Eco-Travel Tales From Central America

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Conservation:  Be aware of the resources that are used in conjunction with your trip.  This includes your personal consumption of items like water or specialty foods that have to be transported from afar.  Is the management of the establishment committed to water- and energy-conservation efforts?  Do staff members recycle garbage? Are soaps, shampoo and mouthwash offered from refillable bathroom dispensers rather than plastic bottles? Does the establishment use biodegradable cleaning products and toiletries? Do they use solar-heating for hot water? Some of the more conscientious  places use kitchen waste and other organic materials such as grass trimmings for compost  and give restaurant leftovers to local farmers as feed. You get the idea. 

Localization:  How will your visit directly benefit the local economy?  This is an integral part of true eco-tourism. Will you use local transportation, guides, inns, restaurants and markets? This helps create a buffer zone around natural areas by giving locals an economic alternative to potentially destructive practices.  Does the hotel or resort provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people? Is the local community involved with the establishment and do they receive income? Are they hired for construction and maintenance? Are they trained for managerial or other staff positions? If you're staying at a resort that has a spa, do they use local products? Can you unwind with a coffee scrub, a volcanic-mud body wrap, or another one of the spa’s treatments using local ingredients?

The goal in ecotourism is to minimize a visitor’s impact on the host country. A conscious attitude on the part of individual travelers directly affects the outcome. It is far easier to go on vacation as an uninformed tourist but that can have long-term effects on the planet. Bottom line: The more you put into your trip the more you'll get out of it. 

Here are some establishments I found on my most recent trip that do it right:

Chaa Creek Lodge – Cayo, Belize. Established as a small family farm in 1981, Chaa Creek has grown to be one of Belize’s most popular eco-lodges. The Cayo is an inland region known for its Mayan ruins and beautiful landscapes. Both Prince Harry and Bill Gates stayed at this rainforest resort a couple weeks before our visit.

Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, Hopkins, Belize. A great spot for divers who want to get a bit off the beaten-path. It's a pleasant change from Ambergris Caye which has been overdeveloped recently (though there are still pockets of paradise). Hamanasi promotes responsible, sustainable tourism and is a real gem sitting right on the Caribbean coast.

Si Como No, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. This resort doesn't really sell itself as an eco-lodge but they are committed to sustainable tourism and do a great job with conservation and adhering to eco-friendly principles. It was a great base for exploring Manuel Antonio National Park with its great beaches (for surfing and sunning) and hiking (at one point we were on an isolated trail surrounded by no less than 50 Spider monkeys).

Lapa Ríos, Cabo Matapalo, Costa Rica. Considered one of the top eco-lodges in Costa Rica,  Lapa Rios provides sustainable hospitality and access to the 1,000 acres of forest in its private preserve edging Corcovado National Park. Definitely off the grid, this is for true nature lovers who want a one-of-a-kind experience.

Have you had an eco-vacation? Any suggestions for great hotels or tour operators?


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