Ecotourism spots that are closer than you think

Mary Kate Miller
September 13, 2017
14 min read
Photo credit:

Odds are that if you’re reading this, you could probably use a vacation.

Americans don’t take as many vacations as they should and the numbers have been dropping in recent years. It’s more than just feeling exhausted and overworked, vacations have been scientifically linked to benefitting your health both physically and mentally — from lowering blood pressure to reducing stress levels.

But what if you could take a vacation that wasn’t just good for you, but good for the planet as well? Ecotourism, which is tourism specifically targeted at supporting conservation and wildlife in an effort to improve the lives of the people who live in the region, is a burgeoning section of the tourism industry. It allows you the benefits of R&R while benefitting the region you’re visiting.

You might have heard about ecotourism in Africa and other locations where the danger to wildlife has been highly publicized, but thanks to a growing commitment to making travel greener, you no longer have to get your passport stamped to experience ecotourism. There are opportunities right here in the United States, in cities like Portland, Austin, New York, and D.C.


Portland Bridge with a Cat in Bike Basket

Portland has long had a reputation for being a destination for friends of the environment. Cultural touchstones depicting the city are ripe with that “crunchy granola” vibe (think: Portlandia), and now, it’s not just an eco-friendly city to live in, it’s also an eco-friendly place to visit. First, let’s talk lodgings. If you’re looking for somewhere green to stay in the Portland area, The Oregon Bed and Breakfast Guild has a green certification program. If you’re looking for a place to redeem your reward points, these major chains are doing a bang up job of implementing more sustainable practices: Hilton, Kimpton, and Starwood.

You can save on fuel emissions by renting a hybrid car, or you can eliminate them altogether by opting to see the city on a bicycle. Portland is one of the most cycle-friendly cities in the U.S. You can finding bike sharing easily here with over 1,000 Biketown locations and getting around is easy with plenty of bike lanes in the downtown areas. One of the must-pedal places in Portland is Tilikum Crossing, also known as “the people’s bridge.” It’s a bridge that is closed to cars and only open to pedestrians and cyclists.


The Little Cafe Food Truck - Austin TX

Austin might be located in the sprawling state of Texas, but if you’re headed here for a visit, it’s possible to enjoy the city’s offering without a car – most of the city’s sights are localized around Austin’s core.

A trip to Austin is walkable, and if you’re not into adding extra mileage to your sneakers, there are plenty of public transportation options to get you around with reduced carbon emissions. Several of Austin’s Metro buses are powered by propane and a few of them are even hybrids.

Austin is ranked among the country’s greenest cities, and the city prides itself on its sustainable initiatives. For example, Austin leads the country in energy conservation programs and wind power.

There are a number of eco-friendly shops in Austin to check out, including Raven + Lily, which is a great sustainability-minded shop focused on women’s apparel and accessories. If you want to pamper yourself a bit, swing by Sabia spa, an organic spa in central Austin.

If all this wasn’t reason enough to visit Austin: Think of the food. It wouldn’t be a trip to Austin without swinging by a food truck. Arlo’s serves delicious, plant-based comfort food, and the company is committed to sourcing local, organic ingredients. Yum.

New York

Central Park, New York City
New York

For a city home to 8.5 million people, New York City is shockingly green. When you think about it, it kind of makes sense, given that with so many people living in close proximity, you have to support sustainability.

New York has one of the best public transit systems in the country, but the best way to see the city is often on the sidewalks. There’s no better way to rack up steps on your FitBit, one of Swell’s Healthy Living holdings, than by going carbon-emissions-free and seeing the city on foot.

Central Park is pretty much the original public city green space, and you have to see it if you’re visiting New York. Enter the park via Central Park West to visit Sheep Meadow (it’s the part of the park you always see featured in movies, with the city skyline gleaming above the trees). You can grab a bite at Le Pain Quotidien, which is right on the northwest edge of the Meadow, for some healthy, sustainability-minded bites.

Of course, Central Park isn’t the only green space in New York. The High is essentially a large scale upcycling project. The city took elevated train rails and converted them into a spectacular public park. Once you’re downtown, swing by ABC Kitchen, the ever-glam staple, for some organic, locally sourced fare.

Washington D.C.

Washington DC - White House Lawn
Washington DC

Have you been having a difficult time deciding whether you should travel to a National Park or a city? If so, then Washington D.C. is the ideal destination for you.

The city, which was designed to be filled with green spaces, has a staggering 70% of its land designated as belonging to the National Park Service. You can stroll the grounds surrounding the Washington Monument, and traipse down the National Mall — with so many museums to choose from that the only limitation you’ll find is time. Plus, you get to soak up all that American history.

Want to see D.C. in spectacular fashion? Treat yourself to the Monuments by Night tour. You climb aboard an all-electric Red Roadster and tour the National Mall, and enjoy the view of the well-lit monuments, Capitol Hill, and The White House in the moonlight.

With cities making strides toward more sustainable practices, the options for ecotourism are only expanding.

Ready to make an impact?
STart investing