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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: Bookmark These 7 Eco-Tourism Destinations

By Mary Mazzoni

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

Here at TriplePundit, we can't get enough travel. But when we travel, it's important to tread lightly. Cookie-cutter itineraries and 40-person tour groups are not only boring, but they also leave a hefty impact on the planet and rarely benefit local economies.

In a new poll conducted by AIG Travel, most respondents (52 percent) said it’s important to travel sustainably, but more than a third (35 percent) reported difficulty doing so. About half of the respondents cited “not knowing how” as the top barrier.

Luckily, with the growing popularity of small tour groups and eco-tourism, you shouldn't have too much trouble making your next trip a sustainable one. All you need is a little info! Bookmark these seven eco-tourism hotspots, and keep them in mind when you finally cash in those vacation days.

1. Ecuador: The Amazon, the Andes and the Galapagos

From the Amazon, to the famed Galapagos Islands, to the cloud forests of the Andean foothills, Ecuador is a burgeoning hotbed of eco-tourism. Last year, TriplePundit's Nick Aster and Sarah Lozanova explored these three distinct regions and shared tips to help you plan a trip you'll never forget.

For travel to the Galapagos Islands, the volcanic archipelago 730 miles west of Guayaquil, you'll need to plan ahead. Made famous by Charles Darwin’s visit in the early 1800s, the Galapagos remains home to stunning biodiversity -- and 97 percent of the islands are a tightly restricted national park. A limited number of tourists can visit each year, and only a few dozen operators can take you there. 3p founder Nick Aster traveled with EcoVentura, which emphasizes sustainability in its cruises to the islands.

On the mainland, a number of local operators can take you on low-impact tours into the Amazon. And eco-lodges abound in the cloud forests of the Andes, where you can 'get away from it all' and peep exotic birds like parrots and toucan.

2. Cusco and the Peruvian Andes

Ecuador and Peru have a shared history dating back to the Incan Empire. But this South American gem is home to its own unique culture and landscape. Of the 104 types of weather and climate patterns seen on Earth, 48 can be found in Peru -- ranging from arid beaches and lush rainforests to stunning mountain vistas.

The Andes and the ancient city of Cusco are ground-zero for eco-tourism in Peru. Hike to Incan and pre-Incan ruins, embrace the culture at local markets and get to know artisanal weaving collectives, or trek the famed Inca Trail from Cusco to the lost city of Machu Picchu. TriplePundit saw these sights and more on a trip to the Peruvian Andes with REI Adventures last year. Click here for tips for your own adventure.

3. Botswana

"Botswana is the African darling of the international community, praised for its success as a progressive society with a multi-party democracy," 3p's Travis Noland wrote after a trip to the south African country last month. "This thriving economy is also an environmentally-responsible tourism destination."

Lonely Planet named Botswana its top travel destination in 2016, giving you one more reason to check it out. Travis opted for adventure travel operator G Adventures, which emphasizes a positive relationship between the tourism industry and local communities. Yes, you can go on safari in G Adventures' all-terrain vehicles. But the most memorable part of your trip may very well be interactions with local communities like the San.

4. Kathmandu, Nepal

Nepal is best known for its Everest treks and its ancient capital, Kathmandu. But the South Asian country is still reeling from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Kathmandu last year, killing more than 8,500 people.

As nonprofits and governments go back and forth on how best to rebuild affected communities, the need emerges for the private sector step in and fill the gaps. And efforts are underway to revitalize Nepal’s most lucrative industry — tourism.

Earlier this year, industry nonprofit Tourism Cares announced Nepal as officially “open for business” and released a free map of “meaningful destinations” in Nepal to promote travel in 2016. Adventure and impact tour companies like REI Adventures have also returned to the region, offering mountain treks, jungle safaris and immersive cultural experiences.

5. Copenhagen, Denmark

Looking for an urban adventure that doesn't skimp on the eco-flair? Look no further than Copenhagen. With over 250 miles of designated bike lanes and a solar-powered canal tour, you can see the whole city without stepping foot into a car.

And be sure to check out Copenhagen's acclaimed and ultra-sustainable restaurant culture. 3p's Jo Piazza suggests three stand-outs to try.

6. Costa Rica

It's hard to talk about eco-tourism without mentioning Costa Rica. Once tourism heated up, the mostly jungled Central American nation took matters into its own hands -- and quickly. By establishing vast preserves and offering plenty of opportunities for visitors to experience the unique environment while preserving it for future generations, Costa Rica was able to maintain its natural biodiversity while raking in over $7 trillion in tourism revenue annually.

Nature preserves are scattered across the small country. Check out a few, or bring the family to a designated 'eco-park' such as Diamante Eco Adventure Park, home to the country's longest oceanview zipline -- which spans almost a mile between two mountain peaks.

7. Your local National Park or wilderness

Okay, so we all dream of that big international excursion. But when it comes to eco-tourism, some of the best spots could be hiding in your own backyard. From the winding rivers of Colorado's Snowmass Wilderness to the famed geysers of Yellowstone, America's national parks have a lot to offer.

By choosing one in your own neighborhood, you further reduce the impact of traveling long distances -- and you may even discover a new favorite spot. Check out the National Park Service's Find Your Park tool to explore parks near you.

Image credits: 1) and 3) Mary Mazzoni; 2) Nick Aster; 4) Jo Piazza 

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni