What Ecotourism is, Definition and Principles

Ecotourism is a new way of looking at tourism. It’s about sustainable tourism, which means tourism that has a low impact on the environment. Ecotourism is also about education, conservation, and community development. But, what’s the definition of ecotourism?

By definition, ecotourism is travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.

Now let’s see more in detail what ecotourism is, its principles, and some interesting ecotourism examples around the world!

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What is Ecotourism?

Ecotourism is a type of tourism that is both environmentally friendly and educational. It focuses on the conservation of natural resources and the protection of the environment while providing locals with sustainable economic opportunities.

This form of tourism is designed to provide an immersive experience that allows visitors to gain an understanding of the local environment and its associated issues.

Ecotourism typically involves activities that are respectful of the environment, such as hiking, biking, and bird watching. It also usually involves staying in eco-friendly accommodations, such as tree houses, cabins, and eco lodges made from renewable materials.

Ecotourism operators also strive to be environmentally conscious and reduce their environmental footprint and use renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, whenever possible.

Ecotourism not only benefits the environment, but it also provides economic opportunities for local communities. By providing jobs and income to people in the area, ecotourism helps to support the local economy.

Finally, there is also a different flavor of ecotourism: geotourism. This is a form of ecological tourism that is focusing more on the geological aspects of the destination.

Why is ecotourism important?

Ecotourism is an important form of tourism because it helps to protect the environment and promote sustainable development.

By encouraging visitors to take part in activities such as eco-friendly travel, environmental education, and conservation efforts, ecotourism helps support local communities and their natural resources.

Ecotourism is a form of green tourism and acts on all the 3 pillars of sustainability (also known as the triple bottom line, 3 Ps, or 3 Es): environmental, social, and economic.

  • Environmental sustainability aspects: ecotourism encourages people to become more aware of the environment and their impact on it. By promoting eco-friendly practices, such as reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste, and using renewable energy sources, ecotourism helps to reduce the negative effects of tourism on the environment. This can help to create a healthier environment for everyone, both locals and tourists alike.
  • Social sustainability aspects: this type of tourism helps to promote cultural sustainability, a deeper understanding of local traditions, and appreciation, as visitors get to experience the local culture and customs.
  • Economic sustainability aspects: ecotourism helps to create jobs and stimulate local economies. By providing sustainable economic opportunities for local communities, ecotourism helps to create a more equitable and sustainable economic system.

The Principles Of Ecotourism

Here are some of the principles of ecotourism (as outlined by the United Nations Environment Programme) that ensure the positive effects of tourism are felt both locally and globally.

The primary goal of ecotourism is to minimize the negative environmental and cultural impacts of tourism. To do this, travelers must be educated on the importance of conservation and the need for responsible business practices. Additionally, the money generated from tourism should be directed toward the conservation and management of natural and protected areas.

Zoning and visitor management plans should also be employed to ensure that tourism development does not exceed the social and environmental limits of acceptable change. Furthermore, it’s important to minimize the use of fossil fuels and to construct infrastructure that blends with the natural and cultural environment.

Ecotourism is all about maximizing the economic benefits for the host country, local businesses, and communities while following sustainable business practices. Those should particularly benefit local people living near or around natural and protected areas. By adhering to these principles, ecotourism can be a great way to enjoy the beauty of nature while also making a positive impact on the environment.

This means that ecotourism is not just about visiting a place and taking pictures. It’s about learning the local culture and the natural environment and doing your part to protect both.

10 Ecotourism Examples: The Best Destinations Around the World

There are a variety of ecotourism examples around the world, ranging from remote rainforest lodges to luxury safari camps.

Now, let’s dive deeper into some of the top examples of ecotourism around the world. Each of these places offers a unique and memorable experience, with opportunities for wildlife viewing, bird watching, and learning about the local culture and environment!

1. Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a prime destination for ecotourism, with its lush green rainforests, stunning beaches, and abundant wildlife. The country has made a name for itself as a leader in sustainable tourism, with a strong commitment to conservation and protecting the environment.

Costa Rica is home to many national parks and nature reserves, where visitors can explore and experience the beauty of the country’s biodiversity. From zip-lining through the tree canopy to spotting monkeys and sloths in their natural habitat, there are countless opportunities for ecotourism in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is also home to many eco-lodges, which are designed to be both comfortable and eco-friendly. Eco-lodges are built with sustainable materials, incorporate renewable energy sources, and often offer organic food. They also strive to minimize their impact on the environment and to support local businesses and communities.

