Walk on the Green Side

Challenge picks five ways you can travel to connect with nature.
If you totally want to cut your carbon footprint, never ever step on a plane again. But if you can’t do that, dismay not: you can still travel with a clear conscience by going to places that promote sustainable development and tourism. While the concept of eco-travel has taken off in a big way since the United Nations named 2002 as the Year of Ecotourism, beware of companies’ “greenwashed” tours that are eco-friendly in name and little else. Here are some places and programmes we think you might like.

Return to Eden

Photo: Eden Project

An intriguing mix of tourist attraction, educational charity and social enterprise, the Eden Project in Cornwall, United Kingdom, was built out of a 160-year-old disused clay pit, and then transformed into a garden paradise. All year, landscapes across the globe from Mediterranean to rainforest are displayed, complementing the natural beauty of Cornwall just beyond the Eden Project’s walls. Over a million plants from different climates have been planted in the biggest conservatory on Earth to show visitors how plants are part of a wider ecosystem that benefits humans. Music events, workshops and kid-friendly activities are regularly held at the Eden Project, ensuring something for everyone.

Entrance fee to the Eden Project £19.80 (approx. S$39) for a single adult when booked online, £18 (approx. S$35) at the door if you walk, cycle or take public transport. www.edenproject.com.

See Nature’s Best

Photo: Steffan Widstrand

With larger populations of European brown bears, moose, wolves, wolverines, lynxes and Arctic foxes than most of Europe, Sweden is a treasure trove of wildlife. It also possesses some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, no matter which season you go. Visitors are spoilt for choice to get close to nature – you can drive reindeer sleighs with indigenous Sami herdsmen through the snow, or go on horse riding expeditions through the mountains. Sweden’s quality label for ecotourism, Nature’s Best, has a stringent qualifying process that assures travellers of their tour operator’s green credentials.

For a list of approved operators, go to www.naturesbestsweden.com.

Leap into the Deep

Photo: www.responsibletravel.com

Adventure holidays for the family can be green too. Away from the bustle of Japan’s major cities are hidden gems just waiting to be explored, and what better way to navigate the rivers than through canyoning, where you get the chance to abseil or jump down waterfalls, float down natural chutes and swim through crystal clear pools. Participants of Responsible Travel’s canyoning tours in the town of Minakami in Gunma prefecture are all briefed on the importance of the ecosystem, the environment the tour is set in, and how they can make a difference. Visitors are also highly encouraged to enjoy meals and accommodation locally. As far as possible, the entire organisation process is carbon-efficient, including offset practices like the operator planting three trees for every vehicle ride that takes you to the canyoning site.

Prices per person for half a day at Fox Canyon are 8,000 yen (approx. S$130) and more for full-day or other circuits. www.responsibletravel.com.

Find your Shangri-La

Photo: X-Trekkers

Long considered a trekker’s paradise, Shangri-La in Yunnan, China, boasts outstanding views and surprisingly diverse micro-ecosystems. As part of the community-based nature of the trekking programme by Singapore-based operator X-Trekkers, local villagers are engaged as guides along well-maintained hiking paths used by the indigenous Naxi people for decades. The route will bring you from the city of Lijiang to sights such as the Tiger Leaping Gorge, as well as a nomadic cattle settlement in the high plains of Shangri-La. Visitors will also visit local families for an intimate glimpse into the lives of people in this frontier region.

From S$1,180 per person for an 11-day tour, airfare not included. www.x-trekkers.com.

Oh Shoot!

nov2011-greenside-05 (1)
Photo: William Chua

Support low impact travel with Singapore-based operator Adventure Quests’s Take Only Pictures travel photography workshop in Bhutan. Each year, endangered black-necked cranes flock to the Phobjikha Valley during the winter migration season. With only 3,900 black-necked cranes left in the wild, serious efforts have been made to ensure their numbers do not dwindle any further. The local community has implemented measures such as having no telephones, so no telecommunication lines can injure the cranes that are revered as heavenly birds (Ihab-bja). Contribute to conservation efforts by taking part in this workshop – some of the pictures that you capture of these elegant birds will be donated to Bhutan’s Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) and the International Crane Foundation (ICF). A photography session with local schoolchildren (pictured) will also be held as part of the trip so these children will have one more keepsake of their childhood as cameras are a luxury item in Bhutan.

S$4,500 per adult for a 9-day tour on twin-sharing basis, airfare not included. www.adventure-quests.com.

    Nov 8, 2011
    Abigail Kang
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