Belize: five-star ecotourism
ne night a year, guests at the Gaïa Riverlodge hotel in Belize have dinner by candlelight. This isn’t a romantic initiative, or St Valentine’s Day. It is Earth Hour, when the hotel completely switches off its lights, to add its grain of sand to the global campaign that is fighting against climate change.
The hotel also has a solid recycling policy and an organic garden. It has even developed its own organic repellent based on natural products, to deal with pests. The owners are determined to interfere as little as possible with the environment and avoid damaging their surroundings. A laudable philosophy and absolutely en vogue, but in this Central American country, it is also law. In 2012, the Belize government launched a sustainable tourism program that gets the entire country involved in environmental conservation.
Protecting the second largest coral reef
One of the greatest concerns of the Belizean people is to protect their coral reef, the second largest in the world, after the Australian natural wonder. To this end, it is essential to raise awareness among tourists who go snorkelling and deep-sea diving there, to make sure they know they shouldn’t touch the corals or leave any rubbish behind.
The program objectives have been set for 2030 and they involve protecting the ecosystem, creating employment and increasing the benefits tourism offers the country. All of Belize has gone hands on deck, and there are now eight hotels with a Green Globe—the Oscar of sustainable tourism. That is why Leonardo DiCaprio has chosen this as the location for Blackadore Caye, his eco-friendly hotel, which will open in 2018. It occupies the whole of the actor’s private island, Cayo Sumba, and, in the words of DiCaprio himself, it will be “a historic milestone in the pro-environment movement”.
One hotel that already has its Green Globe is Chaa Creek. It opened in 1981, when the country became independent from the United Kingdom. Its owner, Lucy Fleming, jokes by saying that she opened “an eco-resort before they were even talking about this concept”. In her exclusive villas, you can enjoy 360° views of the jungle that camouflages them. Besides following the religion of recycling, and with all types of green policy in place, Chaa Creek offers a summer camp for Belizean children. The purpose is to educate them about biodiversity, under the leitmotiv of the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.
Think globally, act locally
Activities within local communities form part of a wider ecological consciousness. Hamanasi resort is taking part in the Pack for a Purpose project, which invites tourists to make space in their luggage to bring any type of item to the hotel that local inhabitants need. Specifically, they welcome school and medical materials, for the nearby town of Hopkins. In 2016, it won the Eco-Excellence award in the Travel category. At this resort, the policy is based on the 3 Ps: people, planet and profit.
The Cotton Tree Lodge has launched a reforestation project for teak and mahogany trees on its property. It also offers its guests the chance to take part in cooperation projects with local farmers, helping them look after their plantations, or building hen coops and ecological heaters. It has splendid bedrooms, perched in trees in the jungle, with all the comforts and details of a five-star hotel. The hotel collects organic waste and disposes of it via a self-composting system, regenerating it through banana trees.
To some extent, every eco-resort in Belize uses clean energy and recycles, and many produce their own fruit and vegetables, while avoiding chemicals that can damage the environment. But, being environmentally friendly isn’t at odds with luxury: Jacuzzis, tree cabins, personal butlers, massages, spas and exclusive private dinners in the jungle can all be enjoyed while looking after the health of the planet, and all without a slither of guilt.