Aruba has a few pluses and minuses in its sustainability record. A growing number of hotels participate in the Green Globe Initiative, started by Amsterdam Manor and soon followed by the Bucuti Beach Resort, both of which remain the island's leaders in sustainable tourism and environmental conservation. They not only reduce their energy output and waste, but also promote awareness and sponsor activities such as beach and reef cleanups.
Other hotels are less conservation oriented, particularly those targeting the American market where amenities such as air-conditioning and bottled water are assumed. This is in stark contrast to even the most upscale hotels that target Dutch or other European guests, where air-conditioning is rarely on in rooms and where bottled water and disposable travel-size toiletries are just as often absent. Water conservation is a big issue on the island since it is wildly expensive to desalinate seawater, but you wouldn't know it based on the lush poolside gardens in most big resorts.
Most tour operators seem woefully unaware of conservation issues, or at best they merely pay lip service to the topic. They are equally willing to offer high-speed rides on banana boats and jet skis as they are to take you kayaking in the mangroves or off-roading in an ATV. Unfortunately, many tour operators do not promote low-impact activities, like horseback riding, biking, or hiking. One ecofriendly tour operator is Aruba Nature Sensitive Hiking and Jeep Tours (tel. 297/594-5017; www.sensitivehikers.com), which offers easy or challenging hikes in Arikok National Park, various caves, old gold mines, or sand dunes.
When inside Arikok National Park, there is a clear mandate that the park and its species are to be protected -- this job is taken seriously. However, when park rangers are asked by tourists to show them the bats or other delicate species that reside in protected areas, there is a tendency to oblige the request, despite the potentially harmful impact these visits may have on the species or the habitat.
The bottom line is the tourist dictates what the tour operators offer. You can set an example by asking for low-impact activities or requesting that the boat operator not handle or capture marine life to entertain passengers. You can even mention when you tip them that you wish to leave the island as beautiful as it was upon your arrival and thank them for preserving it intact for when you return.
Do-gooders rejoice. Now you can merrily merge your desire to frolic in the Caribbean surf with your inclination to make the world a better place. Voluntourism is the fastest-growing segment of the world's travel industry, and Aruba is keeping pace with demand by offering a spectrum of volunteer opportunities to accommodate everyone from the ecoseeker to the critter cuddler. The possibilities range from reef and beach cleanups to pitching in at the Donkey Sanctuary. Here is a sampling of the opportunities available in Aruba:
- Annual Aruba Reef Care Project: This annual cleanup of the island's beaches is Aruba's largest volunteer environmental initiative. Hundreds of participants snorkel, scuba dive, or comb the beaches grabbing and bagging litter. This event usually occurs in July; call tel. 297/582-3777 for more information.
- Sponsor-A-Mile: The Eagle Beach Area Coalition for Aruba's Sustainable Tourism sponsors a monthly drive to keep the beaches clean by letting visitors "adopt" a mile of beach and keep it clear of debris during their stay. Participating resorts include the Divi Phoenix, Amsterdam Manor, Costa Linda, Bucuti Beach, Manchebo Beach, the Mill, Aruba Marriott, and the Renaissance; contact any of these resorts for more information.
- "Salba Nos Buriconan" (Save Our Donkeys) Foundation: Animal lovers can volunteer at the Donkey Sanctuary to help feed, care for, and teach visitors about the island's donkeys.
- Dive for Earth Week: In support of Earth Day, Aruba encourages volunteers to help clear the shorelines and surf of garbage and debris. Sponsors provide transportation, tools, and refreshments. Contact the Aruba Tourism Authority at tel. 297/582-3777.
General Resources for Green Travel
In addition to the resources for Aruba listed above, the following websites provide valuable wide-ranging information on sustainable travel. For a list of even more sustainable resources, as well as tips and explanations on how to travel greener, visit www.frommers.com/planning.
- Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) is a great source of sustainable travel ideas; the site is run by a spokesperson for ethical tourism in the travel industry. Sustainable Travel International (www.sustainabletravelinternational.org) promotes ethical tourism practices, and manages an extensive directory of sustainable properties and tour operators around the world.
- In the U.K., Tourism Concern (www.tourismconcern.org.uk) works to reduce social and environmental problems connected to tourism. The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO; www.aito.co.uk) is a group of specialist operators leading the field in making holidays sustainable.
- In Canada, www.greenlivingonline.com offers extensive content on how to travel sustainably, including a travel and transport section and profiles of the best green shops and services in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary.
- In Australia, the national body that sets guidelines and standards for ecotourism is Ecotourism Australia (www.ecotourism.org.au). The Green Directory (www.thegreendirectory.com.au), Green Pages (www.thegreenpages.com.au), and Eco Directory (www.ecodirectory.com.au) offer sustainable travel tips and directories of green businesses.
- Carbonfund (www.carbonfund.org), TerraPass (www.terrapass.org), and Carbon Neutral (www.carbonneutral.org) provide info on "carbon offsetting," or offsetting the greenhouse gas emitted during flights.
- Greenhotels (www.greenhotels.com) recommends green-rated member hotels around the world that fulfill the company's stringent environmental requirements. Environmentally Friendly Hotels (www.environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com) offers more green accommodations ratings. The Hotel Association of Canada (www.hacgreenhotels.com) has a Green Key Eco-Rating Program, which audits the environmental performance of Canadian hotels, motels, and resorts.
- Sustain Lane (www.sustainlane.com) lists sustainable eating and drinking choices around the U.S.; also visit www.eatwellguide.org for tips on eating sustainably in the U.S. and Canada.
- For information on animal-friendly issues throughout the world, visit Tread Lightly (www.treadlightly.org). For information about the ethics of swimming with dolphins, visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (www.wdcs.org).
- Volunteer International (www.volunteerinternational.org) has a list of questions to help you determine the intentions and the nature of a volunteer program. For general info on volunteer travel, visit www.volunteerabroad.org.
Avians on Display: It's for the Birds
Some of the bigger hotels, such as the Westin, Hyatt, Radisson, and Renaissance, insist upon keeping gorgeous wild birds such as macaws, African grey parrots, flamingos, cockatoos, and toucans in cages in the lobby or outdoor areas. While spectacular, these birds are increasingly rare, threatened with extinction, and may have been captured from the wild. Oh, and they can bite off your finger. While hotel managements will insist their birds are healthy and happy, the reality is that many of these "friendly" birds are actually young and have not yet reached maturity. When these birds get older, some of them may exhibit such behaviors as screeching, rocking, self-biting, pulling or shedding of feathers, or snapping at fingers. These "unfriendly" birds are often returned to the breeder, sold as pets, set free, or otherwise disposed of. They are then miraculously replaced with a shiny new bird, which may be a baby, fresh from the nest -- or worse, from the wild. If you are distressed by this sight, feel free to express your concerns, voice your objection, and suggest alternatives, such as parakeets or doves, which breed well in captivity and are not a draw on wild bird populations.
Some bird attractions will claim to do breeding and conservation work, and one in Curaçao will even show you a breeding facility complete with incubators. While it's true that some birds can be bred in captivity, the reality is that it is much cheaper, faster, and easier to acquire illegally caught birds. In one place, a lone hyacinth macaw sits in a cage since his mate died nearly 12 years ago. Among the rarest macaws in the world, and valued at tens of thousands of dollars, this bird belongs in a legitimate breeding facility, not a roadside menagerie.
Log on to www.bornfree.com to learn more.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.