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Ecotourism and Protected areas

According to the UN Tourism's definition, ecotourism refers to forms of tourism which have the following characteristics:

  • All nature-based forms of tourism in which the main motivation of the tourists is the observation and appreciation of nature as well as the traditional cultures prevailing in natural areas.
  • It contains educational and interpretation features.
  • It is generally, but not exclusively organised by specialised tour operators for small groups. Service provider partners at the destinations tend to be small, locally owned businesses.
  • It minimises negative impacts upon the natural and socio-cultural environment.
  • Generating economic benefits for host communities, organisations and authorities managing natural areas with conservation purposes;
  • Providing alternative employment and income opportunities for local communities;
  • Increasing awareness towards the conservation of natural and cultural assets, both among locals and tourists.

Source: The British Ecotourism Market, UNWTO 2002

UN Tourism has been involved in the field of ecotourism since the early 1990s and developed a set of guidelines focusing on the strong link between protected area and tourism, with the aim of ensuring that tourism contributes to the purposes of protected areas and does not undermine them.

In the framework of the UN-declared International Year of Ecotourism (IYE) 2002, UN Tourism undertook a wide range of activities, including the organization of regional conferences and the World Ecotourism Summit , and published guidelines and methodologies for ecotourism development and market studies, as well as supported regional and national activities.

At the request of the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Tourism prepared a report on the activities undertaken by States and major international organizations in the framework of the International Year of Ecotourism . Also UN Tourism prepared a series of market reports to increase the knowledge of seven important countries considered “Ecotourism generating markets”.

Tourism Teacher

What is nature tourism and why is it so popular?

Disclaimer: Some posts on Tourism Teacher may contain affiliate links. If you appreciate this content, you can show your support by making a purchase through these links or by buying me a coffee . Thank you for your support!

Nature tourism is a fantastic type of tourism and it is on the rise! But what is it and why is it so popular? Read on to learn more…

What is nature tourism?

Why is nature tourism important, what is the difference between nature tourism and ecotourism, types of nature tourism, bird watching, scuba diving, scenic driving, bush walking, visiting parks, fishing , cycling , nature tours, nature tourism- further reading.

nature based tourism destinations

Nature tourism is all about visiting natural areas and is closed aligned with the concept of rural tourism . Places that nature tourists might visit include might include beaches, forests or national parks. Activities focus on the natural environment rather than visiting man-mad features; think stargazing and hiking, for example. There are locations right across the globe which are perfect for nature tourism.

The CBI (Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries) in the Netherlands define nature tourism as follows:

Nature tourism, also called nature-based tourism, is tourism based on the natural attractions of an area. It consists of responsible travel to experience natural areas and their landscape, flora and fauna, protecting the environment and improving the quality of life of locals.

Nature tourism is important as it allows people to see and appreciate the beauty of our natural environment. Through this kind of tourism, we are able to escape the pollution and pressures of city life – it is good for our physical and mental wellbeing to be out in nature, breathing in fresh air and seeing lush greenery or sparkly blue seas. Nature tourism also encourages visitors to take an interest in the natural environment, which may then translate to them making a more conscious effort where environmental issues are concerned. With climate change being an ever-present and ongoing issue, this is definitely a good thing.

Following on from this, nature tourism gives land owners, local communities and local governments more reason to preserve and take care of natural areas. If they know people will come to visit, it is in their best interest to look after these places and is a great incentive for developing their sustainable tourism provision. Visiting tourists can do wonders for local community pride this way.

As with all tourism, nature tourism brings in money . This economic boost trickles down through a whole community; people need places to stay, and food to eat, and they want to buy souvenirs. Hikers may need to buy replacement walking boots, and weary explorers will always need somewhere to rest their heads at night. Jobs are created and economies are boosted through natural tourism, in the surrounding areas of the specific locations too.

Is nature tourism different from ecotourism? Put simply, yes. They are very similar, but ecotourism is perhaps a more specialised branch of nature tourism if we were looking to clearly define the difference in some way. Nature tourism is about visiting an area – responsibly, yes – rather than actively aiming to learn about the environment and participating in its protection. A nature tourist might visit a beach and admire its beauty, while an ecotourist might join in with a beach clean-up. The lines are blurred, of course, as they so often are when we try to differentiate between types of tourism .

nature based tourism destinations

There are different types of nature tourism. This is where we will see similarities with another kind of tourism: adventure tourism. You can read all about adventure tourism here if you’re interested! However, the similarity is that both can be split into two ‘types’: hard and soft.

Soft nature tourism might involve bird watching, visiting a beach to sunbathe, gentle walks through country parks and so on. Hard nature tourism is a bit more tough going: mountain climbing, bush walking and scuba diving, for example. Below I’ll go into some of these specific examples, so you can see how diverse nature tourism is!

Nature tourism examples

There are many examples of nature tourism to be found. Keep reading to see what they are, and whether they fall into the hard or soft category.

Bird watching is an example of soft nature tourism. People of all ages and abilities can do this, with or without a guide. You just need some background knowledge of bird species (or a book explaining them) and perhaps some binoculars. the Gambia is a hotspot for bird watching!

This is more of an example of hard nature tourism. It’s much more adventurous, and requires specialist equipment and a guide or a lot of training/experience. Head under the water to see what kind of nature is on display down there: coral, fish, shells and so much more. It’s subjective, but Barracuda Point in Malaysia is apparently the most beautiful place in the world to scuba dive… and I am a big fan of diving in Dahab , Egypt too!

This is another ‘soft’ activity in that it is low-risk and doesn’t require physical exertion. The North Coast 500 in Scotland is an example of a famous scenic drive – this is a great way to experience nature. From rolling hills to winding rivers, there is so much to see out of the window from the comfort of your car. Another fantastic example is the Kings Highway in Jordan , where you will see endless desert, canyons and incredible rock formations.

Camping is, again, an example of soft nature tourism. While it’s a little more ‘involved’ than scenic driving, for example, it is still relatively low risk and most of us are able to participate. Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand is said to be one of the most beautiful places in the world to camp, with its green landscapes and snowy mountain scenery. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro gives you some fantastic camping opportunities too- just make sure you buy the best wild camping tent !

nature based tourism destinations

While controversial, hunting tourism is an example of nature tourism as it takes place in natural spaces. It is definitely one for the hard category, as you need special equipment to do so and it can obviously be quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. It is also often a discussion point for ethical tourism .

For the most part, this is a very safe activity and therefore falls into the soft category again. Guided tours are available in all of the very best stargazing locations, such as El Teide National Park in Tenerife, and it has even spawned its own branch of tourism. This is known as dark sky tourism, and there are many examples of activities that fall within this. They include stargazing, of course, alongside seeing the Northern Lights, watching an eclipse, astronomy tours and staying in accommodations that offer a clear view of the night sky such as glass domes.

nature based tourism destinations

This can be dangerous in that it is all about going off the beaten track, and walking through bushes/on rough ground. Therefore we can categorise this as hard nature tourism; it is something you would do when hiking, and gives you a bit of an adrenaline kick!

One of the easiest and most common forms of nature tourism is simply visiting a park. Whether this is a UK national park or your local green space at home, visiting a park is a definite example of this type of tourism. You’ll see birds, insects, flowers, trees, grass and more. Have a leisurely stroll, cycle through or sit and eat a picnic surrounded by nature.

Fishing falls in the middle of the soft and hard categories. You do need specialist equipment, but with most types of fishing there is little to no risk to life involved. But you need to be in nature – by or even on a lake or river – to do it, so it definitely counts as a form of nature tourism. People have obviously been fishing for years as a source of food gathering, but it is also a recreational hobby enjoyed by many.

This is another middle of the road activity. Kayaking can be dangerous, although it usually isn’t – you’ll often have a guide with you, and of course specialist equipment (the kayak) is required. It’s a really fun activity that many people enjoy!

You can visit a beach and simply do… nothing! This is still an example of nature tourism, as beaches are natural environments. Bali has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and tourists flock there to relax and soak up the sunshine. Beaches are also usually near to bars and restaurants, and you might find people doing beach yoga or watching the sunrise/sunset. Thailand even has all-night moonlight beach parties. They are versatile and beautiful locations!

Wellness tourism in Hawaii

Again, another activity that could be considered hard or soft. It depends where you go, really. A gentle bike ride along a specific cycle lane through a park is nothing like mountain biking in harsh terrains. It’s all about the level of ability you have and what risks you’re willing to take. But cycling is definitely a great way to get out and about in nature. It is also a low-cost and eco-friendly activity, which makes it a winner from many angles.

These tend to be a longer duration than many activities mentioned above, which you may do regularly but for a few hours at a time. Nature tours are days or even weeks-long trips, out into the wilderness with nature and wildlife experts. You might travel by air or train, or go on a cruise, and your guide will be on hand to point out every aspect of nature there is to see. These nature tours will take visitors to some of the most beautiful destinations on earth, such as trekking in Chiang Mai , Croatia, seeing the glaciers in Iceland and Alaska, and gazing at the best waterfalls in Finger Lakes . They’ll set you back a fair bit, but the memories you’ll make seeing bears and waterfalls and glorious sunsets will more than make up for it!

If you enjoyed this article, I am sure that you will love these too!

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  • Volunteer tourism: The reasons why people volunteer
  • What is adventure tourism and why is it so big?
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Passport & Pixels

Nature Vacations: 25 Amazing Places For An Outdoors Adventure

nature based tourism destinations

Written by BELLA FALK

Colobus monkeys, Uganda

Nature vacations are becoming more and more popular – especially since the pandemic, when social distancing and long walks in the countryside became a thing. And with the world’s population now topping a massive EIGHT BILLION people, it’s not surprising more and more of us are looking for a way to get away from the crowds!

Contents (click to view)

Fortunately, the planet is a big place, and there are still plenty of places to go on vacation where you can avoid other people and get back in touch with the natural world. In fact, there are so many opportunities for nature holidays, that choosing where to go can be a bit overwhelming.

Discovering the World’s Best Nature Vacations

To help narrow it down, I asked some top travel experts and travel bloggers to give me their best nature destinations. Then I added some of my own, and ended up with this list of 25 amazing places to take a nature vacation.

And in no particular order, here they are! Hopefully they’ll help inspire your next hiking, swimming, diving, or wildlife-spotting adventure!

If they do, I’ve helpfully popped a link in to take you to TourRadar , which is a great platform that collates some of the best small-group adventure and nature tours in the world, all in one place. TourRadar only works with reputable tour companies and has a 4.5-star rating on TrustPilot, so you know you’re in safe hands when searching for the best trips for outdoor lovers.

Nature vacations pinterest pin

1/ Antarctica and South Georgia

There’s a reason why the fabled seventh continent is right at the top of most people’s nature holiday bucket lists. With magical icy landscapes, brilliant blue glaciers the size of cathedrals, snowy hillsides teeming with thousands of Antarctic animals including 8 different species of penguins , dramatic seascapes full of whales and seals, endless wildlife photography opportunities , and the chance to try out adventure activities like sea kayaking or the legendary polar plunge , Antarctica is a nature-lover’s dream destination.

Yes it may be expensive to get there, but it’s worth every penny. You’ll need to book an expedition cruise and cross the dramatic Drake Passage, fabled to be the roughest stretch of sea in the world. But once you’re there, you’ll be able to set foot on the seventh continent – an opportunity few people get.

But if you’re going all that way, don’t stop at just Antarctica. Some expeditions take the long way round and go via the magical island of South Georgia . Lost in the vast Antarctic Ocean, 1000 miles from the nearest land, this incredible island is uninhabited by humans, allowing wildlife to flourish . There’s so much overwhelming biodiversity here that’s it’s known as the Galapagos of the south, and it will absolutely blow you away.

Explore holidays to Antarctica and South Georgia here

Photographing penguins at Gold Harbour, South Georgia

Whether summer or winter, Iceland will have you hooked. With towering glaciers , erupting volcanos, majestic waterfalls , steaming hot springs, black sand beaches , and miles upon miles of dramatic coastline, Iceland truly is the place for the nature holiday of a lifetime.

