Image: Bucuti Beach Resort in Aruba
Bucuti Beach Resort
Bucuti Beach Resort in Aruba features environmentally-friendly amenities, including water-efficient shower heads and energy-saving bulbs.
updated 4/21/2008 2:42:44 PM ET 2008-04-21T18:42:44

As passionate lovers of the Caribbean, we appreciate all the things that make it … well … the Caribbean: crystal-clear water, reefs teeming with sea life and unspoiled miles of sugary sand. But, of course, tourism can have a ruinous effect on those very conditions, and so can global warming. The region is experiencing more hot days, fewer cool nights and more-frequent and longer droughts, says Dr. Ulric Trotz of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize. Furthermore, he says, rising sea levels are leading to coastal erosion and flooding, and warmer sea temperatures are making the water inhospitable to local sea life.

Sustainable tourism, like eco-tourism, is an umbrella term for environmentally and socially sensitive practices that are key to preserving the natural assets of the Caribbean.

What is sustainable tourism?
“Limiting our impact on the environment so that the land, the beach and the reefs look the same 50 years from now as they do today,” says Peter Hillenbrand, an active environmentalist and owner of the Little Cayman fish and dive resort, the Southern Cross Club. Sustainable tourism also embraces strategies and techniques that minimize the negative social consequences of tourism, while promoting its positive effects.

What is the Caribbean tourism industry doing to encourage sustainable-tourism practices?
Sustainable-tourism interests in the region seek to reduce the causes of global warming; to limit waste and conserve energy; to responsibly manage natural resources, such as land and water; and to contribute to community development through employment and community relations. Ten years ago the Caribbean Hotel Association established an environmental nonprofit, the Puerto Rico-based Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST), to work toward these goals. A critical part of CAST’s mission is management of the hotel-certification process through Green Globe, a worldwide benchmarking program for the tourism industry. Green Globe member hotels voluntarily implement and document an ecology-friendly environmental management and training program. Compliance is continuously monitored by Green Globe’s team of independent inspectors. With 57 certified properties, the Caribbean has more accredited hotels than any other region in the world.

How can I find a hotel that uses environmentally and socially sensitive practices?
A good place to start is at the Web sites of CAST and Green Globe, both of which have an island-by-island listing of Green Globe-certified resorts. However, CAST director Deidre Shurland advises travelers that certification is voluntary. “Green Globe certification tells consumers that hotels are really doing what they say they are, but it’s a misconception to think that only certified hotels have responsible environmental practices,” she says.

How are Caribbean hotels putting sustainable principles into practice?
Hotels of every size are responding with meaningful measures. Small hotels like Tiamo on South Andros and Dominica’s 3 Rivers Eco-Lodge follow a strictly sustainable model. Dominica’s newest eco-resort, Jungle Bay, is powered by hydroelectricity, recruits and trains staff from the surrounding area and offers micro-loans to local entrepreneurs. The eco-chic Hotel Mocking Bird Hill in Port Antonio, Jamaica, offers a honeymoon package that offsets a couple’s carbon footprint with a donation to the Jamaica Conservation Development Trust, which plants trees to slow local deforestation. Other guests of the 10-room inn are invited to donate between $10 and $30 to the JCDT.

Image: The South Andros eco-resort Tiamo
Bob Friel  /  CTL
The South Andros eco-resort Tiamo is powered by solar energy, harnessed by photovoltaic panels.
Midsize hotels have also gotten with the program. Guest rooms at Aruba’s 71-room Bucuti Beach Resort feature energy-saving bulbs; water-efficient shower heads, faucets and toilets; locally made toiletries; laundry bags made from recycled sheets; and air conditioners that shut off automatically when doors are opened.

“We attract people who understand our mission and realize that you can still enjoy a comfortable and happy vacation without damaging the environment,” says Karl Pilstil, owner of Tobago’s 55-room Blue Haven hotel. The Bacolet Bay resort won the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Sustainable Tourism Award last year and favors a multifaceted approach: It has successfully implemented an ecology-friendly water-purification system, uses solar energy to heat water and has constructed a “flying roof” that shields the main building from the sun, thereby slashing cooling costs. Though the hotel isn’t Green Globe-certified, its efforts have proven its commitment to sustainability, reducing energy consumption to roughly a third less than that of a comparable conventional hotel.

In 1998, Sandals Negril in Jamaica was the first Caribbean all-inclusive to receive Green Globe certification, and now all 16 Sandals and Beaches resorts are similarly certified. Environmental managers at each property oversee energy and water conservation, waste-disposal and marine-management programs. “Our staff is keenly aware that there is a very delicate link between man, tourism and the environment,” says the company’s chairman and founder, Gordon “Butch” Stewart.

How else can I travel responsibly?
When you book your airline ticket, consider purchasing a “carbon offset” to compensate for the greenhouse-gas emissions of your flight. Late last year, Delta Airlines began offering passengers the option of donating $11 per international flight to The Conservation Fund ( to be used for tree-planting in the U.S. and overseas. Entities such as Sustainable Travel International (STI) will invest an offset donation in large-scale tree-planting and energy-conservation programs and in funding sources of renewable energy. Divers with Grand Cayman operator Ocean Frontiers can calculate the emissions from their flights and dives and purchase an offset through STI.When you cruise the buffet line, pile on the local fruit and vegetables; you’ll be supporting local growers and reducing the environmental cost of importation. Make responsible seafood choices by avoiding items from overfished areas or those farmed in ways that harm the environment or other marine life. The Cayman Sea Sense program offers a seafood guide that’s useful throughout the region, available online here. Beginning this month, guests at Grenada’s Paradise Bay resort can book a “volunteer vacation” of no fewer than three weeks by contributing four hours’ daily work on the hotel’s community and energy-conservation projects. Guests pay a service charge and the cost of their meals, but accommodation is free. Shop for locally crafted souvenirs. You’ll be directly supporting the economy of the community, and you’ll enjoy a richer and more authentic vacation experience.

