12 Best Places to Visit for Sustainable Travel in 2023
Responsible travel is becoming increasingly vital if we’re to protect our world for future generations. With careful planning and choosing the best sustainable destinations, activities and hotels, travel in 2023 is starting to look decidedly environmentally friendly.
Decades of ‘fast tourism’ has damaged our fragile planet, often through over consumption of resources and increased pollution. Tourism is responsible for roughly 8% of the world's carbon emissions [Sustainabletravel.org] and cruise ships alone generate 1 billion gallons of raw sewage a year according to The Environmental Protection Agency, much of it ending up in our seas and oceans.
Places that restrict tourist numbers, promote conservation and uplift local communities are the best destinations for sustainable travel. Countries practising the effective ‘less is more model’ are Botswana with its massive private concessions, the Galapagos Islands where yacht itineraries are limited and Bhutanwhere guests must pay a daily visa fee.
We’ve asked our travel designers to collate their best sustainable travel destinations for 2023.
Nayara tented camp, in the volcanic region of Arenal, left space for wildlife and wilderness during construction. An epic reforestation program has expanded the tropical rainforest providing safe habitats for sloths, monkeys and butterflies. There’s also an emphasis on supporting the local community with social initiatives and employment within the property.
The area’s only property, the Borneo Rainforest Lodge offers a number of low-impact, sustainable activities including an impressive canopy walkway 27 metres above the forest floor. Birdwatching, jungle treks, swimming in the Tembeling waterfall and exciting tubing down the Danum river offer a glimpse into this pristine wilderness.
3. Ecuador and the Galapagos
Home to a staggering 6.1% of all the species on the planet, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands make up one of the megadiverse places on earth. Local authorities, with the enforcement of strict entry regulations and the construction of the world’s first sustainable airport, are already committed to protecting the natural environment.
Across the Amazon, Cloud Forests and Galapagos Archipelago award-winning sustainable hotels and cruises use green operations and lead conservation programs. Socio-economic upliftment is also vital in the quest for sustainability. At Napo Wildlife centre, through employment and various other practices, they support a 500 year old Amazon community, preserving traditional ways of life.
A country rich in natural resources and with strict government policies regarding sustainable development, Peru’s future looks green. An incredibly popular tourist destination with Machu Picchu featuring on travellers’ bucket-lists for decades. The ancient ruins themselves, noticeably ‘over-visited’ are now protected with restricted visitor numbers, compulsory guiding and time-slots to adhere to.
Deeper into the Sacred Valley, 400 metres above the ground, hanging from a cliff, is an unusual, sustainable hotel. The Sky Lodge floats above the ground, the clear walls immersing guests in the natural world. Powered completely by solar energy and featuring a dry ecological bathroom suite and zero single-use plastic usage. The only way to reach the hotel is by low impact transfers on foot or exciting zip lines.
In the Linyanti, Wilderness DumaTau protects one of the world’s largest elephant herds by maintaining ancient wildlife corridors. In the Okavango Delta uplifting local communities and conservation goes hand in hand at Wilderness Vumbura Plains camp. Education, skill sharing and upliftment programs uplift local people and the wildlife sanctuaries they live in.
Bhutan, the last Buddhist kingdom on earth. A tiny, carbon-negative nation that practises sensitive tourism, restricts visitor numbers and charges a daily visa fee. A ‘less is more’ approach mutually benefits guests and the Bhutanese – forging meaningful connections.
Conservation, growth and protection of national parks are high up on the constitutional agenda. Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park in the Gangteng Valley offers visitors the chance to learn about Black-necked Crane conservation. Six Senses, one of the world’s leading sustainable hotel chains, commits to preserving and protecting Bhutan’s unique environment.
Nepal is blessed with an intense natural beauty from the peaks of the Himalayas and Annapurna to the glistening lakes of Pokhara. The government protects 24% of the country with national parks, reserves and buffer zones (where people live within national parks) and there’s an emphasis on mutually beneficial, nature-based tourism.
Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge have proudly evolved beyond standard ‘eco-tourism’ and now focus on regenerative tourism initiatives, specific to the middle hills of Nepal. They offer authentic experiences through which guests, employees, locals and the environment can thrive.
