By CTW Features
For the eco-conscious couple, the honeymoon is no time to forget about the environment. The rise of ecotourism - and some top-notch Earth-friendly resorts - are making it easy to relax, luxuriously, in low-impact style
Now more than ever, a couple's honeymoon is as personally unique as the ceremony itself. Adventurous couples climb mountains or kayak through turbulent waters. More traditional couples spend languid days on white-sand beaches. Culture-loving couples head to Europe. And thanks to a growing movement in ecotourism, green couples can opt for environmentally friendly getaways.
"There are a lot of eco-lodges and hotels that are eco-friendly and have activities that focus on the environment," says Ayako Ezaki, director of communications for The International Ecotourism Society. She says Central America and the Caribbean seem to be the most popular destinations for eco-minded couples, both for their romantic settings and the slew of eco-friendly hotels and resorts that have begun peppering the landscape throughout the past few years.
For some, the term "ecotourism" may conjure images of mosquito nets, natural thatch huts and bland organic cuisine. And while there is some of that, the span of ecotourism ranges from the hands-on and adventurous to the downright luxurious. "One of the important things about ecotourism that not everyone understands is that it's not one way," Ezaki says, adding that another misconception is that environmentally responsible trips will be inevitably more expensive than traditional honeymoons. "It's more about a set of principles that you can apply to whatever you're doing," she says. These principles include minimizing environmental impact, building environmental awareness and cultural respect, and providing direct financial benefits for conservation and the empowerment of local people. According to the IES Web site, "for the world's 40 poorest countries, tourism is the second most important source of foreign exchange, after oil." In some cases choosing an eco-friendly honeymoon not only helps the environment, it helps the people of a struggling economy, as well.
Locating a Location
Even if you already have a honeymoon destination in mind, the best way to start planning an eco-friendly escape is to do your homework. "Being a smart consumer in terms of what you choose and how you decide where to stay is basic research you can easily do online," Ezaki says. You can reduce your honeymoon's carbon footprint by opting for hotels and excursions committed to environmentally responsible practices. Even airlines are going green. In a recent rankings list released by sustainable directory greenopia.com that measured everything from an airline's carbon offsets to the fleet's age, Virgin America and Continental Airlines were found to be the most eco-friendly. Internationally, hotels are making strides to buy and hire locally, implement solar power and reduce water and electric consumption. Some take it a step further by offering green-specific packages and activities, from tree planting to educational presentations on sustainability.
To get started, visit Web sites like conservation.org, ecotourism.org and ethicaltraveler.org. These have resources like destination guides, expert directories and suggestions on how to assess the sustainability of a particular hotel or amenity. If you're set on a certain hotel or resort already, try calling or e-mailing to learn more about any potential sustainable practices they use. Do they have a written policy on environmental responsibility? Where does the food in their restaurants come from? What percentage of employees are local, and does the hotel make any contributions to the community? Often, hotels and resorts committed to sustainability will post written policies or feature pages on their Web sites. Additionally, here are a few eco-friendly destinations with special honeymoon packages Ezaki recommends:
Lapa Rios Rainforest Ecolodge, Costa Rica
Set on more than 1,000 acres of nature preserve in the middle of Costa Rican tropical rainforest, Lapa Rios aims to protect the land on which it stands. Honeymooners stay in bungalows and can choose from excursions like a boat ride in Golfo Dulce complete with nature guide, horseback riding on the beach, or planting a tree in the lodge's rainforest reserve as a "memory of your unforgettable honeymoon." The lodge's buildings and paths incorporate erosion control, water is solar heated, and the local staff practices manual gardening. www.laparios.com
Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, Belize
When Hamanasi was built on a 10-acre nature preserve, in order to avoid deforestation, they built rooms in the trees rather than on top of them. As part of the Seaside Romance Package, couples can choose to stay in a honeymoon suite or a treehouse, and the package includes each individual's choice of five adventures. Just a few examples are barrier reef diving, jungle river kayaking or canoeing, a mayan history tour or a trip to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve. To promote sustainability, the resort uses old linens as rags, replants many floral cuttings, and composts vegetable and fruit scraps to be used in the on-site gardens.
Hotel Mockingbird Hill, Jamaica
Hotel Mockingbird Hill promises to offer "the luxury of sharing quality 'new couple' time that will neither break the bank nor the environment." The honeymoon package includes breakfast on the balcony, daily four-course dinners and a bamboo raft cruise down the Rio Grande. For each booking, the hotel contributes to the Jamaican Conservation Development Trust, and the facilities feature eco-friendly design including solar energy, rainwater harvesting and natural air-conditioning. www.hotelmockingbirdhill.com
Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, Bali
Sarinbuana's honeymoon package includes traditional amenities like daily in-room breakfast, a candlelit dinner and couples' massages, but the lodge also offers more unique options. The locals can teach you Balinese calligraphy, Balinese wood carving, Indonesian cooking or how to play traditional instruments like a bamboo Rendik or Balinese flute. Or you can take a half-day workshop on permaculture and sustainability or play with the lodge's five pet monkeys. Sarinbuana uses natural cleaning products, including locally produced liquid soaps and insect repellents, features organic on-site gardens, and even uses banana leaves as drink coasters.
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