ECO-TOURISM

General

Growing interest in eco-tourism has seen the more mountainous islands – Dominica, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize and Guyana – start to benefit as more walkers, bikers and hikers explore the trails, waterfalls and mountainous terrain.

 

More adventurous visitors are discovering the rugged attractions of Puerto Rico, Cuba and Guyana. On St. Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe and St. Eustatius walkers can conquer jungle-covered volcanoes.


The Caribbean is at the forefront of eco-tourism developments and is totally committed not only to protecting the fragile beauty of the islands but also supporting the development of tourism projects that minimise environmental impact.

 

The Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism advises hotels on practical issues from waste management to community work. The Caribbean Tourism Organization provides a consultancy service to all the islands on various sustainable tourism issues; and hosts its yearly Sustainable Tourism Development Conference in the Caribbean region. Each country also has its own initiatives. For example, the Cayman Islands dive industry has declared its intention to be carbon neutral. The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance is funding the development of land and marine parks and The Bahamas promote April as Coastal Awareness month. In St. Eustatius, marine life is protected and managed by the Statia Marine Park.

 

Protection of wildlife is also key and across the Caribbean there are numerous conservation programmes set up to protect and promote the welfare of sea and leatherback turtles. Wildlife enthusiasts are well catered for on land with the lush interiors of Dominica, Belize, Guyana and St. Vincent offering jungle-trekking and a chance to spot the varied birdlife. The Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad’s rainforest is well-known among professional and amateur bird-spotters. This former coffee and cocoa plantation is home to more than 100 species, many which can be seen from the verandah of the main house.

 

On sister island Tobago, the Roxborough Rainforest is the world’s oldest legally-protected rainforest (dating from 1776), and one of the best places to spot some of the 200 species of birdlife for which the island is famed. In western Cuba, Vinales is a premier eco-tourism destination with bird-watching, hiking, mountain biking, climbing and exploring caves.

 

Montserrat is also haven for nature enthusiasts with its many hiking trails, bird watching and turtle watching activities. The British Virgin Islands welcome around 200 species of bird, many of which, such as the pelicans and boobies, can be seen from the beaches. Sometimes peregrine falcons, ospreys or kestrels can also be spotted on the islands. Other good bird-watching spots in the Caribbean include Jamaica, which has vultures, and Dominica.

Eco experiences

Amanyara, on Turks & Caicos, is a good example of a hotel that has a green conscience translated into a visitor experience. It’s Nature Discovery Centre, headed by naturalist Lindsay Mensen, offers regular daily activities for guests to explore the islands’ natural wonders, including eco-hikes along the Iron Shore, kayaking and stargazing. There are daily programmes for younger guests including research expeditions and turtle nesting site conservation.

Trinidad & Tobago’s bio-diversity means visitors can be swimming with dolphins and manta rays in the morning and hiking in primordial rainforest in the evening. And on the French island of Guadeloupe, Désirade is its first geological nature reserve. The Nature Reserve of the Grand Cul-deSac-Marin is one of the major projects on the island with the reintroduction of the West Indian manatee. On Saint Martin, the area known as ‘Cul-de-Sac’ is embracing eco-tourism by setting up a trial on piles in the mangrove around the Barriére pond.

Many countries have taken steps to protect large acres of land and sea. On the Turks & Caicos Islands, the Princess Alexandria National Park is a 6,500-acre protected area that runs along Provo’s north coast. The islands also have a National Trust which protects areas like Little Water Cay, home to rock iguanas and egrets. Eco-friendly adventure companies offer green tours by kayak or on foot. Two thirds of St. John in the US Virgin Isles is a designated national park and underwater reserve; and destinations such as Venezuela are among the most bio-diverse in the region. Belize is arguably one of the last unspoiled places on earth. Islands like Dominica are well known for their reliance on the fragile natural habitat for tourism.

Sustainability

Half Moon, a RockResort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, has a long-standing commitment to the environment and the local community. It is Green Globe certified and was the first hotel inducted into the Caribbean Hotel Association’s Green Hotel Hall of Fame.

Sustainability practices include a towel re-use programme that turns old towels into cleaning rags and woodworking sawdust into bedding at the Equestrian Centre. Guests can hold a green wedding, with flower arrangements donated to a local hospital, or donate US$1 per day to a mooring buoy system at the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust.

Curtain Bluff on Antigua also has a Green Globe Certificate and the hotel is very much connected with the local village of Old Road. The Old Road Fund sends children to the U.S. for summer camp and university scholarships. The resort then encourages the alumni of the fund back to their community with careers at the hotel.

Antigua & Barbuda has a well-established environmental awareness group which includes turtle watching amongst its projects.

In Belize most hotels and resorts store and use rainwater and dive operators have been well trained in reef protection to advise visitors to the second largest barrier reef in the world.

Voluntourism

Caribbean all-inclusive giant, Sandals Resorts is also well versed in voluntourism. The Sandals Foundation is now in its third year and has raised more than US$1.5million for programmes supporting education, communities and the environment in the Caribbean – such as educating Jamaican fishermen on the importance of preserving marine life to constructing schools.

Sandals guests can get involved in the Reading Road Trip, a volunteer literacy programme aimed at improving listening, reading and comprehension skills of local five to seven year-olds in Saint Lucia, Antigua, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos or Jamaica.

For Chris Blackwell’s Island Outpost properties in Jamaica, sustainability is not just about eco-friendly practices it is as much about cultural preservation and maintaining what is unique about their communities. Island ACTS funds and promotes better health, education and welfare in some of Jamaica’s poorest communities. In addition, The Oracabessa Foundation gives guests the chance to help its community by volunteering for tree planting and coral restoration.

Such is the demand for volunteerism, that luxury tour operator, ITC, launched ITC Giving programme last year in partnership with award-winning People and Places. It has added a week-long programme in Saint Lucia to its portfolio of luxury volunteer travel holidays. The programme gives its clients an opportunity to engage with the local communities, to contribute to a child’s education and an environmental project.

Visitors wanting an authentic experience of Amerindian Caribbean should head to Guyana, still with a dynamic mix of Amerindian and immigrant populations.