ample opportunity to meander along the neighborhoods, markets, and parks.

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    Service Travel through NicaraguaA few weeks ago, my husband and nine-year-old son took a long weekend getaway to Nicaragua. The purpose of the trip was to assist with a service project for Soccer Without Borders, which is a nonprofit organization that helps use soccer as a vehicle for positive change in the lives of young girls in Granada, Nicaragua (as well as other locations within the United States and Africa). The girls are provided after school tutoring, the opportunity to learn how to play soccer and chances to earn scholarships to pay for secondary schooling.

    We thought it would be a good experience for our son to learn about the social, economic and educational challenges these girls face every day, practice his Spanish language skills, and, perhaps, make some personal connections via soccer play.

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    Highland Games CompetitorsIf you are the parent of a pre-teen, then most likely you have heard of the online game, Clash of Clans. For the uninitiated, the premise of this game is to build a village, join a clan and then smash another player's village for its resources so your village grows larger and stronger.

    For our son, the village has the honor of being the first thing he checks in on the morning, right after school and again after he's done with his homework. If this scenario sounds familiar to you, I would recommend incorporating this theme with the unique history and fun of the Highland Games into your next family summer vacation.

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    We live in a fast-paced world where compromises are a reality. Specifically in the world of sustainable travel, some guiding companies or green hotels compromise for the sake of profit while others compromise for the sake of making others (such as customers, employees, or even the community members) happy. So, three years ago, when I began hearing about the mission and vision for the Fogo Island Inn, I was rooting for its visionary, Zita Cobb, to construct an Inn that would triangulate sustainability with community cultural sensitivity and original, artistic design. Well, they did it!

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    The term family invokes specific images for some people. Traditionally, the rather rigid image was one of two parents (one man and one woman) with their 2 younger children in tow. Frankly, those Ozzie & Harriet days are over and, dare I say, have evolved to include the many variations of the types of loving families that exist today.

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    Compared with the euro zone of Western Europe and some of the more summer tourist attractions in the United States, where economies are affecting the price of ecotourism services and price negotiations by consumers are relatively shunned, green travellers will be pleasantly surprised at how far their dollars will go in these nature and wildlife paradise areas.

    These regions of the world have embraced the concept of ecotourism as a necessity not only for elevating their standard of living and conserving their natural and cultural heritage, but also providing a competitive edge in the travel industry.

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    Most travellers mistakenly think that it is more expensive to travel abroad than vacation within the United States. Vacation planners often hear about the relative weakness of the U.S. dollar and automatically calculate that a trip overseas will break their vacation budget.

    However, this not always the case if you consider that parts of Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and South America are relative vacation bargains given that the value of the U.S. dollar against the local currency remains high along with the abundance of green and sustainable travel choices.

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    Just because you are going on a family vacation doesn’t mean that learning should take a break too. Ecotourism is full of what educators call teachable moments or, more definitively, unplanned opportunities to explain a concept that has unintentionally captured a child’s interest.

    Whether it is touring the rainforests of the Amazon, observing blue footed boobies throughout the Galapagos Islands or understanding the water issues that surround the Okavango Delta in Botswana, ecotourism is a vacation experience that provides boundless opportunities to teach younger generations about the fragility of ecosystems and the significance of heritage.

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    Canada is a large country with ample wilderness to explore, ancient forests to survey, mammals to discover, and native peoples artifacts to appreciate. The country offers many opportunities both for self-discovery as well as quality family time.

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    World Summit on Sustainable TourismI have been a proud member of Sustainable Tourism Charter's ST+20 Scientific Committee for more than two years during which I have tried to advance the organization's goals for preserving common heritage, supporting tourism biodiversity, decreasing tourism's effect on climate change, wealth redistribution, and enhancing partnerships and innovation - the last of which specifically related to the development of a Return on Investment (ROI) Model for Sustainable Tourism.

    If you are interested in becoming more involved in this growing and important field of tourism, later this year, from November 26-27, a seminal event will take place in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain) to mark the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Charter for Sustainable Tourism.

