You hear the word ecotourism thrown around a lot. For some people it means simply getting out into the open country. For others, it's an education on how to treat Mother Earth as gently as possible. The international ecotourism society defines it as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." While there are several terrific tours in Puerto Rico, I'm going to go with that definition when discussing the tour operators who offer ecotours in Puerto Rico.
Of course, these are not the only ecotours on the island. They just happen to be ones I've taken or can vouch for, and they also all offer a non-motor-powered experience (besides whatever motor power you use to get to where they are.
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This wonderful tour of a 19th century coffee plantation isn't just a trip back through time to Puerto Rico's agricultural heyday. It's also a chance to see one of only five working coffee plantations in the world that uses water power. Your guide will show you the stone canals carved along the mountain trails that channeled water to the mills used to grind the harvested beans and make coffee and cornmeal.
The technological marvel of Hacienda Buena Vista is a hydro-powered two-arm turbine. It's a pretty cool, and very green, highlight of a unique place just outside of Ponce.
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From water power, we move to wind power. And in Puerto Rico, there are two very cool ways to harness that power. 15 Knots is your introduction to Kiteboarding, a sport that might sound intimidating, complicated and basically out of reach for someone with no experience. The truth is, this is an exhilarating sport that you can enjoy with no previous experience ... as long as you listen to Juan Carlos and his staff.
The other way to soar with the wind is to go hang gliding above the canopy of El Yunque. Another sport that seems, on the surface, more intimidating than it is, hang gliding is a gentle sport that gets you as close to true flight as you can. If you're interested, call the folks at Team Spirit.
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When you go surfing, the power you use is the power of the tides, the waves and the sea. You also need a good deal of your own power to stay upright and balanced. But that's all part of the fun. There are plenty of surfing outfits in Puerto Rico, particularly in Rincón and the west coast of Puerto Rico, but if you're in San Juan, I suggest giving the folks at Wow Surfing a call.
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Puerto Rico's bioluminescent bays, or biobays, are among the most wondrous and unique natural phenomena the island has to offer. And fortunately, the tour operators who I've used have all taken care to keep these natural resources healthy and around for a long time. The biobay tours I've joined in Fajardo and Vieques are all kayak tours, with the exception of Island Adventures, which will take you to the Vieques biobay on an electric pontoon boat.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Zip lining has become an eco-tourism mainstay. After all, while you're flying through the air suspended by a cable, your environmental footprint is pretty small. Puerto Rico has its share of zip-line parks, but I have to say, there are few that compare with Toro Verde, a zip-line park in Orocovis that is well worth the day-trip from San Juan.
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Live the forest
El Yunque is one of Puerto Rico's beloved natural treasures, a gentle rainforest with no menacing flora or large, predatory fauna. But there is nothing gentle about the action-packed tour that Rossano and his guides offer at Aventuras Tierra Adentro. As you hike, rappel, climb, swim and scale your way up and down the mountain, you'll enjoy the more extreme side of eco-tourism. And if you're up for the challenge, you'll have a blast doing so.
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Walk the walk
You don't need me to tell you that hiking and walking beats driving any day. And while some hikes require a bit of driving to get to, the pleasure of walking among the verdant foliage of El Yunque or the unique landscape of the Guánica Dry Forest are worth it.
There are many tours that offer walking and hiking tours, both in San Juan and in the island's interior. One reliable option is Legends of Puerto Rico.
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Kayaks are about as eco-friendly a marine vessel as you can have. Small, sleek, no motor: just you and your paddle. Kayaking is a popular pastime in Puerto Rico; you can find tours that will take you to out into the ocean, lakes, bays and lagoons all over the island. No matter where you are in Puerto Rico, you won't be far from a kayak with your name on it.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Watch the birds
Birdwatchers have long known that Puerto Rico is a destination worth visiting. Whether along the salt flats of Cabo Rojo or a birdwatching tour of Old San Juan, you'll be able to observe your feathery friends in peace.
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Evolution is a slow process. When undisturbed, it produces artistic masterpieces unlike anything we can create. Take the Camuy Caves, for example: millennia of nature's landscaping has produced a subterranean wonderland of stalagmites, stalactites, rock formations and sediment deposits. A walking tour of these incredible caves is a chance to watch how nature molds its canvas.