The Azores has been named the No.1 sustainable tourism destination in the world by a new study.
The archipelago beat 1,000 other coastal and island destinations to top spot in the new research from Quality Coast, the largest international certification programme for sustainable tourism destinations.
The report scored the Azores consistently high in all of its criteria including factors such as nature, environment, socio-economic factors and identity/community. The accolade follows the islands’ recent rise to the forefront of the sustainable tourism arena, having been recognised by Quality Coast and National Geographic Traveler magazine as one of the world’s most sustainable holiday destinations.
Located in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores have low levels of development and offer many sites of natural heritage, protected marine life and wildlife, including the islands of Graciosa, Corvo and Flores, which are all UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. In addition, 13 caldera lakes, geothermal springs and pools, mountain peatlands, reefs and other wetlands have been recognised as internationally significant sites by Ramsar, the international body for the conservation of sustainable wetlands.
This year, the Azores Islands were also certified as a European Geopark and accredited as part of the UNESCO Global Geopark Network, marking the islands as an internationally significant geological site. Some of the islands’ most well known geological sites, populated by volcanoes, calderas, lava fields, fumaroles, hot springs and thermal pools, include the crater lakes of Sete Cidades and Fogo on São Miguel Island, the landscapes of Monte Brasil on Terceira Island and the dramatic Caldeira on Faial Island.
The Azores’ wide variety of wildlife and protected marine life is among some of the most precious in Europe, including dolphins, sperm whales and great whales, marine turtles and birds, pelagic fish and cold water corals. Today, tourists can experience the islands’ natural treasures through their many well-regulated hiking and cycling trails, 33 Blue Flag beaches and activities such as snorkelling, scuba diving and sight seeing trips. Offering some of the best whale watching experiences in the world and around 25 resident and migratory species, the Azores is a text book example of how a destination has changed its emphasis, moving from a tradition of whale hunting to a tourism industry focused on whale conservation since the international ban on whaling over 30 years ago.
Approximately five per cent of the Azores’ ground is ‘built-up’ urbanized area, which ensures an abundance of natural beauty – from imposing volcanoes and expansive crater lakes to caverns, grottoes, thermal springs and breathtaking landscapes forested in wild flora and fauna. Today, the archipelago makes effective use of renewable geothermal energy, and its main industries include agriculture, dairy farming, livestock ranching, fishing and tourism, which is becoming a major service activity in the region. The number of regulations and protected areas on the islands are continually rising, thanks in no small part to the importance placed on the environment in schools.