Irene Lane, founder of Greenloons, offers her picks for the top ten emerging eco destinations:
1. Jordan’s eco-lodges combine local heritage and educational experiences while exploring a mix of modernity, ancient wonders and nature. Think horse or camel safaris, Bedouins, the endangered Arabia oryx, Petra, the Dead Sea and trekking through Dana Nature Reserve.
2. Borneo’s jungles, beaches, caves, exotic wildlife and more than 5,000 diverse and endemic plant species are revealed by, among others, trekking the relatively untouched Mt. Kinabalu and exploring the Kinabatangang River, home to wild boar, orangutans, elephants, king fishers, macaque and proboscis monkeys. Award-winning eco-lodges harvest rainwater, use solar power and manage wildlife rehabilitation.
3. The Philippines is among National Geographic’s 20 Best Destinations for 2011 and Palawan Island its top eco-destination. Among 7,000 islands guests swim with whale sharks, discover endangered sea turtles, spy on the rare Philippine eagle and discover the mountain-to-sea ecosystem of the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Eco-lodges serve locally sourced food and wildlife education.
4. Belize offers more than 87 distinct types of ecosystems, making ecotourism the lifeblood of its economy. Along with 150 identified species of mammals are rainforests, Mayan temples, the world’s second longest barrier reef and an abundance of eco-lodges educating travelers about the fragility of its ecosystem.
5. Botswana favors low volume, high quality, environmentally conscious safari travel into the Okavango Delta and Kalahari Desert, the savannahs of the Moremi Reserve and the forests of Chobe and Linyanta Game Reserves. Guests enjoy game drives, walking, elephant/horseback/bicycle safaris and boating, plus youth explorer programs emphasizing conservation and bush survival skills. Tented bush camps are environmentally friendly.
6. Poland has mountains, rivers and wetlands and is a haven for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well as avid hiking enthusiasts. With 23 National Parks and forests covering nearly 30 percent of the country, Poland has its own Big Game: the European bison, lynx, stoats, martens and red deer. Guests can enjoy eco-ranch lodges.
7. Croatia’s eco/agritourism focuses on culinary tours with locally sourced organic produce and family farm stays. Activities can include hiking, biking, rafting and canoeing.
8. Guyana’s mountain ranges, savannahs and jungle canopy walks combine with river and rainforest eco-lodges for close-up views of exotic birds, jaguars, red howler monkeys, giant river otters and other wildlife. The famed Karanambu Ranch rehabilitates orphaned giant river otters so they can be released back into the wild.
9. Argentina is home to Glacier National Park and the active Perito Moreno, one of the world’s only advancing glaciers, as well as the tropical rain forests of Iguazu Falls near Brazil, the Antarctic environment of Tierra del Fuego, the Andean mountains, the wind-swept Patagonian steppe and the coastal marine habitat of the Valdes Peninsula. Eco-lodges are crafted from local materials to integrate with the environment.
10. Ethiopia may be a trek across the Roof of Africa through the virtually untouched Simien Mountains, home of the Gelada baboon, Walia ibex and endangered Ethiopian wolf. Or it may be Rift Valley Lakes and Blue Nile Falls or Lalibela, considered to be one of the greatest spiritual-historical sites of the world. Eco-lodgings are built in the traditional “tikka” style and solar-powered.
Photo: Petra, Jordan