Ecotourism and where to practice it

Ecotourism promotes respect and care for the destinations we visit. But what exactly is this type of tourism? Where did it come from and how is it different from other forms of travel?

Ecotourism, a responsible trip

Before going into detail, we must define well what we mean when we refer to ecotourism. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) provides the following definition:

We see therefore that it is a type of trip in which conservation (of the natural ecosystems we visit; but also of the economy of the area) and an educational part that helps us to become aware and to know the place more in depth.

We are also talking about an alternative tourism model to the more massive tourism and therefore prioritizes sustainability and preservation of the places where it takes place.

Origin of ecotourism

Thus it is important to know that ecotourism has always been linked to sustainable development. That is to say, to a form of socio-economic development that is more humane and less harmful to nature.

In fact, the birth of this type of tourism during the 1990s was closely linked to this concept. As was made clear in 2002 at the 1st World Ecotourism Summit held in Quebec (Canada). A meeting that served to lay the foundations of modern ecological tourism (or ecotourism) in relation to its planning and development throughout the planet.

At this summit, a series of characteristics common to this phenomenon were established, which should be added to the principles of ecotourism mentioned above:

  • Its organization by specialized companies and aimed at small groups of visitors.
  • The use of local companies and suppliers to meet the demands of this activity.
  • The reduction or prevention of any negative impact on the rural environment where it is practiced.
  • The contribution to the areas specialized in ecotourism generating an economic benefit for the communities and the public and private entities that act as hosts. Also employment and income alternatives for the local population.
  • Awareness of the natural and cultural assets of the area, both among foreign tourists and local people.

Difference between ecotourism and rural tourism

Therefore, as we have seen, a fundamental difference between ecotourism and other forms of tourism is the relationship that is established between the visitors and the destination itself.

To understand this we can think, for example, of its differences with a concept such as rural tourism. Which consists of travelling, in generic terms, to villages or natural areas far from cities. In an experience that can integrate (or not) the principles of ecological tourism: conservation of ecosystems, support to the local economy, awareness, etc.

In this way, we must be aware that, sometimes, we try to sell as ecotourism practices that do not really follow these values. We are referring to forms of light ecotourism or even greenwashing, an artifice that uses all the marketing of ecotourism to attract visitors to destinations that are not.

Ecotourism in Spain

In the last two decades, Spain has become one of the world’s leading ecotourism destinations. Thanks to the large number of protected natural areas and the good work of many communities, our country has many destinations to get to know and enjoy nature, always from a sustainable point of view.

The official website of the Spanish Institute of Tourism offers detailed information on several unique destinations for ecotourism, and these are ideal places for your next holiday!

Garajonay (La Gomera)

Garajonay Natural Park in the Canary Islands contains an ecosystem unique in the world: a huge laurel forest, a relic of the subtropical forests that covered the Mediterranean area during the Tertiary era several million years ago. Today this environment, home to numerous exotic species, has a tourist structure that guarantees the protection of the island’s unique natural ecosystem.

Las Batuecas – Sierra de Francia (Salamanca)

In the south of the province of Salamanca is this natural park, relatively unknown to the general public but accredited by the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (CETS). This protected area has several itineraries that go through the delicate native forests of the area and nearby towns. It also has several lodgings that have been fitted out for conscious tourism.

Sierra Nevada National Park (Granada – Almería)

This natural park, better known for its impressive ski resort, allows the practice of many hiking and mountain climbing activities, all within a model of sustainable tourism recognized internationally. Not in vain was it declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1986. A magical place that includes up to fifteen peaks above 3000 meters, the highest mountain range in the Iberian Peninsula.

Somiedo Natural Park (Asturias)

In the heart of Asturias is another of the reference destinations for ecotourism in Spain. Somiedo is a natural park full of typical forests of the Cantabrian Mountains, where oak, beech and birch trees abound. The area, perfect for hiking, offers many activities for children, as well as the possibility of approaching the best known animal of this ecosystem: the brown bear.