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If you’ve arrived at this article, you probably need a break. Maybe you live in a cold weather city, and if you do, congrats, because many of our northern regions will be best suited to thrive as climate change progresses, however, that doesn’t mean winter is going away anytime soon. It’s cold now and a warm beach is just what the doctor ordered.
But there is a problem.
Beach resorts are doomed to be bad for the environment, right? Toting around all those plastic water bottles under the hot sun, fruity drinks in plastic cups with little umbrellas, and mini-bottles of shampoo and conditioner?
Some beach resorts truly go above and beyond to not only offer rest and relaxation, but a climate-friendly experience at the same time. Read on.
Also be sure to check out our research on the most environmentally conscious airlines.
Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, Aruba
Highlights: First-ever hotel to earn a perfect Green Globe score, as well as the winner of the UN Climate Action award. Bucuti & Tara is officially the Caribbean’s first certified carbon-neutral hotel.
The winner of the UN Climate Action Award and the first-ever hotel to earn a perfect Green Globe Score (both in 2020), Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort became the Caribbean’s first certified carbon-neutral hotel in 2018. Fittingly, its owner will be honored during the upcoming UN Climate Change summit in Glasgow.
The LEED Gold hotel is the #1 hotel for romance in the Caribbean, as rated by TripAdvisor, six years in a row. Perhaps it’s because you won’t hear the pitter-patter of little feet: it’s adults-only. Located on Aruba, a desert-like island in the southernmost Caribbean, 15 miles from Venezuela, on powdery-white Eagle Beach, the low-rise 104-room resort has two wings: the all-suites Tara (36 oceanfront suites and four penthouses) and Bucuti (58 rooms with ocean or garden views, three bungalows and two ocean-view suites). You have to admire its “What We Are Not” web page, which pulls no punches on how it’s not a groupy, party-hearty nightlife spot or all-inclusive but an elegant oasis of peace.
Bucuti & Tara added Aruba’s largest solar panel system in the private sector in 2016. Shower and kitchen water is used to irrigate the land, and over 68% of waste is recycled. All guests receive (and keep) a metal water bottle, while bulk dispensers in bathrooms offer toiletries from Aruba Aloe, a local firm, to avoid single-use plastics.
There is also a “Flinstones car” component to the resort. By exercising on the Fitness Center’s bikes and treadmills to help power electricity, the guests actually help to keep the lights on, literally. Other green activities include: judging contests where staffers make art from recycled materials, to picking a project to offset carbon emissions from their flights, airport transfers and tours. A Carbon Offset Concierge helps them choose if they want to do this through their airline’s carbon offset program (for example, American Airlines’ program includes forest regeneration in Mexico, preserving peat swamps in Indonesia, and buying cooking stoves in Honduras) or a verified offset program of their choice.
Local animal conservation is part of the equation. If a guest adopts a stray dog or cat, Bucuti pays for vaccines and a crate to transport the pet home. Besides starting a spay/microchip program for dogs and cats on the island, it also helps fund Aruba’s Donkey Sanctuary, and protects sea turtles who nest and hatch on its beach with partner Turtugaruba.
Inspired by the UN’s first Climate Change conference in 1992, where dismal scenarios were predicted if carbon emissions continued unabated, resort owner Ewald Biemans, an Austrian who traded the Alps for Aruba decades ago, resolved to do everything he could at the resort he built in 1987.
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
Highlights: In an area vulnerable to rising sea levels, Soneva Fushi takes great steps to remain eco-friendly: bottled water import bans, recycling 90% of solid waste, coral regeneration efforts, and 100% carbon-neutral status are just a few tactics used among others that earn them a spot on this list.
