When you think of eco-tourism, do you imagine tourists walking around in Birkenstocks, outhouses with brown toilet paper and vegan menus with a different bean dinner every night? Well, think again. Eco-tourism is being practiced by some of the most luxurious resorts and hotels in the world. Plus, eco-tours offer clients some of the most high-adrenalin thrills on the world travel market. Not only are these adventures fun, challenging and relaxing, they make you feel good about your trip afterward, too.
"Eco-tourism affords travelers the opportunity to directly benefit the people and places they visit by supporting conservation and protecting cultural heritage as well as economic development," says Brian T. Mullis, president of the Sustainable Travel International. "Taking an eco-friendly vacation provides responsible travelers with an opportunity to do their part."
Mullis cites all these operators and resorts as known for best sustainable tourism practices. Many have received awards and, most importantly, all have been audited by an independent third party. Get out your passport, pack your cruelty-free walking shoes, and give yourself a green light for adventure:
Campi ya Kanzi
The resort offers walking safaris led by traditional Maasai in Kenya's prime game area between Amboseli and Tsavo national parks. Luxury tents with baths await guests after the day's dusty but unforgettable wilderness encounters.
Haciendas Del Mundo Maya
Learn about the ancient Mayan world, while staying in historic haciendas in the Yucatan. Climb a pyramid like Indiana Jones, then relax like Harrison Ford in a private plunge pool in your own villa.
Hotel Punta Islita
A luxury hotel, featuring Infinity pools, 4-poster beds draped in gauze and a fabulous spa, Hotel Punta Islita is a pristine mountain outpost situated on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste. Some of the world's rarest and most beautiful frogs live in protected areas of Costa Rica's rain forest. Base yourself at Punta Islita and spend your days spying these jewel-like species, among the most endangered animals on the planet.
Chaa Creek is 1 of the first eco-lodges opened in Belize. What began as a few villas for backpackers is now a full-on 5-star resort with a spa where the healing ministrations of local Mayan oils and herbs put your body in harmony with the lush surroundings. Don't miss excursions like horseback trips through dense rainforest bush or a twilight punt on the glasslike Chaa Creek itself.
Papoose Creek Lodge
Located in Montana's Madison River Valley, 40 minutes from Yellowstone National Park, Papoose Creek offers a lodge and pioneer-style cabins with modern amenities like hot tubs and 5-star cuisine. Papoose Creek is home to some of the world's best fly fishing and, yes, a river does run through it -- Papoose Creek itself meanders peacefully through the entire property. Canoeing, birding and wildlife watching give the outward-bound luxury lover a compelling blend of both worlds.
El Nido Resorts
The El Nido area of Northern Palawan is a showcase of geological and biological diversity. In recognition of the importance of its biodiversity, the Philippine government elevated the status of El Nido first to a turtle sanctuary, then to a marine reserve and finally, in 1998, to a managed protected area. El Nido Resorts, located on various islands in the area, are a great choice for eco-friendly dive enthusiasts. An amazing array of marine life as well as the thrill of discovering a unique and relatively un-touristed part of Asia await.