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    Irene Lane Founder of GreenloonsAs everyone knows, the green travel / eco travel trend is gaining full momentum, particularly among today's socially conscious consumers. However, just as green travel is becoming mainstream, so has the trend for greenwashing or fake claims of sustainability and eco-friendly practices, making it challenging for responsible tourism business owners to make smart, informed decisions.

    This is why Greenloons has unveiled its Sustainability Consulting arm offering a variety of data-driven services to tourism business owners including the calculation of return on investment (ROI) for sustainable tourism, psychographic analysis of the American eco-traveler, eco-certification audits, and community development strategies.

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    The Writing ProcessI've never considered myself a bona fide writer. In fact, all the way through college and my corporate career, I would have much preferred speaking in front of hundreds of people rather than writing an essay or term paper.

    That sentiment changed for me five years ago though, when I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer and suddenly realized that writing was a way to channel my hopes, fears, frustrations, anger, and revelations.

    Ironically, while I can recall talking about my dreams and aspirations – and even presenting a life plan - from the time I was 10 years old, I didn't really discover my true passions and innate gifts until I started writing in earnest.

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    If you are looking for a unique gift idea this season that extols the concepts of sustainability and pay-it-forward sentiments, we have some great suggestions for you. These gifts are quick and easy to organize, meaningful and will be well-received by anyone on your list.

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    A few days ago, a recent college graduate, Jessica McGarry, submitted her story on the Community section of this website detailing her educational credentials, passion for the environment and professional experience within tourism and hospitality industries.

    By describing her career since graduation, she also offered (perhaps inadvertently) some job counseling advice to readers and other new college graduates. At the end of the article Jess then asked the question that may be on many readers’ minds and which has prompted this Blog post, “I'm wondering if you could suggest how to connect with Ecotourism operators that are looking for my type of profile?”

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    Posada Amazonas One of the three values of ecotourism, in addition to its inherent social and environmental benefits, is the economic sustainability provided to local communities through the following tenants:

    • Local ownership,
    • Observing and maintaining traditional practices of developing goods and food,
    • Offering employment opportunities

    This infographic was designed to convey the economic benefits of ecotourism, define the terminology used in the travel industry, and describe the differences in how local communities specifically benefit from ecotourism versus traditional (mass) tourism. 

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    Certified Sustainable TravelIt may seem like a new phenomenon, but the concept of ecotourism has been around for more than 200 years when Alexander von Humboldt and botanist Aimé Bonpland traveled across Central and South America.

    Since then, eco-conscious explorers have endeavored to support ecotourism that incorporates the values of S.E.E. (namely social empowerment, economic viability and environmental responsibility) and positively impact communities.

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    1-night-RaftI am fortunate to live in an area of Northern Virginia near the Potomac Gorge, which is a wilderness expanse with over 240 species of animals (including frogs, toads, foxes, raccoons, deer, possums, etc.) and where many migratory birds spend part of their year.

    With its beautiful American elm, ironwood and redwood trees as well as many walking and biking paths that connect up to an extensive network of trails throughout the Washington DC area, it's no wonder why visitors are amazed at the expanse of mature trees and quiet solitude found so close to the city.

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    Travelers are increasingly weighing their effects on the environment and local communities when deciding on a vacation destination. In fact, a 2012 TripAdvisor survey reports that green travel is gaining momentum among the site's members; 71% said they plan to make more eco-friendly choices in the next 12 months. One such avenue of green tourism is ecotourism, used to describe a set of environmentally sound practices that take into account every aspect of travel, including transportation, accommodation, and daily activities.

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    It is downright tough to plan an extraordinary family vacation these days. Assuming you find a convenient time on the busy family calendar, you have to be conscious about activity and meal preferences -- as well as your budget.

    Tying in the aspiration that the vacation be educational or experiential may overwhelm the planning process altogether. However, that need not be the case with these four vacation planning tips.

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    While many journalists, philosophers, scientists and lay people debated the significance of the Mayan calendar finishing last December 21, one fact that was consistently overlooked was that the Mayans celebrated the end of their calendar as it was regarded as a new beginning.

