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What is nature tourism and why is it so popular?

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Nature tourism is a fantastic type of tourism and it is on the rise! But what is it and why is it so popular? Read on to learn more…

What is nature tourism?

Nature tourism is all about visiting natural areas and is closed aligned with the concept of rural tourism. Places that nature tourists might visit include might include beaches, forests or national parks. Activities focus on the natural environment rather than visiting man-mad features; think stargazing and hiking, for example. There are locations right across the globe which are perfect for nature tourism.

The CBI (Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries) in the Netherlands define nature tourism as follows:

Nature tourism, also called nature-based tourism, is tourism based on the natural attractions of an area. It consists of responsible travel to experience natural areas and their landscape, flora and fauna, protecting the environment and improving the quality of life of locals.

Why is nature tourism important?

Nature tourism is important as it allows people to see and appreciate the beauty of our natural environment. Through this kind of tourism, we are able to escape the pollution and pressures of city life – it is good for our physical and mental wellbeing to be out in nature, breathing in fresh air and seeing lush greenery or sparkly blue seas. Nature tourism also encourages visitors to take an interest in the natural environment, which may then translate to them making a more conscious effort where environmental issues are concerned. With climate change being an ever-present and ongoing issue, this is definitely a good thing.

Following on from this, nature tourism gives land owners, local communities and local governments more reason to preserve and take care of natural areas. If they know people will come to visit, it is in their best interest to look after these places and is a great incentive for developing their sustainable tourism provision. Visiting tourists can do wonders for local community pride this way.

As with all tourism, nature tourism brings in money. This economic boost trickles down through a whole community; people need places to stay, and food to eat, and they want to buy souvenirs. Hikers may need to buy replacement walking boots, and weary explorers will always need somewhere to rest their heads at night. Jobs are created and economies are boosted through natural tourism, in the surrounding areas of the specific locations too.

What is the difference between nature tourism and ecotourism?

Is nature tourism different from ecotourism? Put simply, yes. They are very similar, but ecotourism is perhaps a more specialised branch of nature tourism if we were looking to clearly define the difference in some way. Nature tourism is about visiting an area – responsibly, yes – rather than actively aiming to learn about the environment and participating in its protection. A nature tourist might visit a beach and admire its beauty, while an ecotourist might join in with a beach clean-up. The lines are blurred, of course, as they so often are when we try to differentiate between types of tourism.

Types of nature tourism

There are different types of nature tourism. This is where we will see similarities with another kind of tourism: adventure tourism. You can read all about adventure tourism here if you’re interested! However, the similarity is that both can be split into two ‘types’: hard and soft.

Soft nature tourism might involve bird watching, visiting a beach to sunbathe, gentle walks through country parks and so on. Hard nature tourism is a bit more tough going: mountain climbing, bush walking and scuba diving, for example. Below I’ll go into some of these specific examples, so you can see how diverse nature tourism is!

Nature tourism examples

There are many examples of nature tourism to be found. Keep reading to see what they are, and whether they fall into the hard or soft category.

Bird watching

Bird watching is an example of soft nature tourism. People of all ages and abilities can do this, with or without a guide. You just need some background knowledge of bird species (or a book explaining them) and perhaps some binoculars. the Gambia is a hotspot for bird watching!

Scuba diving

This is more of an example of hard nature tourism. It’s much more adventurous, and requires specialist equipment and a guide or a lot of training/experience. Head under the water to see what kind of nature is on display down there: coral, fish, shells and so much more. It’s subjective, but Barracuda Point in Malaysia is apparently the most beautiful place in the world to scuba dive… and I am a big fan of diving in Dahab, Egypt too!

Scenic driving

This is another ‘soft’ activity in that it is low-risk and doesn’t require physical exertion. The North Coast 500 in Scotland is an example of a famous scenic drive – this is a great way to experience nature. From rolling hills to winding rivers, there is so much to see out of the window from the comfort of your car. Another fantastic example is the Kings Highway in Jordan, where you will see endless desert, canyons and incredible rock formations.


Camping is, again, an example of soft nature tourism. While it’s a little more ‘involved’ than scenic driving, for example, it is still relatively low risk and most of us are able to participate. Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand is said to be one of the most beautiful places in the world to camp, with its green landscapes and snowy mountain scenery. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro gives you some fantastic camping opportunities too- just make sure you buy the best wild camping tent!


While controversial, hunting tourism is an example of nature tourism as it takes place in natural spaces. It is definitely one for the hard category, as you need special equipment to do so and it can obviously be quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. It is also often a discussion point for ethical tourism.


For the most part, this is a very safe activity and therefore falls into the soft category again. Guided tours are available in all of the very best stargazing locations, such as El Teide National Park in Tenerife, and it has even spawned its own branch of tourism. This is known as dark sky tourism, and there are many examples of activities that fall within this. They include stargazing, of course, alongside seeing the Northern Lights, watching an eclipse, astronomy tours and staying in accommodations that offer a clear view of the night sky such as glass domes.

Bush walking

This can be dangerous in that it is all about going off the beaten track, and walking through bushes/on rough ground. Therefore we can categorise this as hard nature tourism; it is something you would do when hiking, and gives you a bit of an adrenaline kick!

Visiting parks

One of the easiest and most common forms of nature tourism is simply visiting a park. Whether this is a UK national park or your local green space at home, visiting a park is a definite example of this type of tourism. You’ll see birds, insects, flowers, trees, grass and more. Have a leisurely stroll, cycle through or sit and eat a picnic surrounded by nature.


Fishing falls in the middle of the soft and hard categories. You do need specialist equipment, but with most types of fishing there is little to no risk to life involved. But you need to be in nature – by or even on a lake or river – to do it, so it definitely counts as a form of nature tourism. People have obviously been fishing for years as a source of food gathering, but it is also a recreational hobby enjoyed by many.


This is another middle of the road activity. Kayaking can be dangerous, although it usually isn’t – you’ll often have a guide with you, and of course specialist equipment (the kayak) is required. It’s a really fun activity that many people enjoy!


You can visit a beach and simply do… nothing! This is still an example of nature tourism, as beaches are natural environments. Bali has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and tourists flock there to relax and soak up the sunshine. Beaches are also usually near to bars and restaurants, and you might find people doing beach yoga or watching the sunrise/sunset. Thailand even has all-night moonlight beach parties. They are versatile and beautiful locations!

Wellness tourism in Hawaii


Again, another activity that could be considered hard or soft. It depends where you go, really. A gentle bike ride along a specific cycle lane through a park is nothing like mountain biking in harsh terrains. It’s all about the level of ability you have and what risks you’re willing to take. But cycling is definitely a great way to get out and about in nature. It is also a low-cost and eco-friendly activity, which makes it a winner from many angles.

Nature tours

These tend to be a longer duration than many activities mentioned above, which you may do regularly but for a few hours at a time. Nature tours are days or even weeks-long trips, out into the wilderness with nature and wildlife experts. You might travel by air or train, or go on a cruise, and your guide will be on hand to point out every aspect of nature there is to see. These nature tours will take visitors to some of the most beautiful destinations on earth, such as trekking in Chiang Mai, Croatia, seeing the glaciers in Iceland and Alaska, and gazing at the best waterfalls in Finger Lakes. They’ll set you back a fair bit, but the memories you’ll make seeing bears and waterfalls and glorious sunsets will more than make up for it!

Nature tourism- further reading

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