2. The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are renowned for their extraordinary wildlife and stunning scenery. Located in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles west of the mainland of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are a perfect example of an ecotourism destination.

The archipelago is made up of 18 main islands, as well as many small islets, and is home to many unique species of plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.

The islands are a protected environment, and the Galapagos National Park works to conserve the flora and fauna by limiting the number of visitors and strictly controlling the activities of those who do visit. The park has also implemented a number of initiatives to reduce the impact of tourism, such as the use of sustainable tourism practices and the promotion of responsible tourism.

3. The Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon Rainforest is one of the most incredible places on the planet. Spanning more than five and a half million square kilometers, it is the largest tropical rainforest in the world, home to an astounding array of plants and animals. It is a vital part of the global ecosystem, providing oxygen and helping to regulate the climate.

Ecotourism in the Amazon Rainforest is a great way to explore this incredible region and learn about its biodiversity and the threats it faces.

Visitors can experience the rainforest firsthand, discovering its unique flora and fauna, and learning about the culture of the local communities. Ecotourism activities can include guided hikes, wildlife spotting, and river tours.

The Amazon Rainforest is under threat from deforestation, poaching, and illegal logging. Ecotourism can help to protect and preserve this unique environment by providing an alternative source of income for local communities, while also raising awareness of the importance of conservation.

4. The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, stretching over 2,300 kilometers along Australia’s northeast coast. It is the world’s largest living organism and is home to a wide variety of marine life, including coral, dolphins, sea turtles and over 1,500 species of fish.

The Great Barrier Reef has long been a popular tourist destination, offering visitors the opportunity to explore the vibrant underwater world and experience the unique beauty of the reef.

Ecotourism is a great way to visit and appreciate the Great Barrier Reef. Responsible ecotourism practices can help to protect this delicate ecosystem and ensure that visitors get the most out of their experience.

Tour operators offer eco-friendly tours that focus on education and conservation, such as snorkeling and diving trips, boat tours (like one of those I mentioned in the examples of sustainable tourism), and guided walks. These tours provide visitors with an understanding of the importance of the reef, while also providing opportunities to appreciate its unique beauty.

5. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is a unique and beautiful destination in the United States, and it is an ideal place for ecotourism. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including bears, wolves, bison, elk, and antelope, and its breathtaking landscapes of geysers, hot springs, and canyons are unparalleled.

For those looking to explore Yellowstone in an eco-friendly way, there are many options available. Visitors can take part in ranger-led activities, such as guided hikes, wildlife viewing, and educational programs.

These activities focus on the park’s natural environment and help to ensure that visitors are respectful of the park’s resources. Additionally, visitors can take part in volunteer programs that help to preserve the park’s wildlife and ecosystems.

Ecotourism in Yellowstone also includes sustainable practices such as reducing waste, using reusable containers, and avoiding single-use plastics.

But Yellowstone is not the only ecotourism destination in the USA, in fact, there are many breathtaking eco lodges in the United States. The country is especially rich in diverse National Parks that offer very desirable options for the green tourist.

6. The Arctic

The Arctic is a unique and fragile environment that is home to a variety of wildlife, landscapes, and cultures. Ecotourism in the Arctic is a great way to experience this region while also helping to protect it.

Ecotourism in the Arctic focuses on the appreciation of the environment and its inhabitants, while minimizing the impact on the environment.

Visitors can explore the Arctic by taking part in activities such as wildlife watching, birding, photography, and kayaking. There are also opportunities to learn about the traditional cultures of the indigenous people living in the region.

Ecotourism in the Arctic helps to protect the environment by making sure that travelers are aware of their impact and how to minimize it. This includes following the rules set by local communities and organizations, respecting wildlife, and avoiding activities that could potentially harm the environment.

7. The Antarctic

The Antarctic is the world’s southernmost continent, located in the Southern Hemisphere and surrounded by the Southern Ocean. It is an incredibly unique and diverse ecosystem, with a wide range of habitats, from the snow and ice of the polar desert to the subantarctic islands and the ocean surrounding them.

The Antarctic is home to an incredibly diverse array of wildlife, including penguins, whales, seals, and seabirds.

Ecotourism is a great way to explore the Antarctic, while also helping to preserve this precious environment. Ecotourism activities in the Antarctic focus on educational, non-invasive activities that minimize environmental impacts. These can include bird watching, whale watching, photography, and even kayaking, as long as the activity is conducted in a sustainable manner.

Ecotourism can also help to support local communities, as many of the eco-tourism activities in the Antarctic are based in local towns or research stations.