    For example, the last time the Mayan calendar started over, a little more than 5,100 years ago, it coincided with the creation of the written word as well as the development of the first cities and nations. Ideas flourished and, along with them, debate became more commonplace as well.

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    The latest buzz word eco has unfortunately triggered travel suppliers to saturate the market with hundreds of loosely understood eco holiday-labeled travel products, causing consumer confusion as to what the term ecotourism truly represents.

    Good intentions aside, while travelers want to make responsible vacation purchasing decisions based on ethical environmental standards for sustainability and conservation rather than marketing tactics, some common pitfalls befall most, including:

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    In the age of travel alerts, political uprisings and airport security lines, it is no wonder why so few people travel outside of their home regions. A recent article posted on CNN.com gave a grim view of Americans who prefer to not travel internationally for a myriad of reasons ranging from our general lack of interest and intense work culture to expensive airfares and logistics.

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    As the popularity of environmentally-friendly products has grown over the years, consumers have been conditioned to believe that green goods or eco products equate to more expensive merchandise. In the specific case of ecotourism, this is simply not the case. Indeed, it is possible to participate in ecotourism and stay well within your vacation budget. The options for ecotourism travel range from the luxurious to the rustic, so your standards do not need to be adjusted for a responsible travel experience.

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    According to the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), 83% of developing countries rely on ecotourism as a major export while others, such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nepal, Kenya, Madagascar and Antarctica, also rely on ecotourism as the major contributory factor in their gross domestic product and employment level calculations.

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    Ecotourism is full of what educators call teachable moments or, more definitively, unplanned opportunities to explain a concept that has unintentionally captured a child’s interest. Whether it is touring the rainforests of the Amazon, observing blue footed boobies throughout the Galapagos Islands, or understanding the water issues that surround the Okavango Delta in Botswana, ecotourism is a vacation experience that provides boundless opportunities to teach younger generations about the fragility of ecosystems and the significance of heritage.

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    Recently, the Rainforest Alliance introduced its stricter Rainforest Alliance Verified ™ seal to delineate, for ecotourism purposes, tourism enterprises and projects that meet criteria developed by the Rainforest Alliance or by other aligned organizations.

    So, why is the seal so important? When Rainforest Alliance opened its doors in 1987, people were largely “unaware that 50 acres of rainforest were disappearing every minute (resulting in) two dozen species going extinct every day.”

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    Unlike ten years ago when the mantra reduce, reuse, recycle, reclaim was in vogue and hailed by people, especially those in developed countries, who wanted to do their part to stem climate change, the de rigueur standard is now carbon offsetting.  Specifically for tourism, carbon offsetting presents an opportunity for people to counterbalance their greenhouse gas emissions by investing in certain forestry, renewable energy, or development projects since their travels require a car rental, airplane flight, train trip, or hotel stay. But does carbon offsetting really work to reduce energy dependency or to create local jobs? The answer largely depends on what type of projects one supports.

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    According to the Planeterra Foundation, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to the development and support of small communities around the globe, a voluntour is a type of travel opportunity that offers a tourist "a way to learn about the people and place you are visiting at a deeper level. Participating in voluntourism activities enables a person to establish long-lasting connections (with the host destination) and discover more about cultures around the world (while simultaneously learning more about oneself). It is most definitely a way to give back to the community you are visiting, to lend a helping hand to someone in need, to work towards a cause you believe in, or simply to find a way to make a positive impact through your travels."

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    How can one tell the difference between a true green or eco-hotel and a hotel that employs greenwashing practices? The good news is that there are some reputable green hotel certification programs, including the Green Key Eco-Rating, EarthCheck, and LEED® Building programs, which allow for an occasional inspection of a hotel's sustainable operations in over 20 different areas.

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    With a projected value of $474 billion by 2012, ecotourism is fast becoming a growing niche market with hoteliers and destination tour operators promoting their products as environmentally conscious when upon closer inspection, they are greenwashing.

    Along with the term green sheen, greenwashing is the insincere promotion of green business practices that are advertised as reducing carbon emissions or limiting the use of scarce resources, for example, when the actual objective is to increase profits by implementing some easy, cost-saving measures.

