The Scottish Highlands has been named one of the “best destinations in the world” for nature by National Geographic.
The region made the top five places for nature and is one of only two destinations in the UK to make the overall annual list of “breathtaking places and experiences” for 2023.
The shortlist in the nature category also includes Botswana, Slovenia, Big Bend National Park in Texas and the Portuguese region of Azores.
The Highlands have been celebrated for rewilding efforts which aim to restore native species.
The Alladale Wilderness Reserve and the Affric Highlands project were highlighted by National Geographic for their work to restore 500,000 acres stretching from Loch Ness to the west coast.
Manchester also made the list in the family category of the publication, which highlights areas with adventure for all ages.
Responding to the recognition, tourism minister Ivan McKee said: “This is excellent news, Scotland continues to go from strength to strength in developing sustainable tourism and to be recognised alongside Botswana and the Azores reinforces that tourism and environmental protection can be developed alongside each other through strategic planning and appropriate interventions.
“Our scenery is one of the largest draws for our international visitors and it’s important that we preserve it for generations to come. Sustainability is therefore a key strand of our Tourism Strategy: Scotland Outlook 2030 and it’s encouraging to be recognised for this.”
Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland chief executive, said: “Our landscapes and scenery is one of the top reasons that people visit Scotland and the Highlands is home to some of the country’s most important and special natural assets.
“It is fantastic that National Geographic has recognised the valuable environmental efforts that are being undertaken across the region and are sharing this with audiences across the world.
“VisitScotland wants to play a leading role in the development of Scotland as a globally recognised responsible destination. We are committed to working with the industry, communities and visitors to preserve and protect the natural, social and cultural assets which are so vital to Scotland’s brand and its future prosperity.”
Highland Council leader, councillor Raymond Bremner, said the news that the region had topped the “prestigious list” was “testament to the stunning unspoilt nature of the place we are lucky enough to call home.”
He continued: “What is really pleasing is to receive recognition from National Geographic for the efforts in restoring the Highlands’ ecosystems through projects like Affric Highland in the rewilding of 500,000 acres, re-introducing native species, improving biodiversity being carried out in areas like the Alladale Wilderness Reserve, and in the rewilding planned to improve biodiversity across 500,000 acres as part of the Affric Highland Project.”
He added: “Our natural assets bring thousands of visitors to the region every year. Like the rest of the world however we are not immune to the effects of climate change. As a region it is vital that we work together in the development of a more sustainable tourism infrastructure. Areas like the Alladale Wilderness Reserve are proof of what can be achieved when you focus on restoring the balance of nature.”
National Geographic’s ‘Best of the World 2023’ list:
- Appian Way, Italy
- Busan, South Korea
- Longmen Grottoes, Henan Province, China
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Scottish Highlands
- Big Bend National Park, Texas
- New Zealand
- Choquequirao, Peru
- Austrian Alps
- Revillagigedo National Park, Mexico
- Dodecanese Islands, Greece
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Alberta, Canada
- Trinidad and Tobago
- San Francisco, California
- Manchester, UK