Looking to make tracks in a new land in the most responsible way possible? It all starts with choosing the right place to visit. Ethical Traveler, a nonprofit project of the Earth Island Institute, has announced the 10 most ethical destinations in the developing world for 2014, based on their contribution to human rights, environmental preservation and social welfare. The goal is to incentivize ethical practices abroad by rewarding those destinations with increased tourism dollars.
What makes each location deserving and desirable? Read on:
The Bahamas A paragon of the sandy beach getaway, The Bahamas is back on the list after previously missing the cut. An increased focus on the development of protected areas in Andros West Side National Park and a notable administrative effort to reduce human trafficking has won the attention of Ethical Traveler (although the group is concerned about unethical wildlife destinations such as the pending dolphin park at Blackbeard's Cay). The Bahamas received a perfect score from Freedom House in both political rights and civil liberties categories.
Barbados If you've got an itch for a cool rum cocktail and a tropical island sunset, Barbados is a breathtaking and ethically informed option. The Caribbean country was commended for its environmentally conscious development agenda, which has protected the coastline while still promoting tourism. Ranking especially high in social welfare and human rights, Barbados leads by example in nearly every category explored by Ethical Traveler.
Cape Verde Charles Darwin must have forgotten his wetsuit back in 1832 when he referred to the island of Cape Verde as "dull " and "uninteresting. " Water sports enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities to get their feet wet at this famous windsurfing and kiteboarding destination. Cape Verde is the No. 1 ranked African country on Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2013 survey and has declared an ambitious plan to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2020.
Chile Home to the astounding Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve, which won a World Responsible Tourism Award in November 2013 for its contribution to sustainable environment and species programs, Chile has also made strides in the realm of social welfare. With the highest Gini index equality ranking of this year's ethical destinations and the highest possible score in political rights and civil liberties as determined by Freedom House, this South American nation is proving its devotion to the protection of its people and the preservation of its wonderful natural landmarks.
Dominica "Isle of beauty, isle of splendor, " boasts the Dominican national anthem. The "Nature Island " has set a goal to become energy independent and carbon negative by 2020, and has expanded solar power around the island. The Caribbean country is also working to preserve rare species of mountain chickens, frogs and iguanas. Phenomenal scenic hikes and mountain bike routes show off the idyllic natural landscape, while Champagne Reef's uniquely warm waters are home to some of the world's premier diving and snorkeling.
Latvia There's lots to love in Latvia, which was recognized as one of 10 countries in the world ranking at the top of 10 policy categories in both environmental public health and ecosystem vitality. The Daugava River splits the beautiful capital city of Riga, which has shed its postwar bleakness in favor of a bustling market atmosphere with a vibrant nightlife scene. Latvia received the highest ranking of this year's countries in gender equality.
Lithuania Raw, unmanicured wilderness is preserved by a Lithuanian devotion to protecting the natural environment. Visitors can explore any of the five national and 30 regional parks free of charge. The Northern European nation has made major strides in social welfare, having dropped its under-5 mortality rate by 52 percent since 2000. Lithuania was also recognized with a high score in human rights and the newly added animal welfare category.
Mauritius It's no surprise the now-extinct Dodo bird never chose to leave the island of Mauritius. The city of Grand Bay is a true paradise, now catering to tourists in search of white-sand beaches, great food and glass-bottom boat tours. Safari Jeep tours will take explorers through Yemen natural reserve park in search of zebras, ostriches, monkeys, and antelope. Mauritius was commended for its devotion to expanding tourism while protecting the environment. Additionally, the Indian Ocean island nation made great improvements in both social welfare and human rights categories, demonstrating a notable commitment to long-term development.
Palau World-class scuba diving and snorkeling highlight the islands of Palau, where tourists may encounter hidden caves, wartime wreckage, and massive drop-offs during the many guided tours offered. More than 28 percent of Palau's marine and terrestrial area is protected, the highest percentage of any destination on this year's list. Palau also received the highest possible rating in political rights and civil liberties.
Uruguay Uruguay's ambitious move toward sustainable energy has impressed Ethical Traveler, which lauded the South American country's goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2015. Uruguay has established itself as the model for socially progressive government, legalizing marriage equality, marijuana, and first-trimester abortion this year. Youth hostels provide an affordable option for peso-pinchers looking to cavort about the famous sand dunes and discotheques of Punta del Este.