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Solving The Green Travel Paradox

While vacationing in Mexico’s Riviera Maya a few years back, I went for a walk along the beach just to see how far I could get, sand-shuffling my way past dozens of resorts to the point – and yes, this point exists, believe it or not – where the stretch of hotels ends and forest begins (probably not a coincidence that that point comes just as the beach turns into rocky shoreline – tough to set up a beach chair on crags, you know).

The forest is dense and vibrant, filled with movement and sounds and exhaling cool air that rushes over you if you decide to take the path that cuts through just its very edge (if you’re REALLY adventurous, you could find one of the holes in the wire fence that separates the forest proper from the beach and dive in, but I wasn’t up for contracting malaria or getting mauled by a jaguarundi).

But seeing that forest also got me to thinking about the forest that USED to be there, that used to run all the way back up to my hotel and well beyond, and it got me depressed because it was me and the millions like me who want to visit these places that give the developers incentive to level the trees – and destroy the habitat – in the first place.

It was thus a simple, carefree jaunt to nowhere landed me in the middle of a troubling paradox: How do we enjoy our natural resources without contributing to their destruction?

Many developers have come along to try to answer that very question, planting green resorts in ecologically sensitive areas all around the world that allow access even while limiting footprint. Places like Kenya’s Campi ya Kanzi, which works with the local Maasai community to responsibly open the wonders of the Mt. Kilimanjaro foothills to visitors; Ecuador’s zero-waste Black Sheep Inn, which teaches tourists about the local diversity from its perch high in the Andes; and Utah’s Park City Mountain Resort, which offsets all its energy consumption through carbon credits.

Eco-friendly tours also abound, such as the one a Captivate coworker of mine recently took during a visit to Mexico. Urban Escapes NYC and Alltournative balanced the thrills of tourism, he tells me, with environmental and cultural preservation in a trip that included a jungle zip-line, a rappel and swim in a cenote (a cave lagoon), a traditional lunch prepared by women of the Maya community, a visit to Mayan archaeological ruins and an expedition through a secret river that runs through a vast cave system (photo above).

Even a cursory web search will turn up hundreds of green resorts and tours like these.

But one resort in particular caught my eye, not only for its policy of strict environmental responsibility, but because it plans to give its profits to environmental and social programs.

You read that right: a nonprofit resort. It’s called the Cacao Pearl, a planned “luxury eco-community” on a 124-acre island in the Philippines. Right next door to the Palawan Biosphere Reserve, Cacao Pearl promises pampering without the guilty conscience.

You get to enjoy the comfort of homes designed by a Hollywood art director (does that mean you can’t lean on the walls?), an infinity pool, wreck & reef diving, a spa, organic gardens & bar, restaurant, and private media rooms, all the while easing your living-the-high-life pangs of guilt with the knowledge that your barely noticeable footprint (because of the resort’s sustainable construction methods and 100% use of renewable energy) will be erased entirely since your money goes back to the local community.

I sent some questions – like how exactly will renewables be incorporated, or what programs will benefit from Cacao profits – along to the CEO of the development, Joël Céré. I’ll post an update if/when I hear back.

But if Cacao Pearl can deliver on its claims, it’s the answer to the paradox that struck me those years ago in Mexico: a place where you take part, without taking from.

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“Solving The Green Travel Paradox”

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