The world’s most ethical tourism destinations

Each year, non-profit organization Ethical Traveler conducts a survey of the world’s developing nations, analyzing their progress toward promoting human rights, preserving their environment, and developing a sustainable tourism industry. The study, run by Ethical Traveler’s all-volunteer staff, factors in country scores from databases like Freedom House, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the World Bank, then dives into actions that governments have taken to improve circumstances within their countries in the previous year.

The top countries are celebrated in Ethical Traveler’s annual list of the Developing World’s Best Ethical Tourism Destinations, with the hope that increased tourism will help those countries continue to improve. “Travel and tourism are among the planet’s driving economic forces, and every journey we take makes a statement about our priorities and commitment to change,” they say. “Ethical Traveler believes that mindful travel is a net positive for the planet. By choosing our destinations well and remembering our role as citizen diplomats, we can create international goodwill and help change the world for the better.”

This year’s list includes Argentina, the Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Latvia, Mauritius, Palau, Serbia, and Uruguay. Explore these countries more in the slideshow below.


[Flickr image via Lisandro M. Enrique]

Vagabond Tales: Nobody plans to visit a hospital in Uruguay

About the last thing that anyone wants to have happen on their vacation is to end up in the hospital. This much nearly all travelers can agree upon.

What’s even more fun is ending up in a hospital in a country that speaks a foreign language, realizing your vocabulary doesn’t yet include the translations for words such as “syringe”, “infection”, and “spinal tap”.

Luckily for me I found myself in a hospital in a country where I actually do speak the language (Spanish) and I didn’t need any of the aforementioned words listed above. Also, perhaps even luckier is that I wasn’t actually hurt, but instead was simply in search of some prescription drugs.

Allow me to explain.

Punta del Este, Uruguay is a South American beach oasis that’s part South Beach and part Las Vegas. Furthermore, it’s safe to say it’s one of the premier party spots for global jet-setters who may be interested in obtaining some prescription drugs for a big night out.

It also just so happened to be the beach town that my wife and I found ourselves in on our honeymoon when we realized the Xanax she had been packing for the trip home was actually long-expired and completely ineffective, and we had 21 hours of flying coming up before we were safely back home in Hawaii.

It’s been well documented here on Gadling that many people frequently cope with a fear of flying in their own personal ways, and the seriousness of this situation was not to be taken lightly. With the issue of the expired Xanax making itself known, we were really reduced to only two options: buying a used car in Buenos Aires and driving back to California without being kidnapped by FARC rebels in Panama’s Darien Gap, or finding the nearest hospital and getting another prescription whipped up and bottled with our name on it. Stat.Which is how I ended up in the waiting lounge of a Punta del Este hospital attempting to convince the receptionist that two twenty-something year old foreigners who hadn’t even checked into a hotel yet and held no travel insurance really did in fact need some prescription drugs and could only pay in cash.

Yeah. Right.

To be fair, I knew that extracting drugs out of a foreign hospital with no prescription in a second language was going to be a little tricky in the first place, which is why the hospital wasn’t the first place we tried.

Prior to aiming our rental vehicle for the skeptical confines of the Punta del Este hospital we had actually done our best to terrify everyone in an upper-class residential neighborhood on the tip of the doorman at our hotel. Informing him of our immediate need for Xanax, he gave us some rudimentary directions to what was essentially “the house of a guy he knew who could hook us up.” He said the guy was a doctor and ran a home practice, but it was sketchy at best.

Some people go to Punta del Este and lay on the beach or gamble at the casino, while others apparently creep out amongst manicured lawns and spend their day on a mystical hunt for a home-practice doctor who’s mentioned only in hushes and whispers. After having lurked around at least 6 or 7 different yards with the glazed determination of international drug fiends we finally settled upon the hospital as our best bet.

Finally planted in the backroom of the beehive that all hospital’s the world over seem to be modeled after, we actually received a doctor who was very understanding and forthcoming with the goods. No English, but at least forthcoming.

He said he could recognize the genuine nature of my wife’s distress, but we must understand that the number of people who go into doctor’s offices complaining of anxiety to get their hands on some Xanax had taken a disastrous turn in the past few years.

Counting out some little blue pills and securing them in a sterile clear baggie he finally handed over what was literally our ticket back home.

Come to find out later the dosage of drugs such as Xanax in Uruguay is apparently much higher than the legal dosage allowed in the US, which is why to this day my wife on airplane flights can usually be found spilling her drink into my lap with either her chin or eye socket.

Is the hospital in Punta del Este the best way you could plan to spend part of your honeymoon? Absolutely not. But it beats losing all of your money at the casino.

Read more of the Vagabond Tales here

Top ten cheap local fast food items worldwide

Food is usually a major cost on the road, a significant component of any careful travel budget. Very good, inexpensive food is on offer in most of the world’s destinations, no matter how expensive average meals may be. Here are ten delicious fast food items from ten different destinations around the world.

1. Burritos, San Francisco. San Franciscans are passionate about their burritos. It’s easy to inadvertently inspire an argument through an offhand if opinionated claim about your personal burrito likes and dislkes. Try a riceless burrito at La Tacquería (2889 Mission Street) or drizzle your burrito from Tacquería Cancún (2228 Mission, among other locations) with distinctive green salsa. For $6, you’ll be sated for hours.

