By Jo Gardner – December 2019 – 7 minute read
With the preservation of the planet at the forefront of many traveller’s minds, destinations across the world are reframing themselves in a green light and the Caribbean, a region which has seen its fair share of the effects of climate change, is no different.
As my catamaran nears the tiny island of Nevis, I have a horrible feeling I may have boarded the wrong boat. In my imagination the Caribbean is made up of sprawling resorts and rum bars pumping out reggae, but as I stare out at the green volcano rising majestically out of the sparkling sea, just birdsong fills the air.
Covering just 36 square miles, Nevis is one of the smallest islands in the Caribbean and is all the better for it. Vervet monkeys – originally from Africa but left by the French 300 years ago – outnumber humans two-to-one; the rainforests are lush, verdant and largely undisturbed.
“Ecotourism is more than just a buzzword here,” says my guide as we walk through towering trees in the rainforest, stepping aside for bleating goats and watching birds soar high above us.
“Construction 1,000 feet above sea level is forbidden,” he continues. “And sea turtles frequent the shores each year.”
But it’s not just nature that attracts visitors to Nevis: the oldest British colony in the Caribbean was the most important export crop for sugar in 1655.
Many of the plantations have fallen by the wayside but a handful have been converted into charming places to stay, with many of the original features lovingly restored, including traditional wooden shutters, large ceiling fans and verandas perfect for a refreshing evening G&T.
If you can tear yourself away from your colonial crib, there’s snorkelling, sailing, sipping rum at a beachside shack or reading a book on a hammock strung between swaying palm trees on offer.
At breakfast the next morning, a bird flies onto my table and begins tweeting as if to say “told you so,” but I’m already converted. Nevis, you have my heart.
The race against time
Some scientists predict that by the end of the century coral reefs could disappear, safari destinations be plagued by drought and Venice will be fully immersed in water. Climate change is to blame and flying is the number one culprit... It’s a bleak picture, especially for places at the front line, like the Caribbean. It’s a destination which is hugely dependent on the tourist dollar but also heavily affected by climate change, evident in the increasing frequency and crushing might of the hurricanes which visit its shores, the latest being Dorian that devastated islands in the Bahamas.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the Caribbean is the most tourism-intensive region in the world.
So, short of stopping travelling altogether, what can be done to prevent further damage to the places we love? This is where responsible tourism comes in. For the aviation industry this means more sustainable fuel sources; for governments it’s restricting development and introducing laws which incentivise green practices; and for businesses on the ground, it’s changing the way they run – from a complete ban on plastic to sourcing local produce for restaurants or giving back to communities.
Travellers must also think carefully about their travel, from how often they fly to what they do when they are there – quad biking on the sand dunes may be on offer but is it environmentally friendly?
“It’s about balancing the enjoyment and benefits of today’s assets against the duty that we all have to ensure their ability to be enjoyed for future generations,” said Hugh Riley, CEO of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. He adds: “The sheer volume of enhanced aircraft operations, cruise passengers and international visitors takes a toll on any destination, and as a region that is all too familiar with devastation caused by natural disasters, sustainable tourism is more crucial than ever in the Caribbean.
Riley says that many Caribbean countries are already implementing more sustainable practices to reduce the impact on the natural environment.
“The goal is to create a carbon-neutral environment,” he says. “A space in which we can lead the world in demonstrating how to reduce our carbon footprint. And that doesn’t mean stopping the planes from coming, but finding creative ways to engage in responsible tourism.”
Among the nations making great strides towards an eco-friendly future is Belize - 27% of its landscape is dedicated to national parks; tiny St. Eustatius has made sure there are minimum diving pressures introduced, despite this being its biggest draw; and Guyana is making tourism sustainable through job creation.
So Nevis has the right idea: keep buildings low, don’t create new hotels when you can convert old sugar plantations and let the rainforest rule. As for the rest of the Caribbean: watch this space.
St Lucia’s luxury Cap Maison resort has launched a new Chasing Food and Rum tour to enable guests to learn more about the rum trade on the island. The package includes a food and rum-tasting experience with an expert ‘rummier’, a visit to a distillery and a Creole cooking class taken by a local in their home.
Virgin Atlantic has introduced new flights into Barbados from Gatwick and Manchester for the winter 2019/2020 season. Operating on Boeing 747 and Airbus A330-200 aircraft, a third-weekly flight will fly from Manchester to the island as part of the airline’s expansion at Manchester airport. Passengers travelling from Gatwick to Barbados will be able to choose from up to nine flights a week over the winter period.
Caribtours has launched a new boutique hotels brochure to coincide with its 40th anniversary. ‘Our Boutique Collection’ features small, privately owned luxury properties all over the Caribbean, including St Lucia’s Jade Mountain, Antigua’s Curtain Bluff, Nevis’ Montpelier Plantation and Cotton House in Mustique.
Guilt-free chocolate in Grenada: Dating back to the late 1600s, Grenada’s Belmont Estate is the oldest working plantation on the island with an organic farm, pristine gardens and a heritage museum. See how chocolate is made in the factory, watch the drying process known as ‘walking the cocoa’ (employees use the soles of their feet to dry the beans) and have lunch on the organic farm before touring the museum to learn about the history of chocolate in the area.
Turtle watching in Tobago: From March to early September, turtles gather in their hundreds on the Western side of Tobago – an experience that nature lovers will never forget. Watch as experts track and release the turtles in order to gain important information about their habits and whereabouts. The information is used to help preserve the species and is passed to children at local schools so that they can learn more about where they live.
Horse riding in the Bahamas: Saddle up for a tour of Grand Bahama on horseback, a two-hour guided trail ride from the top of the island through forest and around the castle. The horse will then take riders over the sand dunes and for a canter along the beach. The tour ends with a swim in the ocean – let your steed guide you into the water for the swim with a difference!
Stay in an eco-lodge in Guyana: There are numerous eco-lodges and campsites in Guyana’s rainforest interior including Iwokrama River Lodge, where clients can boat, fish and swim in natural waters and Atta Rainforest Lodge, at the base of a canopy walk of suspension bridges 33 metres above the forest floor. Jaguar sightings are not uncommon.
Rainforest walk in Guadeloupe: The Guadeloupe National Park covers huge swathe of the island Basse-Terre and together with the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve makes a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Visitors can trek some 300km of trails, some leading to the summit of La Soufriere, the volcano which marks the highest point of the Antilles. Waterfalls, vibrant tropical flowers and a wealth of bird life are other draws.
Where To Book It
Elegant Resorts offers a seven night-stay in a Premier Room at Montpelier Plantation Beach, Nevis from £840pp, based on two sharing, including breakfast and transfers.