Rent a car and drive the circumference of the ring road, stopping every 5 minutes to marvel at yet another jawdropping vista. Stop to say hello to the Icelandic horses or to photograph yet another sweeping vista, and if you visit in winter there’s a good chance you’ll get to see the Northern Lights too. Meanwhile in summer there are almost endless hours of daylight and dramatic hiking trails to enjoy.

If you’re a nature lover and you haven’t been to Iceland yet, what are you waiting for?!

Start planning your Iceland adventure here

Iceland is bursting with dramatic landscapes that will delight any nature lover

Read more: 25 Spectacular Places To Visit For Travel Photography

3/ Tanzania

No list of nature destinations would be complete without at least one African safari (and actually there are three in here). If you love animals, conservation, and wildlife watching, then a visit to one of Africa’s many safari destinations is a must. After all, what better experience can there be than the chance to witness nature, red in tooth and claw: lions stalking impala across the savanna, hippos wallowing in watering holes, or elephants and giraffes grazing among the trees?

One of the best places to go on safari is Tanzania . It’s home to the world-famous Serengeti national park, where you’ll find lions, leopards, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, antelopes and more, as well as the famous Ngorongoro crater, home to one of the greatest concentrations of African animals anywhere on the continent. But on top of that, Tanzania is also home to world-class hiking opportunities, with the legendary Mount Kilimanjaro , highest peak in Africa, at the top of that list.

Read more: Climbing The 8 Days Lemosho Route On Kilimanjaro

But if that’s not enough, there’s also the volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai , and the flamingo-packed Lake Natron to tempt you. That’s why, when people ask if they should go to Tanzania or Kenya , for many people, Tanzania is the clear winner.

Check out a range of Tanzania adventure packages here

Cheetah in the Serengeti, Tanzania

Less celebrated than Tanzania, but no less great for a wildlife vacation, is Uganda. With lush rolling green landscapes and ten national parks, you won’t be short of options for hiking or wildlife-spotting in Uganda . Most famous of all is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where you can go trekking to see critically-endangered mountain gorillas . But no less exciting is the chance to visit habituated chimpanzee families in Kibale National Park.

Read more: 28 Brilliant Things To Do In Uganda

Other opportunities to spend time in nature include walking with rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary , feeding the animals behind the scenes at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre , spotting tree-climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park, or visiting the dramatic Murchison Falls .

For those who prefer adventure, Uganda also offers an excellent choice of outdoor activities, from white-water rafting or kayaking at Jinja , the source of the River Nile, to hiking or rock climbing in the Sipi Falls region.

With so much to see and do, and at prices that are much more affordable than other parts of East Africa, I think Uganda really does offer the best nature getaways for safari or wildlife lovers .

Fancy Uganda? Search for trips and tours here

Uganda offers the chance to spend time with wild chimpanzees

5/ Guatemala

Guatemala is most well-known for its vibrant and photogenic culture , with pretty colonial architecture, buzzing markets , and kind and friendly people – but alongside all of that, this Central American country also offers plenty of opportunities for an off-the-beaten-track nature vacation.  

The Petén region, in the north of the country, is a vast expanse of tropical jungle, where ancient Maya temples emerge from the dense rainforest, and you’re almost guaranteed to spot wildlife including toucans, monkeys, coatis, and, if you’re lucky, the resplendent quetzal, national bird of Guatemala . There are jaguars here too, but they’re much harder to spot.

Read more: A Perfect Guatemala Itinerary In 10 Days, 2 Weeks Or 3 Weeks

Head west, and you’ll come to Lake Atitlan , famed for its dramatic landscape of vivid blue waters surrounded by three volcanos. There are almost endless outdoors adventures to be found around the lake, and even more around the nearby cities of Antigua Guatemala and Xela , both of which offer easy access to a huge range of hiking trails including the chance to climb an erupting volcano .

Check out some amazing Guatemala packages here

Witness an erupting volcano in Guatemala

6/ Costa Rica

Costa Rica is probably the most celebrated place to experience nature and wildlife in the whole of Central and South America – and for good reason. Wildlife tourism is a hugely important part of the economy here, and they take conservation extremely seriously. The Costa Rican people really understand the value of protecting their natural resources, not just for financial reasons but also for the good of the planet.

With two coastlines and endless swathes of cloud forest and tropical jungle, Costa Rica is a wildlife lover’s dream. Take a hike in one of the many national parks and you’ll have no trouble spotting spider and howler monkeys, macaws, toucans, parrots, hummingbirds and of course the loveable and iconic sloth. At the right time of year, you may also get the chance to see endangered turtles nesting and breeding.

Read more: A Review of G Adventures’ Costa Rica 16-Day Tour

But animals aren’t the only reason why Costa Rica is brilliant for a nature holiday. The country has miles and miles of beautiful, palm fringed sandy beaches, perfect for strolling, swimming, or just relaxing with a book. They’ve also invested millions in turning the country into a mecca for adrenaline and outdoors adventure lovers, with ziplines, jungle canopy bridges, whitewater rafting, volcano hiking and more.

So whether you’re after wildlife, landscapes, or outdoors thrills, Costa Rica has you covered.

Find your dream Costa Rica trip here

A friendly little tree frog on a night time wildlife-spotting trip in Costa Rica

7/ New Zealand

There’s a reason why the country of New Zealand has served as a backdrop for many fantasy films in the last few decades: the country’s breathtaking landscapes all look like they belong in a fairytale.

From golden beaches to glaciers that snake down through rainforests, New Zealand is truly an outdoor-lover’s dream. Hiking, camping, and simply being out in nature is a way of life for many New Zealanders, so it’s no surprise that it’s also a popular spot for tourists who enjoy the same.

While you can’t see everything with  2 weeks in New Zealand , you certainly can tick off some major highlights. 

Starting on the North Island, you can go dolphin-spotting in the Bay of Islands, dig your own hot tub at Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula, hike between volcanoes in Tongariro National Park, walk in a forest of redwood trees in Rotorua, and visit bird sanctuaries to see rare flightless birds like kiwis.

On the even more dramatic South Island, you can go kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park, try heli-hiking on a glacier on the West Coast, spot whales in Kaikoura, brave tandem skydiving or bungee jumping into stunning canyons in Queenstown, and go on a cruise through Milford Sound. There’s no shortage of active vacation ideas in New Zealand!

By Amanda Williams from A Dangerous Business Travel Blog

Search for your bucket list New Zealand holiday here

Head to New Zealand for more nature and fresh air than you'll know what to do with

Namibia is one of the best nature travel destinations for two main reasons.

Firstly, it has a stunning natural landscape, formed by the elements over billions of years. In  two weeks in Namibia , you could explore the graceful dunes of the Namib Desert, thought to be the oldest desert in the world. Here you can climb giant sand dunes, wander the eerie white clay pans of Sossusvlei and drive along the legendary Skeleton Coast. You can also see dramatic canyons, including Fish River Canyon, the largest in Africa, craters, stunning mountains and plains. In the east of Namibia, there are lush wetlands where you might spot hippos and water buffalo.

Which leads on to the second reason Namibia is great for a nature holiday: the wildlife. Namibia is home to all of the ‘Big Five’ animals: elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and buffalo. The best place to do a wildlife safari is Etosha National Park, which is a huge reserve in the north of the country that allows self-drive safaris. However, you will see wild animals and African birds all over Namibia in your two weeks, even along the roads: it is quite common to see Gemsbok and other antelopes, zebras, wildebeest and baboons inland; and seals along the coast.

By Martha from May Cause Wanderlust

Ready to head to Namibia? Start your journey here!

The majestic sand dunes of Namibia

As such a vast country,  Canada  is easily one of the best places in the world to enjoy a nature-filled holiday. From the powder-capped wilds of the north where polar bears leave footprints in the snow, to the lush green forests and glossy lakes of the south, there’s enough to keep your memories (and your memory cards!) full for two weeks or more.

One of the best ways to spend your time in Canada as a nature lover is by road-tripping the Canadian Rockies . Start in the cosmopolitan city of Calgary before winding your way through the peaks, lakes and national parks towards Vancouver. Stop off at Jasper to enjoy spectacular hikes and trails, taste delicious Canadian wines at Kelowna and marvel at the waterfalls around Golden.

As you drive, keep your eyes peeled for moose, bears and birds of prey who frequent the camps in search of berries and other food. Once you reach Vancouver, join a whale-watching safari to be in with a chance to spot humpback and grey whales, orcas, sea otters and seals. If you’re yet to see bears, head to Vancouver Island to join a bear tour, where you’re almost guaranteed sightings of black bears searching for crabs on the shore. 

Too much of a wildlife fix for you? Head to Canada’a Atlantic coast – where the picturesque provinces of Nova Scotia , New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island will tempt you with glorious landscapes and incredible food. You really can’t beat it.

By Anna from Really Wildlife

Start planning your Canada adventure here

Canada is an unmissable nature destination

10/ Ireland

If you love unapologetic wildness and lush green landscapes, Ireland would be a wonderful place for a nature vacation. Ireland is an island, so there is coastline in every direction, complete with sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs, and incredible bird life, including the adorable puffin ! Most of the country is very rural, so the best way to explore is to rent a car and drive, first along Ireland’s Ancient East from Dublin to Cork, then along the Wild Atlantic Way from Cork to Donegal. 

You can wild camp throughout Ireland: just ask a local farmer if they know of any spots and they’re usually happy to give advice. Wild swimming is very popular in Ireland, and there are plenty of places that are perfect for a secluded dip in the sea or an alpine lake – just beware of riptides and strong currents. 

There are two main mountain ranges in Ireland, the Wicklow Mountains and the Mountains of Kerry, both of which have hiking trails (the Wicklow Way and the Kerry Way, respectively). Over the course of two weeks, you could complete sections of both hikes, or simply explore the trails and serene wildness of the national parks. Even if you decide to skip the Wicklow Way, dedicate a day of your trip to hiking the Spinc Trail around Glendalough, a stunning glacial lake near a set of monastic ruins.

By Amber from Amber Everywhere

Start exploring Ireland here!

Ireland features rugged landscapes that are perfect for nature vacations

The most popular destination for a holiday in Alaska is Denali National Park. Denali is the largest mountain in North America at 20,310 ft. Explore the park by hiking countless trails among the tundra, animal viewing for bears and caribou, whitewater river rafting down the Nenana River, taking a scenic flight over the mountain with a glacier landing, or even mountaineering up Denali itself.

There are a plethora of mountains at every turn throughout Alaska and a lot of them will have some sort of trail for hiking, whether short day hikes or long multi-day hikes. Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mountains, Crow Pass in the Chugach Mountains, and Harding Icefield (the only land access to Kenai Fjords National Park) are just a fraction of the hiking options.

In Kenai Fjords National Park, nature-watching cruises take off out of Seward to view enchanting blue glaciers calving into the ocean and to watch wildlife like puffins, otters, seals, and whales frolicking in the cold waters.

During the winter, keep your eyes to the skies to spot the Northern Lights dancing amongst the stars. 

By Tabitha from Travel Compositions

Feeling inspired? Search for your dream Alaska trip here!

The wilderness of Alaska offers loads of options for nature vacations

12/ Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is often a bucket list item and perfect for a nature holiday. Located off of the east coast of Queensland, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef can be visited from as far south as Bundaberg and as far north as Cape York.

With two weeks to explore the Great Barrier Reef, don’t stay in one spot! Spend some time in the Whitsunday Islands enjoying the sugar sand white beaches and crystal clear water. Airlie Beach is the most popular place to stay by the Whitsunday Islands and there are plenty of hikes, waterfalls, and watersports available to add excitement to your nature vacation.

While Cairns or Port Douglas are the closest entrances to The Great Barrier Reef, don’t just stop there!  While there are plenty of  day trips from Cairns , also head north to Daintree and Cape Tribulation to explore the only location on earth where two World Heritage sites (The Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest) meet.

If diving isn’t for you, there are endless nature trips to be had in other parts of Australia.Why not try finding your fortune in the opal fields of Coober Pedy , or visit a pearl farm in the stunning Dampier Peninsula?

