Sustainable travel: How to explore Spain in a greener way
It’s no wonder that Spain is such a popular holiday destination, with beautiful scenery, welcoming locals and fantastic food. But it’s also the perfect location for a sustainable holiday. This nation is renowned for its ecotourism and respect for the landscape, with a world record for unique biosphere reserves, 16 national parks and countless eco accommodation options.
A study by Booking.com found that 53% of travellers considered sustainability to be a crucial factor in their travel decisions and 69% expected the industry to offer more sustainable options. So, if sustainable travel is high on your priority list, here are a few ways you can explore Spain in a greener way.
Visit eco-friendly destinations
Certain destinations are better than others when it comes to minimising your environmental impact, but Spain offers so many options in the form of cycling routes and Blue Flag beaches that all contribute to locations with green certifications and protected scenery. Opt for lesser-known areas around Spain rather than the usual tourist haunts, not only to avoid over-tourism of these locations but also to explore more that Spain has to offer.
Sierra Nevada, for example, is a fantastic choice for sustainable scenery. Sierra Nevada became a Unesco Biosphere Reserve back in 1986 and a National Park in 1999, offering a mix of beaches and mountainscapes. Or maybe you want to explore the wildlife. Doñana is one of the most protected natural areas in Europe and over 300 different species of birds flock here every year.
Choose sustainable activities
Depending on where you intend to travel in Spain, there are various factors to consider in choosing a sustainable activity. For example, if you want to visit the beaches and coastal regions, travel during off-season so as not to contribute to over-tourism.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, why not plan a hiking holiday through the mountains and the lesser-explored fishing villages? Maybe you’re planning to capture the beauty of Spain on film, in which case you could combine it with a cycling trip to minimise your transport use. Or maybe you want to experience the culinary delights of this region, in which case skip the packed restaurants and head to smaller businesses using local, seasonal ingredients.
Stay in environmentally-friendly accommodation
From hostels and camping to rural houses and apartments, there are many options for sustainable accommodation. Choosing the right one to reduce your carbon footprint comes down to a few key elements. Larger properties and apartments tend to be less eco-friendly because they require more energy to maintain, so go smaller where possible. It’s tempting to go all inclusive when you visit a new destination, but these aren’t sustainable and they often mean that you don’t have any incentive to leave the resort, so businesses in the local area suffer through a lack of business.
Green hostels are a great choice to experience the culture without having a huge environmental impact, whether that’s operating on renewable energy, implementing water conservation techniques or other measures such as recycling, composting and using energy-saving devices. Rural houses are also perfect if you want to explore more of the countryside or plan on staying for longer in Spain, or you could head to one of Spain’s eco farms to get in touch with nature and experience local produce.
Support family businesses
The renowned tourist attractions are fun, but they don’t do much to support the people of Spain in the same way that buying from century-old family-run businesses can. Skip the fun but cheaply made knick-knacks from packed souvenir shops and instead, buy your mementos and items from local businesses. It’s a responsible way to support the economy and keep these businesses thriving.
Many of the long-lasting businesses in Spain, such as in cities like Madrid, actually have plaques outside their premises to highlight how long they’ve been in business, so seek out these areas to support hard-working families who have been working on and honing their craft for generations. Choosing these smaller but more authentic spots makes all the difference to the local economy and ensures that these businesses can continue working, rather than being driven out by large global chains.
Leave no trace of your visit
One of the core elements of sustainable travel, and sustainable living in general, is to be conscious of the trail you’re leaving behind. This means don’t litter and leave waste materials in natural environments, whether that’s beaches, parks or mountains and rivers. No-one wants to explore an area after you only to find food packets, cigarette butts and plastic bottles everywhere. Not only is it unpleasant for other people but it’s damaging to the environment and to wildlife in the area.
Likewise, when you’re in accommodation, try to be mindful of the resources you’re using, just as you would while you’re at home. Don’t leave lights on unless you’re in the room, keep your water usage to a minimum and reuse towels and bed sheets so they don’t need to be washed unnecessarily.
We all have an impact on the places we visit, but that’s not to say we can’t explore the world. It just means that we need to be more mindful of how we do it, so as not to cause more harm than good. Spain is no exception. As a beautiful destination with wonderful weather, food and scenery, it’s no wonder that people choose to travel here, but doing so with an eco-friendly mindset is the key to making sure that local communities are empowered and supported, and that the landscapes are protected.
Mike James is a regular traveller and frequent visitor to Spain having lived in Andalucia, Valencia & Murcia during his time. With first-hand experience of life in Spain, a background in finance and property and an established freelance writer, he provides engaging and well-researched content across a broad range of topics.