Magazine

Ecotourism Experiences in Coastal and Island Destinations

Travel Inspiration

As we reach the peak of high summer, several destinations come into their own as ideal choices for nature lovers. Coastal and island destinations in the Caribbean and Americas are beginning to experience an ecotourism boom as ethical travellers recognise the tremendous benefits of patronising eco-friendly attractions: Think diving in unscathed coral reefs, hiking through emerald rainforests rustling with bird-song and cycling across national parks teeming with undiscovered treasures. Furthermore, the boom does not put local businesses at a disadvantage as they have come to harness the native environment's natural wonders and eccentricities sustainably. Get a head start in this rising dimension of tourism and look at just some of the exciting eco-centric destinations associated with our Partner Properties.

Anguilla: Biking, Birds and Hawksbills

A natural tropical paradise, the island of Anguilla is home to a myriad of unique protected species which the locals have successfully conserved whilst developing their industry. The unique flora and fauna of the island is arguably its greatest tourism asset: Anguilla is a haven for avid bird watchers who flock there in hopes of seeing sandpipers, white tailed tropicbirds, great blue herons and belted kingfishers. There are plenty of tours you can go on to seek out these beautiful birds, but you can just as easily bring a pair of binoculars and spend the day tracing the rare feathered species who have found refuge on the island.

One of the best eco-friendly ways to get around the island is by bike, and there are plenty of enjoyable biking paths designed to encourage travellers to take the time to appreciate the island's charms.

From July to October, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Green turtles litter the beaches thanks to the local businesses' efforts to assist these endangered species: Areas are reserved for them, parents-to-be are monitored and lights and sound are kept low around the beaches. In the end, it has paid off as you can now witness scores of nesting turtles on the beach burrowing themselves into the golden sand. You can even join official sea turtle night patrols in September and October and help keep the creatures safe from harm yourself.

Costa Rica: Spearfishing, Santa Rosa and Snorkelling

Since the 1980s, Costa Rica has been considered the quintessential eco-friendly holiday destination. The diving and snorkelling options are outstanding thanks to the efforts of local communities and government regulators who help diving centers to ensure that your experience does minimal damage to the aquatic ecosystem- for example, activities such as traditional spearfishing are often offered but monitored so that endangered species are not affected. Many also use the opportunity to reduce the lionfish population, an invasive species which is destroying the equilibrium of Costa Rica's reefs. The marine life is simply stunning even for the most seasoned diver or snorkeler: There are pods of playful dolphins, vibrant parrotfish, scores of silver sardines and mysterious sharks patrolling the azure waters.

For those who prefer to keep both feet on the ground, the nature parks of Costa Rica have developed a reputation as the finest in the world. The Pura Jungla Nature Reserve and Sustainable Community has transformed a formerly cattle decimated zone into a beautiful forest where residents produce their own food and offer tours. The Santa Rosa National Park was Costa Rica's first national park, and is teeming with spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, blue ctenosaurs, tapirs and ocelots. It would be a great challenge for experienced bikers as the park is difficult to traverse in its entirety by foot.

Grand Cayman: Diving, Ducks and Blue Iguanas

The Cayman Islands are considered trailblazers in ecotourism, and Grand Cayman is no exception. The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is a non-profit park with walking trails, an orchid garden and a heritage garden celebrating the island's relationship with plants. Several people flock to the lake in hopes of spotting the rare West Indian Whistling Duck, or just to enjoy a picnic by the shoreline. However, the park's most important role is spearheading the blue iguana breeding program which has brought the dragon-like species away from its previous critically endangered status. There are plenty of tour guides to take you around the park, and your entry fee goes to maintaining the habitat for the creatures which inhabit it.

If you're a fan of diving, the Cayman Eco Divers are an excellent option: They offer a range of diving sites including visits to the wrecks of the Oro Verde or USS Kittiwake and are major supporters of the coral nursery program which aims to maintain and restore the Cayman Island's coral reefs so that they can be enjoyed for years to come.

For birdwatchers, a visit to the Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary is a must, as it supports a plethora of interesting species including purple gallinules, sandpipers, kingfishers, herons and least bittern. However you choose to spend your time on Grand Cayman, it should become clear that the local community is intensely dedicated to preserving the beautiful ecosystem which made the island so popular in the first place.

Punta Cana: Sustainable Farming, Swimming and Squirrel Monkeys

The Dominican Republic's conservation and ecotourism efforts are only beginning to take hold after years of deforestation and coral reef deterioration but Punta Cana is considered by many to be the front runner in the nation's renewed efforts to create a sustainable tourism model. The Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve offers 12 walking trails which wind through the private reserve's lush vegetation: The park is also involved in a breeding and reintroduction program for Ridgeway Hawks, a critically endangered bird of prey.

If you're in the mood for a day trip, Monkeyland offers guided tours around coffee, cinnamon, cocoa and vanilla plantations where the local farmers use sustainable organic methods to produce high quality products, and a squirrel monkey sanctuary (run by former Toronto Zoo zookeepers) where you will have the chance to feed the monkeys fruit, watch them interact and learn about the remarkable species.

Swimmers will enjoy the Blue Hole tour offered by Dos Bananas (A tour guide agency that offers an excellent range of eco-friendly activities), where a walk through a beautiful jungle culminates with a swim in the Blue Hole Cave, a natural freshwater pool with dazzlingly clear aquamarine depths.

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