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January can feel like a long month. In the northern hemisphere, at least, the days are short, temperatures are low and skies are often cloudy. In many ways it is the perfect time to fantasize about and, better yet, plan a summer vacation.

But nothing is simple these days and that includes travel. On top of planning flights, booking hotels and off-setting carbon emissions, many travelers want to know more about the places they are visiting—about how the countries they plan to explore protect the environment, support social justice and respect human rights. Luckily, these forward-thinking travelers have someone to do their homework for them.

Mongolia made Ethical Traveler's list of the 10 most ethical travel destinations for 2016. Seventy percent of Mongolia’s herder populations now have access to solar power. Photo credit: Bernd Thaller
Mongolia made Ethical Traveler’s list of the 10 most ethical travel destinations for 2016. Seventy percent of Mongolia’s herder populations now have access to solar power. Photo credit: Bernd Thaller

Every year, Ethical Traveler, a project of Earth Island Institute, puts together a list of the 10 most ethical travel destinations in the developing world. In compiling the list, Ethical Traveler investigates how countries are working to improve the environment, animal welfare and people’s lives. For example, how are these countries preserving resources and cultivating sustainable practices? How much schooling does the average citizen receive in each country and what is standard of living? What have nations done to combat discrimination or to address child labor?

Aside from these metrics, Ethical Traveler also makes sure the destinations that make the list offer “natural beauty, great outdoor activities and the opportunity to interact with local people and cultures in a meaningful, mutually enriching way.”

None of the countries on this list are perfect—many have work to do when it comes to LGBT rights, domestic violence, human rights and women’s rights. However, overall, those that made the cut are setting an example for the countries around the world.

So without further ado, here’s a list of the ten most ethical travel destinations in 2016, in alphabetical order.

1. Cabo Verde

Cabo Verde, which was also listed among the most ethical destinations in 2015, stands out on nearly all counts. This small island nation, which sits off the northwest coast of Africa, is aiming to source 50 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020. Cabo Verde is also leading the way on marine protection and has established important programs to protect endangered loggerhead turtles from hunting and beach pollution. What is more, it is a leader on gender equality—many women hold leadership positions in the private sector as well as in government and the country seems poised elect it’s first female prime minister in 2016. This small nation has also embraced LGBT rights, celebrating its third annual gay pride week in 2015.

2. Dominica

Dominica’s strong and free healthcare system helped it earn a place on the list. In 2015 the country was certified free of measles, mumps and rubella. Dominica has also made strides in geothermal energy development, leading the Caribbean islands on this count. The island nation has achieved 94 percent literacy, well above the global average of 84 percent and has increased already impressive efforts to protect whales, creating a mandatory primary school curriculum about respect for marine mammals and other ocean life. But Dominca still has significant room for improvement on LGBT rights—the country’s Sexual Offenses Act, which criminalizes same-sex relationships, is still on the books, though the law is rarely enforced.

3. Grenada

Grenada is new to the list and made the cut in part for its work to regenerate coral reefs through the establishment of a coral nursery program. This Caribbean island nation is also fighting for global action on climate change, as are many island nations around the world. In terms of human rights, Grenada has begun discussing LGBT rights within the context of constitutional reform. Ethical Traveler will monitor progress on this front when putting together next year’s list.

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