8. The Himalayas

The Himalayas are an awe-inspiring mountain range that spans across India, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and Pakistan. This range is home to some of the world’s highest peaks, including the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest.

With its lush green valleys, snow-capped mountain peaks and deep gorges, the Himalayas are a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

The Himalayas offer a unique opportunity for ecotourism, as they are home to a wide range of flora and fauna, as well as some of the world’s rarest species. These include the snow leopard, red panda, musk deer, Himalayan tahr, and the Tibetan antelope. These endangered species are protected in the various national parks and conservation areas located in the Himalayas.

9. The Sahara Desert

The Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert and covers an area of over 9 million square kilometers. It’s an incredible landscape that’s full of surprises, with a diverse range of flora and fauna, unique geological features, and a rich cultural history.

Ecotourism in the Sahara Desert is a great way to explore this fascinating region. Visitors can experience the breathtaking beauty of the desert, from its vast sand dunes to its rugged mountains and canyons. There are also opportunities to witness the incredible wildlife that inhabits the region, including camels, gazelles, antelope, and desert foxes.

The Sahara Desert is also home to a number of ancient human settlements, such as the famous Berber tribes of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Visitors can learn about the unique lifestyles and cultures of these desert dwellers, as well as the history of the region.

10. The Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari Desert is a vast expanse of land located in southern Africa, covering parts of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. It is one of the world’s largest deserts and is home to a diverse array of wildlife and vegetation.

The Kalahari is an ideal destination for ecotourism, as it offers visitors the chance to experience a unique ecosystem and learn about conservation efforts in the region.

The Kalahari Desert is characterized by its red sand dunes and sparse vegetation, consisting mostly of shrubs and grasses. It is home to a variety of wildlife, including the African wild dog, cheetah, brown hyena, and many species of birds. Visitors can explore the desert by foot, by 4×4, or by hot air balloon.

Ecotourism Pros And Cons

Before embarking on an ecotourism trip, it is important to consider both the pros and cons carefully.

Ecotourism has many benefits, such as helping to conserve natural resources, providing economic benefits to local communities, and increasing environmental awareness.

However, it also has some drawbacks, such as increased pressure on fragile ecosystems, potential negative impacts on local cultures, and increased costs for travelers.

Let’s look at those more in detail!

The Benefits of Ecotourism

Ecotourism can provide a number of benefits both to the environment and to local communities:

  1. Economic Benefits: Ecotourism can bring in additional revenue to a local economy, providing income to tour guides, outfitters, and other businesses that depend on the natural environment.
  2. Environmental Benefits: Ecotourism can help protect endangered species and habitats by introducing tourists to them and giving them an incentive to conserve them.
  3. Education Benefits: Ecotourism encourages tourists to learn more about the local environment and its importance, providing an opportunity to increase environmental awareness.
  4. Social Benefits: Ecotourism can help local communities by providing employment opportunities and supporting local businesses.
  5. Cultural Benefits: Ecotourism can help preserve local traditions and cultures by encouraging people to learn about them and experience them first-hand.

The Disadvantages of Ecotourism

Here are the potential disadvantages of ecotourism:

  1. Negative Impacts on the Environment: Ecotourism can have a negative impact on the environment if it is not managed properly. This includes the destruction of habitats and disruption of ecosystems.
  2. Overcrowding: Ecotourism can lead to overcrowding in certain areas, leading to increased pollution, environmental damage, and disruption to local communities.
  3. Negative Impacts on Local Communities: Ecotourism can have a negative impact on local communities if the profits from tourism don’t go back to the local people.
  4. Cultural Appropriation: Ecotourism can lead to cultural appropriation if tourists don’t respect local cultures and traditions. This means that members of a culture may adopt or use elements of another culture that has more attractive aspects for touristic purposes.
  5. Impact on Wildlife: Ecotourism can have a negative impact on wildlife if it is not managed properly. This includes disturbing wildlife habitats, overhunting, and introducing non-native species.
  6. It can often be expensive for tourists, who may not be able to afford the cost of flights, accommodations, and activities. This can lead to a lack of diversity in the types of people who are able to visit and enjoy the area.


Through sustainable tourism practices, ecotourism can help to conserve natural resources, reduce pollution, and protect vulnerable wildlife. Additionally, it can also provide economic opportunities for local communities, helping to create jobs and improve the quality of life in the areas visited.

Ecotourism is a great way to see the world while also helping to preserve it. By supporting eco-friendly initiatives and responsible tourism practices, we can all do our part to protect the planet. So next time you’re planning a trip, consider an eco-tourism destination. It’s a win-win for everyone.