The nations of the Caribbean are a wonderful storehouse of environmental beauty, but the islands and delicate reefs of the region are also under threat from global warming and pollution. Whether you are visiting for Earth Day in April or any time of the year, take the opportunity to experience wildlife reserves, parks and other attractions and lend a helping hand to Mother Nature by patronizing green hotels and eco-resorts -- or even pitching in to help local efforts to keep the Caribbean beautiful.
Visit a Caribbean Nature Park
The Caribbean is home to some unique and fascinating nature parks and preserves, including the 43-square-mile El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. parks system. El Yunque is home to myriad endangered species and is famous for its beautiful waterfalls and ancient petroglyphs. The Bonaire National Marine Park protects some of the most pristine coral reefs in the Caribbean but also is very accessible to snorkelers and other visitors. Virgin Islands National Park comprises two-thirds of the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is just 20 minutes by ferry from busy St. Thomas; the park includes 7,000 acres of undeveloped beaches and forests as well as 5,000 acres of coral gardens.
The Caribbean coast of Central America -- particularly Belize and Costa Rica -- is famous for its eco-resorts, many located within pristine rainforests, like the Gamboa Rainforest Resort in Panama. Among the Caribbean islands, Dominica's lush, undeveloped forests are home to a number of eco-resorts, such as the Calibishe Lodge, Papillote Wilderness Retreat, and the 3 Rivers Eco Lodge. The Machaca Hill Rainforest Canopy Lodge and Tranquility Bay ecoresorts in Belize enlist guests in habitat cleanup efforts as part of their Earth Day activities.
Green Globe certifies hotels and other travel and tourism related attractions and destinations based on sustainability and environmental stewardship criteria. Organizations may be rated platinum, gold, silver or bronze. The Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism publishes a list of Green Globe certified hotels across the region. One of the region's leading "green" hotels is the Spice Island Beach Resort in Grenada, which has its own desalination plant, used rooftop solar heaters to generate hot water, grands up used bath soap to wash employee uniforms, and trains all employees as "Environmental Agents." Another leader is the Tiamo resort in the Bahamas, which has an extensive recycling program and a large solar array for power.
Take Part in Earth Day Activities
Voluntourism centers on the idea of giving a little back when visiting a place that you love, and you can put the concept into practice by joining a local Earth Day event. Taking part in a cleanup effort for a few hours is a great opportunity to meet local residents, who are sure to appreciate your efforts as an island visitor pitching in. The Cayman Islands Tourism Association, for example, organizes tourists and locals alike to take part in beach and underwater cleanup efforts; other Cayman Earth Day activities include free admission to Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park and raffles and complimentary appetizers at the Lobster Pot Dive Center, which will donate all proceeds from rental tanks to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.
This being the Caribbean, it's more than OK to relax and have a good time while doing something nice for the planet. Some Elite Island Resorts properties will donate $5 to Sustainable Travel International every time a spa treatment is purchased during the month of April. Participating Elite Island Resorts properties include:
- Galley Bay Resort & Spa
- The Verandah Resort & Spa
- St. James’s Club & Villas
- Palm Island
Not all Caribbean islands are equally Earth-friendly, and even outward appearances can sometimes be deceiving. Visitors to Aruba are likely to notice the plume of pollution streaming skyward from the Valero refinery in San Nicholas, for example, but the island also has set aside 20% of the island for the Arikok National Park, one of the world's most advanced water desalination plants, and plans to eventually generate most of its electricity from sea and wind power.
Neighboring Bonaire has an equally ambitious plan in place -- minus the polluting oil refinery.