Photograph by Imke Lass, Redux
Top Rated: In excellent shape, relatively unspoiled, and likely to remain so.
Newfoundland: Avalon Peninsula
Easternmost point in North America, the Avalon Peninsula is home to brightly painted fishing villages and to the lively city of St. John's. Tourism has helped residents of this blustery realm weather the economic storm that came in the wake of the Atlantic cod fisheries' late 20th-century collapse.
Wales: Pembrokeshire Coast
Visitors flock in droves each year to the Pembrokeshire Peninsula to take in the beauty of the castle-clad cliffs that line its coast. Thankfully, a "very mature and established tourism industry" has preserved, rather than eroded, the qualities that make this region so unique.
New Zealand: Tutukaka Coast, Northland
Land-based and water-based ecotourism opportunities abound on New Zealand's subtropical northern peninsula. The region currently boasts "excellent environmental and ecology quality," and its Maori residents still cling to some aspects of their native culture. In a few locations, unplanned development has begun to threaten the character of the place.
Chile: Chilean Fjords
The "stunning scenery" of the Chilean coast's southernmost section has been discovered by the travel industry. Cruise ships now navigate its mountain-flanked channels and inlets in increasing numbers. Thankfully, local officials are "aware of the damage cruise-ship operators have done elsewhere and are working to create a sustainable tourism strategy."
Hawaii: Na Pali Coast
Kauai's "breathtaking," cliff-rimmed north shore, though heavily visited, "still has a degree of 'unspoiltness' about it." A lack of drivable roads has restrained development. Sightseeing helicopters generate a bit too much noise pollution, and hiking trails can get crowded, but, in general, "this gem continues to shine."
Oman: Batinah Coast
The Hajar Mountains and Gulf of Oman flank this semi-fertile section of a predominantly arid country. It contains a variety of "close-to-pristine" natural attractions and several long-inhabited cities that have preserved their historic architecture. As tourism development creeps in eastward from the U.A.E., "a clear and effective planning process needs to be implemented."
British Columbia: Gulf Islands
Scattered across the Georgia Strait between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, the Gulf Islands enjoy a surprisingly dry and balmy climate. "Residents generally place a high importance on the quality of the environment and the way of life on the islands," and tourism is sustainably managed.
Nova Scotia: South Shore
With its lighthouse-studded peninsulas and cozy harborside villages, Nova Scotia's foggy South Shore conforms to the quintessential image of Atlantic Canada.
Located on Western Australia's sparsely populated northwest coast, Broome boasts an ethnically diverse population and "spectacular" beaches. The travel industry is “limited in its visual impact” and has developed in an ecologically sustainable manner. Some members of our panel worried that authentic Aboriginal culture is difficult to find.
Argentina: Valdés Peninsula
This Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage site in Atlantic Patagonia treats its visitors, who are often “ecotourists with the right ethics,” to an “excellent welcome center” and other facilities “that are set up in a way to minimize their impact on the local environment.”
Scotland: Moray Firth Coast, Inverness to Peterhead
A popular vacation spot for more than a century, this coast offers "outstanding cliff scenery" and maintains "a strong community feeling." Seasonal and year-round residents appear to live in relative harmony. Tourism keeps "pretty coastal villages" economically afloat as Scotland's fishing industry declines.
Italy: Cinque Terre
The five towns that comprise the Cinque Terre cling to steep hillsides overlooking the azure waters of the Ligurian Sea. Thanks to inaccessibility and smart planning policy, they enjoy high cultural, architectural, and ecological integrity.
Namibia: Skeleton Coast
The sand dunes and gravel plains of Namibia's northern coast "will test the endurance of any daring hiker." Thanks to a government-led concessions program, local residents may have a stake in the nascent tourism industry.
Cook Islands: As a Whole
Residents of this "well-kept secret" of Polynesia continue to embrace many aspects of their traditional culture. As development increases upon Rarotonga, the country's main population center, local officials should keep a wary eye on the water quality of nearby Muri Lagoon.
New Zealand: Great Barrier Island
Only 55 miles of ocean separate Great Barrier Island from cosmopolitan Auckland, but given how little the two places have in common, the distance seems much greater. With less than 1,000 permanent residents, more than half of its land area administered by New Zealand's Department of Conservation, and fewer introduced species than elsewhere in the country, the island is in good shape ecologically and will likely remain so for a while.
Oregon: Oregon Coast
Landscapes along Oregon's 363 miles of shoreline, much of which is publicly owned, range from towering sand dunes, to low-lying estuaries, to basalt headlands crowned by evergreen forests. Some beaches near population centers are overbuilt, but, in general, tourism is "appropriately managed."
Prince Edward Island: Coastal Areas
Pint-sized P.E.I. offers "spectacular seascapes" defined by iron-red sand dunes that guard meticulously manicured potato fields. A recently completed bridge to the mainland has brought more visitors, but the island has managed to hang on to its charm. Coastal erosion and agricultural runoff pose problems.
Georgia (U.S.): Sea Islands
Native Americans, British soldiers, African slaves, and wealthy late 19th-century vacationers have all left their marks on Georgia's sun-soaked barrier islands. Local residents have worked to safeguard relics of this multi-layered history. The islands' ecology is also in good shape. Though pressure to overbuild is mounting, most islands remain either "undeveloped or tastefully developed."
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Descriptions written by Jonathan King. Comments edited by Jonathan King, Marilyn Terrell, and Jonathan B. Tourtellot.
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