If you’re concerned by the way that we’re damaging the natural world - concerned that 20-30% of species at risk of extinction as a result of anthropogenic climate change, for example – then you might be musing on how to make your next vacation more eco-friendly. Fortunately, this doesn’t limit you to camping out in your backyard and feasting solely on hand-picked mushrooms. Here we’ve gathered together five ideas for eco-friendly ventures, ranging from galloping across American prairies to paddling around Amazonian lagoons. Just try to avoid undercutting your good intentions through flight emissions, and off-set any plane rides by paying to plant a cluster of trees.
Dude ranches, found in wilderness regions across the United States, offer guests a romantic taste of life in the Old West. You can ride out across cactus-studded desert, flower-strewn meadows or shadowy forests, all sequestered far from the fast-paced pressures of modern urban life. Many strive to keep the experience authentic by leaving TVs and telephones out of their lodging rooms, and for the duration of your stay, the distance you travel will be circumscribed by your horse's top speed. All this adds up to a holiday that not only connects you with the natural world, but helps conserve it, too. Some of the best for this more rugged dude ranch experience include the Elk Meadow Ranch in Colorado, and the Hideout in Wyoming.
Helping to conserve and protect the natural world can take all sorts of forms. It could involve volunteering at your local city park, helping build bird boxes, coppice trees and monitor wildlife populations. Or it could involve packing your suitcase and jetting off to the far-side of the globe, where, instead of poking around in tadpole-filled ponds, you could photograph the big five in a South African nature reserve, or monitor black bears, musk deer and snow leopards on a Nepalese mountainside. Alternatively, volunteer to protect the sea turtle population of the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica, or to counter the ravages of deforestation in Peru.
Eco-lodges buried deep in the world’s densest rainforests can be found from Belize to Borneo, and many have been built with the conservation of the surrounding environment in mind. To ensure that this is the case, it’s best to choose lodges run in conjunction with local communities, who often have an intimate understanding of the area’s eco-systems. A highly successful example of this is the Chalalán Lodge in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park, recognized as one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. The villagers of San Jose de Uchupiamonas initiated the project, developing their ideas with the help of Conservation International, and the resulting eco-resort is a true wonder, pitched around the glimmering waters of the Chalala Lagoon. For a different experience, Banjaar Tola Lodge in central India is at the heart of efforts to protect the area’s tiger population, and by staying in the camp you contribute to the protection of a species which is tightrope-walking on the edge of extinction.
The proliferation of surf camps around the globe enables savvy surfers to tailor their trip to their specific desires. Are you a beginner, requiring lessons and a gentle introduction to the world of gliding on the waves? Or are you a tanned, chiselled maestro, seeking big angry waves and a cohort of surfers able to tackle them with you? Or is surfing only half the point, and you want a camp where there’s always someone to share a beer or smoke with, and you’re never left stranded at midnight as everyone else decides to turn in? And do you want somewhere a little exotic but still reasonably close to home – perhaps Portugal for northern Europeans, or Costa Rica for North Americans – or somewhere flung out on the other side of the world, like Indonesia for either of these groups? Wherever and whatever you choose, it’s not difficult to make your time at a surf camp eco-friendly: all you need is your board and the rolling waves.
Swing on a backpack weighted with stove, sleeping bag, tent or bivvy bag, and set out into the wilds for a night, a week, a month... As long as you tidy up after yourself and refrain from launching a killing spree against the local wildlife, hiking is the quintessential eco-holiday, requiring very few resources and immersing you in the sounds, smells and textures of the natural world. It’s also exceptionally versatile, and your trip can easily be shaped to fit your mood. Do you feel like hiking in vibrant, noisy, populous spring woodland, or disappearing into empty expanses of desolate moorland? Tackling a towering mountain, or walking alongside the rhythmic wash of the sea? And do you want to walk in contemplative solitude, or with a lover, a friend, your family, or a troop on an organized trip to Kyrgyzstan? Just take your pick and remember the simple wild camping adage: leave no trace.