Eco Resorts Uncovered

Today, eco-travel no longer means one size fits all. Now you can find whatever suits your style, from rugged to luxe, and everything in between.
By: 
Lisa Selin Davis

Eco Resorts UncoveredLike many people these days, you and your fiancé may be starting to think green. If so, you're right in sync with a worldwide trend, one that's influencing the way people purchase everyday items from laundry detergent to automobiles.

It's even changed the way we vacation: Today eco-travel (also called green or nature travel) is one of the hottest segments of the tourism industry. But is it right for a honeymoon? Absolutely.

As we'll show you, going green can mean camping out in hemp tents—or residing in a resort on a secluded beach. To help you find the right eco-travel style for you, here are some of the world's most honeymoon-worthy eco-resorts.

Turtle Island, Fiji

Why it's honeymoon-worthy: This 5,000-acre resort is set on a tropical island in Fiji's Yasawa Islands chain. Home to 14 sandy-white beaches, Turtle Island is beautiful and secluded, accessible only by seaplane and open to just 14 couples at a time.

This exclusivity encourages a sense of intimacy among guests—and friendliness with the Fijian staff, who welcome visitors not only to the island, but also to its musical, colorful culture. When guests arrive, staff gather to sing a song of greeting. In fact, the emphasis in this idyllic setting is as much on community as it is on relaxation.

Each couple resides in their own bure, a private thatched-roof cottage, and is assigned a "Bure Mama" who acts as a manager to attend to their needs. Grand bures have Jacuzzis and verandas with queen-size beds (perfect for an afternoon nap) and are stocked with locally grown fresh fruit; the resort is surrounded by three acres of organic farms.

Among the activities here are horseback riding, biking, fishing, windsurfing, hiking and getting a massage, not to mention swimming in the original Blue Lagoon. Guests can even reserve their own private beach and request lobster and champagne for lunch.

Why it's eco-friendly: The resort strives to preserve the environment—both natural and cultural—as it introduces guests to its offerings and programs. Profits from the property are funneled into medical clinics (more than 1,000 cataract operations have been performed in one funded clinic) and into secondary schools that provide free education to Fijian children.

Turtle Island employs 150 Fijians and offers interest-free loans to nearby villages that want to expand their tourism base. A reforestation program, to nurture biodiversity and prevent beach erosion, resulted in the planting of some 300,000 trees on the island (turtlefiji.com).

Lapa Rios, Costa Rica

Why it's honeymoon-worthy: Surrounded by the lush beauty of the rain- forest, the 16 bungalows that make up the Lapa Rios rain forest resort are tranquil oases, with romantic mosquito netting over the beds, wicker furnishings, hardwood floors and screen walls that open onto gorgeous views of the resort's verdant setting. Private outdoor garden showers and early-morning coffee delivered to guest rooms are proof that luxurious relaxation is a priority there.

But there is also plenty of great exploring to do. In addition to sunset boat rides in the Golfo Dulce, swimming with dolphins and watching whales spout, honeymooners can plant a tree in honor of their union in the rain-forest reserve and have candlelight dinners by the resort's swimming pool. More adventurous pairs can take surfing lessons, hike to waterfalls with natural pools or horseback ride on the beach and then unwind with sunset yoga or a massage in a room with a rain-forest view.

Lapa Rios is a family resort, which means a vacation here won't be kid-free. If you really want privacy, peace and quiet, visit during the months of January or February, April to June or September to November, when families are less likely to travel.

How it's eco-friendly: Lapa Rios is often cited as a model for the next generation of eco-lodges and resorts. With 1,000 acres of pristine, protected wilderness and an extensive reforestation project, this resort, abutting the 100,000-acre Coccovado National Park, offers interactions with flora and fauna found nowhere else: The Sangrillo Colorado tree, for instance, lives only in this reserve. Jaguars, monkeys, poison-dart frogs and toucans populate the rain forest, and the resort is committed to curbing illegal logging and hunting; in fact, no live trees were cut for the construction of the resort.