The toothpaste-white sand beaches and crystal-clear turquoise water in the Maldives, an Asian tropical archipelago southwest of India in the Indian Ocean, will make you rub your eyes in disbelief. But as the world’s lowest-lying country – just three feet above sea level, on average – its almost 1,200 islands are dangerously vulnerable to rising sea levels, so the Maldives have a vested interest in fighting climate change. Luckily, Soneva Fushi has reacted with gusto since opening in 1995 – banning imported bottled water back in 2008, bottling its own water in glass containers after building a solar-powered desalination plant to filter seawater, recycling 90% of its solid waste, coral regeneration, to banning single-use plastics. Soneva’s two Maldives resorts (including Soneva Jani on another island) were the first in the Maldives to go 100% carbon-neutral back in 2017 – important because long flights to get here burn lots of carbon emissions.
A private island resort (i.e., no village on its island) in Baa Atoll, Soneva Fushi has 63 beachfront villas plus eight overwater bungalows, where fish swim beneath glass insets in the floor, with one to nine bedrooms. It’s a half-hour by seaplane from Male International Airport in the Maldives capital, or a 12-minute speedboat ride afer a short flight from Male to Dharavandhoo Airport. Resort activities feature tours of its vegetable and herb garden to learn about permaculture (and pick greens for your meal), star-gazing from its observatory and by boat at night, snorkeling with manta rays, and outdoor movies on the beach.
Guests can learn to blow glass to create gifts, and watch artists-in-residence at work, at the Glass Studio, where glass bottles by the thousands are recycled into glassware for the resort and art glass. The first Maldives resort to recycle plastic on-site in 2017, Soneva Fushi opened a Makers’ Place in 2021 to recycle aluminum and plastic waste into building materials for both construction projects and art.
Because coral is bleaching white and dying due to rising ocean temperatures, the resort restores coral by creating “reef stars”: attaching coral fragments that broke off from reefs to resin-coated star-shaped steel frames covered with sand, which grow over time so they resemble a natural reef. Guests can help in the project, whose goal is to propagate 50,000 corals each year, guided by a marine biologist.
In a country where winter daytime temperatures are in the mid-to-high 80s, and 70s at night, the resort uses an ingenious natural pest control system. (Chemical fogging, which other resorts use, also kills butterflies, dragonflies and bumblebees, yet mosquitoes often become immune). After installing 500 traps that mimic a human being’s sweat and breath to lure mosquitoes, invented by Biogents, a German company, in 2019, the mosquito population dropped by 95-98%. (Almost 9,000 mosquitoes were killed in one day soon after it began.)
A 2% tax on resort stays funds the Soneva Foundation’s many sustainable projects around the world. To reduce deforestation in Myanmar, which has one of the world’s fastest rates since trees are cut down for wood stoves, and Darfur, Sudan, fuel-efficient cooking stoves were given to 300,000 people. Air pollution dropped by 80% because each stove saved 2 ½ tons of wood per year. To reforest Thailand’s Chiang Mai region, 500,000 trees from 90 species were planted with partner PATT Foundation, reducing an estimated 255,000 tons of carbon emissions. In south India’s Tamil Nadu state, a wind turbine was built to produce 80,000 megawatts of clean energy, and reduce an estimated 70,000 tons of carbon emissions over 20 years, with partner The Converging World. Founded by Sonu Shivdasani, UK-born of Indian descent, and his wife, Eva Malmstrom, of Sweden, Soneva produces a detailed report, a Total Impact Assessment of all its environmental efforts.
Arenas Del Mar Beach & Rainforest Resort, Costa Rica
Highlights: Located in an area where 93% of electricity is sourced from renewable resources, Arenas Del Mar has won accolades for its sustainability spanning from the Certificate of Sustainable Tourism to National Geographic’s World Changing award.
In this country where 30% of the land is protected and nearly 93% of all electricity comes from renewable resources, Arenas Del Mar Beach & Rainforest Resort earned the highest rating (the Five Leaf award) from the Costa Rican Tourist Board’s own sustainability program, called Certificate of Sustainable Tourism (CST). It also won a National Geographic World Changing award in 2017, plus a World Travel & Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow award in 2018.
