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Eco-Travel in the CaribbeanMay 23, 2008 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent
Region makes great strides in a growing niche
When agents think of popular ecotourism destinations, regions such as Mexico, Latin America and the U.S. may be among the first that come to mind.
But the Caribbean has made significant strides in the past few years, becoming a growing—but still underrated—competitor in a niche that has exploded across the globe.
Visitors enjoying the tube ride of a Chukka Caribbean Adventures Canopy Tour.
Although the turquoise waters and white sand beaches will always be the Caribbean’s strongest selling points, ecotourism has given the region another option for clients, especially those who have caught the green-tourism bug.
Travel Agent has tracked some of the Caribbean’s most popular ecotourism resorts and tours within the past few years. We’ve done so either from word of mouth or the old-fashioned way, getting our hands dirty by hiking in a Puerto Rican rainforest or peeking over the cliffs of Jamaica from the back of a horse.
Guides escort riders on horseback-riding tours.
The most popular tour operator for eco-adventures, or adventures in general, in the Caribbean is Chukka Caribbean Adventures. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Green Globe-Certified Chukka Caribbean Adventures is a land-based nature tour provider offering 38 tours in Jamaica, The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. (Green Globe is a program that enables sustainable travel and tourism.) It also operates ecotours in Latin America, specifically Belize.
This past year, we took part in Chukka’s signature adventure, the Horseback Ride ’n’ Swim ($76 per person). The guides were great teachers and very patient—even when someone (no names, please) messed up their directions time and time again. The ride was the definition of soft adventure. It was challenging and a little scary at times, but very relaxing. The sun was shining down on us as the horses followed the path without much effort by the rider. At times the mountains were steep, and there was a portion where we rode along a very high cliff.
Rider and horse alike cool off during a Chukka Caribbean Adventures Horseback Ride 'n' Swim tour.
The ride was followed by a brief trot to about waist-level in the ocean. The horses love it just as much as the riders, so your clients will get a kick out of it when they see the horses enjoying themselves as they hit the water. For this tour, tell your clients to wear their worst clothes and definitely wear shorts.
Back in November, we told you about perhaps one of our favorite ecotours in the Caribbean: hiking in the Toro Negro rainforest. Considered the “other” rainforest in Puerto Rico, after the more famous El Yunque, Toro Negro is much less traveled and about 1,000 feet higher than El Yunque. It might be Puerto Rico’s best-kept secret. We went on a full-day tour offered by local operator Acampa. Book this hike for ecotourists and soft-adventure seekers.
We said earlier that we got our hands dirty, but we were downplaying it, as this tour is sure to get clients entirely covered in mud (but, man, is it fun). By the same token, clients are sure to get soaked from head to toe from cool spring water from the falls. So, advise clients to wear clothes they don’t care about: old sneakers with good traction, a T-shirt and a pair of running shorts.
Request Ray Sepulveda, co-owner of Acampa, or Roberto “Rocqui” (pronounced “Rocky”) Bello for your clients’ guide. There should be one guide for every six people.
The excursion includes a buffet lunch, served on the covered porch of a small wooden house in the middle of a local farm. The meal is prepared by a local family and consists of typical platos criollos, which may include rice with pigeon peas, chicken, ribs, Puerto Rican sweet potatoes and beans. Note: Clients return to the van for lunch; they should leave a bottle of insect repellent there and put some on before the second half of the hike, when mosquitoes are more likely to be hungry. It is not recommended that they bring a digital camera, or anything that they have to carry and keep dry. Hands need to be free the entire time.
Eco-adventures allow visitors to enjoy the splendor of nature by rappelling, ziplining, hiking and other "hard" and "soft" activities.
After lunch, the adventure continues with a short hike through the rainforest to Acampa’s rappelling site at the top of a 60-foot cliff. From the edge, your clients will lower themselves down a rope alongside a waterfall into a cool pool below. After a final dip in the water, our guide took us on a walk to a zipline high above the Quebrada Rosa river.
Acampa charges clients $150 for the entire day, including lunch and transportation to and from your guests’ hotel. Agents get a 15 percent commission and can either book directly online or by calling Sepulveda at 787-706-0695.
Green Day Trips
If your clients want some of the best Caribbean ecotours without leaving their resort, we recommend Tiamo Resorts on South Andros Island in The Bahamas. What separates this resort from other eco-resorts in the Caribbean is its Nature Concierge Team, a squad of trained biologists. They take guests on daily trips exploring an array of natural attractions. Clients can experience Bahamas snorkeling, including the tropical underwater landscape of the off-shore blue holes, which are like underwater caves.
Here’s why agents should also be eager to sell this very unusual property: This 12-acre Caribbean resort has just 11 beach bungalows, surrounded by 125 acres of naturally preserved wilderness. This definitely fits into the green resort category, especially since all bungalows are completely surrounded by trees and bushes, which means that during development, only the minimal number of trees was removed to make just enough room for the bungalows.
When your clients look out their windows, they’ll see nothing but an array of exotic birds and coconut trees. There are no phones, TVs or Internet access at Tiamo. The goal is for guests to forget about the distractions of the outside world and solely devote their time to relaxing with their companions and with nature. Tiamo has 35 staff members for its 22 guests. Each private bungalow includes king-size beds, soft linens and wraparound porches.
Guests can kayak or sail on the South Bight, view wild orchids and look for the endangered Andros rock iguana during a hike through several different ecosystems. Or if your clients don’t want to move a muscle, they can simply kick back on a hammock and watch the tide roll in. As part of your clients’ stay, all meals, island transportation, light-adventure activities and biologist-guided nature tours are included. Tiamo offers agents a 10 percent commission if they complete the transaction by credit card. However, if agents wire cash to the resort, they will receive a 15 percent commission. Rates range from $315 to $445 per person, per night, depending on the season. Agents can contact Mike Hartman, owner of the resort, at 242-357-2873 or [email protected].
A tour of Sulfur Springs in St. Lucia was perhaps one of the best ecotours we’ve been on simply because of the length of the tour (about an hour) and the cost, $2.60. Sulfur Springs is one of the world’s few drive-in volcanoes. Here, clients can experience the sights and scents of bubbling mud, never-ending steam and sulfur seeping from crater upon crater.
The rotten-egg smell takes a little getting used to, but a true ecotourist will not only deal with the odor, but will eventually embrace it as part of the most unique green adventure one can take in the Caribbean. The price of admission, which is about the same as the cost of a beer in St. Lucia, includes a guided tour and a brief history lesson. To book directly, call Sulfur Springs at 758-459-7686.
The best way to get to the volcanoes is via the Spirit of Carnival. This boat ride is a little pricey—costing about $100 per person—but in one shot, a client can see Sulfur Springs, as well as the best view of St. Lucia’s national attraction, The Pitons. These are the gorgeous twin green mountains made famous in the movie Jurassic Park. The cost of the ride includes a full-day tour of the island from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Bonaire National Marine Park, known as a “Diver’s Paradise,” in the Netherlands Antilles is a must for ecotourists who want to learn about the environment in the water.
The Marine Park includes 6,450 acres of coral reefs and sea-grass and mangrove ecosystems. In addition, it has eliminated all destructive practices such as anchoring and spear-fishing, and reefs now support a variety of non-destructive tourism activities; the impact is carefully monitored by the park.
Here are a few operators that organize trips to the Park. Bonaire Tours can be reached at 011-599-717-8778; Outdoor Bonaire can be reached at 011-599-791-6272; and Tropical Travel can be reached at 011-599-717-2500.
Bonaire is the best destination for diving enthusiasts, see for yourself in the video below: