The eco-friendly destinations to visit in 2021

Laura Hampson
·6 min read
An aerial of Jellyfish Lake in Palau (Getty)
An aerial of Jellyfish Lake in Palau (Getty)

Travel is firmly (and sadly) on pause for the time being, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream of the destinations we’ll head to as soon as we get the green light.

With travel having been off the cards for the better part of a year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, when we do venture abroad again we’ll be more conscious about where we go and how our trips impact the planet.

In fact, according to Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report for 2020, 58% of the travellers surveyed said they were looking to make more sustainable choices once we can travel again and 82% identified sustainable travel as being important to them.

Read more: Should I book a holiday? Experts weigh in

With this is mind, we’re putting a spotlight on the best sustainable and eco-friendly destinations to know when booking your next trip.

Closer to home

Cornwall

x
Penzance, Cornwall (Unsplash)

With stunning beaches and a temperate climate, it’s no wonder we flock to Cornwall en masse at the first hint of summer - but it’s earned its eco-chops too. In 2019, the postcard-perfect Cornish town of Penzance became the first in Britain to receive a ‘plastic-free’ status by Surfer’s Against Sewage.

Where to stay: There’s a slew of ultra-luxury eco hotels to pick from in Cornwall. How about The Scarlet, with its reed-filtered fresh water pool? Or Carbis Bay, which won the AA Eco Hotel of the Year in 2019? Perhaps it’s best to extend your stay and opt for both.

Scotland

x
Kilchurn Castle, Scotland (Unsplash)

One of the first nations to sign up to Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency - a 2020 initiative encouraging the tourism sector to reduce carbon emissions - Scotland already has a long list of eco-credentials. Isle of Eigg went off-grid in 2008, using just solar, wind and hydro energy, and Scotland also has a Green Tourism certification scheme to encourage eco-friendly accommodation.

Where to stay: Nestled in a remote part of the Highland hillside, Eagle Brae is a collection of cabins made from giant cedar wood logs. Offering largely carbon-neutral holidays, it has its own micro-hydro scheme that provides electricity and hot water to all of its cabins.

A train ride away

Portugal

x
Porto, Portugal (Unsplash)

With enticing cities and swathes of stunning coastline, Portugal draws us back year after year. What makes the western European nation even more appealing is that it’s committed to making sure that 90% of its tourism businesses follow sustainable rules governing waste, water and energy use by 2027.

Where to stay: The Six Senses outpost in the sun-washed Duoro Valley has pledged to improve the ecological and carbon footprint from all activities associated with the hotel and spa - plus it has an ‘Earth Lab’ where guests can learn about forest restoration and community development happening nearby.

Sweden

x
Södermalm in Stockholm, Sweden (Unsplash)

Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg claims the top spot for the Global Destinations Sustainability Index and it was also named the best sustainable city stay by Lonely Planet for 2021 too. This is largely thanks to its abundance of locally-sourced foodie offerings and the fact that 97% of its public transport runs on renewable energy.

Where to stay: Pick almost any hotel in Gothenburg and you’ll be doing the planet a favour - a whopping 95% of the city’s hotels are eco-friendly. The regal Hotel Pigalle is a decadent option for the conscious traveller.

Read more: This is the world’s safest airline for 2021

Slovenia

x
Lake Bled, Slovenia (Unsplash)

Named the world’s most sustainable country by National Geographic Traveller in 2017, Slovenia is the Central European nation that often flies under the radar. Its eco-credentials include the capital Ljubljana being anointed Europe’s Greenest Capital in 2016 by the EU and that was the year Slovenia also became the world’s first ‘Green’ country.

Where to stay: It’s best to consult the Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism, designed by the Slovenian tourist board, for the best eco-friendly spots. Our picks include Hotel St. Daniel Štanjel and the fairytale-esque ALPIK Chalets.

Greece

x
Santorini, Greece (Unsplash)

One of our favourite summer destinations, it may take a longer train journey to get to Greece but it’s not impossible (and think of the lovely countries you will pass through on the way). The hundreds of offshore islands are renowned for promoting local fare and, over the last decade, it has increased its organic food production by 51% - so much so that Lonely Planet named Greece its top sustainable food destination for 2021.

Where to stay: The beachfront Coco-Mat Eco Residences in Serifos followed bioclimatic architecture principles when designed, meaning there is natural air conditioning and rooms are light-filled.

Worth the flight

Costa Rica

x
A toucan in Costa Rica (Unsplash)

Well on its way to becoming the world's first carbon neutral country, Costa Rica is already one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world. More than a quarter of the nation is protected as parks and reserves and 80% of its Osa Peninsula is protected too, where travellers can discover 2.5% of the Earth’s biodiversity.

Where to stay: 1,000 acres of the Osa Peninsula is protected by Lapa Rios - a luxury eco lodge. Here, macaws, sloths, toucans and monkeys are frequent visitors.

The Azores

x
Azores, Portugal (Unsplash)

These islands off the coast of Portugal saw a spike in travellers when they were added to the UK’s (now scrapped) travel corridors list.

“The Portuguese islands of the Azores are an excellent destination for travellers looking for green space, with sustainability in mind,” Sam Edwards, sustainability lead at Skyscanner says.

“The islands have made a big investment in renewable energy resources, as well as marine conservation, meaning there’s loads of things to do. Things like whale watching, protected hiking trails, and wildlife reserves.”

Where to stay: As its moniker suggests, the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort was largely built with natural materials like cryptomeria (local wood), cork and bamboo and it’s in the process of developing a farming project to offer farm-to-table dining.

Read more: Experts reveal the best time to book your 2021 holiday (and where to go)

Palau

x
Islands in Palau (Getty)

A tiny nation in the Pacific Ocean, Palau is made up of over 500 islands. Fittingly, Lonely Planet named it the best sustainable islands for 2021 after the country spent that last decade installing measures to protect its rich biodiversity and endemic wildlife. Over 80% of its maritime territory is a marine reserve and it was also the first country to ban reef-toxic sunscreen.

Where to stay: A primary supporter of the aforementioned biodiversity protection initiative, Palau Pacific Resort also has solar power generation in place, a programme to transplant baby giant clams and a pledge for none of its buildings to be taller than a coconut tree in order to preserve its surroundings.

Namibia

x
Pontok Mountains in the Spitzkoppe Nature Reserve, Namibia (Getty)

Often bypassed for neighbouring tourist favourites Botswana and South Africa, Namibia has come into its own in recent years. Responsible Travel says: “Namibia, on the whole, has done tourism ‘right’. It has become a force for conservation - of fragile habitats, highly endangered wildlife and cultural traditions.”

Where to stay: Grootberg Lodge was named the best sustainable accommodation for 2021 by Lonely Planet, which cited that the low-impact lodge is helping to preserve lion and black rhino populations through community empowerment.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter

Watch: Why Britons will get an extra bank holiday in 2022