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Day 3 The Mayan Riviera

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The Mayan Riviera runs along the coast from Cancun to the ancient Mayan city of Tulum and just twenty minutes south of the touristy Playa del Carmen. The area resembles the existence of a disappearing Mayan culture. An area that offers a variety of activities, especially arqueological sites such Tulum, Chichen Itza and Xcaret. The other major activity is the underwater world, the Riviera Maya being home to the second largest barrier reef in the world , also known as the Belize Barrier Reef. The barrier begins in Cancun and continues along the Riviera Maya continuing to Guatemala.
After being in the car for long hours, we finally arrive at Hacienda Tres Ríos, which was recognized by the Mexican government as a “regional and national model for sustainable tourism development”.  Hacienda Tres Ríos was built after a detailed study necessary to establish “preferred use areas” to appropriately place the Hote,l and help reduce the  environmental impact that mega- resorts cause. We met with the owner and she explained how people normally question how a big resort like Hacienda Tres Rios, can operate under sustainable practices, have to say that was the question everybody in the group had.
Here are the sustainable practices they are operating under.

-Two years of environmental study
Several years were used to study the ecosystems in Tres Ríos. During that stage of Environmental Characterization and Analysis, a team of scientists and experts was assembled to undergo research in topics as diverse as digital aerial photography, geographic analysis, mangrove and jungle ecosystems, wildlife, coral reefs, geo-hydrology, etcetera. This stage was fundamental, as it provided the basic information required to orient the sustainable development of the Tres Ríos Master Plan
-Environmentally Friendly Construction
The information obtained from several studies allowed us to establish “preferred use” areas, which were used as the basis to appropriately place the Hotel Hacienda on an area with a lower environmental value within the ecosystem. The placement of buildings on lower environmental quality areas is fundamental to lessen environmental impacts and to avoid disturbing higher environmental quality areas.

-Some other low impact construction practices included
Buildings constructed on over 400 pilings, 2.8 meters above ground which allows natural water flow to continue
Use of pre-fabricated construction, assembled onsite, reducing dust contamination.
Refuse carefully sorted and recycled when possible.
Use of regional materials and finishes
4,000 plants of 11 endangered and protected species rescued
Cold water from deep well used to cool air conditioning systems
Heat generated from air conditioning is captured and used to heat water
In-room motion sensors shut down unnecessary energy use when rooms are unoccupied
A titanium-clad water desalination plant treats and filters the water, avoiding use of the freshwater aquifer
 
Do you think mega -resorts, and all- inclusive hotels can operate under sustainable practices? We are eager to hear your opinion.

Day 2 Whale Shark at Holbox Island

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Off to the open ocean to “swim” with the largest fish on the planet, the Whale Shark. This humongous sea creature can be seen around Holbox Island from June to early September. It can grow up to 40 ft., with an open mouth that can be as big as 5 ft! Even though the guide swore to me that the big fish was just interested in plankton or fish for his meal, I just couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of being in the open ocean with such a big animal.
A short 15 minute boat ride took us to where we finally saw “our shark”. Some of us were ready to jump in the water… actually it was Heidi Meza, one of the trip coordinators… she loves the ocean and everything that lives in it… it was such a joy for her that she actually made me forget for a moment how scared I was. Thanks Heidi!
The guide gave us an explanation of the logistics of the tour and what we could do and not do. At first I was wondering what these tour companies could do to offer the tour in a more sustainable way, as many people think that distracting the natural habitat of these fish doesn’t sound very environmentally friendly.
 
Well, the guide gave us some of the answers.
He said:
1-      You are not allowed to touch the whale shark. (he explained how if everybody started touching the shark, the protection they have on their skin would disappear)
2-     Don’t approach them any closer than 3 ft.
3-     You have to use biodegradable sun block.
4-     If any other tour boat arrives, we are going to take turns to get in the water. (just two people + plus the guide were allowed to swim every time, I didn’t see more than 3 people swimming with the shark at any time)
5-     Don’t swim close to the tail or in front of the shark.
 
I have to say that I was happy with the rules, no complaints.
 
The time for my turn arrived as I sat at the edge of the boat waiting for the guide’s signal (WATER!) to jump in. He gave us the sign and off the boat we went. I saw just part of the big fish on the first attempt, and the second time I saw clearly how big the thing was, and I was content to be with him in the water.  As I got back in the boat, my traveling companions started asking me about the experience and I just couldn’t hold back my tears of joy, excitement and fear. Yes I cried, for the opportunity I had to experience what was an unforgettable highlight in my life.
We came back to Villas Paraiso del Mar, where we enjoyed the turquoise waters and the white-sand beach, to continue with our trip to the Riviera Maya.

