The Top Ten Ethical Travel Destinations

By Abi King | Responsible Travel

Jan 25

costarica-toucan-CR66 - costa rica -top ten ethical travel destinations

When it comes to “Top Ten” lists, I find them fun but I never take them seriously. Some, such as “The Top Ten Spanish Swear Words” were clearly meant to be taken that way, but the “Ten Friendliest Places in the World” and “Ten Happiest Countries.” Well, I take them with a pinch of salt. Or, in 21st century language, I click “move to junk.”

The World’s Best Ethical Destinations

So when an email landed in my ludicrously overpopulated inbox with the subject “The Top Ten Ethical Destinations,” my cynical old heart sank a little. Why? Because this was something that I really wanted to believe someone had put some thought into, that this might actually be something that “meant” something.

But a lifetime’s digital flotsam and jetsam prepared me for the worst.

In spite of myself, I opened it.

It started with a pleasant surprise (addressed by name! spelled correctly!) and then quickly moved on:

“Ethical Traveler conducts an annual study of developing nations from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe to identify the best ethical tourism destinations. The group focuses on three general categories: environmental protection, social welfare, and human rights.”

Sounds good. What’s your evidence base?

It was around this point that my cynicism began to weaken: UNICEF, Amnesty International, The World Bank – and the list certainly didn’t end there. Even the quote had a sense of perspective and reality:

“Clearly, the idea of naming the 10 ‘best’ developing countries has its perils. No country in the world is perfect. All the places on our list have both strengths and weaknesses. Still these are the best of the best.”

Are you dodging the hard questions?

“Suriname was removed from our list after the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged Suriname to ensure legal acknowledgment of the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples. We remove Suriname with regret, as the country had conquered a place in last year’s Top 10 due to its unspoiled rainforest biodiversity and sincere efforts towards ecotourism and environmental preservation.”

So, everything’s perfect in The Top Ten?

“None of the countries on this year’s Ethical Destinations list is perfect, and four countries must include special caveats. In Barbados and Dominica, homosexuality remains criminalized. Normally this is a deal-breaker for us, but the laws do not appear to be zealously enforced. We sincerely hope that our vote of confidence will persuade these country’s leaders to repeal these backward laws. Latvia, Lithuania and Poland should do more to prevent discrimination against ethnic and sexual minorities while Costa Rica, Argentina, and Barbados have to step up their efforts even further to halt sex trafficking.”

Uhh…This sounds really useful then

The even better news was learning that this annual reports comes from a non-profit organisation called Ethical Traveler, a set-up that calls travellers to “vote with their wings.” Travel and tourism is the world’s largest industry and Ethical Traveler urges people “to use their economic power to address our planet’s urgent environmental and humanitarian problems.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The Top Ten Ethical Destinations For Travellers in 2011

In no particular order…



Read more about Barbados.


Lavender tinged cocktails in Riga Latvia via @insidetravellabRead more about Latvia


Photos of Krakow in the snow003

Read more about Poland



Read more about Chile


costarica-toucan-CR66 - costa rica -top ten ethical travel destinations

Costa Rica – Photo via Ethical Traveler



Iguazu Falls Brazil & Argentina

Read more about Argentina here


Dominica Top Ten Ethical Travel Destinations 2011

Dominica – Photo via Ethical Traveler

Sorry everyone! I haven’t been to the rest of the places on the list…yet! Watch this blog though…


Lithuania - Top Ten Ethical Travel Destinations 2011

Lithuania – Photo via Ethical Traveler


Palau Top Ten Ethical Travel Destinations

Palau – Photo via Ethical Traveler


Uruguay Top Ten Ethical Destinations Man in Field

Uruguay – Photo via Ethical Traveler

So there you have it, the Top Ten Ethical Travel Destinations of 2011. Sometimes it’s good to open every email…

To find out more about Ethical Traveler, the work they do and how you can get involved:

Visit their website:

Follow them on Facebook:

Follow them on twitter: @ethical_travel

Other than that: Travel to These Top Ten Ethical Destinations!


About the Author

Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!

  • Interesting, I wish I had the time to look into it more deeply, re human rights, child labour, protection of the environment etc in each country.

  • Laura says:

    The mountain in the photo from Chile is actually on the border between Argentina and Chile.

  • Costa Rica says:

    It’s great to see an article on ethical travel choices. I live part of the year in Costa Rica, and know that the country prides itself on nature and maintaining the natural habitats of many of the words endangered species. Great read!

  • Andrea says:

    Glad to see four of the places we will travel to on the list!

  • Linda says:

    I am glad to see Poland and Palau being listed here. They are on my bucket list to visit! I will also add some of your destinations to my bucket list. Thanks for sharing!

  • Abi says:

    @Fiona – I know what you mean. I’m always deeply suspicious of these lists but felt that this one went further than most.
    @Laura – Not sure which country you want to see more of:
    Argentina –
    Chile –
    @Costa Rica – would love to visit you!
    @Andrea – Enjoy!
    @Linda – I’ve only been to Krakow in Poland but it was a fascinating place. As for Palau, I’ll have to add it to my list as well.

  • My cynical heart would’ve had a similar reaction when reading that email. But I’ll buy it… I’m just glad that there’s somebody out there doing this thing and I guess the least we can do is show that there is a demand for such an oversight.

    Glad to see that Argentina and Chile made it up there. We’re heading there this summer!

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