By Lanie van der Horst from Make More Adventures

Check out some of the best Australia trips and tours here

You may spot turtles on a wildlife holiday in the Great Barrier Reef

13/ Cappadocia, Türkiye

Cappadocia is a region in beautiful Türkiye (formerly known as Turkey). It’s famous for its vast, desert landscape with expansive valleys and impressive rock formations known as fairy chimneys, which were used as homes in the 7th century. 

Because of its arid climate, the people here live in cave dwellings. These are not dark, damp caves with stalagmites and stalactites, but warm, cosy homes made from carving out the porous rocky landscape. This means much of the landscape has been free of construction and development. Outside of the towns, you’ll find endless deserts filled with rocky canyons with unique rock formations and glistening white sand.  Cappadocia is famous for  hot air balloon rides, which take off at sunset and offer incredible views of the valleys below (and hundreds of hot air balloons above). It’s is the perfect nature vacation spot for hikers since there are so many valleys and hiking trails to explore. Some popular valleys to explore are Red and Rose Valley, Love Valley, Pigeon Valley, White Valley, Devrent Valley, and Monks Valley. Each valley has something special and unique to explore, from ancient churches to sunset viewpoints. Perhaps the most fascinating valley of all is Ihlara Valley. Ihlara is a green anomaly to the rest of Cappadocia and is the only place where you’ll find lush green trees, a glistening river, and craggy limestone cliffs. Once you’re there, you won’t believe you’re in a desert.  While you’re in Turkey, don’t miss some of its incredible ancient ruins , like the legendary city of Troy or the UNESCO site of Gordion, the city of King Midas .

By Louisa Smith from The Turkey Traveler

Click here to start your Türkiye nature vacation!

Cappadocia has loads to offer lovers of the Great Outdoors

14/ Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands are unmissable for any wildlife photographer or lover. This unique destination, situated in the Pacific Ocean, is one of the most amazing places to go on vacation, home to some of the most diverse and incredible wildlife on Earth.

The islands were famously a source of inspiration for Darwin’s theory of evolution, and visitors can see this for themselves with the plethora of different species of animals found here. From giant tortoises to playful sea lions, there is an abundance of wildlife to be spotted on any tour of the Galapagos Islands .

One of the best ways to experience the natural underwater world of the Galapagos is by diving or snorkeling. The clear waters offer fantastic visibility, meaning you can get up close and personal with the sharks, turtles, sea lions, fishes, and marine iguanas.

For those who prefer to stay on dry land, there are still plenty of opportunities to see the amazing wildlife. A hike to the top of one of the volcanoes will provide stunning views, as well as the chance to spot some of the rarer birds such as the blue-footed booby.

By Giorgy from the G-Extreme Travel Blog

Click here to start planning your dream Galapagos nature vacation!

Wildlife lovers should consider adding the Galapagos to their nature vacations bucket list

15/ Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Torres del Paine national park at the southern tip of Chile is one of the most beautiful natural places in the world. A land of epic mountains, sparkling glaciers, and turquoise lakes, it’s the highlight of any trip to Patagonia. With two weeks to work with, start your adventure out in the small town of Puntas Arenas, the gateway to Torres del Paine. From here you’ll take a bus to the park where you’ll be dropped off in a stunning natural landscape.

The “O” Circuit hike takes about 7-10 days and takes you all around the park over the course of 130+ km. It’s much less popular than the 3-day “W” hike, so when you’re beyond the extent of the W hike, the trails will be quiet, and you’ll have the beauty of the Patagonian Andes almost all to yourself.

During the trek, you are required to reserve the campsites ahead of time. There are limited spaces available and they book up about 6 months in advance. So advanced planning is required! If you’re planning the shorter W hike, campsites still need to be booked ahead.

If hiking through the mountains isn’t your thing, there are still plenty of things to do in the park and in Patagonia. Rent a room at Hotel Las Torres Patagonia and just relax while taking in the stunning scenery. Then cross the border into Argentina to check out Fitz Roy and Perito Moreno glacier, with a night or two in El Chalten or El Calafate on the way.

You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to adventure vacation ideas amidst the fabulous natural beauty of Torres del Paine and Patagonia! 

By Chris Heckmann from Around The World With Me

Why wait? Click here to find your perfect Chile trip!

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

It’s easy to see why Japan is known as a land of contrasts. Visitors don’t need to venture too far from the hustle and bustle of major cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka to be immersed in the diverse landscapes and nature experiences the country has to offer. Exploring  off the beaten path in Japan  will reward visitors with nature experiences like no other!

Enjoy snorkelling? Head to the pristine waters of tropical Okinawa for sun, sand and sea life. Want to discover ancient temples and shrines nestled deep within forests? Spend a few days in Nikko, Koyasan or the outskirts of Kyoto. Prefer hiking along flowing rivers against a jagged mountain backdrop? Look no further than Kamikochi. Interested in seeing snow monkeys bathing in hot springs? The forests of Nagano have you covered. 

Speaking of hot springs, one of the most popular cultural experiences in Japan is bathing in  onsen . As a landmass formed by volcanic activity, in Japan there is no shortage of natural springs to soak in and relax, making it one of the most beautiful places to go on vacation.

Spending a few days in the Mt Fuji area allows for more chances to see the sacred mountain (and even climb its summit during summer!), see gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Shiraito Falls, a cave where locals believe is the residence of Fuji’s goddess, and many lake hikes to catch Mt Fuji’s reflection.

By Alyse from The Invisible Tourist

Life is short. Find your bucket list Japan tour today!

Japan has plenty of opportunities to get in touch with nature

17/ South Africa

South Africa is an incredible country with vast natural beauty, wildlife, and safari opportunities. So if you’re an animal lover looking for a nature vacation, then it’s time to pack your bag for South Africa !

Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park are both national parks you will see an amazing variety of wildlife. Both parks are home to many African animals including the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino), cheetah, wild dogs, and a variety of antelope.

You can also stay in a private game reserve, such as Zulu Nyala, Bayete Zulu, and Colin’s Horseback Africa. Activities you will enjoy include game drives, bush walks, camping, and more. Food is provided with accommodation.

Cape Town is one of the best nature places to visit. Take a cable car to the top of Table Mountain to see stunning views of the city and the surrounding coastline. The Boulder Penguin Colony is an excellent place for you to see these adorable birds up close, and you can also go shark diving or visit Cape Good Hope, the southernmost point of Africa.

You will have plenty to do around Johannesburg too. Go hiking or mountain biking in the Magaliesberg, or enjoy a picnic in one of the city’s parks.

By Melodie Rush from Travel Must Do’s

Search for South Africa adventures here!

Nature Vacations: 25 Amazing Places For An Outdoors Adventure

Norway is a stunning place full of natural wonders that you can visit in any season. Above the Arctic Circle, bask in the midnight sun during the summer months when the sun never sets.

Alternatively, experience the polar night in the winter, when the sun never rises. This is the best time to chase the magical Aurora Borealis. Take a tour with an expert guide who will show you the best spots and give tips on how to photograph the Northern Lights for amazing memories to look back on. Or visit Bergsjøstølen for the spine-tingling Ice Music Festival .

There are plenty of places you can check out the northern lights in Norway – including  the Lofoten Islands , Tromso, and the North Cape.

Norway is also full of majestic fjords, where you can take cruises any time of the year. The breathtaking Geirangerfjord is one of the most famous fjords in the world and has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are also amazing parks that are the best vacation spots for outdoor activities, such as Jotunheimen or Folgefonna National Parks. Breathe in the fresh air as you traverse the mountains and through the meadows, full of rugged scenery from wildflowers to waterfalls to glaciers.

Some of Norway’s tallest waterfalls to check out include Vettisfossen, Vinnufallet, and the Seven Sisters. The hike to Trolltunga outlook gives you fantastic views of the Ringedalsvatnet lake and Folgefonna glacier.

By Megan Starr

Click here to start planning your perfect Norway vacation

Norway is a nature-lover and outdoor enthusiast's dream

19/ The Philippines

With over 7,600 islands, the Philippines are home to countless idyllic seascapes and landscapes, tropical beaches and amazing wildlife, making these islands one of the most beautiful nature places in the world.

Among the country’s most captivating destinations are Bohol and Cebu. These two island provinces are packed with natural wonders and activities perfect for a two-week vacation.

Be amazed by Bohol’s world-renowned Chocolate Hills and visit the adorable Philippine tarsiers, a tree-dwelling animal and the world’s smallest primate. After that you can have your lunch while cruising the Loboc River one of the cleanest in the country.

Be mesmerised by dolphins not in a dolphin show but in the middle of the ocean, wild and free! To complete your  Bohol itinerary , try snorkelling with sea turtles and a visit to Virgin Island sandbar before getting the ferry to Cebu.

Once in Cebu you can do waterfall chasing and even canyoneering to Kawasan Falls if you’re feeling adventurous. Swimming or snorkelling with millions of sardines during the famous Sardines Run at Panagsama Beach is the experience of a lifetime. Or if you prefer hiking, head to Osmena Peak which is Cebu’s highest.

These are not all, but among the top experiences for anyone looking for great nature places to visit.

By Dea Mariano from Jea Wanders

Search for small-group nature adventures in the Philippines here.

The Philippines have beautiful nature landscapes and wildlife

20/ Scottish Highlands & Islands

Scotland is inarguably the wildest place in the British Isles and perfect for a journey to connect with nature. With a low population density and most people living around the large cities in Central Scotland, the northern and western parts of the Highlands and Islands are an adventurer’s playground.

Scotland is home to the UK’s largest national park (the  Cairngorms National Park ) and its highest peaks, and many animals that have long disappeared from the forests and fields of England and Wales can still be found in the remote glens up north.

You can cover a lot of ground on a two-week nature holiday in Scotland. Out west, explore the rugged coastline with its sea lochs, beaches and islands either by boat or kayak, or head east to join a wildlife cruise to see puffins or the world’s largest colony of northern gannets .

For a fully immersive experience, put on a snorkel and discover the underwater world of Argyll, the UK’s first mainland Hop Spot. Don’t leave without hiking among the dramatic mountains of Glencoe, trying to spot the Big 5 of Scottish wildlife, forest bathing in a native Caledonian pine forest and walking up to the sub-Arctic plateau of the Cairngorms mountain range.

By Kathi from Watch Me See

Love Scotland? Find the best Scotland trips and tours for you right here!

The Scottish Highlands are an under-appreciated nature destination

21/ New England, USA

New England  in the Northeastern part of the US is such an underrated region for nature lovers, but it has everything, including dramatic coastline cliffs, some of the best beaches in the USA, world-class fall foliage and incredible mountain ranges for hiking. 

One of the top places to visit in New England for nature lovers is Acadia National Park in Maine. With over 60 miles of some of the most jaw-dropping coastline views in the country, it’s home to amazing hiking trails, scenic drives and an iconic lighthouse. 

For those looking to tackle the most thrilling hike in Acadia, add the Beehive Trail to your itinerary. For one of the most stunning sunrises you’ve ever seen, be sure to wake up early and drive the auto road to the Cadillac Mountain summit. 

If it’s gorgeous beaches you’re after, head to Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Home to the Cape Cod National Seashore, it’s here you’ll find impressive sand dunes (some reaching 100 feet tall), as well as Coast Guard Beach, regarded as one of the most beautiful in the U.S. 

A great time to visit New England is the fall season to see the famous fall foliage throughout the region. One of the best places to experience this is in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which is also an amazing area for hiking.

By Sam of New England Wanderlust

Start planning your New England nature vacation today!

Readers from the US don't have to travel far for nature vacations: the US is home to plenty of opportunities!

22/ Tasmania, Australia

The island state of Tasmania is a remote destination full of natural beauty and diverse landscapes. A trip to Tasmania is the ultimate escape for those seeking an adventurous getaway surrounded by untouched wilderness. Home to pristine forests, epic mountain ranges, beautiful beaches and unique wildlife, taking a 2 week road trip is the ideal way to see the best of the island.