9. New Zealand
New Zealand is serious about its sustainable tourism; the aim is to significantly reduce the tourist carbon footprint and to be net zero before 2050. Maori culture has spearheaded government policies that protect the environment such as giving natural wonders the same rights as humans in a court of law.
On the shores of Lake Pukaki, off the grid, self-sufficient living and low impact excursions such as biking and stargazing, can be found at Lakestone Lodge. The lodge relies totally on solar power, rain and bore water and has a sewage treatment facility too.
Epically beautiful, this icey island’s main attraction is the land itself. Rich in thermal energy and other renewable sources, Iceland is at the forefront of sustainable energy production. In fact, 85% of its power is made by renewable energy.
Ice caving, puffin watching, viewing the northern lights, glacier hikes and soaking in the blue lagoon are among a host of low impact activities that immerse visitors in this natural paradise. Sustainable design and green operations are showcased at both The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon with its harnessing of geothermal power and at Torfhús Retreat with its turf rooftops and fleet of electric vehicles.
According to a 2022 report from the United Nations, Finland is the most sustainable country in the world. Impressively the city of Lahti won the European Green Capital award in 2021 thanks to its energy-efficient homes, UNESCO-certified groundwater systems and its recycling programs.
Nationwide, 40 national parks protect this staggeringly beautiful environment. Across Finnish Lapland there’s a host of activities suited to sustainable travel. There’s reindeer sleighs, husky safaris, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and even survival courses. Travel to the remote Wilderness Hotel Muotka where no light pollution can result in epic aurora displays.
Known for its immaculate cities and clean living, Switzerland is an extremely environmentally-friendly country with nearly 60 percent of its electricity coming from hydropower. It also boasts excellent waste management with around 50% of rubbish being recycled.
Sustainability and luxury work together in the picture-perfect Alpine region of Gstaad at the Alpina hotel, particularly celebrated within their kitchens. The executive chef has introduced a zero waste philosophy, creating sustainable dishes such as zero waste pasta and pizza made from left-over rye bread to create casarecce pasta and dough.
Jacada's favourite sustainable hotels and lodges
Mashpi LodgeSet into one of the planet’s most important bio-regions, the futuristic Mashpi Lodge powered with 100% hydroelectricity really is a ‘contemporary cocoon in the clouds’. Praised for its ecological and contemporary design by being nominated for the likes of Wallpaper’s Design Awards, Mashpi’s steel and glass creation sits amongst 3,200 acres of pristine rainforest on a bluff that commands stunning views over the lush valleys, cloud forests and hills of the Tumbez-Choco-Darien bio-region (otherwise known as the Chocó) in Ecuador. The 20 rooms and three suites are spacious and simply modern in decoration, with floor to ceiling windows that keep your attention on what’s outside rather than what’s in. The restaurant has been thoughtfully constructed with two-storey high ceilings and windows for walls so again you feel constantly in touch with the forest, whilst dining on local produce from exotic fruits blended with more savoury dishes and organic ingredients to home made chocolate. There is also a terrace with pergola roof for incredible views over the jungle canopy, perhaps spotting one or two of its creatures. Daily wildlife expeditions and nature excursions are led by the lodge’s team of Ecuadorian biologists and things like wellington boots and rain ponchos are provided. The aerial tram from the lodge allow for deeper daily explorations into the forest, and comes with an observation tower and Life Centre which has butterfly farms and terrariums for a really close up look to these species. Hikes, bathing in waterfalls and rivers are very much part of the Mashpi experience too.
NIHI Sumba IslandThis eco-friendly resort takes a responsible approach to hospitability, and its restaurants make use of organically grown produce from the grounds, while its foundation and community outreach programmes seek to benefit and upskill the local villages, and protect the environment. Positioned within the diverse natural setting of 438 acres of tropical forest, rice terraces and grasslands on a private stretch of beautiful beach, Nihi Sumba Island provides utter scenic seclusion. All rooms are tucked amongst the trees, with huge windows and private terraces or balconies boasting expansive sea views. With 32 villas, all made from reclaimed wood by local craftsmen and furnished with unique regional artefacts, the accommodation here is exceptional. Meanwhile, the restaurant is a fusion between Eastern and Western cuisine, with an extremely accommodating team and chef. Though dining tends to be a communal affair with couples, families and friends, the staff will happily arrange private dining in your room or at one of many private romantic locations among the grounds. During the day, guests can try their hand at surfing along the beach or take in the Sumbanese countryside and culture by horseback. Those looking for a more relaxing pursuit can indulge in the Jungle Spa, with a massage or yoga class. There’s also fishing trips, stand-up paddleboarding and diving to be enjoyed, plus destination dining and a sea turtle hatchery.
