Travellers can add value to their tourism expenses by supporting travel destinations with strong records for environmental stewardship and human rights. But sourcing this information can be difficult. To address this need, the nonprofit Ethical Traveler releases an annual list of countries that are doing the most to promote human rights, preserve their environments and support social welfare -- all while fostering a lively, community-based tourism industry.

Every year, the California-based organization reviews policies and practices in the developing world to select its top 10.

“By visiting these countries, we can use our economic leverage to reward good works and support best practices,” says the report.

Selection criteria:

A research team first conducts a survey of developing nations—from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe—to identify the best travel and tourism destinations, focusing primarily on environmental protection, social welfare and human rights, past and present. For the second time in this year’s analysis, animal welfare was also considered. Using publicly available data, these countries are rated. Each country selected also offers the opportunity to experience “unspoiled natural beauty, and to interact with local people and cultures in a meaningful, mutually enriching way.”

Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga are this year’s new entries to the list. Seven of this year’s 10 countries are island nations, “indicating a trend in our winners’ circle,” says the report. “Climate change affects the islands dramatically, so they tend to be very aware of the importance of effective environmental policies.”

Here, in alphabetical order, are the countries selected as the Top 10 ethical travel destinations:

1. Cape Verde

A repeat winner, this group of 17 formerly Portuguese islands off Senegal in West Africa is known for its nesting loggerhead turtles, an endangered species.

Cape Verde scored highly when it came to assessing citizens’ civil and political rights and ranked highly on the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index as it offers a wide array of social welfare based programs.

2. Chile

Chile’s government was the first government in South America to sign a pledge to introduce carbon taxes by 2018. Out of the 10 countries included in the list, Chile scored the most points when it came to protecting the environment.

3. Dominica

This small Caribbean nation, hosts of the famous Carneval, claims its natural beauty is “almost as untouched as the day Columbus arrived here.” Dominica opposes commercial whaling and received high marks for its commitment to animal welfare and innovative plans to invest in clean, renewable, energy sources.

4. Lithuania

Lithuania, officially the Republic of Lithuania, is a country in Northern Europe, one of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. Lithuania ranked the highest on the United Nation’s Human Development Index. An impressive 22% of Lithuania’s energy is renewable, so Lithuania is well on their way to achieve their goal of having 23% of their energy coming from renewable sources by 2020.

5. Mauritius

Another repeater, this island nation off the coast of East Africa offers stunning biodiversity, including 300 species of flowering plants. Mauritius offers a variety of social services and is currently the only African nation to provide income security programs for citizens over the age of 60. Mauritius’ government had also planned to plant 200,000 trees by the end of 2014.

6. Palau

Palau, officially the Republic of Palau, is an island country located in the western Pacific Ocean. It is geographically part of the larger island group of Micronesia. The Small Islands Developing States Network, awarded Palau with an environmental star for its work to preserve both marine and land based eco systems.

7. Samoa

The Samoan government recently invested 1 million dollars into a new project which aims to increase biodiversity and combat the effects of climate change.

8. Tonga

The Tongan government has pledged to reduce diesel consumption by 50% by 2020 and has plans to introduce organic farming, on the island of Ha’aapai, in 2015. If successful, the government plans to introduce organic farms to the rest of its islands.

9. Uruguay

Tourists who visit the Colonia del Sacramento, which is one of the oldest towns in Uruguay and a World Heritage Site, can tour the town by electric car. Uruguay’s government also has plans to introduce electric taxis and buses in 2015.

10. Vanuatu

Vanuatu, which comprises over 80 islands, has passed multiple land reform acts, which have been designed to protect the rights and welfare of its indigenous citizens.

This year’s report also notes: “Sadly, no developing Asian country qualified this year; all betrayed too many human rights abuses, and showed too little movement toward sustainability.”

The report also noted even the winning nations face serious challenges that must be addressed to continue moving forward.

Additionally, five “Destinations of Interest for 2015″ were called out by Ethical Traveler, with this explanation: “Though these countries are not yet considered ethical destinations, open-minded travelers can learn much by visiting them. We believe it’s sometimes essential to step behind the ‘media curtain’ and inform oneself about controversial places through direct contact with local people. Nothing compares to witnessing firsthand the dynamic processes of social and political change.”

These five countries are Cuba, Ghana, Grenada, Malawi, and Madagascar.

Responses (3)