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How to plan sustainable trips to the world’s most iconic destinations

If a tumultuous year without travel has encouraged you to visit the destination of your dreams, you’re not alone: big trips are set to be a major booking trend into 2022. From Kenya to Cambodia, we look at how to plan your travels responsibly.

By Emma Gregg
Published 17 Apr 2021, 08:00 BST
Exploring Kenya's Maasai Mara features prominently on many people's travel wish lists. But how can you make ...

Exploring Kenya's Maasai Mara features prominently on many people's travel wish lists. But how can you make sure your travels are positive, for both the environment and the people who live locally?

Photograph by Getty Images

There’s nothing quite like seeing a one-of-a-kind destination with your own eyes. But how can you make sure your visit is wholly positive, for both the environment and the people lucky enough to live locally? Relatively small decisions — opting for an eco-hotel, eating home-grown food at local restaurants and hiring local guides, for example ­— can make a big difference. And picking an itinerary that avoids unnecessary flights in favour of greener alternatives is always a good idea, when practical. From Paris to Peru, here are tips for planning a responsible trip to nine of the world’s most iconic destinations.

KENYA

Explore the Maasai Mara on foot

While every Kenyan safari contributes to conservation, some are greener than others. To minimise your impact on the fragile and rightly popular Maasai Mara, you could choose a walking safari in a community-owned conservancy outside the national reserve, sleeping under canvas and sharing stories round the campfire. Asilia Africa, which actively supports wildlife and habitat conservation and community development, offers all-inclusive safaris in Naboisho from £530 per night.

Read more: Exploring Kenya's lesser-visited Maasai Mara conservancies on foot

ICELAND

Travel to the Northern Lights by ferry

Approach the Arctic Circle by coach or train to Hirtshals in Denmark, then board MS Norröna, the Smyril Line ferry to Seyðisfjörður in Iceland. Cross the island by bus, and you can join a hiking adventure through the magnificent geothermal landscapes southeast of Reykjavik, where, in winter, every evening presents a chance to witness the Aurora Borealis. Much Better Adventures offers four-night hiking trips from £1,409, excluding international travel.

Weave ferry travel and hiking into your northern lights adventure in Iceland. 

Photograph by Getty Images

PARIS

Climb the Eiffel Tower on a crisp winter day 

February or March, when the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Notre Dame are relatively quiet, is a great time to zoom into the City of Light by Eurostar, electric car or bike. The Eiffel Tower’s glass-walled lifts operate daily, year-round, weather permitting.

To feel truly at home, stay with a local in a residential neighbourhood, perhaps via Homestay. And to explore, simply throw on a chic winter coat and put your best foot forward. The free Balades Paris Durable app suggests walks through offbeat, up-and-coming districts including the eco-forward 17th arrondissement, Clichy-Batignolles.

Read more: How to experience the best of Paris at home

INDIA

Marvel at tigers and the Taj Mahal, by train

India’s railways aren’t yet a match for the eco-friendly high-speed networks crisscrossing Europe, China and Japan, but travelling through the subcontinent by train is still a relatively green — and colourful — way to journey across the country. Start your adventure with a visit to the Taj Mahal at dawn, a peaceful time to appreciate its splendour. Then take a train from Agra to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan for an ethical tiger safari, staying at a Toftigers eco-rated lodge. From here, continue southwest to Udaipur, Pali, Jodhpur and Jamba, immersing yourself in local culture. Indus Experiences can arrange a bespoke two-week tour from £3,046, including international flights.

Explore India by train, stopping at Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan for an ethical tiger safari, staying at an eco-rated lodge.

Photograph by Getty Images

NEW YORK

Stay in an eco-hotel on the edge of Central Park

New York City is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2050. That may seem a long time off, but a handful of hotels are offering a glimpse of the future today.

1 Hotel Central Park, for example, is a green oasis in Midtown Manhattan. LEED Gold certified for sustainability, it’s bedecked with living plants both inside and out. Its restaurant serves seasonal farm-to-fork fare and the bedding in its cool, contemporary rooms is organic. There’s even an electric car to borrow.

Another ultra-green choice is a short stroll away, on Fifth Avenue. The Pierre, New York’s only EarthCheck Gold certified hotel, minimises its energy and water consumption and is run by staff with a social conscience. They’re involved in several community schemes, donating spare food and toiletries to charity, distributing toys to disadvantaged children and helping with chores in Central Park’s Conservatory Garden.

VENICE

Enjoy La Serenissima at its most serene

Arrive by train. Seek out hidden treasures. Explore the islands in the lagoon. Taste typical Venetian cuisine. Book tours with qualified tourist guides able to recount Venice’s thousand-year-old history. The City of Venice’s suggestions for a respectful, sustainable visit read like a recipe for bliss.

Addressing the challenges that oversized cruise ships, overpriced holiday lets and low-spending day-trippers present, Venice’s practical and inspiring #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign hints that the lower the impact of your trip, the more enjoyable it’s likely to be. Best of all, it has coined a new term — Detourism — for losing yourself in hidden art collections, quiet neighbourhoods and special events, beyond the main tourist sites. For insider tips, follow @DetourismVenice on Twitter.

Addressing the challenges of overtourism, Venice’s practical and inspiring #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign offers ways to lessen the impact of your trip.

Photograph by Getty Images

PERU

Help keep Machu Picchu pristine and plastic free

Every stay at the beautifully rustic Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel helps to preserve Peru’s enigmatic ruined citadel. Accessible only by hiking the Inca Trail or by train, Machu Picchu was the first heritage destination in Latin America to deal effectively with single-use plastic, processing it in a compacting plant in nearby Machu Picchu Pueblo. Since then, Inkaterra has helped set up eco-friendly systems to treat organic waste and recycle used cooking oil into biodiesel, making the village totally self-sufficient in waste management.

SYDNEY

Get a penguin’s-eye-view of Sydney Harbour

Did you know there’s a colony of wild penguins less than 10 miles by boat from Sydney Opera House? It was a local secret for many years. The best way to see them is with Sydney Harbour Boat Tours, an eco-certified fleet carrying no more than 12 passengers per boat. Its skippers are locals who make each trip an educational, non-invasive experience, keeping at least 20 metres away from the penguins’ breeding sites. Studious about protecting the water from pollution, they also volunteer as wildlife rescuers.

The world’s largest natural harbour looks glorious from any angle. For a down-to-earth base with strong sustainability credentials and stunning water views, Sydney Harbour YHA is hard to beat. Hot on energy, waste and water management, it also hosts an urban archaeology centre for schoolkids.

CAMBODIA

Get a fresh perspective on Angkor Wat

To visit Siem Reap’s spectacular temple complex not just as a tourist, but as somebody who is building a meaningful connection with the province, volunteer for a women’s empowerment programme. GVI runs projects that help advance gender equality in Siem Reap by sharing healthcare advice and teaching languages and life skills. Placements lasting between one and 12 weeks, with time off to travel, cost from £1,150, excluding flights.

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