If hiking is your thing, be sure to spend a few days exploring Cradle Mountain National Park. There are a huge variety of scenic hikes and nature walks offering some of the best views in the state. Binalong Bay, also known as The Bay of Fires is a must-see for beach lovers. Vibrant orange rocks with a backdrop of turquoise water is an incredible sight that can’t be missed on your  Tasmania itinerary . 

A visit to Maria Island off of Tasmania’s east coast will provide the perfect opportunity to meet some of the island’s cutest residents, wombats. Rent a bike and spend a day cycling around this small island to see some of the most beautiful natural scenery and free roaming wombats. 

The long stretch of white sand in Wineglass Bay is like a scene from a postcard and one of the most iconic views in Tasmania. The best way to see this stunning scenery is by hiking to the Mount Amos summit which is located in Freycinet National Park.  

By Ann Kelly from The Road Is Life

Find your dream Tasmania trip by clicking here!

Tasmania, Australia is a stunning location for a nature holiday

The Hawaiian Islands offer some of the world’s most diverse nature, from active volcanoes to humpback whales and dramatic mountainscapes. While you could spend years exploring Hawaii, two weeks is a good amount of time to dive in and experience two of the islands. For example, consider spending a week in both Maui and the Big Island, respectively. 

If you time your visit in the winter, Maui is one of the best places on the planet to see humpback whales, given that they migrate to the island’s shallow lagoons from their arctic waters to breed and raise their young. Make sure to also carve out some time to drive along the dramatic Road to Hana, a 65-mile road that winds through incredibly lush rainforests, past rushing waterfalls, and along jaw-dropping black sand beaches. 

Your Big Island itinerary can be stuffed with a variety of dynamic outdoor adventures- for example, you can climb the world’s tallest mountain (as measured from the seafloor to its summit) at Mauna Kea, snorkel with manta rays in the town of Kona along its western coastline, and see some of the world’s most active erupting volcanoes spew lava at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. 

By Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler

Click here to start researching your Hawaii vacation today!

Hawaii offers incredible landscapes and fascinating biodiversity, just waiting to be explored

24/ Slovenia

For another idyllic and less obvious nature vacations destination, try out the scenic country of Slovenia. Outdoor lovers will find picturesque mountains, crystal clear lakes and rivers, stunning caves, and bucolic valleys.

Start in Ljubljana, the capital city, and make an easy drive to Lake Bohinj. While slightly less known than Lake Bled, Bohinj has fabulous hiking and boating on the lake. Hikes to Savica waterfall or Mostnica gorge are recommended. Or take a cable car up Mount Vogel for outstanding views of Lake Bohinj from the top. 

Triglav National Park in the Julian Alps has the highest peak in Slovenia. The trails here range from nature walks to hut-to-hut routes. The Juliana Trail, a 270 km-long circular long-distance trail with 16 stages, wanders through this spectacular area.

Nearby Bovec has paddling outdoor adventures in the Soca River Valley. Try  whitewater kayaking on the Soca River , regarded as the most beautiful river in Europe. There is also ziplining, canyoneering, and cycling trips in this epicenter of outdoor adventure.

For ocean lovers, Slovenia has a 47 km of coastline on the Adriatic Sea. You will find natural beaches to explore and take a dip. Don’t miss the sunsets.

By Karen Warren from Outdoor Adventure Sampler

Fancy an outdoors adventure in Slovenia? Click here to find out more!

Try Slovenia for fresh mountain air and watersports

25/ The USA’s Grand Circle

The southwest United States is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on earth, making it unmissable for nature lovers! The perfect way to explore this region is through a two-week road trip around the ‘grand circle,’ aka the route between Las Vegas, Utah’s five national parks, and the Grand Canyon. That’s a lot of nature packed into one epic trip!

Start driving clockwise from Las Vegas and stop at Zion National Park. Zion has some of the most famous hikes in the world! Don’t miss Angel’s Landing or the Narrows. 

Next, visit Bryce Canyon National Park. The red hoodoos in this park are unlike anywhere else in the world! Watching sunrise over the canyon is an experience to remember.

Capitol Reef National Park is perhaps Utah’s most underrated national park. Spend time off-roading through the Mars-like landscape of the Bentonite Hills.

Canyonlands and Arches National Parks are neighbors, and both are filled with beautiful red rock formations and archways.

On the way to the Grand Canyon, don’t miss Dead Horse Point State Park for a double horseshoe bend-style canyon, or the famous rock formations of Monument Valley!

End your trip at the Grand Canyon. Walking along the southern rim will give you almost painting-like views of this sprawling natural wonder. By the end of your two weeks, you’ll have seen some of the best and most diverse landscapes that the southwest has to offer.

By Jen from Glasses and Boarding Passes

Start planning your epic USA nature vacation here!

Outdoors lovers should head to the USA's Grand Circle for a dream nature vacation

Where to next?

If you enjoyed this best nature vacations post, you might like some of these other outdoors articles:

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  • Four Days in Valli Giudicarie in Trentino Italy
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  • A Kenya Safari Holiday: How To Plan The Perfect Trip For You

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  • Even Better

What is ecotourism? A guide on how to travel sustainably.

Immerse yourself in nature — with respect for the environment and the culture that supports it.

by Julieta Cardenas

An illustration of a traveler’s torso in a jungle-print shirt with a camera hanging around their neck

If you love nature, you may have tried to plan a vacation where you get to be immersed in it. Maybe you’ve explored a coral reef or visited an elephant sanctuary, or you dream of doing so one day. These activities can fall under the umbrella of ecotourism — a kind of nature-based travel that aims to protect and empower the environment, animals, and local communities — when planning vacations. 

Tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, accounting for 22 million new jobs last year , with a large part of that growth stemming from a post-lockdown itch for travel . As people return to packing as much stuff as humanly possible into a carry-on, ecotourism, too, will likely skyrocket to a market value of $299 billion by 2026 . In the last 10 years, travelers have become more environmentally conscious and socially responsible , looking for travel experiences that reflect their morals.

Still, the question for many well-meaning tourists remains: Is ethical ecotourism even possible? 

There are a few things that complicate ecotourism’s narrative, like the carbon emissions produced by flights , or the challenges of ensuring that a significant degree of profits actually do go to local communities, protecting wildlife, and cultural heritage. Nature-based travel, too, can risk losing the plot, from sanctuaries that operate like petting zoos to the development of tropical coasts into even the most nature-forward resorts.  

“It really boils down to an attitude, and an ethic about how we approach the natural world,” says David Fennell , a geography and tourism studies professor at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Ecotourism . “Just by virtue of going to a national park doesn’t mean you’re an ecotourist, you have to have that attitude. And you have to tap into that ethic about what is important [to] not just yourself as a tourist, but about conservation and animal welfare.”

As a tourist, choosing where to go is an important decision, one that can help or hurt the environment and communities where you are visiting. There are some situations that are too good to be truly as effective as they claim, and accreditations, though helpful, may not tell the whole story. Understandably, trying to figure out what’s best for the environment, for communities, and for yourself can be overwhelming. It may be that ecotourism is a state of mind rather than a destination. Here are some ways to think about your next adventure to ensure your ethics align.

What actually is ecotourism?

An alternative to mass tourism  — or when thousands of people visit a destination day in and day out ( think the resort-ification of Ibiza , in which people partied so hard that legislation was passed in 2022 to change the destination’s wasteful image) — ecotourism is meant to get you off the beaten trail and into a mindset of reciprocity with the site you are visiting.

As with many sustainability-oriented services, ecotourism got its start in the ’70s. It officially became a dictionary entry in 1982 , where it is defined as supporting conservation efforts, especially in often threatened natural environments. Since then though, the definition and intent have evolved to include bolstering local communities.

In the literature on ecotourism, travel can be distinguished into “hard paths” and “soft paths,” based on how many aspects of your trip follow the ethical north star of ecotourism and how demanding the trip will be of you. For example, if your trip features a strong environmental commitment and will be physically active, you’re likely on the hard path of ecotourism. If your trip is aimed at physical comfort with only a moderate nod to environmental commitment, you may be on a soft path. But taking it as an ethos means you can be an ecotourist anywhere, especially locally.

You might be wondering if a hike on a busy trail or swimming with manatees is ecotourism. Although both of those examples are nature-based tourism as they interface with the natural world, they’re not necessarily ecotourism, since both of these activities can put these destinations at risk if done in excess. Hiking a spot to death or droves of tourists putting Florida’s manatees at risk put pressure on the ecology of those places. In the 1980s, mass tourism began to wreck some of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems, such as the Riviera Maya in Mexico, where near-constant development has led to local forests being cleared . 

Wildlife tourism runs the gamut from cruel breeding and hunting of lions to we-really-shouldn’t-have-cetaceans-in-captivity dolphin shows to cool , ethical birdwatching. Ecotourism including wildlife can be ethical as long as the animals you are engaging with are not manipulated or not free to disengage in interaction with tourists. “Anytime you have an animal that’s held in a captive environment, that you’re manipulating, the animal is not free to disengage that interaction, based on its own will,” says Fennell.

If you’re interested in going on adventures that are a little more sport-oriented, such as kayaking or diving, then this might be also considered nature-based tourism, since activities like climbing, sailing, camping, and snorkeling are less directly connected to ecological benefits. An example of nature tourism would be surfing lessons off Australia’s Coffs coast : You’re in nature having fun, but vibes are about all you’re contributing to the scene.

Ecotourism also has an educational component: You’re meant to learn about nature, culture, and threats to the area you’re in. Paul Rosolie — founder and Wildlife Director of Junglekeepers , a program that uses donations and tourist money to buy tracts of the Amazon along the Las Piedras River, in the Madre de Dios region of Peru — highlighted how ecotourism has brought people to the front lines of conservation.

“This is the edge of human presence on this planet,” Rosolie said via voice memo deep in the Amazon. “The battle is playing out between the progress of roads and development and the last places where there are untouched ecosystems, Indigenous communities, communities of species yet to be discovered. You get to see incredibly pristine, pure wilderness where a few people have managed to make a living.”

Ecotourism should encourage ethical considerations, like respect for the environment and host communities. For example, ecotourism aims to be biocentric , meaning that the interest of the living beings you are hoping to protect is prioritized over your own drive for pleasure. There is also the risk of too much tourism causing gentrification and raising prices for locals — see what’s currently happening in Mexico City , or consider the (fictional, but still germane) plot of HBO’s The White Lotus . Ecotourism aims to reverse the exploitative relationships between tourists and locals. 

Lastly, ecotourism should strive for sustainability. In the case of Junglekeepers , which offers base station visits and ranger-accompanied hikes to tourists, this means extending employment to former loggers in their ranger program. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where there are six ecolodges for tourists to book, has anti-poaching teams who work with the Kenya Wildlife Service to stop illegal poaching for ivory, bushmeat, and logging. 

The tricky questions around ecotourism

Just because ecotourism might have a broader application these days, it doesn’t necessarily mean all travel qualifies, especially since there are slews of companies and organizations attempting to make a quick buck off a catchy buzzword. Unfortunately, it’s hard to sift the wheat from the chaff. As ecotourism as a concept grows more and more popular, some experiences and excursions may not necessarily meet the intentions lined up above.

Tourism can be rife with greenwashing : vague and unsupported claims, and exaggerations about how much good a given entity is doing, like hotels highlighting their donations to ecological causes, but underpaying their staff . Some excursions put Indigenous peoples in precarious situations , and some force animals to perform or be ridden or petted in a forced and unnatural manner .  

Milo Putnam — founder of Laro Ethical Wildlife Travels , a service that helps people plan eco-travel — warns, “Don’t be tricked by misused greenwashing buzzwords like ‘rescue,’ ‘sanctuary,’ or ‘eco-park.’ Companies know that tourists like these terms, which to these companies can mean more profits, even if it isn’t true. These terms are meaningless if not backed by actual ethical practices. Instead, look further to see if they are certified or accredited by a trusted organization.” (More on this below.)

Additionally, Fennell believes the most ethical ecotourists — the traveler and any organizations involved — should keep animals off the menu. Ecotourism’s biocentric approach should lead us to widen our moral consideration of animals and to care not only for charismatic megafauna like lions and elephants, but also for all creatures that make ecosystems function. “The global food system — mainly animal agriculture — is the primary driver of biodiversity loss ,” Putnam added. “Choosing a more plant-based diet has a positive impact on wildlife around the world.”  

