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Guide to Eco-Tourism in Wales

Elan Valley eco-tourism site Wales

Guide to Eco-Tourism in Wales

What is eco-tourism?

Eco-tourism is trending right now, and it’s gained more prominence since the start of the pandemic. However, it isn’t just a passing trend – it’s vital for making sure we can preserve those spectacular Welsh destinations for years to come.

But what is eco-tourism? It doesn’t have to be complicated – it’s simply about making wiser travel choices for the environment. Whether it’s travelling by public transport or staying in accommodation with sustainable credentials, there are lots of ways to boost eco-tourism in Wales.

As the UK’s greenest region, with a magnificent 1,680-mile coastline, Wales has gained a great reputation with fans of outdoor activities. The more we travel sustainably, the more we can continue to hike in Snowdonia’s pristine mountains and swim at litter-free lakes, waterfalls and beaches.

But it’s not just the environment that benefits from eco-tourism. It’s also about supporting local Welsh communities. This might mean staying in family-run accommodation or buying your barbecue ingredients from local farm shops rather than big supermarket chains.

Travelling responsibly doesn’t dampen the adventure factor of your holiday – in fact, by trying to reduce the impact of over-tourism on popular Welsh destinations, you might discover gorgeous ‘secret’ destinations or crowd-free hiking trails. Maybe you could give your family walk a new sense of purpose by turning it into a litter-picking treasure hunt?

Either way, eco-tourism is set to keep Wales in fine shape, as well as maximise the adventure and excitement factor of your next getaway.

How to be eco-conscious when travelling

Preparing for an eco-conscious Welsh getaway isn’t difficult. It’s really just a matter of taking small, actionable steps towards a more sustainable holiday. There are many easy switches you can make, such as swapping single-use plastic drinks containers for a flask and looking out for seasonal local produce.

Reduce your carbon footprint

Reducing your carbon footprint doesn’t mean you have to stay at home. There are many ways to fulfil your wanderlust while keeping an eye on your carbon footprint, such as sharing a lift to your destination or opting for public transport over a car.

Consider a staycation instead of flying abroad

One huge way to reduce your carbon footprint is by swapping your holiday abroad for a staycation. A return flight from Birmingham to Malaga releases 0.55 tonnes of CO2e, whereas a return car journey from Birmingham to Tenby in a petrol car only releases 0.12 tonnes of CO2e. That’s nearly an 80% reduction in emissions.

Leave no trace

One of the simplest ways to look after the Welsh landscape is by leaving no trace. This could be as simple as carrying a spare bag to take your rubbish home (and ideally recycle it). It also involves making an effort not to disrupt natural habitats, such as not disturbing wildlife, and buying firewood rather than foraging for it.

Support the local community

While eco-tourism boosts the environment, it’s also a key way to support the Welsh communities that live in your holiday destination. An estimated 30% of holiday costs per night are spent off-site, according to a 2019 report for the UK Caravan & Camping Alliance.

Rather than visiting a big supermarket for your picnic food, try to track down local butchers, farm shops and other community-led shops. Instead of eating out at chain restaurants, consider popping into the local pub or dining at a family-run restaurant to boost the local economy.

Selecting where to stay

Another crucial part of supporting the Welsh communities is where you choose to stay on your Welsh break. As a rule of thumb, outdoor accommodation such as glamping, camping or caravanning sites are more eco-friendly than accommodation like hotels and cottages.

Why outdoor accommodation is better for the environment

When it comes to taking care of the environment, outdoor accommodation has some of the most eco-friendly credentials. But why and how exactly are they more eco-friendly?

They’re less carbon-intensive

Campsites already have a head start on hotels in terms of their carbon footprint, because they generally attract domestic tourists travelling on foot, train, bus or by car. By default, this is friendlier to the environment than air travel, which is responsible for an estimated 2.1% of all global carbon emissions.

Many campsites in Wales are situated along national trails or coastal paths, which encourages walking as the primary mode of transport. Even motorhome or caravan sites help to stop excess carbon consumption by providing a single stable base close to local attractions.

Campsites use natural materials and less energy than hotels

The clue is in the name. Compared to hotels, outdoor accommodation uses less energy to heat communal areas. One recent study found that an overnight hotel stay releases up to 10 times more CO2 than an overnight stay in a tent, caravan or motorhome.

They’re also more minimalistic, using fewer and more sustainable building materials, such as wood.

