Deserts make up one-third of all land on our planet and are becoming a popular tourist attraction. Focusing on ecotourism in desert environments can help preserve them as much as possible and save them from the impact of a high number of visitors.
The little amount of water is what makes a desert so vulnerable; it receives less than 25cm of rain per year. And most of the time that rain falls in one specific period, making the remaining days extremely dry.
The more people visit, the more strain it can put on these delicate environments. The lack of water and the amount of heat is the most challenging aspect for ecotourism in the desert. But if every visitor is aware of this and tries to do their best to help preserve these types of environments, deserts can definitely thrive.
How can ecotourism help desert environments?
Deserts have long been avoided by people because of the harsh living conditions. But there is a lot of beauty and possibilities readily available in the desert. The lack of rain is challenging, but it’s also a great way to preserve buildings and architecture. If the Great Pyramids were not built in the desert, they would not have existed today.
Besides that, deserts often have interesting weather patterns and are popular destinations to practice extreme sports.
The Baja California desert in Mexico for example and in particular La Ventana (which is where the founder of this website lives), is popular with kiteboarders, mountain bikers and surfers. Deserts are often very windy areas which makes them ideal for wind sports. This can also be seen in Morocco and Egypt.
With these types of sports gaining massive popularity in the last few years, it brings a lot of possibilities for tourism. But this makes it also very necessary to sustain and preserve our deserts for the number of tourists they are receiving.
Ecotourism is a great way to help protect the desert. Not only because it often brings prosperity to the local community, but also because many tourists are conscious about preserving these areas. Their knowledge about sustainability can greatly influence the local community as well.
Tips to be a sustainable tourist in the desert
If you are reading this post, you probably wonder how you can contribute something positive as a tourist in the desert. Or maybe you own accommodation and/or are interested in building something sustainable in a desert environment.
So, here are some tips to practice ecotourism in the desert:
1. Preserve water as much as possible
Limiting the amount of water use seems to be a no-brainer in the desert, but you’d be surprised how many people and hotels don’t even think about this. They water their plants daily and don’t do anything to promote short showers. As a tourist, you can have a big impact by choosing stays that have only local plants in their garden that don’t require daily watering. Please also be aware of limiting your shower time.
You might not know which plants are local, but a general rule of thumb is that desert plants don’t flower that much. If you see a place with a lot of colorful blossoming flowers, chances are they use a lot of water to achieve this effect. I know that it looks pretty, but it is not sustainable at all to use the little water we have in the desert for watering the plants.
Also keep in mind to not wash your car or boat every day, as this wastes a lot of water as well.
2. Don’t put your AC lower than 24℃ or 78℉
If you are on holiday in the desert you are probably going to use air conditioning to save yourself from the heat. It’s tempting to set the temperature to freezer position, but you really don’t need it to be that cold inside. You should never put your AC more than 10 degrees lower than the outside temperature. This not only uses an incredible amount of electricity but is also bad for your own health. Your body cannot adjust well enough to the outside temperature when you leave a cold room, and you will feel drained the whole day.
Every degree on your AC lower than 24℃ increases the amount of electricity by 20%, and puts a big amount of pressure on the AC unit. This causes it to fail sooner so it needs a replacement more often, which is also not sustainable.
3. Stay in a building made with sustainable materials
The material used for houses in the desert greatly affects the sustainability factor. Places that are built with light-colored materials, green roofs, clay, and straw minimize the impact on the environment and help keep it cooler inside. Thick walls and eco-blocks (like rammed earth and earthbags) are efficient ways to regularize the temperature, as well in the cold winters as during the hot summers. These materials should also be locally sourced to make it even more eco-friendly.
4. Book accommodation that is eco-friendly for the desert
In addition to the tip above, your accommodation can do much more to practice ecotourism in the desert. They should have a way to automatically turn off appliances and have a sustainable waste system in place.
Deserts receive a lot of sun, so solar panels are a great way to bring eco-friendly power to the establishment. If they have many plants on their property they should have ways to collect the water, like building trenches & gutters, re-using greywater, and catching rainwater.
Local trees create shade that cools the temperature around them, so the more local plants the place preserves, the better. Trees and lower vegetation also cause less evaporation of water from the ground, so the area around the accommodation should not be stripped bare or covered with concrete/stones/tiles.
5. General sustainability tips for tourists
Like any other destination, you should always try to be mindful of your ecological footprint as a tourist. Use eco-friendly sunscreen, refill your water bottle, take reusable bags while shopping, and separate your garbage for example. Support the local community where you can and don’t leave trash behind anywhere (or even better: pick it up when you see it!).
Check out the post below to find more easy tips to be a responsible tourist:
Ecotourism is important not just for deserts
I hope these tips helped you to make more sustainable choices when staying in desert environments. Of course, responsible tourism goes much further than just being eco-friendly. It’s important to respect and help the local community as much as possible and make sure the profits end up in their hands. Support locally-owned restaurants and souvenirs for example.
As a tourist, we have a massive impact on the local environment and we should all do our best to preserve it. Sustaying is a website to help you make more responsible choices. We write about how to be a responsible tourist and feature sustainable accommodation on our platform.
Please help us spread the word by sharing this post and leaving sustainability reviews on the stays listed here. Together we can really make a difference in the rise of ecotourism!
Sustaying is a platform just like TripAdvisor, but we only focus on sustainability reviews. We want to help travellers discover sustainable accommodation that have a positive impact on the world and support local people.
About the author
Yvette van den Brand
Yvette is the founder of Sustaying. She has lived abroad for seven years of her life, while travelling and working in 45 different countries. Originally from The Netherlands but now residing in Mexico, where she manages Sustaying and enjoys a kiteboarding lifestyle.