2. Currywurst, Berlin. Currywurst is an extraordinarily popular German fast food, a sliced pork sausage doused with curry sauce. At Konnopke’s Imbiss, a famed food stand in Berlin, a currywurst goes for just €1.70 ($2.25).

3. Okonomiyaki, Osaka. This delightful, greasy food item can be found in a number of spots around Japan, though it is firmly associated with Osaka. It’s a cabbage pancake topped with several ingredients. These often include pork, green onion, other vegetables, shrimp, fish and seaweed flakes, mayonnaise, and a dark sauce. An all-but-the-kitchen-sink okonomiyaki in Osaka will set you back around 750 yen ($9).

4. Pintxos, San Sebastián, Spain. For just a few euros, you can fill up on extraordinary pintxos (Basque tapas, see above) in countless bars in the lovely seaside city of San Sebastián. That San Sebastián is also home to some very expensive restaurants is an entertaining notion to contemplate while you’re scarfing three perfect €3 ($4) pintxos for lunch in a crowded bar. See Todo Pintxos for a listing of pintxos perches.

5. Hawker centres, Singapore. Many of Singapore’s hawker centers, which are more or less open-air food courts, serve up very high quality portions of food for very little. As little as S$4 ($3) will get you off to a good start. Among Singapore’s many hawker centers, check out Maxwell Hawker Centre, Chomp Chomp, and Lau Pa Sat.6. Kizilkayalar’s Islak burgers, Istanbul. They’re cheap, at 2 lira (under $1.50) and they’re delicious. These small burgers are a late night Istanbul mainstay. Kizilkayalar has two locations in Istanbul.

7. Bò bía, Saigon, Vietnam. This delicious Vietnamese food item consists of pickled vegetables, sweet sausage, small dried prawns, and noodles wrapped in a rice paper roll. This typical Saigon street food item, adapted from Chinese popiah, is cheap and delicious. Cost: around 10000 dong ($.50) per portion.

8. Chivitos, Montevideo. Chivitos are the top Uruguayan fast food option, a huge mess of a beef sandwich with egg, bacon, mayonnaise, vegetables, and other toppings. A fast track to a heart attack for sure, but a delicious one. The cheapest chivito at Guga Chivitos goes for 90 pesos ($4.50).

9. Som Tam, Thailand. This spicy salad made with not-yet-ripe papaya is a popular street food (and restaurant dish) across Thailand. It’s an appealing taste sensation, with sweet, salty, spicy, and sour components. A decent helping of som tam shouldn’t set you back more than 60 baht ($2).

10. Roti, Port of Spain. The capital of Trinidad and Tobago is full of roti shops selling this extraordinarily filling Caribbean fast food, and locals have very strong opinions about which shop does the best job. You shouldn’t need to part with more than TT$30 ($4.75) at any of several dozen roti shops for a perfect lunch.

Thanks to fellow Gadling contributors Jeremy Kressmann and Meg Nesterov for suggestions.

[Image: Flickr / RinzeWind]

Travel blogger Q&A: Jodi Ettenberg

For many travel enthusiasts, bloggers, and armchair travelers, Jodi Ettenberg’s story is downright inspirational. For several years a successful corporate lawyer, she left her comfortable if demanding life in New York to travel the world.

Along the way, she’s had an unnerving number of bird crap incidents, documented Thailand’s red shirt protests, and provided an enticing introduction to the Perhentian Islands, among many other engagements. One constant throughout is food, and in particular street food.

Ettenberg authors a fantastic blog called Legal Nomads and maintains a very active and always interesting Twitter account.

Q: Describe your profession.

A: A few years ago, I’d have said corporate lawyer. Nowadays: hungry nomad, avid reader, mountain climber, marshmallow enthusiast, and travel blogger.

Q: What drives your instinct to travel?

A: A desire to soak up as much as possible, as intensely as possible. I know this sounds broad, but it applies to almost every facet of what I’ve done these past few years. I am continuously energized by learning new things and experiencing them firsthand. Travel can be exhausting and it can be awe-inspiring, but I’ve found the best way to balance between the two is to keep reaching out to local people wherever you go.

My time learning, eating, and traveling with locals has compelled me to keep going, from living with a local family in the Philippines to shaking my head at the sheer insanity of a crazy transportation route in Burma.

Q: Your travels have focused on South America and Asia. What drew you to these parts of the world, in very general terms?

A: For South America, the language and the people. I lived in Uruguay and Ecuador in 2002, and taught myself Spanish by compulsively writing down words in the middle of conversations and then memorizing them at night. In my months on the continent, I managed to pick up quite a bit of the language. I was able to talk to cab drivers and learn about their life stories, and ask questions about South America’s tangled history. More importantly, I was able to understand the answers to my questions, which deepened the desire to keep traveling there.