How to choose where to go

Certifications may give a clue to how well a given destination is achieving ecotourism goals, but they may not always exist.

Putnam has compiled a tip list for planning animal-based adventures and points to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries as a resource. The federation checks in to ensure that no captive breeding is taking place, that tourists do not have direct contact with wildlife, and that animals have appropriate housing and veterinary care. 

There is no universal ecotourism certification, but the Global Sustainable Tourism Council has compiled a list of certifications around the world that emphasize the four “C’s”: conservation, community, culture, and commerce. These certifications are a good place to start and they cover Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America, and Australia.

The land down under is at the top when it comes to vetting their tourism options. Australia’s ecotourism industry has some of the most sophisticated certifications including nature tourism, ecotourism, and advanced ecotourism . In this certification system, outback safari glamping in Karijini National Park counts as ecotourism, because it supports Indigenous peoples as it is owned and operated by the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation , which represents the interests of the Banjima, Yinhawangka, and Nyiyaparli peoples in Western Australia.  

Everyone I spoke to underscored the importance of selecting an ethical destination for travel because the money you spend as a tourist can have a positive impact rather than an ambiguous impact or even detrimental effect on the places you’re visiting. As Rosolie puts it, “Finding the right place to go as a traveler is a very powerful decision to people who are devoting their whole lives to protecting a place.” 

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Destination Analysts

Nature-Based Destinations and the Future of Travel

nature based tourism destinations

Destination Analysts was honored to have our ongoing Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index research featured in The New York Times’ critical look at the future of travel, as “the outbreak will undoubtedly change how we think, act and travel, at least in the short term.” Following are the findings that spotlight the article’s exploration of travelers’ potential desires for more remote and nature-based settings.

In #thebeforetime, cities reigned as the destination type for Americans’ trip aspirations and volume. Back in January we asked a simple travel expectations question in our The State of the American Traveler survey of 2,000 American leisure travelers: “In the next 12 months, how many will you take that will include each of the following types of leisure destinations?” As shown in the graphic below, at that time 74.0% Americans were planning almost two urban trips for 2020—far more than any other destination type.

nature based tourism destinations

Fast forward to the week of April 14th, with near-nationwide shelter in place orders and COVID-19 a full-blown pandemic. In our weekly survey of 1,200 American travelers about their feelings and behaviors on travel in the wake of the coronavirus, nearly 40 percent reported they would change the types of destinations they choose to visit.

nature based tourism destinations

Beyond the substitution of destinations, the coronavirus pandemic looks to have a perhaps temporary but still fundamental impact on how Americans travel and the experiences they choose. American travelers also said they would be avoiding crowded places (55.7%), often a hallmark of the urban travel experience. They also said they would avoid destinations hardest hit by coronavirus (50.5%), which have predominately been cities thus far.

When asked the place they will visit on their very first post-pandemic trip, beach/resort destinations (38.2%) and small towns/rural areas (30.0%) topped the list. A significant number also say they will be taking more road trips because of coronavirus—road trips lending themselves well to exploring lesser trafficked and nature-based destinations.

Another finding lending to the benefit nature-based destinations may reap from the pandemic is the increased interest in camping and RVing. We asked the American travelers we surveyed the week of April 24th if the pandemic made camping and RVing more attractive. Nearly 4 in 10 agreed it did.

nature based tourism destinations

Nature-based destinations indeed have an opportunity to position themselves well for post-pandemic travel, introduce themselves to new travel audiences and even grow and sustain market share into the future.

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nature based tourism destinations

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Nature-based Travel Guide

What is nature-based travel.

Table of Contents

  • 1.1 What is nature-based travel?
  • 1.2 Why is nature-based travel important?
  • ✦ Nature-based recreation helps foster knowledge and education on natural ecosystems and the importance of conservation.
  • ✦ Nature-based recreation exposes people to the beauty of nature, which may lead them to fight for its protection.
  • ✦ Nature-based recreation creates place-based attachment.
  • ✦ By choosing nature-based travel experiences, you are incentivising communities to conserve those natural areas.
  • ✦ Plan and prepare properly
  • ✦ Respect mother nature
  • ✦ Follow national park rules
  • ✦ Don’t be a social media jerk
  • ✦ Follow the Leave No Trace Seven Principles 
  • ✦ Be mindful and respectful of cultural and historical values of the natural areas you visit. 
  • ✦ Travel during the low season or to places that do not receive too many visitors. 
  • ✦ Australia
  • ✦ New Zealand
  • ✦ Chile
  • ✦ Costa Rica
  • ✦ Canada
  • ✦ Ecuador
  • ✦ Hawaii

We hope you find our nature-based travel guide useful! First, let’s have a look at what is nature-based travel. As its name suggests, nature-based travel is any kind of activity you do while travelling that happens in nature.

Although this nature-based travel guide refers to these activities as nature-based travel, many people refer to them as nature-based recreation.

Nature-based recreation includes activities that are:

✦ Dependent on the natural environment. ✦ Do not require substantial modification to the natural environment. ✦ Have an appreciation of nature as a key motivational factor. ✦ Are environmentally sustainable.

The world is full of destinations that provide many opportunities for nature-based recreation. Generally, the nature of these activities contributes to preserving the natural environment so people enjoy it long-term.

For the purpose of this nature-based travel guide, we consider national parks, protected areas, nature reserves, community conserved areas, wilderness areas, etc. as prime examples of areas where you can engage in nature-based travel.

Further, this nature-based travel guide also includes 15 activities considered nature-based recreation. They are all listed below:

nature based tourism destinations

Why is nature-based travel important?

Here at Intego Travel, we believe nature-based travel is important. For the purpose of this nature-based travel guide, we have listed three main reasons below.

✦   By choosing nature-based recreation while travelling, you are ‘voting’ for those natural areas to be preserved. Indeed, frolicking in nature was what inspired John Muir to campaign for land preservation.

Known as the ‘Father of National Parks’, Muir became a central figure in establishing Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park. Through his campaigning, he led the creation of the National Park System in the USA. He also inspired the environmental movement throughout the world.

Collectively, nature-based travel in protected areas is responsible for $600 billion in visitor spending. This revenue signals the importance of continuing to safeguard our protected areas worldwide.

✦  Engaging in nature-based travel will improve your wellbeing. In fact, there is a whole field studying the relationship between nature and human wellbeing. It is called Ecopsychology.

Ecopsychology strives to understand and harmonise our relationship with Earth. Ecopsychologists foster contact with nature for psychotherapeutic purposes, personal growth and individual healing.

The effects of nature on human wellbeing were well documented in a study by Nature. Researchers found that spending 2 hours in nature every week contributes to people’s general health and wellbeing.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, I recommend reading the books Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Fix .

✦   Nature-based travel helps improve the value people place on nature. This point ties in with the two points above. Natural areas provide us with what ecologists call ‘ecosystem services’. Essentially, they are services nature gifts to humans. For example, providing food, water, raw materials and recreational and spiritual benefits.

Further, by creating revenue through protected areas and activities, nature-based travel leads people and communities to place a higher value on nature. Doing so means that we can continue to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits these areas provide.

The connection between nature-based travel and sustainability

While the points above also reflect the relationship between nature-based travel and sustainability to some extent, I wanted to include more information about this relationship. Mainly, because engaging in nature-based recreation can change people’s behaviours, cultural norms, beliefs and even values in relation to nature and conservation.

  For the purpose of this nature-based travel guide, we include four main ways nature-based recreation drives this behavioural change.

✦   Nature-based recreation helps foster knowledge and education on natural ecosystems and the importance of conservation.

Visiting any protected area or reserve, you will see many signs with information about the flora and fauna of the area.

Many parks go even further by providing information about species decline, glacier retreats, and how to behave in ways that minimise your impact on these fragile areas.

✦ Nature-based recreation exposes people to the beauty of nature, which may lead them to fight for its protection.

You cannot protect something you don’t love. You can’t love that which you do not know. And you can’t know something that you do not experience, touch, hear or see. In the words of Claire Thompson, author of Mindfulness & the Natural World:

“Only a genuine love for the natural world will give us the desire to care for and protect it.”

Go spend time in nature. Discover the rainbowed beauty of a coral reef. Watch a sunrise from the summit of a mountain top. In summary, connect to the natural world.

✦ Nature-based recreation creates place-based attachment.

Place-based attachment refers to the connection between people and the places that hold meaning to them. This attachment leads to people valuing a place, usually because it is the best location for a particular activity.

For example, divers place more value on places with high marine biodiversity because it offers them the best diving experience. Therefore, divers would be more inclined to campaign for the protection of say, the Great Barrier Reef.

This same concept can and does apply to other nature-based recreation. For example, in Australia, both mountain bikers and rock climbers volunteer to maintain the natural areas where they engage in these activities. If people didn’t partake in nature-based recreation, the connection necessary to develop place-based attachment wouldn’t happen.

✦ By choosing nature-based travel experiences, you are incentivising communities to conserve those natural areas.

In some instances, communities deriving tangible economic benefits from nature-based recreation are more inclined to protect the natural areas where these activities occur.

For example, in Nusa Penida, Bali, locals have recently started earning income for taking visitors to swim with manta rays. As a result, they have recognised that manta rays bring in more money by observing than by fishing them.

7 Important points to consider when engaging in nature-based travel

So far, this natured-based travel guide has provided useful information about the benefits of engaging in social impact travel.

In addition to this information, there are also some important points to consider when engaging in nature-based travel. Having these considerations in mind will help you be a more responsible traveller.

✦   Plan and prepare properly

This is particularly important if you will be engaging in challenging activities. 

For example, rock climbing, multi-day treks, canyoning, alpine climbing or mountaineering are all activities that need a high level of skills. Without the proper skills and preparation, tragedy can strike! 

We’ve all heard stories of people needing to be rescued or dying by exposing themselves to natural environments they were not prepared for. Don’t be that person.

✦ Respect mother nature

Hiking and spotting wildlife is a great pastime. But there is a reason why it’s called wildlife! 

Wild animals should be left alone for all to enjoy.  Please never remove natural objects from the wilderness areas you visit. This includes flowers, shells, rocks, antlers, etc. Many of these objects have a purpose. 

For example, flowers help grow new plants and are also food for birds and insects. Empty shells are also used by other crustaceans as homes, especially hermit crabs. Rocks help prevent land erosion. 

Think about it. Globally, protected areas receive an estimated 8 billion visitors each year. If everyone took just ‘one’ rock, just ‘one’ shell, ‘one’ flower, eventually protected areas would be emptied of these. 

Another key point is to stay away from wildlife. Do not approach them to a point where it displaces or disturbs the animal. 

And above all, please do not feed or touch animals. Doing so can lead to multiple health problems, including diseases. 

Also, avoid using flash photography when photographing wildlife.

✦  Follow national park rules

All national parks and protected areas have a set of rules to guide our behaviour while visiting. Make sure you familiarise yourself with them. 

Generally, these rules relate to:

✦ Staying on designated trails

✦ Camping in designated areas.

✦ Taking your rubbish with you.

✦ Not starting open fires. If they are permitted, ensuring you clean up the area and be sure to completely extinguish your fire before leaving.

Not using drones in wilderness sensitive areas. Their use in natural parks usually requires the consent of the park managers.

Not only are drones disruptive to wildlife but also to other people enjoying these natural areas.

In fact, frustrated hikers crash-landed a drone after its owner ignored signs prohibiting their use in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand. Well deserved, if you ask me.

✦  Don’t be a social media jerk

In the era of social media, I also think it’s important to touch base on the below point: 

Please do not behave in ways that impact the environment for the sake of social media likes.

We live in an age where everyone wants to be an ‘influencer (#cringe) and they will do anything to boost their engagement online. 

Time after time there’s been reports of ‘influencers’ ruining public natural areas all for Instagram photo ops. 

Don’t be that asshole.