Wilderness Bisate LodgeUtterly unique in its design, six sumptuous forest villas are luxurious while retaining environmental principles and reflecting the culture of the surrounding country. Each has a generous yet intimate combination of bedroom, reception space and bathroom, heated by a central fireplace and a private deck looking out to Mount Bisoke. The spherical stone and thatch architecture, said to be inspired by the Royal Palace of traditional monarchs, continues through to the communal areas such as the dining room, bar and spa, detailed with a variety of woven materials, local crafts and more modern touches. Wilderness Bisate is a short drive to the national park’s headquarters, from where gorilla treks depart daily, and you can also embark upon forest hikes to see rare Golden Monkeys and other wildlife. Visit the site of Dian Fossey’s research camp and grave, meet the community on guided village walks, plant a tree as part of the Wilderness Bisate’s reforestation project or perhaps tag along with the chef to the local market to buy ingredients for dinner.
Galapagos Safari CampA truly unique way to enjoy the wonderful nature of the Galápagos islands. Set in 55-hectare grounds in a remote corner of Santa Cruz island, the GSC camp has just nine large and very well appointed safari style tents. Each is appointed with private bathroom with a hot water shower. The tents are spaced well and have a large double bed and private balcony from which to enjoy the views. The new family suite has three bedrooms suite (master and two twins), and its location next to the main lodge makes it an ideal option for families who favour more private and cohesive lodging. All the tents surround the main and very elegant contemporary lodge complete with restored antiques and furnishings installed by its well-travelled owners. There is a large main communal area where meals are served and a lounge to relax in. The hotel also boasts an infinity pool from which to admire the landscape. A variety of activities to explore the island and surrounds are possible from the camp. The camp is also renowned for its sustainable and positive impact efforts, including projects aimed at reforestation and protection of endemic flora.
The Retreat at Blue Lagoon IcelandLocated in the heart of an 800-year-old, moss-covered lava flow, the Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland brings a new level of immersion and luxury to the iconic landmark. 62 suites are wonderful architectural creations, with cool, modern interiors and vast glass walls revealing the dramatic volcanic landscape outside and terraces surrounded by the steaming waters. An astonishing underground spa journey mixes dry heat, steam heat, massage, fire and a cold air well, culminating with the Blue Lagoon Ritual where you experience the geothermal seawater’s revitalizing mineral salt, silica and algae. Rounding out the wellness experience, Moss Restaurant has a menu that moves between Iceland’s mountains, farmlands and sea to show of the best of the island’s cuisine. The restaurant also features a chef’s table, a lounge, and a wine cellar deep in the centuries-old lava.
Torfhús RetreatThe remoteness of this snug hideaway is a most attractive feature to those looking to flee from the flurry of city life. Set in close proximity to Iceland’s Golden Circle, within driving distance of the Great Gullfoss waterfall and the Great Geysir, Torfhús Retreat encompasses 25 inky-black cabins, lined with turf. Interiors are accentuated by alpine wooden ceilings, panels and furniture, merged with leather seating, soft rugs and warm lighting. A cosy lounge area allows guests to unwind in the comfort of their cabin, or if they’re wanting to relax while taking in the rugged scenery, they can make use of the basalt hot tub outside. A homely communal area calls for board games in between sips of mulled wine, and the on-site restaurant offers an ever-changing menu, inspired by local produce and the catch of the day. A classic Icelandic breakfast is served every morning, and hearty soups and fresh bread are available during the day, ensuring ample sustenance for adventuring in the wilderness. If guests can pull themselves away from the salubrious waters of the tub, various day excursions are available, such as horse riding, helicopter sightseeing, fishing, mountain hikes and glacier tours.