With ecotourism on the rise, Lithuania is inviting visitors from all over the world to revel in its deep forest green landscapes, learn about biodiversity and spread environmental awareness.
It is becoming all too obvious - traditional commercial tourism needs alternatives. Whether it is pollution, the accelerating threats of climate change, the loss of biodiversity or a myriad of other travel-induced problems, it all goes back to the conventional way of visiting foreign lands. Aware of that, an increasing number of people are choosing a different form of travelling - slower, more environmentally-conscious and education-focused tourism - an ecotourism.
Ecotourism involves responsible travelling to pristine natural environments with the goal of learning more about the natural world, helping the locals and contributing to ecological conservation. To encourage this kind of mindset, Lithuania - one of the lushest countries in Europe - is inviting people to visit its forest green landscapes.
"Our country is small, but it has so much to offer in terms of natural environments and biodiversity," said Olga Gončarova, Head of Domestic and Inbound Tourism Department at Lithuania Travel. "Over the recent years, we have noticed a growing interest in our unique natural resources - lakes, forests, marshes, rivers. Instead of spending all of the vacation in cities, tourists are choosing to spend more time in nature - exploring, meditating, being. This has been very helpful in the effort of spreading ecological awareness."
And indeed, Lithuania has some of the most interesting and unique natural wonders, four of which are designed as national reserves - a human here is just a guest.
Fresh air and ancient landscapes surrounded by taiga-type woods with wolves and lynxes strolling around - Lithuania's most famous swamp - the Čepkeliai Marsh - is second to none when it comes to tranquility and pure nature. The famous swamp invites visitors to take a 1.5 km educational trail and explore wetlands, small lakes, continental dunes and diverse forest fauna, as well as enjoy panoramic views from the observation tower. But beware - the reserve is a highly protected ecosystem, so to limit disturbance during the bird breeding season, from April to July, only visitors with an authorized guide can enter the park (which might be even more exciting!).
Visiting hours: From July to April, the educational trail can be visited independently, with written permission issued by the local directorate.
Another marsh, another wonderful opportunity to experience Lithuanian nature. The Kamanai Reserve offers a breathtaking educational trail through an extremely well-preserved ecosystem - so protected that in fact you can visit it only with an official guide. The biodiversity found in the reserve is astonishing - it is home to wolves, lynxes, hazel dormice, blackcocks and a variety of other species, including the near-extinct spoonleaf sundew. While Kamanai is open all-year-round, it is especially stunning during spring and fall when the trees change color - particularly when viewed from the 30-meter-tall observation tower built next to the trail.
Visiting hours: Kamanai Reserve can only be visited with an official guide.
Located in the Western Lithuania, the Viešvilė Reserve offers a guided 1.8 km tour through multiple marshes, lakes, rivers and forests. Wolves, otters, cranes and other animals are among the reserve’s permanent residents, while black alders, spruces, pines make up the majority of the forests. After concluding the hike, guests are invited to learn more about the local flora and fauna by participating in interactive activities at the visitor’s center. On top of that, the reserve is known for its exceptional nursery of wood grouses - the only place in Lithuania where you can see the birds from up close.
Visiting hours: Guided tours are available daily until 5 PM. For the weekends, booking in advance is required. Local directorate must be contacted before the arrival for availability. The educational trail is available free of charge at any time.
Žuvintas Biosphere Reserve
Though officially established in 1937, the Žuvintas Biosphere Reserve has been attracting scientists and the general public since the 19th century. And for a good reason - Lithuania’s oldest and largest reserve is home to more than 2000 species of animals, including over 240 different species of birds, many of whom are classified as endangered. While the reserve is mostly composed of marshes, it also features the shallowest lake in the country, Lake Žuvintas, which, with the average depth of only 0.6 m, is often regarded as a paradise for water birds. And no wonder, this place is one of the hottest spots in the country to watch the autumn bird migration, about to reach a peak in mid-September. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Žuvintas continues to offer educational tours and engage in highly-respected scientific research.
Visiting hours: Open only during the day time, the educational trail is free of charge for small groups. Paid guided tours can be booked at visitor center. The rest of the reserve's territory can only be visited with written permission.