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    Ecotourism, which is a type of travel that focuses on the discovery of a wildlife habitat in a manner that maximizes local goals and reduces damage to the environment, has been mixed with other types of tourism. Following are some distinct clarifications among other tourism terms have been incorrectly applied to ecotourism.

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    Over the last two decades the term ecotourism has been manipulated in so many different ways, it is no wonder that there is confusion about what ecotourism is and what it is not.

    As evidenced by the video below, ecotourism is the intersection of visiting a natural or wildlife habitat that maximizes the host destination's economic and social objectives while minimizing the environmental damage caused by the vacationer's presence.

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    Cuevas de AcsibiWhere are you going again?  Salta, I said.  It’s a province of Argentina that’s in the northwest of the country bordering Chile, Bolivia, and Paraguay, continuing my explanation.  Oh, that’s nice! Why?  Because given its position at the foot of the Andes Mountains, the area is filled with natural wonders, many of which are still undisturbed. And, I wanted an opportunity to travel with a company that believes in the power of sustainability as much as I do.

    With that, our small group embarked on five days of leisurely hiking through varied and beautiful terrain (think jungles, mountains, and dry valleys all within a short radius, and the added reward of lots of food and wine tasting each day).

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    Eduardo Coelho Pousada Flutuante Uakari Floating LodgeThe link between conservation efforts and tourism in the Amazon became stronger after Rio Earth Summit in 1992. By then, the Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development was expanding its impact around a special floodplain forest area of the Amazon - more specifically the 1,124,000 hectares between the Amazon and Japurá Rivers that houses endemic species such as the White Uakari Monkey.

    That area, later, with the work of the Institute, became the first Sustainable Development protected area in Brazil.

    The researchers at Mamirauá always believed that the local communities (approximately 10,000 people), who occupied the area for generations, should be the main guardians of the land.

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    Salmon Farms in ChileChile was recently awarded the distinction of being one of the most sustainable travel destinations. The reality is that we Chileans still have a long path ahead until we can take on the responsibility that this recognition provides.

    Our country is one of the richest in the world when it comes to natural and dramatic landscapes. It’s this diversity of the land that gives us the perfect scenario for adventure and nature travel.

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    Even though embarking on a multiday trek is the preferred way to arrive at Machu Picchu, I had just a couple of days in Cusco before heading to the Peruvian Amazon, so I opted instead to take the train/bus there. I am so glad I did because the Vistadome train ride was quite fun and entertaining – complete with views, educational information and, on the way back from Machu Picchu, a dance and fashion show that can only be described as unique.

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    One of our eco-certified partners, EcoCamp Patagonia, has just produced its first infographic about the famed W Trek through Torres del Paine and we wanted to share it with our readers to give you a better sense of 7 day trekking experience.

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    Brazil is hot, hot, hot right now and on top of many travel lists including most recently topping the grand-daddy of registers, namely The New York Times 46 Places to Visit in 2013.

    For many reasons, Brazil is experiencing an upswing in eco travel choices. Whether it’s due to its friendly and welcoming people who will be playing host to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics or because the nature and wildlife in the Amazon Rainforest is synonymous with Brazil, the country is ready for the eco adventure spotlight.

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    Home to more than 25,000 plant species, 1500 bird species including the Andean condor and blue-footed booby, 1000 species of fish and 300 mammal species, Ecuador offers an educational conservation lesson at every turn. With beautiful scenery at its 20 national parks and activities such as trekking, whitewater rafting, thermal hot baths, volcanic lagoons, and small boat cruising through the Galapagos Islands, remarkable Ecuador's geographical diversity is a dream destination for nature lovers.

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    Fresh off the heels of Machu Picchu winning the 2010 World Travel Awards as the best ecotourism destination in South America, Peru is ready to showcase to the world its many cultural traditions, festivals, and natural landscapes. The Amazon River's origins are in Peru and its rainforests are home to some of the diverse habitats on Earth and presents a wonderful option as an ecotourism destination for families.

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