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Responsible Tourism

Responsible tourism is conscientious travel. It means being careful with the environments you explore, and respecting the communities you visit. Two overlapping components of sustainable travel are ecotourism and ethical tourism. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. TIES suggests that ecotourists follow these principles:

  • Minimize environmental impact.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation and for local people.
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climates.
  • Support international human rights and labor agreements.

You can find eco-friendly travel tips and statistics, as well as touring companies and associations -- listed by destination under "Travel Choice" -- at the TIES website, www.ecotourism.org.

Although Barcelona gives the impression of being a sprawling, congested city surrounded by industry, its political leaders have thankfully become increasingly ecology-conscious in recent years.

Over 150,000 trees now line its streets and its multifaceted parks, which range from high sprawling Collserola and Montjuïc down to magical Güell and cosy Ciutadella, are all managed by the punctilious local Parcs i Jardins Institut Municipal (Parks and Gardens Municipal Department), which prioritizes a sustainable gardening scheme in which local plants resistant to environmental diseases are planted and irrigated by an automatic money- and water-saving system.

All sorted waste is selectively composted and there are recycling bins widely dispersed throughout the city: They are colored green for glass, yellow for unperishable plastic, and orange for general rubbish.

As a viable means of getting around noiselessly and without polluting the air there's free bicycle hire (with over 6,000 bikes on the streets, it's already a highly popular option), and there are also serious plans for electrical vehicles, still at the experimental stage, to be operating in the near future. Even the lighting has seen radical changes, with an increase in the number of self-standing energy-saving solar lamps lining the streets.

There is a surprising number of beautiful and untouched eco-friendly regions near Barcelona that you can easily get to by bus or local train (cercanías). The Illes Medes is a group of seven minuscule islets close to the fishing port and resort of Estartit; the clear waters here are ideal for boating and scuba-diving excursions to see the water's rich variety of plant and marine life. The Parc Natural del Delta del Ebre, near Tortosa, is a salty and fertile region of marshes, dunes, and rice paddies that is great for bird-watching, sailing, and cycling along reed-lined waterside paths.

Animal-Rights Issues

Spain is not a country that has been noted for its kindness to animals in the past. Fiestas that include piercing bulls with lances in the Castilian town of Tordesillas still prevail (although the annual throwing-a-donkey-off-a-tower shebang in an Extremaduran village has happily disappeared).

The main bone of contention is, of course, the bullfight, which has slowly but surely lost popularity in Catalunya, although in most of Spain it remains a treasured event unique in Europe (in Portugal and southern France they have bullfights but don't kill the bull). It's also a very big moneymaker, with an estimated revenue of 300 million euros a year!

Unswayed by cash incentives on this particular occasion, the usually pragmatic burghers of Barcelona banned bullfighting altogether on July 28, 2010, when an historic regional parliamentary decision officially prohibited the colorful spectacle from 2012 onwards. The decision contrasts with policies in steadfastly traditional cities like Madrid, Seville, Valencia, and Murcia, all of which are determined to retain their Spanish "sport." The sole exception here is the Canary archipelago, which abolished bullfighting back in the 1990s.

Reasons for Barcelona's decision to ban bullfighting have ranged from condemning la corrida for its cruelty to animals to a downright rejection of anything 100% Spanish. Whatever's "in" with Madrid is "out" with Barcelona, from using the Castilian language to accepting the intractable policies of the right-wing PP (Partido Popular) who run Madrid.

So the fabled neo-mudejar-styled Monumental Plaza de Toros to the east of L'Eixample is on the verge of formally ending decades of legendary corridas featuring Spain's top toreros, many of them nigh-mythical figures like Luis Dominguín and Antonio Ordoñez, who reached their peak of popularity in the Catalan capital in the 1950s. What this emblematic building will be used for after 2012 remains to be seen.

Meanwhile the more functional looking Plaça Espanya bullring, one of Barcelona's two former corrida icons, has long been closed in readiness for transformation into a commercial center, although work has been held up until funds prove available in the current economic uncertainty.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.