Words by Nandini Gosine-Mayrhoo
If you were to conjure up an image of tourism in the Caribbean, no doubt it will include scenery of white sand, blue waters and blue skies. Whilst the Caribbean’s pristine beaches will always draw visitors, there is a particular type of tourist who prefers the hiking and bird watching that the islands’ lush vegetation and unique wildlife provide. Welcome the ecotourist – the tourist who is conscious of sustaining the environment from which he derives so much pleasure.
Ecotourism allows a traveler to become educated about the areas he is travelling to – about its physical landscape and its cultural characteristics. Importantly, ecotourism in many instances provides funding for further conservation of precious environmental resources whilst also boosting economic development. This is in adherence to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) definition of ecotourism as: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Hence, eco-friendly resorts and accommodation are often rustic, with the focus being on getting in touch with the natural environment. The beautiful landscapes impact your vacation far more than you impact the environment.
Sustainable tourism has its origins in the 1970s environmental movement, although it was not until the late 1980s that ecotourism itself became prevalent as a travel concept (Source: About.com). The development of ecotourism mirrored the increasing environmental awareness of that time, which brought about the desire to travel to natural locations as opposed to modern tourist resorts. Today, with a growing emphasis on environmental protection and the need to escape the stresses of city life to the sounds of nature, the Caribbean provides the ecotourist dream.
Trinidad and Tobago
The Caribbean country currently making the biggest push in ecotourism is Trinidad and Tobago, which given its oil and natural gas resources, has historically avoided having to rely on attracting tourists to its shores. Now, with a real need to diversify its economy, ecotourism allows the islands to develop a tourist industry in a sustainable way. Trinidad, with its proximity to the South American mainland, benefits from some of the most diverse fauna and flora in the Caribbean. This, together with its wetlands, waterfalls and remote undeveloped beaches, makes the island an ideal ecotourist destination. Indeed, Trinidad won the “Best Destination for Nature Holidays” award at the recent Inaugural Telegraph Caribbean Travel Awards in June. The islands have recently unveiled a new ecotourism trail project which will commence developing trails in the mountains in north Trinidad. The hiking and biking trails will run through the rain forests and along the coastlines, allowing the islands to be enjoyed in a sustainable way.
However, ecotourism is not an entirely new concept to Trinidad and Tobago. The Asa Wright Nature Centre has been a pioneer in ecotourism, long before the word was coined. Established in 1967 by a group of naturalists and bird watchers, the Centre covers 183 acres of protected land and is home to more than 170 species of birds. Ecotourists can book a volunteer vacation, helping maintain fruit trees and flowers, restoring trails, working in the gardens or producing coffee that’s sold to visitors.
Trinidad and Tobago is following in the footsteps of Dominica, known as the “Nature Island” of the Caribbean. Dominica has chosen to make ecotourism, with its conservation and preservation practices, the foundation of its economic development. Dominica’s lush jungles and remote rivers provide abundant opportunities for hiking and exploring and even provided the backdrop for many of the key scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest. Visitors may encounter Carib Indians, the indigenous people of the island. The Manicou River Resort promises a “simple, off-grid, nature experience with just the right touches of luxury” whilst Rosalie Bay promises “the world’s only guaranteed sea turtle experience”.
Dominica was devastated by Hurricane Erika in August with one of its ecotourist resorts, Jungle Bay, reported as buried under a landslide. The island is rebuilding with the help of its Caribbean neighbors and international donors. POTENT wishes the Dominican people and its ecotourism industry a speedy recovery.
Bonaire is yet another island where commitment to sustainability is strong. Wind and biodiesel provide the majority of the island’s energy needs. Bonaire is one of the world’s premier diving locations and has been aggressively protecting its coral reef since the 1970s. Auriga EcoLodge, Captain Don’s Habitat and Finca Subi Blancu provide visitors with accommodation that doesn’t ask them to leave their environmental conscience at home.
US Virgin Islands
The Concordia EcoResort in the U.S. Virgin Islands welcomes volunteers who can work with Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park. The Resort is truly eco-friendly with each of its Eco-Tents equipped with a composting toilet and a solar powered hot water shower. The Eco-Tents are in fact huts which are perched like tree-houses along the hillside – ensuring fantastic views of the ocean and surrounding nature. The resort operates a “Trash to Treasures” program in which the resort’s trash is recycled into craft items and fine art.
For the hard core ecotourist, Tendacayou Eco-Lodge and Spa in Guadeloupe provides a no television, no telephone and no internet experience. The resort promises a chance to “go back to basics and enjoy living at one with nature.”
Natura Cabana in the Dominican Republic has an interesting history, having been built by a Chilean couple who fell in love with the country. It comprises a small group of bungalows, each with a unique interior designed within the concept of Feng Shui. Natura Cabana describes itself as “a spiritual renewal center in which to relax and re-energize”.
Like Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts is making a concerted effort to structure its tourism industry along the principles of environmental sustainability. And like Bonaire, it has taken firm steps to preserve its marine environment. All new resorts on the island must conform to current eco-friendly and sustainable practices. The Belle Mont Farm is unique in that it provides a farm to table experience, driven by a passion for sustainable living.
Whilst not a comprehensive list of Caribbean eco-friendly resorts by any means, POTENT hopes that this quick dive into Caribbean ecotourism inspires you to experience a different Caribbean holiday.