✦  Follow the Leave No Trace Seven Principles 

✦ Plan Ahead and Prepare ✦ Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces ✦ Dispose of Waste Properly ✦ Leave What You Find ✦ Minimize Campfire Impacts ✦ Respect Wildlife ✦ Be Considerate of Other Visitors

© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org .

✦  Be mindful and respectful of cultural and historical values of the natural areas you visit. 

In particular, respect local Indigenous values .

Many natural areas are of high cultural significance to Indigenous people. Some are even considered sacred sites.

A sacred site is a place within the landscape that has deep, special meaning or significance under Indigenous tradition. They are associated with particular aspects of Indigenous cultural and social tradition.

Please do your research on the land in which you are partaking in your nature-based travel. Learn about the history or culture of the historical owners.

And refrain from engaging in activities that go against their values. Don’t be the kind of asshole that flocks to Uluru to climb the rock before it was closed down at the request of the local Anangu People.

✦  Travel during the low season or to places that do not receive too many visitors. 

Time after time we hear in the news how the impact of over-tourism is damaging natural areas. Increasing tourism visitation and recreation can and does bring lasting changes to the social and natural environment.

You can help prevent this by travelling to places with low visitation rates or travelling during the low seasons.

Nature-based travel guide: 9 destinations for the nature lover

To wrap up this nature-based travel guide, below I’ve included 7 amazing destinations to consider if you love being out in nature.

✦  Australia

With so many varied natural habitats, Australia is the ideal destination for the nature lover.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has some of the most amazing scuba diving in the world.

In the south, the Snowy Mountains offer great skiing conditions during winter.

If you’re into rock climbing, the Blue Mountains, the Grampians and Mount Arapiles are world-known rock-climbing destinations.

Other popular nature-based recreation includes scenic hiking, mountain biking, tropical rain forest hikes, outback desert safaris, and more.

Whatever your interest in nature-based travel, Australia is sure to deliver!

✦ New Zealand

New Zealand is considered one big natural playground. You will find all kinds of opportunities to get outdoors.

My favourite nature-based recreation in New Zealand is going hiking. The country is like a postcard!

Other popular nature-based recreation includes mountaineering, surfing, skiing, and visiting the many national parks (Piopiotahi/Milford Sound is my favourite!).

The land of Patagonia, Chile is absolutely breathtaking. It offers plenty of opportunities for nature-based travel.

From the north, you can take in the beauty of the remote Atacama Desert. Here, low light pollution and clear skies allow you to enjoy unobstructed views of the cosmos.

As you travel South, the landscape morphs into lush, green forests and snowy mountains. The Torres del Paine National Park is the ideal setting of several multi-day treks.

✦  Costa Rica

Costa Rica is not only a nature lover’s paradise but also a tree hugger’s!

The country is mostly dependent on renewable energy and works tirelessly to protect its natural resources. As a result, it offers a myriad of opportunities for nature-based travel.

Among the popular nature-based activities, they offer zip-lining, scuba diving with sharks, surfing, wildlife watching safaris in Tortuguero National Park, white water rafting, and volcano hikes.

Canada’s natural landscape is not only undoubtedly beautiful, but it also offers all kinds of activities for the nature lover.

Among these, they have skiing and snowboarding, scenic hikes like the ones in Banff National Park, kayaking and white-water rafting, mountain biking and of course, rock and alpine climbing.

Although Ecuador is a small country, it has enormous biodiversity. As a result, there are countless opportunities for nature-based travel.

Some of the most popular experiences include hiking extinct volcanoes, chasing waterfalls, camping in the crater of an extinct volcano, which is now Lake Quilotoa, surfing, canyoning and of course, visiting the Galápagos Islands.

With their impressive wildlife, it is no surprise that Darwin developed his theory of evolution while visiting the islands.

Hawaii is a destination where you can enjoy a ton of nature-based activities in some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. In its 8 islands, you will a range of outdoor recreations.

For example, trekking, whale watching during the winter months, volcano hikes, snorkelling in submerged craters, kayaking, and more.

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  • Open access
  • Published: 17 May 2024

Understanding attractions’ connection patterns based on intra-destination tourist mobility: A network motif approach

  • Ding Ding 1 , 2 ,
  • Yunhao Zheng 1 , 2 ,
  • Yi Zhang 1 , 2 &
  • Yu Liu   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0016-2902 1 , 2  

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume  11 , Article number:  636 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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  • Business and management
  • Complex networks
  • Science, technology and society

Tourist movement patterns among attractions are complex and variable, and understanding such patterns can help manage tourist destinations more effectively. However, previous studies on tourist movement utilising complex networks have not explored the network motif approach comprehensively. Therefore, we adopted a network motif approach using social media data to extract and analyse motifs in a city network. This study analyses the attractions corresponding to the nodes in each motif, revealing the connection patterns between these attractions. We also discuss motifs between attractions with different types and titles. Popular attractions play a significant role in a local network while other attractions serve distinct functions within the network. This study’s findings enhance the significance of network motifs in examining tourist movement and deepen the understanding of recurring movement patterns between attractions. Moreover, they assist managers in developing policy tools for intelligent tourism destination marketing and planning that cater to tourists’ needs.

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Tourism has emerged as a leading economic activity worldwide, surpassing certain traditional industries and serving as a pivotal catalyst for international and regional economic growth. Specifically, urban tourism constitutes the cornerstone of contemporary tourism and has reached an advanced stage of competitive growth (Cárdenas-García et al., 2024 ; W. Su et al., 2003 ). Tourism has generated business prospects for numerous companies within renowned tourist cities such as Paris, New York, and Tokyo, simultaneously creating many employment opportunities for the urban population and infusing consistent economic vibrancy into such destinations (Hassan, 2000 ). Contemporary tourists’ movements in cities are no longer bound by rigid schedules or fixed itineraries, and their temporal and spatial flexibility is highlighted by their mobility patterns. John Urry’s ‘new mobility paradigm’ focuses on such changing nature of mobility (Korstanje, 2018 ; Merriman, 2012 ; Tzanelli, 2021 ; Urry ( 2008 )).

The rapid development of information and communication technologies has led to the widespread popularisation of mobile terminal devices equipped with positioning technology. The large amount of user location data collected by these devices has significantly enhanced our understanding of tourist mobility over the past two decades (Chen et al., 2022 ; Chuang, 2023 ; Jiang & Phoong, 2023 ; Leng et al., 2021 ; Nguyen & Nguyen, 2023 ; Park et al., 2023 ; Xu et al., 2024 ). By leveraging these datasets, diverse research methods and theories have been used to investigate tourist mobility, including geographic information systems (Lau & McKercher, 2006 ), time geography (Grinberger et al., 2014 ; Xiao-Ting & Bi-Hu, 2012 ), and Markov chains (Vu et al., 2015 ; Xia et al., 2009 ). Tourism researchers have attempted to understand the essence of tourist mobility because it plays a key role in attraction marketing, event planning, and the management and design of attractions in cities. Understanding tourist mobility with a city as a single destination can help managers make refined decisions compared to tourist movement on a larger scale, such as movement between destinations. Notably, a prevalent trend involves the aggregation of individual-level mobility data into networks, which serve as a basis for analysing the topological structure of attraction systems (Vu et al., 2015 ).

Tourist mobility data correspond to a network structure in which tourist attractions are nodes and the spatial movement between two attractions represents bonds (Kang et al., 2018 ). Consequently, network analysis is a data mining technique that has been widely used to extract the connection patterns established between attractions as tourists move through a geographical space (García-Palomares et al., 2015 ; Han et al., 2018 ; Leung et al., 2012 ; Mou et al., 2020a ; Peng et al., 2016 ; Xu et al., 2022 ; Zeng, 2018 ). Understanding the network characteristics of tourist attractions has practical implications for the competitiveness, management, and planning of tourist attractions (Stienmetz & Fesenmaier, 2015 ).

Nevertheless, most current literature employing social network analysis relies on descriptive measurements to analyse tourist mobility patterns. However, this approach hampers the assessment of the reliability and validity of the identified patterns (Park & Zhong, 2022 ). This study emphasises the concept of network motifs. These motifs are characterised as recurring and statistically significant subgraphs within a larger graph. As a crucial research task in complex network theory (Ahmed et al., 2017 ), motifs reveal functional properties based on the structural traits of network systems. Examining motifs in tourism networks enhances the understanding of how destinations are connected, how tourists move between destinations and how tourism policies affect network structure and dynamics. Moreover, in comparison with the travel motifs applied in previous studies (Park & Zhong, 2022 ; Yang et al., 2017 ), network motifs provide greater insight into individual tourist mobility at the aggregation level. Consequently, motifs can be useful in identifying the most influential or central destinations in tourism networks.

In summary, this study answers the following three questions: (1) What types of motifs do attractions constitute? (2) How are motifs linked to specific attractions? (3) How do motifs relate to attraction attributes? As the first study to use network motifs to examine tourist movement in a group manner, we select Suzhou City as the case study area and adopt social media data to extract tourists’ movements, which makes it easy to connect the nodes of the network with specific attractions. This paper proceeds as follows: The Literature Review section, as its name implies, presents a review of relevant studies on tourist mobility and network motifs. The Methodology section presents the dataset used in this study and the motif discovery method that we used to analyse it. The Results section presents an analysis of the results of motif discovery. In the Discussion section, we discuss this study’s results and implications for tourism. The Conclusion section presents the conclusions of the study.

Literature review

Research on network motifs.

Network motifs are defined as patterns of interconnections occurring in complex networks at numbers that are significantly higher than those occurring in randomised networks (Milo et al., 2002 ). Motifs can characterise the dynamic and functional behaviour of a network, therefore enabling the classification of networks based on statistical analysis (Roy et al., 2023 ). Network motifs have practical implications for social relationships, protein complexes, and information infrastructures (Yu et al., 2020 ). Current methods for discovering network topics can be divided into two categories: network-centric and motif-centric approaches. Network-centric methods enumerate all subgraphs in a network, such as Mfinder (Kashtan et al., 2002 ), FanMod (Wernicke & Rasche, 2006 ), Kavosh (Kashani et al., 2009 ) and G-tries (Ribeiro & Silva, 2010 ). Conversely, approaches such as Grochow (Grochow & Kellis, 2007 ) and MODA (Omidi et al., 2009 ) are motif-centric. Based on subgraph symmetry, motif-centric methods search for a single query graph and then map frequencies rather than enumerate them.

Regarding the application of complex network science in the field of tourism, previous studies examine tourist flow networks from the perspective of inter-destination (Liu et al., 2017 ; Peng et al., 2016 ; Shih, 2006 ; Wang et al., 2020 ) and intra-destination (Gao et al., 2022 ; Hwang et al., 2006 ; Leung et al., 2012 ; Mou et al., 2020 ; Zeng, 2018 ; Zheng et al., 2021 ). Summarising these previous studies, two common types of metrics can be identified: network- and node-based metrics. Network-based indicators include density, efficiency, diameter, average shortest path, average clustering coefficient, and centralisation. Node-based metrics include degree (out and in), degree centrality (out and in), closeness centrality, and betweenness centrality. Furthermore, network structure analysis methods, such as structural holes and core-periphery analyses, have also been employed.

Although motif discovery is a crucial research area in network science, its application to tourism has been relatively limited. Several studies have been at the forefront of applying network motifs to the study of human mobility (Cao et al., 2019 ; Schneider et al., 2013 ; R. Su et al., 2020 ). In contrast to concentrating solely on subgraphs within mobility networks, researchers have introduced the concept of travel motifs, therefore expanding motifs from topological spaces to include temporal and semantic dimensions (Yang et al., 2017 ). To the best of our knowledge, this tourism network motif was first mentioned in a global tourism network study (Lozano & Gutiérrez, 2018 ). Several network motifs including transitive feedforward loops and different one and two mutual-dyads subgraphs, have been identified. Furthermore, a study conducted in South Korea introduced a network motif algorithm to examine the interconnections of travel patterns between places within the context of tourism (Park & Zhong, 2022 ), and disregarded only the spatial behaviour of local tourists. Moreover, because cell towers collect mobile sensor data, it is challenging to accurately determine the precise locations of mobile users and the tourist attractions corresponding to those specific locations. Therefore, this study employs social media data and links each tourist’s spatial behaviour to a corresponding attraction, therefore revealing the connection patterns among attractions.