They encourage a digital detox

A digital detox isn’t just a good idea for helping you to unwind. Off-grid outdoor accommodation also brings down your energy consumption. For example, you’ll cook your dinner using traditional methods like firepits and barbecues, which don’t require electricity.

It supports local economies

Outdoor accommodation brings crucial traffic to the local organisations that need it, and helps to keep farming families afloat. As the Wales Farmer documents, one Pembrokeshire family’s pop-up farm site generated crucial profits that helped them to survive the challenges faced by rural communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

How to find eco-friendly accommodation

With accommodation being such an integral part of an eco-friendly Welsh holiday, knowing how to seek out eco-friendly accommodation is key.

What should you look for?

Off-grid accommodation uses the smallest amount of resources and should be top of your list. However, if you don’t want to disconnect completely, sites with features such as solar-powered showers or composting toilets are good alternatives. Naturally, any campsites that engage in organic or permaculture styles of farming also respect and give back to the environment.

As a baseline, accommodation should always have proper waste disposal and recycling systems – that’s if they don’t have a ‘leave no trace’ principle in place, where guests must dispose of their own waste.

Types of eco-friendly accommodation in Wales

1. Campsites

Campsite in Wales

Whether it’s campsites in Snowdonia or campsites by the coast, tent camping is likely to be the first thing you think about when someone mentions eco-friendly accommodation. It’s true. Tent camping is incredibly low-impact and uses very little energy outside of your journeys to and from the pitch. A tent holiday becomes even more eco-friendly the closer it is to the local attractions.

2. Bell tents

Glamping in Wales

It’s not just traditional tent camping that’s eco-friendly – glamping options like bell tents are low-impact too. There are bell tents on camping and glamping sites all around Wales, and despite their more luxurious setup, there’s often little difference between them and a traditional tent getaway in terms of the impact on the environment.

3. Shepherd’s huts

Shepherd's Huts in Wales

Shepherd’s huts are particularly popular for glamping holidays along the Welsh coast and in the national parks. Traditionally crafted from natural, locally-sourced wood, they almost replicate a cottage getaway, just with more sustainable materials and lower energy usage.

Eco-friendly activities and places to visit in Wales

The final question is what are Wales’ eco-friendly activities and attractions? What makes an attraction eco-friendly?

Eco-friendly attractions should have a proven interest in protecting the environment and supporting local communities – bonus points if they are actively conserving Welsh cultural heritage. Naturally, any outdoor activities such as hiking or cycling are low-impact too.

Wales’ national parks

Wales has three national parks: Snowdonia National Park, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and the Brecon Beacons National Park. As protected areas, their goals are to conserve wildlife and cultural heritage and inform visitors about unique landscapes. They make up a fifth of the land in Wales, so there are no shortages of national park landscapes for sports like hiking, cycling, climbing, horse riding and canoeing.

GreenWood Family Park

Snowdonia National Park

Theme parks don’t have a reputation for being sustainable attractions. However, GreenWood Family Park has committed itself to making its thrills eco-friendly. It is home to the UK’s first-ever solar-powered theme park ride and boasts mazes, live shows, crafts and animals.

The Centre for Alternative Technology

Powys, Mid Wales

In the mid-1970s, a former slate mine in Machynlleth was taken over by a community invested in sustainability. Over the years, the site was transformed into the current Centre for Alternative Technology, which isn’t your typical Welsh tourist attraction. In between exploring the Quarry Trail and letting off steam in the playgrounds, kids can nibble edible flowers and get stuck into interactive displays that encourage them to stay sustainable back at home.

Elan Valley

Powys, Mid Wales

The Elan Valley is popular for its reservoir scenery and lush green landscapes. That’s partly because Welsh Water, who manage the reservoir, also take care of the estate’s purple moors, woodlands and countryside. It’s an excellent place to get your eco-friendly hiking or cycling fix.

Transforming your Welsh holiday into an eco-friendly getaway doesn’t have to be daunting. It can be exciting, educational and rewarding all at once. Eco-tourism is simply about taking small, actionable steps to reduce your impact on the environment and support the local Welsh communities.

In return, you get to explore the Welsh landscapes as they should be – brimming with wildlife and undisturbed by human contact. With so many spectacular mountains, wild beaches and peaceful countryside areas to explore, there’s little doubt that Wales is one of the top destinations for an eco-friendly getaway.