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Eco-tourism took off in Spain in the '90s and has been gaining in popularity ever since. Growing numbers of visitors are opting for organized eco-tours or else incorporating environmental awareness during their vacations in Spain.

Spain established its first national park in 1918. Today, 4% of the Spanish land mass is devoted to national parks, including Europe's largest, Los Picos de Europa, which is in Asturias in northern Spain. Spain's national parks -- called Parques Nacionales -- incorporate everything from wetlands to mountains.

Eco-tourism often takes the form of camping at 1,000 sites in Spain, or within accommodations that include everything from basic government-rated one-star sites to more comfortable four-star settings. Some of the campsites even rent mobile homes or bungalows. Tourist offices throughout Spain will provide data directing you to Spain's many official campgrounds, called parques de campismo. Vayacamping tel. 93/594-61-00; www.vayacamping.net) publishes guides and maintains a website, detailing camping possibilities throughout Spain.

For a comprehensive list of Spain's eco-tours and vacations, check out Info Hub (www.infohub.com), the most comprehensive guide to out-of-the-ordinary and inspiring travel ideas in Spain. The layout of the site steers you toward the style of tour that appeals to you, and then guides you to the specific website associated with the tour you want.

Highlights include self-guided trekking through the Spanish Pyrenees, flights in hot-air balloons; cycling in northern Spain; cycling in Catalonia; and birding tours through swamps and wetlands.

Ecoforest Education for Sustainability strives for minimal damage to the planet's ecosystem. The group sets up communities where participants can live, learn, and visit in a healthy, sustainable way. All food comes from vegan-organic agriculture. Ecoforest defines its locations as "paradise gardens," where volunteers can sustain themselves in ways which are not only eco-friendly, but which will enhance the environment for generations to come. For additional details, contact Ecoforest Education for Sustainability, Apt. 29, Coin 29100, Málaga (tel. 66-922-74-47; www.ecoforest.org).

If you'd like to travel green in Spain, staying at environmentally sensitive hotels, seek out recommendations from It's a Green Green World (www.itsagreengreenworld.com). Its site previews green hotels across Spain, from a finca (farmhouse hotel) on the island of Majorca to a small country posada surrounded by its own 8-hectare (20-acre) organic farm in Asturias, in northwestern Spain.

Among international chains that have taken the lead in eco-tourism in Spain is Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts. It encourages its member hotels to choose methods of operation that will be the least damaging to the environment. They refer to their policies on this as the "reduce, re-use, or recycle" principal.

Travelers can make a difference in the conservation of Spain's natural habitats by learning about environmentally responsible tourism before they go. For information on the subject contact one of the following organizations: Conservation International, 2011 Crystal Dr., Ste. 500, Arlington, VA 22202 (tel. 800/406-2306 or 703/341-2400; www.conservation.org); The International Ecotourism Society, 1333 H St. NW, Ste. 300E, Washington, DC 20005 (tel. 202/347-9203; www.ecotourism.org); or the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 39 Quai André Citroën, Paris 75739, in France (tel. 33-1-44-37-14-50; www.uneptie.org). If you have time to contact only one of these organizations, make it the International Ecotourism Society, the world's oldest and largest eco-tourism organization.

An admirable organization for the eco-tourist is Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, P.O. Box 997, Boulder CO 80306; www.int.org. It has drawn up a code for outdoor travelers who want to protect the wilderness for future generations, with the aim to reduce one's impact on the environment.

General Resources for Green Travel

In addition to the resources for Spain listed above, the following websites provide valuable wide-ranging information on sustainable travel. For a list of even more sustainable resources, as well as tips and explanations on how to travel greener, visit www.frommers.com/planning.

  • Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) is a great source of sustainable travel ideas; the site is run by a spokesperson for ethical tourism in the travel industry. Sustainable Travel International (www.sustainabletravelinternational.org) promotes ethical tourism practices, and manages an extensive directory of sustainable properties and tour operators around the world.
  • In the U.K., Tourism Concern (www.tourismconcern.org.uk) works to reduce social and environmental problems connected to tourism. The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO; www.aito.co.uk) is a group of specialist operators leading the field in making holidays sustainable.
  • In Canada, www.greenlivingonline.com offers extensive content on how to travel sustainably, including a travel and transport section and profiles of the best green shops and services in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary.
  • In Australia, the national body which sets guidelines and standards for eco-tourism is Ecotourism Australia (www.ecotourism.org.au). The Green Directory (www.thegreendirectory.com.au), Green Pages (www.thegreenpages.com.au), and Eco Directory (www.ecodirectory.com.au) offer sustainable travel tips and directories of green businesses.
  • Carbonfund (www.carbonfund.org), TerraPass (www.terrapass.org), and Carbon Neutral (www.carbonneutral.org) provide info on "carbon offsetting," or offsetting the greenhouse gas emitted during flights.
  • Greenhotels (www.greenhotels.com) recommends green-rated member hotels around the world that fulfill the company's stringent environmental requirements. Environmentally Friendly Hotels (www.environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com) offers more green accommodation ratings. The Hotel Association of Canada (www.hacgreenhotels.com) has a Green Key Eco-Rating Program, which audits the environmental performance of Canadian hotels, motels, and resorts.
  • Sustain Lane (www.sustainlane.com) lists sustainable eating and drinking choices around the U.S.; also visit www.eatwellguide.org for tips on eating sustainably in the U.S. and Canada.
  • For information on animal-friendly issues throughout the world, visit Tread Lightly (www.treadlightly.org). For information about the ethics of swimming with dolphins, visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (www.wdcs.org).
  • Volunteer International (www.volunteerinternational.org) has a list of questions to help you determine the intentions and the nature of a volunteer program. For general info on volunteer travel, visit www.volunteerabroad.org and www.idealist.org.

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.