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, a significant portion of the Spanish land mass is devoted to national parks, including one of 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. Tourist offices throughout Spain will provide data directing you to Spain's many official campgrounds, called parques de campismo. Vayacamping publishes guides and maintains a website, detailing camping possibilities throughout Spain.

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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 InterContinental Hotels and Resorts. The brand encourages member hotels to choose methods of operation that will be the least damaging to the environment.

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, the International Ecotourism Society, or the United Nations Environment Programme. 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.

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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.

  • Responsible Travel is a great source of earth-friendly travel ideas. Sustainable Travel International promotes ethical tourism practices and manages an extensive directory of sustainable properties and tour operators around the world.
  • In the U.K., Tourism Concern works to reduce social and environmental problems connected to tourism. The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) is a group of specialist operators leading the field in making holidays sustainable.
  • In Australia, the national body which sets guidelines and standards for eco-tourism is Ecotourism Australia
  • Carbonfund, TerraPass (www.terrapass.org), and Carbon Neutral (www.carbonneutral.org) provide info on "carbon offsetting," or offsetting the greenhouse gas emitted during flights.
  • Greenhotels recommends green-rated member hotels around the world that fulfill the company's stringent environmental requirements. The Hotel Association of Canada has a Green Key Eco-Rating Program, which audits the environmental performance of Canadian hotels, motels, and resorts.
  • Visit www.eatwellguide.org for tips on eating sustainably.
  • For information on animal-friendly issues throughout the world, visit Tread Lightly. For information about the ethics of swimming with dolphins, visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
  • Volunteer International has a list of questions to help you determine the intentions and the nature of a volunteer program.
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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.