For Asia, the food, with the people a close second. It could be whatever magnificent street eats I find for breakfast, to the many soups in Burma, to sitting down in Kuala Lumpur and receiving cooking lessons in exchange for bringing tourists to a street stand near BB Plaza. I get obnoxiously excited about food, and will happily travel to another town just to try a dish. My interest in food adds a tremendously rewarding dimension to my gallivanting, especially in Asia where food is so integral to culture. I loved reading Anthony Zee’s Swallowing Clouds for that reason, as it ties together Chinese food and history and culture in an intoxicating way.

Q: The sheer duration of your travels is an inspiration to tons of travel writers and bloggers, and your pace is both slow and relaxed. Talk about this.

A: I started out traveling at a relatively quick pace, but once I hit Asia and fell in love with Asian food I started to move more slowly. I spent four months in the Philippines and two months each in Indonesia and Malaysia. The 90-hour work weeks I’d endured as a corporate lawyer gave me the freedom to truly explore whatever enticed me as I wandered through the world. I worked hard, and I feel very lucky that I now have the time, energy, and desire to keep traveling as long as I have.
Q: You were in Bangkok earlier this year while the red shirt protests raged and were quite active on Twitter during that period. Would you be comfortable making any statements about the contemporary politics of Thailand?

A: It is interesting that you framed your question around Twitter, because the role it played in Thailand’s tumultuous spring was truly eye-opening. I joined Twitter in September 2009 after dragging my feet for quite some time, and it has been a great way to learn about new things and to meet other travelers or expats in new places.

But during the red shirt protests, it became a whole other brand of useful to me and to Thailand generally. I was quoted in a Globe and Mail article after the crackdown about Twitter and its unprecedented role in Bangkok, and the examples cited in the article show how truly important the real-time updates were. From warning people of dangerous areas, to updating on the ground with pictures, to helping rescue the wounded from the downtown core during the crackdown itself, it was just so incredible to watch the organic expansion of public interaction, even when things were going pear-shaped.

I experienced this firsthand on April 10th, when the Thai media tweeted that no tear gas was currently being used just as I was in Kok Wua intersection getting teargassed. I was able to upload a picture from my BlackBerry of the teargas being dropped over the intersection as it happened, which was retweeted widely. Pictorial proof is not absolute, but the thousands and thousands of pictures uploaded by Twitter users in Thailand went a long way to keep everyone abreast of what was happening during the maelstrom of those weeks in Bangkok.

As a foreigner in Thailand, it is important to tread very lightly with any political statements. I tried to keep my blog focused on pictures and links to articles about the red shirt rallies or politics, as opposed to making judgments myself. I was only there for a few months, and though I was lucky enough to have been thrust into the core of the protests (both by purposely running around in the rallies and taking pictures and by living in Din Daeng, an area devastated by the resulting crackdown), I am certainly no expert when it comes to Thai politics. I will say that things have, on the surface, returned to normal, but that under the surface, resentment still percolates as many of the underlying issues leading up to the protests have not been addressed by the government. Yesterday’s downtown Bangkok bomb explosion, which followed a local by-election, demonstrates that reconciliation has yet to occur.

Q: Where are you headed next?

A: I was supposed to head over to Nepal and trek with my brother and his friends at the end of the summer, but unfortunately my lingering bronchial issues (from inhaling burnt tire smoke in Bangkok during the protests) have made the trip a no-go. My aim is to move back to Asia on a more permanent basis come 2011. Ideally, I would like to keep writing about my travels on a freelance basis, and get involved with a microcredit organization in Asia.

Q: Can you offer three tips for prospective long-term or RTW (round-the-world) travelers?

A: From my own experiences, I’d offer the following:

1. Do not buy a RTW ticket. If you’ve got a set time frame, then a RTW ticket might be for you. But otherwise I encourage everyone to see where their travels take them, as that freedom is part of the fun. Had I booked a RTW ticket, I would have never made it to the Philippines, Burma, or Ecuador. I understand that many people want structure within their travels, but so much of what makes travel exciting to me is the ability to jump somewhere enticing if the opportunity arises.

2. Bring duct tape. I’ve taped up the rips in my pack cover, holes in the window screens in malarial zones, leaks in my tents on a variety of camping trips, and the cord to my eeePC when rats chewed through it in the Philippines. I wrap the tape around itself so it has no hole in the center.

3. Read as much as you can about a place before you go. Many travelers are well-informed about their destination but know little about the historical or cultural quirks prior to arrival. I could only gape at a tourist in Burma who said enthusiastically “this country is so peaceful!” He had read nothing about the place and hadn’t realized how much of the country was off limits and why. He just arrived, saw the sights, and left, without trying to dig deeper to understand what made things the way they are. I’m not saying that you need to be able to give a dissertation upon arriving somewhere new! But along the way, it is great to pick up a book or two, if only to add an additional, important layer that will make your visit more satisfying overall.

Photo of the day (01/07/07)

Ahhh, great front yard treatment! Oh, the fertile soil of South America! I mean, how many landscaping companies in the US can grow blooming trees through cars?

All joking aside, this is a great photo from Uruguay by Marni Rachel. Awesome colors, too. Almost looks like an old photograph, partially painted.

***To have your photo considered for the Gadling Photo of the Day, go over to the Gadling Flickr site and post it.***