Guilt-Free Sojourns

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REUTERS / Mike Hutchings

Are some destinations more ethical than others? Can travelers make a difference in the environmental and human rights policies of the countries they visit?

Yes, according to Ethical Traveler, an independently staffed project of the public-interest nonprofit Earth Island Institute. In December Ethical Traveler released the 2010 version of its annual “The Developing World’s Best Ethical Destinations” report. The report identifies countries that are “serious about preserving their natural assets, promoting mindful travel, and building an economy in which local communities reap the benefits of tourist revenue.”

The 10 destinations selected for Ethical Traveler’s list also set positive examples in environmental protection, social welfare, and human rights. The report draws on data from organizations such as the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Amnesty International, the United Nations Development Programme, and UNICEF. The definition of developing (which includes low- and middle-income economies) is from the World Bank, which classifies economies according to gross national income per capita.

Four countries–Argentina, Chile, Namibia, and South Africa–are repeat “winners,” having been featured in Ethical Traveler’s 2008 report. South Africa and Namibia are increasingly involved in efforts to address climate change, while Argentina has made a commitment to achieving zero net deforestation. Chile, once associated with dictatorships, now receives the highest ratings for political rights and civil liberties.

The list also includes lesser-known destinations with a lot to offer. For example, the Republic of Seychelles has the highest percentage of protected land in the world–more than 50 percent. Suriname, a country often overshadowed by its larger, wealthier South American neighbors, has “unspoiled rainforest biodiversity and sincere efforts toward ecotourism and environmental preservation.”

Not a single Asian country made the list, due to “irresponsible development, human rights abuses, and a lack of strong environmental policy.” And here’s a shocker: Costa Rica, a country synonymous with ecotourism for many people, didn’t make the cut. Over the past few years, the country has developed sex tourism problems; child prostitution is increasingly widespread.

Ethical Traveler acknowledges that none of the countries on the list is perfect, and some have serious issues to combat. South Africa has a massive gap between rich and poor, even though the country’s commitment to sustainable development and community-based tourism earned it a spot on the list. Belize, Namibia, and Seychelles all still criminalize homosexuality, but made the list because the laws do not appear to be regularly enforced.

“Travelers are implicitly voting with their wallets when they choose to visit a place and spend their money there,” says Michael McColl, Ethical Traveler’s communications director. By choosing ethical destinations, travelers can support positive efforts and encourage the countries they visit to follow suit.

The 10 best ethical destinations in the developing world for 2010









South Africa


Annika S. Hipple is Ethical Traveler’s news editor. Ethical Traveler is a project of the nonprofit public-interest organization Earth Island Institute, which also publishes Earth Island Journal. This article is excerpted from the Spring 2010

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