Green Flights: Is it Possible?

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By Elizabeth • June 25, 2009

Earlier this week, I published the Find Cheap Airline Tickets Cheat Sheet. As what usually happens when we mention anything related to airplanes, we get some criticism.

“Aren’t you green?” “Don’t you care about the environment?” “Flying is terrible.”

Yes, we agree that planes are the worst mode of transportation when it comes to their environmental impact. In fact we’ve written a lot about this including about how Airplane Air is Toxic, Principles for Choosing Green Transportation, and a Guide to Carbon Offsets.

So, this begs the question, are there green flights?

planes

 photo credit: Lara604 

Sadly, there aren’t. At least not right now. Perhaps in the future there will be green flights. It would be great to be able to fly all over the world without having a major impact on the environment. But, right now, there’s no such thing as a green flight.

So the best thing to do to make your flight more eco friendly is to:

Take a Non Stop Flight: When you take a non stop flight you’re using less fuel and thus there are fewer carbon offsets – this all leads to greener flights. (Check out our posts about the best search engines for non stop flights and our post about how non stop flights have up to 50% less carbon offsets)

Use Electronic Tickets: When you use a completely electronic ticket — eg on your PDA/Smart phone, you’re getting rid of all paper waste. Here’s an interesting article from the LA times about electronic tickets.

Search for Tickets Using Search Green Travel: With Search Green Travel you use Kayak to search, but we donate 50% of profits to environmental organizations.

Bring a Water Bottle: Don’t buy bottled water before boarding the plane. To have green flights we must stop drinking bottled water. If your looking for a new water bottle check out our smackdown of stainless steel water bottles to help you choose the best one.

What other tips do you have for green flights?

Being a Mindful Tourist

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A Guest Post By Shadia Garrison, The Mindful Tourist.

Ecotourism, sustainable tourism, green tourism, cultural tourism, responsible tourism, philanthropic tourism, voluntourism… Ack, what do all these terms mean and how can I ever live up to all of them?
How about this?  Just be a good person while traveling, think of others and the environment you are visiting, and treat it better than you’d treat your own home and neighbors. Be a mindful tourist: that is, be mindful of the environment, the local people and their culture, and the future of the site. You can probably figure it out yourself, but here are some ways I believe we all can travel in a mindful, socially conscious way:
 

1. Learn about and embrace the culture around you
Prepare yourself before you go to understand the local culture and where it comes from.  This doesn’t mean you have to accept the congealed blood sandwich offered to you by the tribe leader but it means you’ll be prepared and understand why this is an honor.  If things are done differently than in your home country, don’t sweat it.  Accept, don’t criticize. Share your own culture, too – in a meaningful and thoughtful way.
 

2. Contribute to the local economy
Stay at locally owned bed and breakfasts or other local lodging options (which also tend to be more eco-friendly than large resorts with heated pools); take tours with locals who can point out the local fishing hole or who will take you to their best friend’s run-down restaurant that serves the best fish tacos you’ve ever had.
 

3. Steer clear of eco-unfriendly activities such as swimming with dolphins, four-wheeling through the rainforest, or helicopter tours.  No explanation needed, right?Local trasnportation
 

4. Become a temporary member of the community
Pretend you belong: walk the streets; talk with kids playing cricket (better yet, join in the game even though we all know you have no idea what you’re doing!); and duck into the neighborhood dive bar to have a cold one with the locals.
 

5. Leave the place in better shape than you found it.
Strive to have a light footprint, don’t “love it to death,” give constructive advice if asked so that experiences are more authentic and even better for future tourists.  Develop sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships with your guides or hosts.   In short, instead of leaving behind your trash, leave behind some of your good will.
Remember, we’re all in this together.  Not to get all “rainbows and kittens” on you but everyone you deal with in your travels is a human being and is doing the best he or she can.  Your vacation is a part of your life – as such, it won’t be perfect in every way.  Accept that fact and be kind to everyone you encounter, even the bus driver who scowls when you request more toilet paper or the hotel staff person who objects to your switching rooms.  If you do that, you’re well on your way to being a mindful and socially conscious traveler.
 

Shadia was born in Cairo, Egypt to parents who met as Peace Corps volunteers living in Tunisia, and has since journeyed all over the planet.  She believes that the best part about traveling is the opportunity to learn from and appreciate past and current cultures.  She founded and writes at The Mindful Tourist.

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