8 Ethical Travel Destinations to Visit in 2017

Make a difference in these forward-thinking destinations.

Leaving a positive impact through responsible tourism practices can feel like a daunting task. While industry-wide initiatives to promote social and animal welfare and reduce carbon emissions have helped trailblaze a path for sustainable travel, determining which destinations allow you to empower the local community isn't always clear-cut. "Each of our travel choices makes a difference when we take a trip or go on holiday. Forward-thinking travelers should reward those destinations working towards a more sustainable future for people and the planet," says Costas Christ, one of the world's leading sustainable travel experts. If you're ready to tread lightly and do good on your next getaway, head to these destinations.


With a focus on conservation and human rights, it's no wonder Canada has become a "hot and trending destination," says Yves Marceau, vice president of global buying and contracting with travel outfitter G Adventures. With the country's recent adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, our northern neighbor earns high marks for its social welfare efforts. Canada also happens to be spearheading environmentally friendly practices. Take the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, which collaborated with the First Nations and academics to preserve forests, conserve coastal ecosystems and promote local well-being, says Martha Honey, executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C.


Aside from maintaining one of the highest standards of living in Europe, Norway is "also a global leader in environmental protection," Marceau explains. Plus, the country offers plenty of environmentally certified lodging options and tour operators, which limit the carbon footprint through energy-efficient materials. Norway also promotes social welfare rights for its workers with a Scandinavian model for maternity leave and paternity leave, which gives parents 46 weeks of paid time off. If you want to experience Norway's iconic fjords responsibly, G Adventures is offering an eight-day cruise in May 2017 (starting at $1,874) that takes you to UNESCO-protected treasures, charming fishing villages and spectacular glaciers.


"It may come as no surprise that small islands like Aruba, dangling on the front lines of climate change impacts, are also putting major emphasis on policies and projects to usher in what one day could become fossil-fuel-free societies," Christ says. The Dutch-Caribbean island contains one of the biggest solar parks in the Caribbean, along with a renewable energy plant that six other isles in the region have adopted, Christ adds. Aruba is even aiming to offset carbon fuels by 2020, Honey adds. The island also boasts eco-friendly hotels like Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, which prides itself on solar paneling and aiding community foundations, like the Donkey Sanctuary.


In Mongolia, the local government has "worked really hard to get electricity and access to remote areas," Marceau says. In fact, 70 percent of the area's herder population is striving to attain 100 percent solar-powered electricity by 2017, Marceau explains. Mongolia has also championed land conservation and protected the region from mining and development, Marceau adds. And that's not all Mongolia has going for it. Mongolia also celebrates International Women's Day and pushes for senior welfare, Marceau explains. For a far-flung getaway like no other, tag along G Adventures' eight-day "Local Living" experience on the Mongolia-Nomadic Life tour ($1,099 per person), which takes visitors through Terejl National Park with nomadic families.

Bhutan, South Asia

According to Christ, Bhutan has established "national tourism plans for the country, based upon sustainable tourism development criteria including environmentally friendly business practices, support for the protection of cultural heritage, tangible social and economic benefits to local people, and safeguarding biodiversity and natural resources for future generations." Marceau also highlights the country's priority for low-impact tourism with locally owned properties to boost the area's social development and infrastructure. If you want to meet Bhuddist monks and explore ancient temples, join a 10-day journey with G Adventures ($3,099 per person).


Grenada's commitment to environmentally friendly practices and ensuring tourists' dollars fuel the local community through small-scale tourism makes the island an ideal choice for conscientious travelers, Honey says. Despite the island's small size, Grenada has raised funds and awareness around climate change and benefited its local people, Honey adds. Grenada has also made great strides to preserve its coral reef ecosystems through the International Coral Reef Initiative, a coalition to use sustainable management practices and increase awareness of vanishing coral reefs across the globe. On your next trip, don't skip visiting Grand Anse Beach or checking out the impressive marine life at Grenada's numerous dive sites.

Costa Rica

When you picture Costa Rica's cloud-blanketed rainforests, diverse wildlife and UNESCO World Heritage-protected areas, it's easy to understand its appeal to nature and wildlife seekers. Tourism demand spiked in the 1980s when small-scale ecotourism paved the way for a growing international market, Honey explains. But while the initial boom helped create jobs, in 2000 a series of hotel chains were built and cruises began stopping at the Port of Puntarenas, ushering in outside labor that no longer benefitted local employees. That said, while Costa Rica could stand to improve its social welfare, hotels have taken great strides in reducing water consumption and adding solar panels to have a minimal impact on the environment.


With country-wide initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, preserve rainforests and support indigenous communities, Colombia is leading the charge to advocate responsible business practices and rebrand its image, Marceau says. And with the recent peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, smaller communities are poised to thrive and the country "is really looking forward to the opportunity for people to go there," he adds. For a trip to remember, join G Adventures' action-packed seven-day Lost City Trek with indigenous communities near Santa Marta, which takes visitors to Tayrona National Park with the indigenous Wiwa people to explore the Lost City of Teyuna (prices start at $799 per person).

What's on the horizon?

According to Christ, "we are beginning to hit a tipping point where more and more travel companies -- such as Uniworld River Cruises in Europe, who helped to establish the criteria for environmentally friendly river cruising, and Asia-based hospitality groups like Six Senses Resorts and Spas -- have also made sustainability practices a cornerstone of their brand." Though he cautions the work is far from finished, "the United Nations declaration of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism [for] Development will be a milestone in bringing more awareness on why the travel industry must make sustainability business as usual," he says.

More From US News & World Report