With travel becoming the world’s largest industry (exceeding the trillion-dollar mark), travellers now have the power to make great changes to developing nations – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe – by encouraging them to promote human rights, preserve environments and support social welfare. While all nations still have shortcomings, this list was created by Ethical Traveler for 2014, recognising those which have made a genuine effort to do the right thing.
No stranger to the diving and snorkelling world, Palau is home to one of the world’s most spectacular underwater landscapes which includes coral reefs, blue holes, wartime wrecks, vertical drop-offs and a plethora of caves and tunnels. Its underwater marine life is no less dramatic, ranging from giant clams that weigh a quarter of a tonne to thousands of stingless jellyfish that you can swim with at Jellyfish Lake. With just under 30% of its marine and terrestrial area protected, Palau also houses Micronesia’s richest terrestrial life, from exotic birds to crocodiles (in mangroves).
In addition, there are also WWII sites scattered throughout the islands. The Rock Islands are Palau’s crown jewel: comprising over 200 mushroom-shaped limestone islands carpeted in thick jungle, they dot the waters just southwest of Koror. Underwater, it’s home to some of the most abundant marine life in the world. Scuba divers head straight to Blue Corner (home to just about every type of marine life) and neighbouring Blue Holes (four holes that lead into a large cavern lit with an eerie blue glow from the surface).
Once the largest nation in Europe during its heyday, Lithuania played a big part during both World Wars thanks to its location between Russia (WWI) and Germany (WWII). Now part of the EU, this southernmost Baltic state has a unique historic heritage that encompasses religious sites (both pagan and Christian), medieval castles and military strongholds at Kaunas and Zarasai. Popular spots include the UNESCO-listed capital Vilnius (home to a rich architectural history), the seaside resort town of Palanga and the spa town of Druskininkai.
The remarkable Hill of Crosses (in Siauliai) is a pilgrimage site scattered with over 100,000 crosses placed here by the faithful. Lithuania is ideal for nature lovers: the sand dunes of Curionian Spit are best explored on a bicycle, while the Aukstaitija National Park is home to pine forests and countless lakes and streams, perfect for wildlife watching and water sports. The Labanoras Regional Park features swamps and rivers suitable for canoeing.
Tourism homesteads are a popular way to explore Lithuania’s countryside; each specialising in a specific theme (like hiking or culture), they vary from small B&Bs to mini resorts.
A classic beach destination, Mauritius is also lauded for its historic sights, cultural diversity and varied landscape. Mauritius is ideally positioned for game fishing (it’s possible to catch marlin and wahoo), and as it’s encircled by a barrier coral reef, diving is also popular especially around Flic en Flac in the west coast.
The northern (at Grand Bay and Port Louis) and western (Flic en Flac) portion are developed for tourism, but the southeast’s wind-battered cliffs have managed to keep major developments at bay.
From the sleepy market town of Mahebourg, you can access the pristine beaches of Blue Bay and Pointe d’Esny, as well as Ile aux Aigrettes, home to rare birds like the kestrel and pink pigeon.
In the hinterlands is the magnificent Black River Gorges National Park, home to endemic flora (like the dodo tree) and fauna (like the pink pigeon); the park is accessible via a network of hiking trails. With its gorges and waterfalls, the mountainous central plateau is also ideal for canyoning; Tamarin Falls and Chamarel Falls offer plenty of opportunities.
Located in the Caribbean, Dominica is very unlike its neighbouring islands. Known more for its spectacularly unspoiled forests than its beaches, it’s also the most mountainous island in the Lesser Antilles. It’s not a major cruise stop like its island neighbours, so it’s relatively free from package tourists. For a small island, getting around by road can take a while, especially when you’re bouncing across the hilly interior. Hiking remains a popular activity; the Waitukubuli National Trail is a 184km route that takes you through lush rainforest and steep mountain trails, while the Glassy hike (2-3 hours) takes you through farmland before plunging into a deep jungle valley and steep coastal cliffs.
The UNESCO-listed Morne Trois Pitons National Park is a must-visit, which is a volcanic area that’s home to the Valley of Desolation with its 50+ fumaroles and hot springs, including the famous Boiling Lake (a volcanic lake filled with bubbling water) that’s accessible via a steep 8-hour hike. Numerous waterfalls and gorges fill the park, including the twin Trafalgar Falls.
Wedged between Argentina and Brazil, about half the country’s population is crammed into the coastal area, leaving the interior dotted sparsely with farms and ranches. Bordering Argentina, Western Uruguay has everything from colonial towns to cowboy country, including the UNESCO-listed colonial town of Colonia del Sacramento (founded in 1680 by the Portuguese) with its quaint cobblestone streets and the hot spring region of Salto and Paysandu. The gaucho (cowboy) country of Tacuarembo further inland has estancias (ranches) sprinkled throughout the rural landscape. Here, you can try a ‘gaucho experience’ which includes horseback riding and ranch work in 100-year old estancias.
The eastern portion is all about beaches and lagoons that stretch from Montevideo to the Brazilian border, dotted with many beach resorts including Cabo Polonio (for whale watching), Punta del Este (for celebrity- watching) and the less pretentious Piriapolis, backed by small mountains. Further inland is the Eastern Biosphere Reserve, famous for its sheer variety of birdlife ranging from flamingoes and black-necked swans (in Lake Rocha) to rheas, harriers and Magellan penguins. As Uruguay means “river of colourful birds”, there’s no shortage of places for bird-watching countrywide.