Best eco-friendly and sustainable holidays 2019: travel and save the world

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It’s often said that travellers should leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but memories. But the reality for most of us, whether we take independent or family holidays, is that it’s incredibly hard in the modern age – particularly if you want to see the world without the aid of a tall ship. 

Of course the most eco-friendly holidays you could take probably involve camping not far from your home and getting there on public transport, but there are ways you can make your more adventurous globe-trotting trips more sustainable. For example, look at whether the travel company specialises in ethical and eco-friendly holidays, if day-trips use local tour guides and the number of connecting flights or gas-guzzling travel involved if you are looking for a multi-centre trip. 

You could do your bit for the environment by minimising the use of internal flights, avoiding taking cruises on big ships – especially in environmentally sensitive areas – and eschewing wildlife treks that use noisy jeeps or large vehicles and encroach on animals’ territories. And you could always choose to pay extra to offset the carbon from your flight. Plus, you could choose to stay with a local family or do some volunteering instead of lying on an exotic beach…the world is your ethical oyster.

We’ve rounded up some of the best eco-friendly and sustainable options, from traditional camping sites with amazing views to far flung beach retreats and adventure holidays that involve some incredible opportunities to do your bit for Mother Nature. Passports at the ready!

1. Polar bear wildlife trip

Chance to see the endangered beasts up close

Reasons to buy

+Uses small ships for cruises+Expert guides with nature focus

Polar bears are some of nature’s most majestic beasts, but seeing them up close can have large environmental costs. NatureTrek’s Realm of the Polar Bear tour includes a 10 day voyage on small cruise ships to minimise travellers’ environmental impact around the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. 

It offers the chance to take in glaciers, fjords, colonies of Arctic birds, walruses, Beluga whales and of course, polar bears. The company focuses solely on wildlife and scenery, as well as using naturalist guides and expert expedition staff, who ensure no wildlife is being disturbed and holiday makers get the best photos and views possible. 

Of course, travelling so far has an environmental cost and purists might argue that going to see the endangered bears contributes to the environmental problems they face linked to global warming, but if you want to see them up close, this trip is one of the most eco-friendly there is. It costs £6,895 including flights.

2. Alpine flower spotting in the Swiss Alps

Lots to learn and cable cars to take

Reasons to buy

+Day trips by public transport+Expert to help with flower finding

Nature holidays don’t have to focus on animals. An 8-day trip around the idyllic Swiss village of Wengen offers holiday makers the chance to get to grips with alpine flora and its birds and butterflies.

 A botanist tour leader can help holidaymakers learn about the species that make up the carpets of wild flowers in the rich alpine meadows, while the mountain scenery will only add to the Instagram-friendly experience. The holiday is based upon daily walks and there is no road travel, with day trippers making use of cable cars and the mountain railways instead. This makes the holiday a great choice for environmentalists. It costs from £1,995 including flights.

3. Costa Rica Wildlife Holiday

Animal spotting in the rainforest

Reasons to buy

+Chance to see some endangered animals+Use of small boats and eco-friendly practices

With its jungles, cloud forests, mangrove swamps and beaches, Costa Rica is on most wildlife junkies’ bucket lists. Responsible Travel offers a 16-day trip taking in sloths, monkeys and toucans in the rainforest, as well as the green turtles of Tortuguero National Park. 

There are hiking trails and boat journeys to take, as well as guided tours to help you have an animal encounter. Boat trips are planned to be as minimally invasive for animals and the environment as possible, but to take place at times when the protected parks are at their most naturally active. For example, guides could help you see monkeys, caiman, iguanas, butterflies and many of the 300+ bird species at Tortuguero. 

And while there is an eco-friendly focus, visits can still enjoy their own creature comforts, such as a hearty breakfast by the river and comfortable lodgings in tranquil spots.  Prices start at £2,899.

4. Kilimanjaro climb with a difference

Take in the views, without fear

Reasons to buy

+Less popular route with added extras+Comfortable camping

Taking the ‘path less travelled’ is always more admirable in travelling circles and this 12 day climb up Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, tackles the less popular Lemosho Route which navigates both the volcanic caldera of Shira and underneath the ice fields of Kibo – two out of three of Kilimanjaro’s volcanic cones. 

The benefit of this is less erosion and environmental impact as well as fewer crowds which adds to the remoteness and authenticity of the trip. Climbers can enjoy the superb vistas of the southern icefields and lush valleys, but it does mean you will walk for four to five hours a day, so being fit and healthy is a must. But full service camping means the trip won’t be too much of an endurance test. 

It costs £3,199 excluding flights, but it’s an experience to tick off your bucket list. 

5. Elephants conservation in Namibia

A safari that does good

Reasons to buy

+Ability to gets hands-on+Supports elephants and local community

The African savannah has its fair share of luxury hotels – a fact that divides conservationists. But there is a more sustainable holiday option while seeing the big five – an elephant conservation holiday in the Namibian desert. Holiday makers can help to track, monitor and protect wild elephants, identifying their footprints and working out where and when they have passed through certain areas, for example. 

They’ll also be expected to alongside local people to shield their water supplies from these majestic giants, which is rewarding but also hard work, as you would be expected to build walls at farmsteads to protect the farmers’ water sources and pumps from elephants.  

Accommodation is basic but magical – tents in the desert with cooking around camp fires and sleeping under the stars. The experience starts from £980 excluding flights.

6. Marine Conservation in Belize

Marine volunteering holiday

Reasons to buy

+Learn new skills while doing good+Experience of a castaway island

Learning to drive is on many people’s bucket list, and this holiday lets you do it, while putting your new skills to good use. All diving, accommodation, meals and diving equipment is included in Responsible Travel’s marine Conservation holiday in Belize, starting at £1,006 for five days. 