Sustainable sites
In addition to those mentioned previously, these outfits and their Web sites are useful to the ecology-minded traveler.

Sustainable Travel International provides a guide to carbon offsets plus a directory of green travel-and-tourism providers at Orbitz has an eco-travel microsite,, where you can buy carbon offsets or find a hotel. is a U.K.-based site where you can book a vacation or browse consumer reviews and an international directory of providers. Travelocity makes it easy to find volunteer vacations in a variety of locales, including Cuba and Costa Rica, at

Caribbean Travel & Life is the magazine for anyone in search of the perfect tropical getaway. Each issue presents expert insider’s advice on where to find the Caribbean’s best beaches and attractions, its finest resorts and spas, liveliest beach bars and activities, and its friendliest people.

Photos: Caribbean way of life

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  1. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of the Barbados Tourism Authority shows Harrismith Beach, Barbados. Sun, surf and sand are the main draws on this tropical Caribbean island. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of Barbados Tourism Authority shows The Watering Hole rum shop in Barbados. The rum shops on the island are good places to sample local food and drink, watch a game of dominos, or just get to know the friendly and hospitable Bajans. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. St. Lucia

    Developed, beautiful and situated in the Eastern Caribbean, St. Lucia is accessible from Europe and Canada, and reachable -- albeit not as easily -- from the United States. St. Lucia is known as a romantic destination. The island gets plenty of visitors, including wedding parties. (Holger Leue  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. St. Lucia

    Cocoa pods lie on the ground ready to be processed at Fondoux Plantation in Soufriere, St. Lucia. Cocoa is one St. Lucia's main produce alongside the more obvious banana crop. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. St. George's

    The capital of Grenada, St. George's is considered one of the prettiest harbor towns in the Caribbean. Grenada's unique layout includes many finger-like coves, making the island a popular sailing destination. (Richard Cummins  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The Cayman Islands

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Stingray City

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. St John's

    In high season, up to five cruise ships visit St John's, Antigua, each day. The boats unload mostly American and European passengers who fan out across the island visiting the casinos and beaches. Antigua is easily accessible, and can offer good values for tourists. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Antigua

    Antigua, located in the Northeastern Caribbean, is a popular tourist spot. While there are high-end, stylish hotels, the island also features a large number of mid-priced options. Visitors will find beach bars, restaurants, casinos and shopping. (Richard I'Anson  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Antigua

    People walk along an area known as Devils Bridge in Indian Town Point, Antigua. Antigua is a wintertime destination for many visitors from the north. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Dominica

    Not as well known as other Caribbean islands, Dominica is green, fertile and mountainous. Visitors will find some opportunites to scuba dive, but watersports are not its main draw. The island does, however, offer a slew of rainforest trails -- great for hiking and sightseeing. (Greg Johnston  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Dominican Republic

    An old church building is seen in La Romana, the third-largest city in the Dominican Republic. (Wayne Walton / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Belize

    Belize gets more than 850,000 visitors each year. The hot spot allows watersports such as kayaking and snorkeling, as well as inland activities like hiking and birding. The Mayan ruins of Altan Ha, pictured, are easily accessible from Caye Caulker. (Andrew Marshall / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. La Tortuga

    A fisherman repairs his nets on Cayo Herradura, off the island of La Tortuga in Venezuela. The country offers visitors a variety of activities to choose from, but remains undervisited -- especially compared to its South American neighbors. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Cuba

    Cuba blends the fantastic attractions associated with other Caribbean destinations with an amazing history. Tourists can stroll white sand beaches, take in the incredible architecture and party into the early-morning hours. (Javier Galeano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. St. Barthelemy

    St. Barthelemy is a vacation spot of stars and millionaires. Trendy, chic and sexy, St. Baarths is safe for tourists, but expensive to visit. About 8,700 people reside on the island. (Mark Mainz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Puerto Rico

    A man climbs to a 40-foot waterfall at the south side of the Caribbean National Rain Forest, commonly called El Yunque, near Naguabo, Puerto Rico. Most visitors hike the well-marked paths in the northern half of the park's rain forest but the trails in the south allow hikers and nature lovers to explore the only tropical forest in the U.S. national forest system. (Herminio Rodriguez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Puerto Rico

    The cupola of San Juan Cemetary as well as colorful homes sit next to the ocean in Old San Juan, the original capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The old city is a historic district of seven square blocks made up of ancient buildings and colonial homes, massive stone walls and vast fortifications, sunny parks and cobblestoned streets. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Puerto Rico

    Men play dominos in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Old San Juan is a well-preserved colonial city that allows tourists a peek into the past. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Guadeloupe

    Guadeloupe isn't as developed as some other Caribbean islands, but it offers a variety of beaches -- some active with watersports, some secluded. The island also offers beach bars, restaurants, mid-range hotels and other tourist amenities. (Marcel Mochet / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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