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Choose Your Own Eco-Adventure
As holiday season and winter's chill-factor kick in, it's hard not to fantasize about the ultimate getaway — wouldn't it be nice to luxuriate in the warm tropical climes of the Amazon rainforest or the beaches of Belize right about now? For more active souls, how about a trek through the forests of Nepal, or a safari in the fauna-rich wildlands of Africa? Well, maybe now's the time to plan it.
Here's a bundle of online resources to help you plan — or at least fantasize — about your ideal eco-travel adventure.
Eco-tourism portals abound online; the trick is figuring out which ones are the most reliable. Start with Ecotravel.com, a user-friendly site with a fancy search engine that allows you to choose from almost any region of the world, an incredible array of water and land-based activities, as well as spiritual experiences you may seek (options in the latter category range from “Buddhist Meditation” to “Spa,” so let's just say there's a broad spectrum of options.)
Other great resources with a more boutique feel include Greentracks, The International Ecotourism Society, The Rainforest Web and this impressive personal site of a travel journalist, which has dozens of resources on “travel that respects and sustains the environment and local cultures.”
There is, of course, a downside to ecotourism — starting with the fact that it brings cars, buses, boats and foot traffic to the world's most pristine and untrodden areas. Read the article Ecotourism and Its Impact on Forest Conservation to get a sense of the risks:
“In Nepal, ecotourists…have stripped the landscape bare of sticks and twigs for fuel and left trash that spoils the experience for future visitors. In the Galapagos… the impact of visitors is manifested by disease, fire, and theft, has altered the natural balance of the island ecosystems.”
Sierra Club reviewed the potential environmental impacts in its report Is Ecotourism Good For The Planet? and drafted a set of conservation policies for eco-travel that include proper waste management, energy conservation and prohibited forms of travel such as by helicopter. Conservation International is developing a Tourism Assessment Manual that will evaluate the environmental and biodiversity considerations within a tourism destination.
Wildland Adventures, which will whisk you off to the rainforest, glaciers, desert or anywhere in between, is one of the most respected eco-travel outfitters, and this year won the Conde Nast Traveler's Green List award for its “commitment to preserving natural surroundings and contributing to local cultures.” If you want a terrific and very affordable adventure in the Amazon, look no further than Rainforest Expeditions. And, if you're looking for a truly lavish experience on the beaches of Belize — not counting your pennies — check out Francis Ford Coppola's Turtle Inn, a study in fabulosity.