Set against a backdrop of a private ‘castaway’ island, adjacent to the Belize Barrier Reef, you’ll be able to make the most of the picturesque environment, from swimming alongside whale sharks, to hunting invasive lion fish with a spear, as well as helping a marine conservation team monitor reefs and track sharks, for example. 

The holiday is suitable for rookies and there’s the chance to do various PADI courses. It’s touted as the ideal way to learn new skills and make a real difference both above and below the warm waves of the Caribbean. 

7. A Woodman’s Cabin

Off-grid living in France

Reasons to buy

+Super sustainable set-up+Beautiful location

If you have ever dreamed of going back to nature and escaping the everyday stresses of today’s busy digital life, this holiday may be for you. From just £73 a night, you can experience living off the grid in a forest cabin the Dordogne, France. 

The rustic cabin uses solar power and a wood burning stove to provide basic creature comforts, while there’s a wind up gramophone for entertainment, where Netflix isn’t an option, as there’s no Wi-Fi. Instead of screen time, visitors can use a boat or raft to paddle around a nearby lake or go for a cycle or walk along nearby tracks. 

It may even be possible to jump on the Eurostar and make the majority of the journey by public transport, taking in the views through France in a more environmentally friendly way than driving.

8. Eco-friendly Normandy

Green accommodation and ferry trip

Reasons to buy

+Guilt-free travel+Sustainable living

A quick trip across the Channel can lead to eco bliss. Normandy is a new environmentally-friendly location for holiday makers thanks to a glut of ‘green’ properties and getting there won’t play on your conscience either thanks to Brittany Ferries ship Honfleur, which will be the first ship on the Channel to run on LNG gas. 

Emissions contain around 25 per cent less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, then it’s less than an hour’s drive to Orne, which offers some stunning eco-friendly places to stay, including Manoir de la Queurie, in La Courbe, which has two stylish suites with a nod to Scandi style overlooking the River Orne. 

Eco credentials include lime walls, reed-bed filtration, organic local produce, minimalist interiors and open-plan living spaces, all set in 14 hectares of green – and there are even sheep to play with. Accommodation starts from €110, including breakfast.

9. Hidden Valley Yurts in Wales

A bit of magic without dragons

Reasons to buy

+Comfortable authentic yurts+Instagram-worthy glamping

You might think yurts belong in Mongolia, but they make for ideal eco-friendly hideaways all over the place. Hidden Valley Yurts in Wales, comprises five of the circular structures in a remote 80-acre setting where you can see the Milky Way on clear nights. 

The yurts have brightly coloured doors, with beds, chairs, lights, rugs and wall-hangings and a wood burning stove to keep you cosy. Inside the muffled confines of the sheep’s wool felt lining, each yurt feels intensely private, according to the company, while magical woodland, wildflower-peppered meadows and fields are perfect for exploring. 

In the event of bad weather, there’s a big communal kitchen and bathroom area, while there’s a boules pitch, badminton net, campfire area, wood-burning pizza oven, safari-style dining tent and chicken run for entertainment.

10. Gorillas and Masai Mara trip

Camping with a difference

Reasons to buy

+Close, responsible encounter with animals+Supports local community

If you have ever wanted to get up close and personal with gorillas, this holiday is for you. Exodus Travel’s 18-day camping trip lets you see gorillas in their natural habitat – the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda – and a host of other wildlife too. The company guarantees a responsible tour by employing the most safe and responsible way to view animals including lions, hippo, elephant and cheetahs, as well as over 450 different species of birds. 

It also supports the local community in ways such as paying school bursaries and providing health equipment to run educational roadshows. But as well as doing good, the £3,799 price tag includes flights from London, accommodation, transport activities and food.  

11. Moroccan Mountain Walk

Trip combining a city and mountains

Reasons to buy

+Trip to Marrakech with a hike too+Responsible tourism project

Marrakech is a popular destination for a city break, but there are better ways to absorb North African culture. The Morocco’s Atlas Panorama trip takes in the the colourful city of Marrakech where you can explore palaces and busy souks with free evenings to enjoy Jemaa el-Fnaa famous for its street food, juice sellers and musicians, alongside trekking in the Atlas Mountains. 

Visitors stay in a traditional riad in the remote and picturesque village of Tijhza, from which you can take part in walks. The pace is relaxed to allow everyone to enjoy the scenery of the mountains and learn about the way of life of the Berber people. 

There’s also the opportunity to visit traditional hammam as part of an ongoing tourism project. Of course, the trip costs a bit more than a value city break, at £779 for eight days. 

12. National Trust’s Gupton Farm

A camping trip with extras

Reasons to buy

+Minimal travelling and carbon emissions+Rustic approach that doesn’t ruin nature

Having a stay-cation is possibly the most environmentally friendly way to holiday, especially is you can re-use a tent for camping year after year and stay on a site with good eco credentials. There are options for serious eco warriors with solar-power showers but the National Trust has an array of camping options that are a good middle ground.

 Its Gupton Farm site in Pembrokeshire, Wales offers plenty of space for 50 pitches in a simple, rustic setting that doesn’t encroach on the area’s beauty. There are facilities including a toilet and shower block, a wet weather barn and communal areas, which are great if you don’t strike it lucky with the weather. But most importantly, you could wake up to some awesome views, enjoy some stargazing and reconnect with nature, as well as laze on the incredible beaches. 

For wildlife lovers, there’s a network of footpaths from the campsite and a nearby bird hide, while NT junkies can visit the nearby historic houses, doing their bit for conserving some of Britain’s architectural gems.

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