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Ecotourism in the Baltic States

With such a distinguished history and some delicate natural resources, the Baltic States have been quick to embrace the protecting qualities of ecotourism. It is already an important part of the tourism industry, and continues to grow.

Latvia already has a scheme of green places to stay, designated by a certificate. The country homes, guesthouses, cottages and camp sites designated by this symbol are those which have received the highest environmental assessment award in Latvia – the "Green Certificate" eco-label. These homes are located in a clean and well kempt countryside environment and, often, they are the traditional farmsteads built and furnished with natural materials not harmful to man: wood, stone, reeds, linen etc. Guests are offered food organically grown by the host and various outdoor activities: bicycle rides, hiking, animal watching etc., as well as excursions to local noteworthy sites, visiting local artisans, biological farms, and celebrations of annual festivals according to ancient traditions.

Latvia has three national parks. The first, the National Park of Gauja, is 53 km/ 33 miles from Riga, stretching along 100 kms/62 miles of the Ganja River and its tributaries. The other two are Kemeri National Park and Slitere National Park.

In Lithuania, look for five national parks, all opened in 1991 after Lithuania seceded from the former Soviet Union. The parks symbolize preservation and ecotourism in Lithuania. Responsibletravel.com runs trips to the the Baltic States. Its focus is on making a positive impact, providing numerous opportunities for local interaction as it covers so much ground using all means of public transport. Visting the markets in Riga and Vilnius is a great opportunity to have some local interaction and help support the communities. Elderly people in the Baltic States have depended on selling their produce at markets for many years as often this is the only way they can survive. The money they receive from the government is not usually enough. So by visiting the markets, not only do you get a great chance for local interaction, but you also help support the locals by purchasing locally grown produce and products.

The trip uses many locally operated and run hotels and pensions. There is even a home stay in Aukstatijia National Park in Lithuania with a very welcoming local family. Not only does this give you an insight into Lithuanian life, but is also helps support the local family financially by enjoying their home cooked meals and lovely accommodation during the two days you spend there. Additionally, you visit a Bee Keeping Museum where you can visit the museum and purchase locally produced products.

Your leader and local guides will be able to direct you to many local eateries throughout the trip, helping you discover real local fare, at real local prices (and probably helping you learn some local language at the same time).

Ethical Traveller, a project of the US environmental alliance Earth Island Institute, selected the developing world's ten best ethical destinations, which also includes Estonia.

More than 70 countries all over the world were assessed in three categories – environmental protection, social welfare and human rights – in the creation of the list of the best ethical destinations.

Ethical Traveller noted that even though seeing three Eastern European countries in the top then was surprising, the result shows that the region is developing and its future looks good.

The aim of the list of ethical destinations is to encourage people to travel to less common destinations and it advises travellers to consciously prefer countries that pay attention to environmental protection and the social welfare and human rights of their population. It gives every traveller the opportunity to contribute to and support continued development in these countries.

The Estonian territory (45,215.4 sq. km.) is about the same size as Denmark's or Holland's, but its population is only 1.4 million, more than three times smaller than Denmark's and more than ten times smaller than Holland's. Therefore, in Estonia one should find ten times fewer human footprints per average square foot of land than in Holland. Also, with far fewer cattle, sheep and pigs per human than in many other western European countries, even more space is available for Estonian wildlife such as wolves, bears, lynx, otters, beavers, elk, eagles, storks and their less conspicuous relatives. The average human ecological footprint in Estonia could be considerably smaller than that in countries with high consumption rates as well, but unfortunately it is not quite so - energy production alone, based almost exclusively upon oil-shale, is quite wasteful.

The financial rules of world markets are now applied to Estonian forests. In the late Soviet era, three to four times less timber was harvested than is now and forest operations ceased in spring and early summer. To be credit-worthy in today's market economy, forestry has to operate year-round. Modern foresters can cut off old stands with incredible speed, endangering hibernating bears and destroying bird nests during the breeding season.

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