Tourism, by its very nature, takes its toll on the environment. Bring enough people to the beach, the mountains and the forests, and they're bound to leave a human footprint. How deep, harmful, and lasting that footprint is tends to be an ongoing battle between promotion and preservation.
Conservation is an ongoing effort, and it's one that Puerto Rico takes seriously. In fact, in 2013, Puerto Rico was announced the winner of the Destination Stewardship Award, introduced by the Caribbean Tourism Organization year to honor the destination that has made significant strides toward sustainable tourism management.
For anyone who values these efforts (even if it comes at the expense of certain luxuries like AC in your guest room), you'll appreciate the many ways in which the government and local businesses around the island have taken steps to care for the land and its most precious natural resources. Take a closer look.
1. Blue Flag Beaches
The Blue Flag Programme is a voluntary eco-label presented to beaches and marinas around the world who have shown a commitment to sustainable development by observing rigorous standards of water quality, environmental education and management, safety and other services. The program is operated by a non-government, non-profit organisation called the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).
To most travelers, this is an invisible designation. But it's an important (and most importantly, objective) mark of the quality and purity of the water in which you and your family are swimming. Puerto Rico boasts no less than eight blue flag beaches and two marinas. The full list of beaches is:
- Boquerón Beach in Cabo Rojo Carolina Beach in Carolina El Escambrón in San Juan Luquillo Beach, or La Monserrate, in Luquillo Pelicano Beach in Ponce Toa Baja Beach in Punta Salinas Seven Seas Beach in Fajardo Sunbay Beach in Vieques
In addition, Puerto Chico Marina and Puerto del Rey Marina in Fajardo have also been awarded Blue Flag status.
It doesn't shock me that Puerto Rico is being recognized for sustainable tourism; in 2011, it created the first government-sponsored green hotels program in the Caribbean. (It's another in a long list of firsts for the island.) The Puerto Rican Tourism Company launched its Green Lodging Program in October 2011, to promote hotels that go the extra eco-friendly mile.
In addition to these hotels, you'll find eco-friendly housing around the island. For example, check out this incredible dwelling in Rincón, or The Green Room Project at the Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn.
3. Natural Reserves
The preservation of large tracts of pristine land (many of these areas prime spots for development if they were private lands) has been a joint effort between the government and the U.S. Forest Service. Thanks to this collaboration, mangrove forests, coastal beaches and diverse ecosystems have remained in pristine condition, home to local flora and fauna and an essential habitat for thousands of local and visiting birds.
Together with Puerto Rico's forests, these lush green spaces form some of Puerto Rico's most important and beautiful areas.
I've been on my share of tours in Puerto Rico. And I've consistently been impressed by the efforts of guides all over the island to preserve the natural environment even as they invite travelers to enjoy it. From keeping coral reefs pristine (including picking up garbage on the ocean floor) to taking the time to explain the fragile beauty of a bioluminescent bay, you'll find that these tour guides love this land and are committed to keeping it beautiful for generations of tourists.