Tourist mobility and network analysis

Tourist mobility encompasses tourists’ flow, movement, dispersal, and travel patterns across space and time (Hardy et al., 2020 ; Shoval et al., 2020 ). The analysis of spatial movement is a significant aspect of tourist mobility (Oppermann, 1995 ). Understanding how tourists move through time and space has important implications for infrastructure and transportation development, product development, destination planning, and planning of new attractions, as well as the management of the social, environmental, and cultural impacts of tourism (Lew & McKercher, 2006 ). The verifiability and reliability of tourist mobility studies can be improved through quantitative analysis; however, the results of quantitative analyses are highly dependent on the scales on which their studies are used (Jin et al., 2018 ; Zhang et al., 2023 ).

Some intra-destination mobility studies have conducted analyses at the individual level. For instance, Fennell ( 1996 ) examined tourist movements on the Shetland Islands using measures of space, time, perception, region, and core-periphery. Lew and McKercher ( 2006 ) used an inductive approach based on urban transportation to identify explanatory factors that influence tourist mobility within a destination. Early research favoured abstract methods based on fundamental tourist proposals. There is a general approach for modelling tourist mobility that is easy to reproduce, namely, the Markov model. Xia et al. ( 2009 ) used Markov chains to model tourist mobility as a stochastic process and calculated the probabilities of tourists’ movement patterns on an island. As a more practical and useful approach, using semi-Markov models is effective in deriving the probabilities of both tourist movement and the attractiveness of specific attractions (Xia et al., 2011 ). Furthermore, time geography is a conceptual framework used to describe and understand tourist mobility. Integrating time geography with geographic information systems tools, Grinberger et al. ( 2014 ) clustered tourists based on the time-space allocation measures of their behaviour to reveal tourists’ choices and the strategies they implemented within the constraints of time and space.

There is an increasing trend involving the aggregation of individual-level mobility data into networks as the basis for analysing the topological structure of attraction systems (Smallwood et al., 2011 ). Mobility patterns can be viewed as a network and are therefore subject to network analysis (Shih, 2006 ). Based on a core-periphery analysis of attraction networks, Zach and Gretzel ( 2011 ) analysed the structure of attraction networks and provided a strong and practical basis for technology design and tourism marketing. Leung et al. ( 2012 ) applied social network and content analyses to examine the most visited tourist attractions and main tourism movement patterns in Beijing during three distinct periods. Additionally, network methods are often used in conjunction with other analytical methods. For example, Liu et al. ( 2017 ) applied a quadratic assignment procedure to an attraction network to test the relationship between proximity and the attraction network determined by tourists’ free-choice movements. Another example is Mou et al. ( 2020a ), who integrated social network analysis with traditional quantitative methods to develop a novel research framework. Indicators such as the Annual Gini Index and Pearson correlation coefficient can also be helpful when analysing tourists’ spatiotemporal behaviour (Zheng et al., 2021 ).

Motif discovery algorithms are commonly applied to gene regulation networks, electronic circuits, and neurones (Yu et al., 2020 ). However, studies using motif discovery methods to examine study tourist mobility are limited. It is worth mentioning that there are studies that examine travel motifs (which are extended from topological spaces to temporal and semantic spaces) to ascertain tourist mobility patterns (Yang et al., 2017 ). In fact, the variation in travel mobility patterns depends not only on tourists’ different lengths of stay and the topological structures of travel mobility but also on the relative proportions of each travel mobility type (Park & Zhong, 2022 ). However, travel motifs can only reflect the movement patterns of individual tourists rather than the movement patterns at the aggregated-individual level, let alone serve as the basis for analysing the topological structure of an attraction network (Jin et al., 2018 ). To the best of our knowledge, no previous study has used network motifs to examine tourist mobility at the individual-aggregation level. Only Lozano and Gutiérrez ( 2018 ) applied the network motif analysis tool offered by UCINET 6.0 to analyse the top three global tourism flows. Therefore, this study argues that the use of network motif analysis not only fills a research gap regarding tourist mobility at the aggregation level but also provides theoretical support for planning and the design of tourist attraction networks.


We selected Suzhou, China (Fig. 1a ) as the study area. Suzhou is located in eastern China, west of Shanghai, and has a population of five million residents. With its plentiful tourism resources, Suzhou received more than 100 million domestic visitors annually before the COVID-19 pandemic. Suzhou is well-known for its cultural and historical heritage. The most popular attractions in Suzhou are its classical gardens, which were included in the World Heritage List of the previous century. Suzhou’s ancient city attractions cover an area of 14 km 2 . In addition to these historical attractions, Suzhou has a natural landscape with lush mountains and gleaming lakes.

figure 1

a The location of attractions in Suzhou b The geo-tagged microblogs in Suzhou.

Data collection and preprocessing

Social media data were primarily collected from location-based mobile phone applications. Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, is the most popular social media platform in China, with over 500 million active registered users who post 300 million microblogs daily (Kim et al., 2017 ). We used the application programming interface provided by Sina Weibo to crawl posts made in Suzhou from 12 April, 2012 to 31 October, 2016. The posts we crawled from the application programming interface contained various data about the users, including post identification (ID), user ID, post text, pictures, location information (longitude and latitude), and post time, as shown in Fig. 1b . Based on the user ID, we were also able to acquire users’ profile information while remaining compliant with user privacy regulations. User profile information includes registration location, gender, age, number of posts and fans, and ‘follows.’

However, only a portion of users were involved in tourism activities. We assumed that these tourists were not locals and that they had to return to their cities of residence after their trip. Referring to the double-filtration approach proposed by Su et al. ( 2020 ), we first filtered out local users based on the locations registered in their Weibo user profiles. In this study, the time difference between a user’s first and last post is defined as their length of stay. Referring to previous studies (Girardin et al., 2008 ; García-Palomares et al., 2015 ), we filtered out users who stayed longer than one month.

The purpose of tourism activities can be entertainment or relaxation; however, they can also be a part of official or business visits. Although official/business visits may also involve tourism activities, only visitors travelling to Suzhou of their own accord were considered tourists in our study. Therefore, during data preprocessing, we defined only users who posted microblogs within the tourist attractions shown in the Suzhou Tourism Bureau’s official list ( http://tjj.suzhou.gov.cn/ ) as tourists. Specifically, we used the coordinates recorded in the geo-tagged microblogs to determine whether a user had visited one of the attractions on the official list. After filtering out individuals based on the criteria described above, 234,049 Weibo microblogs were obtained from 54,712 tourists. Sorting these microblogs by time gave us the of tourists’ trajectories within the city. As a result, we could map these trajectories to the directional connections between attractions to establish, a network of attractions (Fig. 2 ).

figure 2

Framework of the network motif analysis.

Extracting attractions’ connection patterns using network motif analysis

Just as attractions are represented in networks as nodes and flows as edges, tourist mobility patterns can also be transformed into complex networks (Schneider et al., 2013 ). Therefore, we discovered all recurrent mobility patterns related to the motifs appearing in the tourist flow network. To accomplish this, we introduced a new algorithm (Kavosh) designed to find k-size network motifs with less memory and CPU time than those required for other algorithms. The Kavosh algorithm is based on counting all k-size subgraphs of a given graph (directed or undirected). As shown in Fig. 2 , the Kavosh algorithm consists of three steps: enumeration, random network generation, and motif identification. First, the algorithm enumerates all possible mobility patterns related to the subgraphs in the original network. The Kavosh algorithm groups the isomorphic subgraphs using the NAUTY algorithm. This optimisation enhances the overall process efficiency and minimises pattern redundancy. As not all patterns bear significance, the algorithm generates a large number of random networks and compares the frequency of occurrence of these patterns in all random networks. Lastly, the significance of each pattern in the input network is calculated for motif identification. Here, some statistical measures that generate probable motifs in the original network are introduced.

This is the simplest method for estimating the significance of a motif. For a given network, we assume that G p is a representative of an isomorphism class involved in that class. Frequency is defined as the number of occurrences of G p in the input network.

This measure reflects how randomly the class occurred in the input network. For the assumed motif G p , this measure is defined as:

This measure indicates the number of random networks in which a motif, G p , occurs more often than in the input network, divided by the total number of random networks. Therefore, the P -value ranges from 0 to 1. The smaller the P -value, the more significant the motif.

Therefore, the motifs found in the input network are available, including some related statistical measures. As mentioned in the previous step, three different measures are used in this algorithm. There are no exact thresholds for these measures to distinguish motifs; the more restricted the thresholds, the more precise the motif. According to previous experimental results (Milo et al., 2002 ), the following conditions can be used to describe a network motif:

Using 1000 randomised networks, the P -value is < 0.01.

The frequency is larger than four.

Using 1000 randomised networks, the Z-score is > 1.

According to the above conditions, aiming to be as precise as possible, the patterns with significant measures are those that describe the network motifs.

Extracted motifs of the tourist attraction network

The Sina Weibo data analysed in this study encompassed 104 attractions within Suzhou City (Fig. 1a ). According to the processing method described in the previous section, the data from Sina Weibo constituted a total of 2171 edges of the tourism network. When searching for k-motifs, the frequency of (k-1) motifs in the original network should be the same as that in the randomised network (Yu et al., 2020 ). In this study, motifs with more than four nodes did not meet the requirements for extraction; therefore, we extracted motifs with three and four nodes. We determined that a motif appeared in the network based on the criteria mentioned in the previous section. Consequently, we extracted three motifs for three-node motifs and six motifs for four-node motifs, as shown in Figs. 3 and 4 .

figure 3

Topological types of tourism network motifs.

figure 4

Frequency and Z-score of tourism network motifs.

Under each motif in Fig. 3 is the proportion of that motif within the network, while the ID of that motif is in the top-right corner of each cell. Each node in the graph also contains a corresponding label, as shown by the IDs of motifs 1 and 4. The node labels of the other motifs are similar. Therefore, we did not label them all to ensure the figure remained concise. Referring to the classification of motifs in previous studies (Costa et al., 2007 ; Yang et al., 2017 ), we divided motifs into four base classes: chain, mutual dyad, double-linked mutual dyad, and fully connected triad. The chain-class motif refers to tourists visiting three attractions sequentially without returning. Similarly, a double-linked mutual dyad motif means that tourists flow in both directions between two pairs of attractions. The fully connected triad motif refers to a pair of three attractions with any two pairs flowing in both directions.

Among them, the mutual dyad, double-linked mutual dyad, and fully connected triad have uplinked and downlinked variants in their main categories. For example, if node A of the mutual dyad sends tourists to another attraction, we use the term ‘uplinked’ to describe this motif, whereas if node A receives tourists from another attraction, we describe the motif as ‘downlinked’. By analogy, these naming rules can be extended to double-linked mutual dyads and fully connected triads. The centrally linked mutual dyad and fully connected triad with a mutual dyad are two more specific variants. The centrally linked mutual dyad is based on a core attraction surrounded by three nodes with mutual circulation; however, none of the three attractions are connected to each other. A fully connected triad with a mutual dyad constitutes one fully connected triad in which one node forms another mutual dyad.

Among the abovementioned nine motifs, those with IDs 1, 2, and 3 are three-node motifs, accounting for 37.61% of the total number of network subgraphs. This indicates that the flow of tourists between any three attractions in the tourism network is dominated by chaining. This suggests that there is an order for most connections among the three attractions’ patterns. The remaining six motifs of the four nodes accounted for 29.67%, with three motifs (those with IDs 4, 5, and 6) forming around the centre point in the lower left corner. The centrally linked motif corresponds to a movement pattern referred to as a ‘basecamp’ in previous studies (Lau & McKercher, 2006 ; Lue et al., 1993 ; Oppermann, 1995 ), in which tourists establish one attraction as their basecamp and leave to visit other places, only to return later. In the downlinked variant, this base camp appeared as a gateway attraction for visiting attractions B and C. The motifs with IDs 7, 8, and 9 were mainly structured as a fully connected triple attraction, which comprised three closely linked attractions where tourists can move freely. In addition to this triple attraction, we also identified a relationship between one attraction and one of three attractions, exhibiting relationships of receiving, conveying, and circulating with each other. Therefore, regarding the connection patterns of the four attractions, the function of the key attractions in it is both specific and vital.

