It was a lot easier to pick out the best eco-friendly resorts and tours about five years ago, but thanks to Al Gore, the floodgates have opened and every major supplier is claiming to have gone green. In fact, Googling "ecotours" will return about 1,310,000 hits.
Some suppliers are legit, while others are little more than adventures with no education involved, so be sure to ask your agent whether the hotel in which you will be staying—or the operator with whom you will be touring—are certified.
As far as destinations go, the U.S. has a host of great ecotours, especially in California and Puerto Rico, but the leader in green tourism has to be Central and South America. Not to be forgotten, Mexico has also become a major player in recent years.
Perhaps Mexico's best-kept eco-secret is Los Cabos, at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula. On the surface, it's a great romantic getaway, but when you delve deeper into this region, you'll find an abundance of great ecotours to go along with your intimate vacation. Here, you can do everything from releasing newly hatched sea turtles into their natural habitat to viewing the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains at about 6,500 feet above ground level.
In South and Central America, you won't find any hidden eco-gems: They're all over the place. You can throw a stone in Latin America and it will probably land on an eco-destination. Green tourism can be found anywhere from Costa Rica to Ecuador to Belize. The region is filled with tours that consist of everything from touring underwater volcanoes to hiking in a rainforest to combing jungles.
But before you start your voyage, it's probably best to find out exactly what ecotourism and going green really means. Home-Based Travel Agent recently sat down with Guido Bauer, CEO of Green Hotel Certification, a company that offers hotels, agents and operators green tourism credentials. According to Bauer, although some travel companies use the term loosely to mean adventure travel, standards have been set to establish the definition of ecotourism. An ecotour, he says, is a small, individually guided tour that encourages conservation and preservation issues and teaches the tourists something about the nature and culture of the area they are visiting.
"The secret is going to be to differentiate those who are serious about the environment and those who just want to use the word 'green,'" says Bauer. "Recently, Coco Tours (www.cocotours.com), a major ground operator in the Dominican Republic, decided to commit to a Green Certification. Again, this will be a standard in the near future. A Green Certification will have the same decision factor as free wireless or free breakfast. Travelers are becoming more and more aware of green standards and will pick destinations, as well as hotels and ground services, by certification."