Travelers tend to think of all Caribbean islands as verdant and lush, but some Caribbean destinations are decidedly "greener" than others. Dominica, for example, has a well-earned reputation as the Nature Island of the Caribbean, while Bonaire is known for its pristine marine environment and Costa Rica and Belize are among the top eco-friendly travel locales in the world. As for eco-resorts, the ones selected here boast low-impact integration with the native environment, commitment to reduced energy use and/or renewable energy, and activities that support and foster knowledge of the local ecosystem.
Dominica benefits from its marvelous biodiversity, and has chosen to make ecotourism (and the conservation and preservation practices that go along with it) the foundation of its economic development. Dominica has lush jungles for hiking and mysterious rivers for exploring, and visitors can meet Carib Indians and even walk in the footsteps of Capt. Jack Sparrow -- some of the wilder scenes in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed here.
With a focus on renewable energy as well as self-sustaining energy, Dominica's eco-friendly resorts and lodgings continue to expand as the island moves more and more towards 100% energy efficiency.
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Americans are not generally known for their restraint when it comes to development, so St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a pleasant surprise. Just twenty square miles, the island is devoted primarily to National Parks, and has some of the best beaches and finest snorkeling in the world. Most of the eco-resorts here are modest, more akin to campgrounds than resorts, generally speaking, but great locations for those looking to appreciate the natural environment in a quiet, more off-the-grid setting.
There are no rainforests on Bonaire – the center of this island's green ecosystem is its waters, especially its coral reef, which has been aggressively protected since the 1970s. As one of the world's premier diving locations, careful preservation of the sea isn't just a perk – it's a business necessity.
Bonaire's commitment to sustainability is strong: Wind energy is slated to power half the island this year, with bio-diesel fueling the rest. Interestingly, there are no true eco-resorts in Bonaire, with the possible exception of the Bonaire Islands Divi Resort which prides itself on being a boutique, eco-friendly location; however, small hotels like Captain Don's Habitat are serious about preserving the marine eco-system that makes Bonaire the go-to spot in the Caribbean for SCUBA.
With barrier reefs, jungles, mountains, rainforest, and the largest cave system in Central America, Belize has a vast concentration of natural wonders. Luckily, it's also invested in conservation; as such, the country has fast become one of the premier eco-tourism destinations in the world and home to a number of eco resorts.
Like Belize, the "rich coast" has realized an increasingly important niche with its eco-tourism. And it really is rich: with just one-fourth of one-percent of the world's landmass, Costa Rica has five percent of the world's biodiversity –- with a full quarter of the country devoted to protected land. Many of Costa Rica's many eco-resorts are located on the coast or in the jungle.
Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula isn't all Cancun Spring Break mayhem. It's also home to a number of quiet, carefully tended eco-preserves, where ancient Mayan ruins have lain hidden under thich jungle vines for centuries. Attractions include the highly accessible Xcaret Eco Park near Cancun -- something of the Disney World of ecotourism, but mostly in a good way.