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,
One of the most mountainous countries in Europe, Greece has the second deepest canyon in the world, Vikos Gorges. A coastline of more than 9,300 miles, thick forests to the northeast and more than 3,000 islands round out the diverse topography of this scenic country. Add to that the Unesco World Heritage Sites, Natura 2000 sites, Ramsar sites, therapeutic thermal springs, Important Birding Areas (IBA) and national parks and Greece can easily call itself one of the richest countries in the world in terms of its extraordinary ecosystems.
Top Family Ecotourism Attractions:
While the terms agritourism and ecotourism are being used interchangeably throughout Greece, there are some authentic ecotourism experiences including:
- Vikos-Aoos National Park – one of ten national parks and the most valuable park for nature conservation in mainland Greece, it is named after the two major canyons in the area. The park is part of the Natura 2000 ecological network and one of the UNESCO Geoparks. Travelers can raft, kayak, hiking and mountain bike throughout the canyons while observing the amazing wildlife diversity of the area.
- Messinia – within mainland Greece in the Peloponnese lays Messinia and its capital Kalamata. This region offers visitors many opportunities for nature walks, kayaking/canoeing, birding, cycling, mountain and rock climbing, caving, diving, hiking and sailing. Specific ecotourism sites in the region include Polylimnio, Neda River, Viros Gorge, and Ridomo Gorge. In addition if you want to beat the summer crowds, visit this area during the early spring when rare species of orchids, crocuses, and lilies are in full bloom.
- Magnesia – not discovered yet by mass tourism, the mountain range of Pelion is best known for its topography of beech forests and Macedonian fir trees. But the real treasure is the Sporades island of Alonissos with its Marine Park, abundant wildlife, and deserted areas that are a safe haven to birds, mammals and the Mediterranean monk seal, most of which are under threat of extinction.
- Kefalonia – resting in the Ionion Sea is the biggest island of Kefalonia. An ecological gem of an island that is famous not only for conserving the endangered Loggerhead sea turtles, but also for the study of the Mediterranean monk seal and the wild horses of Mount Aenos. Add to that birding, hiking, snorkeling and cycling and you have the makings of some fun and educational family time.
With respect to how ecotourism is advancing environmental goals in Greece, while it did sign the Kyoto Protocol, Greece is still having difficulty meeting its target for carbon emissions and waste management. However, since tourism accounts for more than 18% of its GDP, Greece is heeding demand by travelers who are interested in nature, wildlife conservation and unique experiences by promoting sustainable planning for the protection of resources from exhaustion, destruction and pollution. Frankly, only time will tell if Greece will choose green development and conservation given government budget and spending constraints.
Good Choice for Family Ecotour:
The Greek culture is such that children are adored. This translates to very accommodating hotels, restaurants and tourist sites. Hotel rooms with three beds are fairly common and another bed can often be summoned. Not only are triple or quadruple rooms less expensive, but in some small hotels, it will be the nicest and largest room available. Another economical alternative is to rent a house, apartment or villa that can be used as a comfortable home base during your stay. A cautionary word about safety standards – throughout Greece, sidewalk and landmark path safety regulations are not nearly as strict as in the United States. It’s very possible to trip or fall since the paths are not flat, so keep a close watch on little ones and watch your step too.
Nonetheless, an ecotour through Greece will be an exceptional time for all.