Motif interpretation: Specific attractions

In this study, all calculated motifs were the local mobility patterns of tourists that occurred at high frequencies in the original tourist network. The following analysis was performed for the distribution of attractions on each node of the extracted motifs. We selected the node with the highest degree for each motif and counted the attractions appearing in that node for all subgraphs in the tourist network. The top three attractions with the highest frequency on the highest-degree node were selected according to their frequency, as shown in Table 1 . In the table, the highest-degree nodes are shown in orange.

Table 1 shows that the attractions Guanqian Street, Jinji Lake, and Pingjiang Road are the most highly placed nodes in the subgraph, indicating that these three attractions are in a relatively central position in the whole network. In other words, the network is organised around these three attractions, forming the vast majority of the local tourist movement patterns. Additionally, attractions such as Zhouzhuang and Hanshan Temple also play a key role in the local network. Zhouzhuang appears in the nodes of the motif as an attraction en route to other attractions, acting as a gateway. Generally, in motif patterns 3 and 9, tourists do not return after visiting Zhouzhuang but continue to visit attractions interconnected with Zhouzhuang, which is attributable to the long distance between Zhouzhuang and the urban area of Suzhou. The opposite is true for Hanshan Temple, whose corresponding motif patterns (2, 4, and 7) tend to be the attractions that tourists visited before they went to B through other attractions, implying that tourists all converged at that attraction before visiting other attractions. We further determined the top three attractions in node B: Tongli National Wetland Park, China Flower Botanical Garden, and Dabaidang Ecological Park. The common characteristic of these three attractions is that they all have multiple varieties of flowers with ornamental value and rich vegetation coverage, making them good places for hiking during spring.

Motif interpretation: Types and titles of attractions

In addition to exploring the nodes with the highest degree of motifs, this study examines the types and titles of attractions on each node. According to the classification proposed by another study in Suzhou (Xue & Zhang, 2020 ), attractions can be classified into natural, cultural, and commercial, according to their landscape type; they may also be classified as 5A, 4A and others according to their title (A tourist attraction with a ‘5A’ score implies that it has the most beautiful scenery, the best service and perfect facilities). Fig. 5 shows the distribution of attraction types on the nodes, Fig. 6 shows the distribution of attraction titles on the nodes, while the node labels in the lower right corner of each figure are used to refer to the relative positions of the nodes on each motif. We refer to these node labels in the subsequent paragraphs.

figure 5

The attraction type of motif nodes.

figure 6

The attraction title of motif nodes.

Figures 5 and 6 show that the types of attractions on each node differ; however, the differences in the types of node attractions between each motif in each major category are relatively insignificant. This indicates that each major category of attraction connection pattern summarises a common class of tourists’ local movement patterns, while the attributes of each attraction in this movement pattern are fixed.

Types of attractions

In Fig. 5 , the distribution of the attraction types of the nodes differs insignificantly in the type of attraction for the chain-type motif. Regarding the mutual dyad type, the types of node A are still relatively balanced, whereas the types dominated by nodes B and C are different and exactly opposite. Specifically, node B of motif 2 is dominated by natural-type attractions, whereas node C has more than 50% cultural attractions. Conversely, motif 3 shows the opposite pattern. The double-linked mutual dyad exhibited more obvious characteristics. First, we observe that the proportions of nodes C and D attraction types of the three motifs are identical, with the main differences appearing in nodes A and B. Second, for IDs 4 and 5, node A’s commercial attractions exhibit a significantly high proportion, which highlights their role in aggregating tourists in the local network. In contrast, for motif 6, node A primarily serves as a transit node from B to C and D, while its proportion of commercial attractions is not notably high. Lastly, in the fully connected triad, the proportion of interconnected nodes in the three motifs remains consistent. Nodes C and D are dominated by cultural attractions, whereas node A, acting as a communication hub for other attractions, exhibits a more balanced distribution of types.

Titles of attractions

In Fig. 6 , the percentages of 5A and 4A attractions on nodes without attraction titles are significantly lower than those on nodes with famous attraction titles. Specifically, considering the percentage of attraction titles on each node, the difference in the percentage of B and C node levels for the chain-type motif is insignificant. Moreover, they are dominated by unpopular attractions. However, the percentage of A as a transit node for famous attractions is significantly higher than that of B and C. The situation of node A in the mutual Dyad type is similar to that of the chain type, with a higher percentage of famous attractions, whereas the situation is different for nodes B and C. Nodes B and C have the opposite ratio: when node B has a higher proportion of famous attractions, node C is dominated by non-famous attractions, and vice versa. Regarding the double-linked mutual dyad type, the proportion of famous attractions in node A is significantly higher than that in the other nodes. However, there is no significant difference in the percentage of attraction titles in the other nodes, regardless of whether it is a bidirectional flow with node A, and all of them are dominated by non-famous attractions. When there is a fully connected triad in the motif, the proportion of the three nodes that are fully connected as attractions with titles is very high, indicating that the flow of tourists between the 5A and 4A attractions is considerable. In contrast, most of the B nodes that are only connected to A nodes comprise non-famous attractions, indicating that attractions without good titles cannot establish a better connection with 5A and 4A.

We applied network motif analytics as a novel approach for exploring the local structure of tourist networks, based on social media data. The overall structural features of the network emerged from the local relational features. To comprehend the principles of tourist network formation, it is essential to consider not only the overall network perspective but also local network connections. The results showed that attractions play an important role in local networks and that this role is related to the type and level of attractions. Therefore, enhancing the future development of tourism in Suzhou hinges on strategically guiding attractions to fulfill their appropriate service functions within the destination city.

Tourist mobility patterns

This study employs the theory of motifs, which originated from complex network science, as an innovative approach to investigating tourist mobility patterns. Originally used in the field of biology, the network motif algorithm for complex networks was applied in this study to examine the relationships between overabundant tourism mobility patterns and the corresponding attractions. Unlike previous methods for mining travel motifs, the analysis results of motif analysis in the network cannot directly extract tourists’ travel itineraries in the city. The motif-based analysis method focuses more on the movement patterns of groups of tourists between several strongly associated attractions. Based on this characteristic, network motif analysis is more suitable for observing local phenomena.

For tourist movement in urban tourist destinations, a large directed graph can be constructed for tourist movement between attrations according to the concept of network science theory. By applying the motif extraction method to this graph, we can find that it is these simple repeating topologies that make up the overall network (Fig. 7 ). In this study, four classes and nine motifs effectively summarised the diverse mobility patterns. This implies that despite the diversity of their travel history, humans follow simple reproducible patterns (González et al., ( 2008 )). Understanding tourist mobility patterns enhances the comprehension of city destination systems and provides vital insights into city destination planning and development (Ashworth & Page, 2011 ).

figure 7

Motifs in attraction network.

Connection patterns between attractions

This study examines a tourist network’s connection patterns to identify attractions with distinct roles, including core, transit, and gateway attractions. Tourist attractions within destinations vary in significance, while the hierarchical structure of urban destination systems differs based on their appeal to tourists (Golledge, 1978 ). From a product-marketing standpoint, these findings help marketers understand the function of attractions in tourists’ travel itineraries and establish a foundation for the development of targeted tourism products. For example, for the core attractions, overall tourism planning should be carried out around them; for the identified transit attractions, more transportation routes should be planned for these attractions; for the gateway attractions, the hotel reception services and tourist guide services around these attractions should be enhanced. Nevertheless, the results underscore that the crucial nodes within the nine motifs are almost always composed of a few of the most renowned attractions. From a risk management perspective, an excessively concentrated destination may cause ‘overtourism’ (Peeters et al., 2018 ).

Implications for tourism management

Understanding tourists’ movement is essential for tourism managers to plan and implement effective sustainability strategies (Shi et al., 2017 ). The tourist network examined in this study reflects the movement of tourists among attractions, provides a novel approach to analyse tourist movement patterns within destinations and accurately depicts tourists’ digital footprint within destinations (Fan et al., 2024 ). The results show that although tourists’ detailed movement patterns among destinations are highly complex, local attractions’ connections in the network can be grouped into several patterns. This suggests that although tourists differ in preferences, there are also commonalities in their overall spatial behaviours, which helps enrich the group user profile of visiting tourists. Therefore, destinations can develop attractions and alternative attractions based on the analysis of tourist movement patterns by capturing popular travel routes (Vu et al., 2015 ).


As cities become centres of economic activity, new forms of urban tourism are becoming popular, while an increasing number of tourists are choosing cities as destinations to pursue novel, diverse, and personalised travel experiences (Füller & Michel, 2014 ). This study employs motif analysis in complex network science to elucidate tourist mobility patterns and depict the interconnections between attraction systems in Suzhou, China. We innovatively used actual attractions as network nodes and focused on attraction connection patterns to provide practical implications for destination management. The main conclusions are summarised as follows:

Referring to the motif discovery method known as Kavosh, we extracted nine motifs from a tourist network in Suzhou. These nine motifs can be categorised into four main classes: chain, mutual dyad, double-linked mutual dyad, and fully connected triad.

Specific attractions represented by nodes in the motifs are explored comprehensively. Suzhou’s network is organised around three attractions, namely, Guanqian Street, Jinji Lake and Pingjiang Road, which form most of the local attractions’ connection patterns. Attractions such as the Zhouzhuang and the Hanshan Temple perform specific functions in the network.

The types and proportions of attractions were investigated by visualising local tourist mobility patterns in the network. The results showed that nodes with a higher degree of motifs were generally well-known attractions with titles such as 5A or 4A and were dominated by cultural and commercial attractions.

These results provide a new analytical methodological framework for examining connection patterns in local attraction systems, as well as a basis for the management of attractions within urban tourism destinations.

Despite the theoretical insights and practical applications of this study, there are some limitations that must be acknowledged. For example, social media data are prone to various biases—e.g. the popularity of specific platforms among users—while the amount of data may vary by country, year and population. The bias associated with highly engaged users can result in the overrepresentation of such populations (Encalada-Abarca et al., 2023 ). Additionally, the data used in this study mainly reflect tourists’ spatial behaviour within a city. Because tourists’ spatial behaviour patterns within different destinations differ, it is necessary to use tourism networks within multiple destinations to establish comparisons in subsequent studies, which could help generalise this study’s findings. Future work could further explore the mechanisms of attraction selection by the mobility motifs, such as the fact that tourists are looking to maximise satisfaction when planning their itineraries.

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Special thanks to Prof. Yang Xu for his advice in writing and conceptualization. This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant [number 41830645] and Yunnan Provincial Science and Technology Project at Southwest United Graduate School [number 202302AO370012]. The first author - Ding would like to thank to his fiancée, Lanqi Liu, for her help in coding and figure drawing. And her encouragement during Ding’s hard time was key to the final publication of this paper.

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Institute of Remote Sensing and Geographical Information Systems, School of Earth and Space Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, People’s Republic of China

Ding Ding, Yunhao Zheng, Yi Zhang & Yu Liu

Southwest United Graduate School, Kunming, People’s Republic of China

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Ding Ding: Conceptualization of this study, Methodology, Formal analysis, Investigation, Visualization, Writing - Original Draft. Yunhao Zheng: Conceptualization, Methodology, Visualization, Writing - Reviewing and Editing. Yi Zhang: Conceptualization, Data Curation, Validation, Writing - Reviewing. Yu Liu: Resources, Writing - Reviewing, Project administration, Supervision, Funding acquisition.

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Ding, D., Zheng, Y., Zhang, Y. et al. Understanding attractions’ connection patterns based on intra-destination tourist mobility: A network motif approach. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 11 , 636 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-024-03093-3

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Received : 19 October 2023

Accepted : 22 April 2024

Published : 17 May 2024

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-024-03093-3

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