We’ve been wanting to write a post that will get our readers in the mood for summer eco-travel, but it’s bad business to send people to countries that are bubbling with underlying trouble. Here’s the kind of letter we’re expressly trying to avoid: “Your writers recommended that we visit Egypt to sample biomimicry tours or Fayoum’s gorgeous new eco-haven but then we were harassed in Tahrir Square and abducted in Sinai. We’re dumping you!”
Of course, we would never recommend anything we wouldn’t do, and are heading to Egypt next week despite the ongoing uncertainty, but we decided to keep this post really safe by suggesting a visit to five countries that have options for the earth-conscious travelers and that, for now, are unlikely to erupt in mayhem. And we really hope to never eat those words.
Before we go any further, did you notice that we wrote trying to be eco-friendly in the title? What is that supposed to mean?
Essentially, if you’re coming from the US or Europe, don’t be surprised to find that there are no recycling bins outside your hotel rooms or earth-friendly shampoo in retail outlets. Instead, having a light footprint while traveling through the Middle East and North Africa requires critical thinking and often a little more effort than home.
Here are five countries that make it a little easier to connect with the earth without destroying it:
image credit: sand dunes, Shutterstock
Technically-speaking, Oman is located in SW Asia on the Arabian Peninsula. But it’s a Sultanate, an Arab-speaking country, and lies within our realm of concern. It is also one of the most beautiful countries in the region, having retained so much more of the slow desert pace than its neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. There are 2,092 kilometers of shoreline, a central desert plain and rugged mountains in the north and south and 32 Marine and littoral protected areas ensure that these vast natural reserves are reasonably well protected. It is also one of the premier diving spots in the world, a little known fact in the west, with over 100 dive sites to choose from around Musandam alone. People are friendly and hospitable, it’s easy to obtain visas, and it is incredibly stable and peaceful.
image credit: people on camels, Morocco
Although Morocco doesn’t have a pristine human rights record and activists constantly call attention to corruption, somehow King Mohamed VI has managed to quell any would-be riots. Which means that tourists can travel without fear by bus and train to most locations, ensuring a lighter footprint than that of cars and planes, to resplendent locations that boast the nation’s rich cultural and natural heritage. There are eco-lodges galore, including one that looks like a castle, vegetarian restaurants, local crafts, and outdoor activities that draw scores of French and Spanish tourists from across the Mediterranean each year. If you haven’t hiked to the top of Mt. Toubkal, slept under the stars in the Sahara, or sampled the ubiquitous tagine, this summer is as good a time as any.
image credit: Dead Sea in Jordan by Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock.com
King Abdullah II of Jordan has not been immune to the Arab Spring uprisings, nor has the country escaped rigorous anti-nuclear activism that has finally paid off, but the country is a reasonably-peaceful place to visit and there are an increasing number of activities for the earth-hearted traveler. In addition to Petra and Wadi Rum, new areas of the small country are getting attention too. Laurie recently wrote about Freewheeling with Wild Jordan – the business arm of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) which has eco-tourism facilities in four protected areas: Dana Biosphere, Azraq Wetland, Mujib Nature Reserve, and Ajloun Forest. Public transportation is somewhat limited, but available for those who are persistent.
image credit: Star Wars set in Tunisia, Shutterstock
Tunisia is new on our list of favorite countries to visit. Albeit the catalyst for the Arab Spring uprisings, this charming Mediterranean country has eased into its new democracy relatively peacefully. Occasionally there are small protests on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main road in downtown Tunis, and social inequities abound, but it’s a rising nation that does boast a small selection of earth-friendly attractions (in addition to a host of pressing ills). For a beautiful place to stay, try the DAR HI eco-retreat in southern Tunisia designed by Matali Crasset, and not far from there, a visit to the Matmata troglodytes are an illuminating experience (especially if undertaken at times when the tourist rush has either yet to fire up or has already simmered for the day.)
image credit: Hiking in Israel, Shutterstock
Of all these countries, Israel is probably the greenest. And, it is also probably one of the safest despite the impression of relentless violence that mot media outlets portray. Although political drama abounds, mostly it is restricted to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and even then, visitors are usually perfectly safe traveling through all of the areas that are open to them. The heavy security may be off-putting, but unless you’re actively seeking ways to get involved, it is surprisingly easy to take a break from current events. We recently reviewed a handy DIY guide to Tel Aviv that points out many of the green options available in the city, including where to eat and sleep, and there are numerous hiking opportunities as well. During summer months, it’s probably more comfortable to hike in the mountains up north, although it isn’t unknown to set out on early morning trips in the Negev or along the Dead Sea.
Happy Summer Green Prophet readers. Stay safe, stay hydrated and most of all, stay green!
Lead image: Nizwa Fort, Shutterstock