Ecotourism: Travel light

The “La Oleta,” or “little wave,” bungalow in Rincon, Puerto Rico, is outfitted with solar panels to heat its water.

The ad: Studio apartment with kitchen in sunny surfers’ mecca Rincon, west coast of Puerto Rico. $55 a night.

And then the catch: Unit has solar-powered shower. And no paper down the toilet.

I’ll admit, I grimaced. The word “ecotourism” at first conjured up images of discomfort and sacrifice. But for $55 a night, I’ll put up with a lot.

Solar-water heaters are actually quite common in that part of Puerto Rico, because of a lack of municipal gas lines, said Jim Westfall, who rents out the apartment, “La Oleta.” That’s Spanish for “little wave.”

So how well did that shower work? No, the water never got truly hot like I’m used to back in New York. But in 85 degrees and sunshine, who’s complaining?

And being able to vacation while also making a small step to reduce my carbon footprint is even better.

Wanderlust magazine published a list of the world’s top travel sites that are slowly being degraded.

In Tulum, Mexico, theme parks and massive corporate hotels are pushing out the traditional Mayan community. Stonehenge in the U.K. is ringed by noisy highways. People travel to Machu Picchu to see the Inca site, not the piles of trash left by other tourists. By seeing the world, we often inadvertently destroy it.

In Rincon, Westfall is looking into ways to harness the sun and wind more constructively. He is also exploring how to reuse the “gray water” — wastewater — from sinks and showers.

“Puerto Rico, especially because it is an island, has limited natural resources,” he said. “Using renewable resources such as wind and solar will help preserve its natural environment.”

Travel tips

Want to vacation with minimal impact? Here are some easy tips that can go a long way:

» Try to stay in small, bungalow-type hotels and resorts, which use less electricity and water than large hotels.
» Never buy products made from endangered animals, like tortoise shell or ivory.
» Eat at independently owned restaurants that use fresh, local ingredients that aren’t flown in from elsewhere.
» Some eco-resorts don’t have electricity: Fall asleep early and wake up with the sun.
» The same as you would at home, turn off lights and air conditioning when you leave a room. Just because somebody else is footing the bill doesn’t mean you should be wasteful.
» Try to walk places instead of taking your rental car. You’ll see more local sights, too.

Follow Carly Baldwin on Twitter at @CarlyatMetro.


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