Local people are the resort's workforce (45 families are supported by Lapa Rios), and each staff member is ready to educate visitors about the nearby culture and its customs. Water is solar-heated, cleaning and bathing products are biodegradable and the 16 thatched-roof cottages, made of renewable, recyclable materials, are maintained pesticide-free; 25,000 native suita palms were planted to replace and repair the thatches (laparios.com).

Maho Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Why it's honeymoon-worthy: The four green resorts that make up Maho Bay—Maho Bay Camps, Concordia Eco-Tents, Harmony Studios and Estate Concordia Studios—are nestled within the confines of St. John's National Park. Maho Bay Camp and Concordia Eco-Tents are located next to one another on a rain-forested hillside on the island's southeastern coast. Both consist of tent-cottages (wooden frames with screened windows and open-air terraces) that overlook a sandy-white beach. The Maho Bay resort is the more basic accommodation; Concordia's tent-cottages are larger and more luxe (guests have private showers). They are connected to one another by elevated wooden walkways (they're off the ground to reduce soil erosion; there are lots of stairs, so visitors are encouraged to bring flashlights to navigate the property at night).

Harmony and Estate Concordia are each located 25 minutes from Maho Bay. These properties are accessible only by rental car, and though the remoteness makes the views more spectacular, you'll find the experience is a little closer to roughing it than at the other Maho spots. The Concordia properties have views of Salt Pond Bay and a hillside swimming pool, but the Harmony Studios, with creature comforts like kitchenettes and dining areas, are the most popular among honeymooners. Activities at Maho Bay range from kayaking to scuba diving, along with yoga and massage.

How it's eco-friendly: Most structures in Maho Bay are built with recycled materials; decks are crafted from recycled newspapers, bathroom tiles are created from crushed light bulbs and recycled cardboard and cement go into the shingles on the roofs. Even old rubber tires lead a new life—they are turned into the rugs on the floor. Solar and wind power provide electricity to the condos, and rainwater is collected and filtered to supply water for laundry and bathhouses.

Maho Bay's "Trash to Treasure Art Center" sells handcrafted souvenirs created with products from their waste stream—old sheets, cans and beer bottles. The center also offers glass-blowing demonstrations and crafts classes in everything from ceramics to silk painting (maho.org).

Hotel Eco Paraíso Xixim, Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

Why it's honeymoon-worthy: Located on the Gulf side of Mexico, at the tip of the Yucátan Peninsula, the Hotel Eco Paraíso Xixim offers refuge not just from real life, but also from the bustle of the Yucátan's most famous city, Cancun. Once a coconut plantation, Eco Paraíso, which sits near the tiny town of Celestun and just down the beach from a protected dune where sea turtles hatch, is now a picturesque home to 15 beachfront bungalows that were carefully designed and constructed not to disrupt the fragile ecosystem. The palapa-roofed buildings are equipped with ceiling fans (there's no air conditioning) and queen-size beds.

How it's eco-friendly: Eco Paraíso pays attention to the little things that make big environmental differences: To reduce waste, for example, everyday products like jam and butter are purchased in bulk, rather than individual packages. Kitchen waste water is funneled to irrigate the resort's organic gardens, water used throughout the property is drawn and treated from a salty well, and the freshwater swimming pool is heated with solar power. More than 20,000 Malayan dwarf coconut palm trees have been planted to replace those that were lost in the years before the hotel was created.

When guests check in at Eco Paraíso, they are given a brochure that doubles as a guide to all of the natural attractions and conservation efforts at the resort. Facilities include a Natural History Museum, located beside the reception area, which offers an overall view of the surrounding flora and fauna; a trail where much of the region's biodiversity can be seen; and bikes and kayaks for navigating the landscape without interfering with it.

On guided boat rides and nature tours offered at the property, visitors have the opportunity to view up to 300 bird species (three are found only in this slice of the Yucátan), as well as the world's largest flamingo population—up to 30,000—flocking in magnificent groups by the shore for a truly unforgettable sight (ecoparaiso.com).