After months of daydreaming about beaches and mountains from behind the computer at your desk job, the holidays are almost here. Taking time away from the daily grind and reconnecting with the outdoors is a great way to recuperate and head into the new year feeling refreshed.
Young people are already hyper-aware of the fact that they're inheriting a planet with major environmental issues, but they also travel more than any other generation. Ecotourism, or travel to more natural locations in a way that avoids harming the environment, is an appealing option for many young people planning trips this holiday season.
"Ecotourism tries not only to minimize the negative impact of travel but to maximize the positive impact," Ayako Ezaki of the International Ecotourism Society told Forbes. "We all know travel experiences are rewarding for people who take the trips. At the same time we try to give back to the destinations and the people who make these experiences possible."
Here are some of the most popular, and breathtaking, ecotourism locations travelers can visit to reconnect with nature over the holidays.
This small collection of islands in the western Pacific Ocean boasts some of the best scuba-diving, snorkeling and diving sites in the world. The region relies heavily on ecotourism as one of its main economic drivers, and, because of that, it's taken extensive measures to protect it's environment. In 2005, President Tommy E. Remengesau declared the conservation of 30% of near-shore coastal waters and 20% of forest land by 2020. The islands are also home to the first shark sanctuary in the world, a 600,000-square-kilometer area of protected space.
The fjords of Norway are one of the top five ecotourism locations in the world, according to the Independent Traveler. Western Norway has many easily accessible fjords and mountains where travelers can go caving, river-rafting or dog sledding, among other activities. Norway's strict environmental regulations have kept these natural habitats in tact for so many years. Norway has a system where tourist destinations can be environmentally certified, and the government strictly regulates fishing, hunting and oil industries to protect the environment.
This small country's motto is "pura vida," or pure life, and its tourist destinations live up to it. Large parts of the island are divided into national parks, reserves and protected areas for true nature lovers. Two of the more frequently visited ecotourism destinations include Tortuguero and the active Arenal volcano. In Tortuguero, visitors can go on turtle viewing tours or see crocodiles, manatees and other wildlife in the canals. The Arenal is one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world.
From walking on glaciers to whale-watching, Alaska has many natural wonders that tourists can experience in an environmentally-friendly way. Most of the state is made up of land protected by the federal government, be that in the form of a national park or a wildlife refuge. There are a number of guided trips and tours that help visitors navigate Alaska, varying from tame enough for families with kids of all ages to more extreme adventures. In the Gateway to the Arctic tour, visitors spend 10 days hiking through Alaska's national parks, mountain ranges and tundra. Along the way, participants also experience hot springs, meet with a trapper and swim in the Arctic Ocean.
Hiking among breathtaking snow-capped mountains from one country to another is the kind of ecotourism experience you can expect in this region. The Himalayas stretch from Pakistan across India into China, extending through parts in Nepal and Tibet as well. The most popular way to reach these mountains is from Nepal's capital in Kathmandu, but there are many places to access the trails in other countries as well. In the Everest Base Camp Trek tour, local guides take participants on a hike to the base camp of Mount Everest, letting them view the Khumbu Ice Fall up close. The trip takes visitors up to 18,000 feet in altitude to view Everest's summit.
Whether it's watching sea turtles on the beach or hiking up some of the world's most challenging mountains, taking a trip outside helps us fully disconnect from our busy lives and get back in touch with nature.
Correction: Nov. 24, 2015
An earlier version of this article referred to Costa Rica as an island. Costa Rica is a Central American country with two coastlines, but is not an island.