Asia is the largest continent in the world and features such superlatives as the most massive mountains on Earth (the Himalaya), the largest river delta anywhere (that of the Indus) and the most voluminous freshwater lake (Baykal, in Russia). Such natural wonders, combined with outstanding biodiversity, make Asia a prime ecotourism destination. While most well-developed in South and Southeast Asia, such ecologically oriented travel is becoming more popular in many parts of this huge region.
Ecotourists explore the steamy tropical rainforests of Laos, the tawny steppes of Central Asia, the dry woodlands of India’s Decca Plateau and the volcanoes of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. Asia has an equally rich palette of human cultures, and some ecotourism trips can incorporate integrated lessons in local lifestyles–like those of the Ainu people, who have long inhabited the mountainous Japanese island of Hokkado, now a popular birding and adventure destination.
While severely threatened and depleted in many areas due to burgeoning human populations and development, Asia’s wildlife remains striking in its diversity. Like Africa, the continent is known for its megafauna: large, flashy mammals like Amur tigers, Asian elephants, Indian rhinoceroses, orangutans and snow leopards. Most of these creatures persist today in highly reduced ranges, and protected reserves offer both their only chance of survival and the only likely places for ecotourists to see them. But the panoply of fauna does not end with these celebrities: Asia is a great center for diversity of birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects, as well.
Asian national parks are major ecotourism hotspots. For example, Indonesia’s Komodo National Park draws visitors to the eponymous island in large part to look for the Komodo dragon, an enormous monitor lizard found nowhere else. India hosts nearly 100 national parks, plus hundreds of wildlife sanctuaries, many with organized safari options. China’s Pudacuo National Park in Yunnan Province provides habitat, according to the Nature Conservancy, for some 20 percent of that country’s plant species.
Snorkeling and scuba diving among Indian Ocean coral reefs is popular in southeast Asia and Indonesia. Hiking and trekking are popular as well, whether along rainforest paths or high-altitude plateau trails. People have visited the Himalaya to climb and long-distance trek for centuries; among the quiet pleasures of such a venture are the botanical gradation and diversity as one ascends from lowland forests to montane balds.
Ecotourism the world over has the potential to cause problems: habitat over-use, wildlife harassment, corporate corruption and social disruption, to name a few. When considering a trip to Asia, you want to associate yourself with travel entities that do right by local peoples and the environment. Ask questions of ecotourism companies and try to find out where the money you spend goes. If Seek guidance from or choose companies affiliated with regulated organizations like the Pacific Asia Travel Association.