Earth Day: The 25 Countries Protecting Over ⅓ of Their Land

With wilderness at risk across the globe, which countries are doing the best job protecting land from development? Let’s find out, and learn how you can visit.

Earth Day: The 25 Countries Protecting Over ⅓ of Their Land
Taktsang Palphug Monastery, Bhutan. CREDIT: Bernard Gagnon

It’s no secret that our planet’s wilderness is under attack. 

Since the turn of the century, Earth has seen a net forest coverage loss of around 100 quadrillion hectares (yes…), according to Global Forest Watch. On average, around 2,400 trees are cut down every minute.

For obvious reasons, deforestation is a major driver of extinction, with habitat loss identified as a threat to a staggering 85% of species listed as threatened or endangered on the IUCN Red List.

It’s also a major contributor to climate change for a trifecta of reasons, from the slash-and-burn methods used to clear land, to the loss of carbon-storing trees, to an increase in albedo (the reflectiveness of a surface), which results in higher levels of solar radiation being reflected into the atmosphere.

In light of this, creating regions of protected land to prevent deforestation and development is more important than ever.

CREDIT: World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA)

Some countries do a better job than others, but Earth’s total protected land area is 21,722,716 square kilometers, or around 15% of the planet’s total land area, according to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). (The WDPA is a joint project between the UN Environment Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN], and publishes resources online as “Protected Planet.”)

As of 2022, 25 countries protected over 33% (or one-third) of their total land area. Many of these are small island nations, like the Seychelles and Brunei, but others are quite large, like Poland and the Republic of the Congo.

NOTE: These statistics refer to the IUCN definition of “protected land.”

25 Countries Protecting Over ⅓ of Total Land Area

  1. The Seychelles: 61.5%
  2. Venezuela: 56.9%
  3. Luxembourg: 55.8%
  4. Bhutan: 49.7%
  5. Brunei: 46.9%
  6. Palau: 44.2%
  7. Liechtenstein: 42.6%
  8. Zambia: 41.3%
  9. Bulgaria: 41%
  10. Slovenia: 40.4%
  11. Cambodia: 39.7%
  12. Poland: 39.6%
  13. Cyprus: 38.7%
  14. Croatia: 38.5%
  15. Tanzania: 38.4%
  16. Namibia: 37.9%
  17. Germany: 37.6%
  18. Slovakia: 37.6%
  19. Guinea: 37.6%
  20. Belize: 37.5%
  21. The Republic of the Congo: 36.8%
  22. The Bahamas: 36.6%
  23. Greece: 35.2%
  24. Comoros: 33.8%
  25. New Zealand: 33.4%

You’ll notice that many of the highest nations on the list are incredibly tiny, which means their overall contribution to protected land, while high per capita, is still quite small. Others, such as Venezuela, are difficult or unsafe to visit. 

But there are still quite a few nations that sit slightly further down on the list, but do just as good of a job protecting wilderness regions. With our partner site The Outdoor Voyage, you can book and customize low-footprint, eco-friendly adventures and tours in these destinations with just a few clicks. Let’s look at a few.

Six Countries to Visit if You Want to Support Environmental Protection and See True Wilderness

Motorcycling and Trekking in Bhutan: 49.7% Protected Land

While not the top of the list, remote Bhutan is perhaps the best country in the world in terms of wilderness conservation. It’s designated around half its total land as national parks and reserves, and is constitutionally mandated to preserve at least 60% of land as forest cover.

This tiny Himalayan nation, however, is notoriously difficult to visit. Guests must have a guide at all times, and pay a daily Sustainable Development Fee (SDF). The Outdoor Voyage partners with two local outfitters, running a 2,000 km motorcycle tour across the country with Viktorianz and a 180 km trek on the Trans Bhutan Trail with Bhutan Best Inbound Tour.

CREDIT: Bhutan Best Inbound Tour

Self-Driving Wildlife Safari in Zambia: 41.3% Protected Land

The African nation of Zambia is home to the largest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls, as well as large populations of the African “Big Five” game animals: the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and African buffalo. 

To explore Zambia, check out this luxury 21-day self-driving safari from Moon Tours. You’ll pilot your own 4X4 From Victoria Falls all the way to Kafue National Park, then across the border into Botswana, touring philanthropy projects, visiting native villages, and going on treks with Kalahari bushmen.

CREDIT: Moon Tours

Skiing, Mountain Biking, and More in Slovenia: 40.4% Protected Land

Slovenia has always held a special place in my heart. I walked the country’s 167-mile Juliana Trail in 2019, which circles the alpine peaks of Triglav National Park, the country’s largest protected area. With rugged mountains, pristine alpine rivers, rich history, and plenty of wineries, there’s not much to dislike in Slovenia.

If you’re itching to explore this charming Central European nation, check out this eight-day Julian Alps ski safari or this weeklong ladies-only mountain biking journey, both operated with Bike Hike Tours. This outfitter also operates a fully customizable “Best of The Outdoors” tour around the country, with e-biking, rafting, winery tours, caving, and more.

CREDIT: Bike Hike Tours

Exploring Ancient Temples in Cambodia: 39.7% Protected Land

With rugged, mountainous jungle, remote temples, delectable cuisine, and world-class beaches, Cambodia has something for everyone. They also protect nearly 40% of their land! Check out this 10-day trekking tour around Cambodia with Footprint Travel, or this intimate 5-day homestay experience with Terre Cambodge. 

You can also explore Cambodia and neighboring Vietnam by bicycle thanks to Art of Bicycle Global, riding from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap over 14 days. (Hope you like to pedal…)

CREDIT: Art of Bicycle Global

Catamaran Racing and Mountain Climbing in Greece: 35.2% Protected Land

Greece is more than just islands and beaches. In fact, over 80% of the country’s landscape is mountainous. From scaling belching volcanos to paddling whitewater rivers, there’s an endless array of adventures to be had in the Hellenic Republic.

The Outdoor Voyage offers a number of customizable trips here, including participating in a catamaran race around the Greek islands, hiking Mt. Olympus, snorkeling and sailing on the UNESCO World Heritage Site Corfu Island, and trekking through the traditional villages of the beautiful Zagori region.

CREDIT: Istion Yachting

Paragliding and Snowboarding in New Zealand: 33.4% Protected Land

New Zealand’s South Island is one of the least densely populated developed regions in the world, and over a third of the country is protected wilderness. Thanks to its small size and staggering topographic relief, outdoor enthusiasts can sample a bit of everything in New Zealand: surfing in the morning and alpine climbing in the afternoon. 

Check out this four-day adventure around the South Island, which includes snowboarding, glacier trekking, and hot springs, or take to the skies with tandem paragliding or hang gliding off of Coronet Peak near Queenstown.

CREDIT: Flying Kiwi