Ecotourism in Estonia is simply enchanting, whether it’s nature-based or cultural-based. Experiencing ecotourism in Estonia is also sustainable, due to the Baltic nation’s commitment to community-based development, opportunities for local interaction, and preservation of its cultural heritage and environment.
Fabled for its whimsy and fairy-tale-like charm, Tallinn typically takes centre stage on most tourists’ visits to Estonia, but those seeking to be impressed, educated, and humbled, are implored to step outside the capital and be welcomed by the many ecotourism experiences Estonia has tucked away.
EHE Ecotourism Certification in Estonia
A decade ago, early in the ecotourism game, the Estonian Ecotourism Association coordinated the Estonian Ecotourism Quality Label (EHE), which is awarded to tourism products that successfully represent and practice Estonia’s ecotourism principles.
In conjunction with the Estonian Rural Tourism Association, the Estonian Tourist Board, the Estonian Fund for Nature, and the Movement of Estonian Villages and Small Towns, the Estonian Ecotourism Association developed the EHE to promote cultural and natural conservation and local economic development through tourism.
Estonia and its cross-Baltic cousin, Finland, share many things, including their language roots, this year’s European Capital of Culture (Tallinn and Turku), and in June 2011, a plan for community-based tourism development. The EU funded project, COMCOT, seeks to “build high local ownership in tourism development by providing locals a chance to take part in planning processes”, as well as developing the necessary skills for locals to continue on with the projects past the planning and implementation stages and into long-term sustainability and management.
There are eight projects spread over five pilot areas in both Estonia and Finland, all of which are based around water – lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. In addition to FAM trips for local entrepreneurs and stakeholders, participants are also able to visualise the project landscapes virtually, through the use of a new 3-D computer-based visualisation program designed for implementation in the decision making process and in public education and engagement.
Cultural and Environmental Educational Experiences
One of the most fundamental aspects of ecotourism in Estonia is hands-on learning and experiential opportunities for tourists. Visit Estonia promotes these experiences, which include visiting tourism farms, relaxing in eco-spas, engaging with nature in one of Estonia’s many national parks, and discovering Soomaa, particularly during its “fifth season”, the spring floods.
A great way to experience Soomaa both environmentally and culturally is to get in touch with Wilderness Experience, a travel team dedicated to ecotourism, fostering local economic development, supporting the preservation of Estonia’s nature and culture, as well as educating travellers who venture out to experience Soomaa.
Wilderness Experience’s Wild Food and Cooking course is an ideal way to experience both of Estonia’s nature and cultural heritage. Estonians have long been tied to the wilderness and nature, and thus, as an inherent part of their cultural heritage, explains much about why Estonians are the way they are. Wilderness Experience will lend some insight into this aspect of Estonian culture, as well as teach visitors how to select Estonia’s wild foods like cranberries and mushrooms. Best of all – you’ll get to join locals to learn how cook your foraged goods into something truly authentic and delicious.
Ecotourism in Estonia
Visit Estonia, the Estonian Tourism Board, promotes cultural, nature, and ecotourism in Estonia, and is particularly proud of its many instances of ecotourism.
As Visit Estonia writes, “ecotourism is not only a way of thinking or a lifestyle – it’s a chance to experience being an organic part of nature. It means responsible travelling, preserving nature and culture. And what could be a better country for ecotourism than Estonia?”
I don’t think I could have said it any better.
Photo Credit: kosmoseleevike