Travelocity names top eco travel destinations and tips

As our planet celebrates 35 years of environmental friendliness this Earth Day, April 22, Travelocity's industry resource recommends destinations committed to eco-friendly travel.

"Ecotourism has become a major trend in travel," said Amy Ziff, Travelocity(r) editor-at-large. "Destinations around the world have embraced this concept, and are encouraging travelers to minimize their environmental impact while on the road."

In conjunction with WildAid, a leader in the fight to end illegal wildlife trade, Travelocity has compiled information on dedicated eco destinations to explore. Following are some of Ziff's tips, specific to different regions, to help travelers ensure they're serving as friends of the environment, as well as her top eco travel destinations:

SOUTH/CENTRAL AMERICA and CARIBBEAN: Avoid any products that may contain: sea turtles (all species are endangered), sharks or shark fin, birds (for the pet trade), reptiles (live for the pet trade or their skins, which are used in belts, handbags and shoes), jaguars or marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions).

  • Ecuador/The Galapagos Islands - The "Laboratory of Evolution": The Galapagos Islands are home to a stunning variety of plant and animal species. Visit this spring as sea turtles and marine iguanas hatch, storm petrels nest and albatross lay eggs on this fragile natural wonder. Some tours include talks by island-based biologists from the renowned Charles Darwin Research Station.

  • Costa Rica - Help Protect Playa Grande: October to March, Las Baulas National Park is one of the most important remaining nesting areas for the highly endangered leatherback sea turtle. During daylight hours, hiking is allowed on this hallowed beach. Nighttime tours are conducted with a goal of minimal impact to the animals.

  • Belize - It Oughta Be in Pictures: The million-acre Maya Mountain Marine Corridor is one of most biodiverse spots on the planet, including tropical rain forests and pine savannas, intact watersheds, coastal wetlands and mangrove forests, spectacular coral reefs, and more than 100 offshore cays. Francis Ford Coppola's eco-friendly and movie-flavored Blancaneaux Lodge is located here, within the 300-square-mile Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.

  • Mexico - A Water Park Like No Other: The protected marine life habitat of Xel Ha in the heart of the Mayan Riviera is teeming with wildlife and natural phenomena. Visitors can swim, snorkel, go tubing and wonder at the spectacle of this tremendous ecopark.

U.S. and CANADA: Even in the United States, travelers should exercise caution when purchasing wildlife products. Urban ethnic neighborhoods are often hotspots for endangered species products such as bushmeat and ivory. The United States is home to its share of threatened species: mountain lions, bears, bison, Florida panthers, desert tortoises and manatees are just a few. All hunting, boating and camping regulations are important and should be obeyed at all times.

  • Maine - Wildlife Wanderings: Tour Moosehead Lake via canoe or kayak and be on the lookout for the region's namesake animal as well as endangered lynx dens. Help conduct bird counts off the coast of Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island on eco-friendly Wanderbird Cruises. Pay a visit to Machias Seal Island at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, a nesting territory for thousands of seabirds each summer, including about 1000 pair of Atlantic puffins.

  • Wyoming - Expeditions with Ethics: Hear the magnificent bugle of a bull elk at the National Elk Refuge and view herds of a dwindling bison population in Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park. Wildlife Expeditions is a company that leads wildlife watching tours in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, as well as throughout the Jackson Hole valley.

  • Alaska - Pristine Wilderness: The 6.8-million-hectare Tongass National Forest, is one of the planet's largest temperate rainforests. It has extensive old-growth stands of hemlock, cedar, and spruce, and is home to brown bears, black bears, wolves, deer, mountain goats, moose, bald eagles, five types of Pacific salmon and flying squirrels. Tongass National Forest offers limitless opportunities for magnificent hiking, fishing, birdwatching and sightseeing.

  • Minnesota - An Unforgettable Howl of a Wolf, the Haunting Call of the Loon: Northern Minnesota's International Wolf Center sponsors learning adventures and environmental education opportunities in the heart of Minnesota wolf country. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is a mecca for paddling enthusiasts. Over one million acres in size, the BWCAW contains hundreds of lakes and rivers and is home to abundant plants and wildlife.

ASIA: The illegal wildlife trade is most prevalent in Asia. Tigers (furs and parts sold as souvenirs, traditional medicinal products containing blood or bones) are being pushed to the brink of extinction. Elephant and rhino (the horns and tusks are used in medicines and as souvenirs) populations are plummeting. Other species threatened by the trade are primates (most species of monkey are endangered), bears (harvested for their gall bladders and paws), pangolins birds, and reptiles (feather, skin and pet trades).

  • Cambodia - Rebirth of a Nation: After years of war and civil strife, Cambodia has entered a period of renewal with ecotourism at the forefront (35 percent of its land is forest cover). This vital habitat includes more than 74 critically endangered wildlife species, including tigers, sun bears, Asian elephants and the Siamese crocodile. WildAid is helping lead this charge, training and equipping rangers in key national parks, operating a special patrol unit to stop illegal trade throughout the country, and conducting a national campaign to reduce consumption of threatened wildlife.

  • Thailand - Surviving Together: Another of WildAid's projects focuses on Thailand's first national park, Khao Yai. WildAid and Thai officials, in collaboration with village leaders, designed a comprehensive management system to reduce illegal use of the park's resources while addressing needs of impoverished communities surrounding the parks, reducing poaching by up to 70 percent. The mountainous area of Khao Yai contains streams and waterfalls, and conserves a large population of mammals such as elephant, gibbon, guar, samba deer, barking deer and tiger, as well as over 300 bird species.

More About Ecotourism

According to the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and preserves the well-being of local people. Accordingly, ecotourism should minimize environmental impact; build cultural and environmental awareness; offer financial benefits for conservation; contribute to the local economy and support indigenous people; raise awareness about a destination's political, environmental and social climate; support international human rights and labor agreements; and it should be a positive experience for both visitor and host. To learn more about ecotourism and for other eco friendly destinations, visit Amy Ziff's monthly column at www.travelocity.com/atoz.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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