Located right on the beach, within a lush 11-acre rainforest reserve on the Pacific coast, the 38-room resort is a three-hour drive from San Jose Juan Santamaria International Airport. It’s in walking distance of Manuel Antonio National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most popular, where squirrel monkeys, sloths, toucans abound. To encourage wildlife (and avoid disturbing it), its electrical system lies underground. Since Arenas Del Mar opened 20 years ago, 7,000 trees and thousands of native plants were planted, while some roofs were built around trees to avoid chopping then down. As a result, hearing the sounds of nature is guaranteed.
The carbon-neutral resort abolished plastic water bottles 10 years ago, and bamboo straws replace single-use plastic straws. Vegetables are grown at the hydroponic farm on-site, which uses water instead of soil, no pesticides and requires 10% less water than soil-based agriculture. All furniture is made in-house from fallen wood, as is artisan paper. Taking its community responsibilities seriously, the resorts employs locals only (Costa Rica citizens or long-term residents) for all jobs, management positions and nature guides included (it’s the only Manuel Antonio-area resort with its own naturalist guides). Ironically, the owner is a German who’s lived in Costa Rica for over 25 years. Staff volunteers clean up a major trail inside Manuel Antonio twice a month, plus Espadilla Beach, which leads to the park entrance.
Rooms are spacious, and most possess large tiled balconies to admire sublime views of the Pacific and curving coast, rainforest or garden. One-bedroom suites are 975-1,055 square feet, some suites are bigger, and even the smallest rooms are 474-488 square feet. The resort is in the Cayuga Collection, seven eco-friendly hotels in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.
The Brando, French Polynesia
Highlights: The Brando is the world’s first resort to ever win LEED Platinum certification thanks to its sustainability measures. Over half of the resort’s energy consumption is powered by solar panels, and they have an Ecostation on-site that aims to educate on conservation.
The world’s first resort to win LEED Platinum certification, The Brando is on the island late actor Marlon Brando purchased in Tetiaroa Atoll, 30 miles north of Tahiti. All buildings are cooled by harnessing cold deep-sea water, reducing energy demands by nearly 70%. Solar panels on the airstrip produce over half of the rest of the resort’s energy needs, heat all hot water, and flow batteries storing solar energy are made mainly from recycled materials.
The resort is almost carbon-neutral, uses biofuel made from coconut oil, and aims to solar-power all vehicles. At an Ecostation on-site, run by the nonprofit Tetiaroa Society, whose goal is conserving and education, scientists from around the world research sustainable interdependence between man and nature.
The resort’s 35 thatched-roof villas range from one to three bedrooms. Even the smallest, 1,033 square feet, features a private pool, patio and outdoor bathtub hidden behind a wood screen, a few steps from the white-sand beach.
Six Senses Yao Noi, Thailand
Highlights: Six Senses offers numerous programs during a potential stay such as a Reconnect with Nature tour, Junior Eco Warrior program, and an Earth Lab focused on trash-to-treasure recyclable DIY projects.
Located on lush Ko Yao Noi island in southern Thailand, a 45-minute speedboat ride from Phuket International Airport (on Phuket, a much larger island), Six Senses Yao Noi faces Phang Nga Bay, whose dreamy landscape of dramatic limestone pillars on over 100 islets in azure sea may look familiar, if you’re a James Bond fan. (It’s the setting for The Man with the Golden Gun.)
On its Reconnect with Nature tour, guests view the limestone pillars at sunrise from the white-sand beach, visit the resort’s farm animals (chickens who lay eggs to jazz at “Cluckingham Palace” plus goat and duck farms), sea kayak through mangroves, build a hornbill nest and gather produce from the Mushroom Hut and organic garden for a cooking class. Other activities include visits to a coconut farm and rubber plantation, batik painting and volunteering at a local school. In the Junior Eco Warrior program, kids make trash-to-treasure DIY projects at the Earth Lab, like converting glass bottles to pots and making candles, collect eggs from chickens and sow seeds.
A Travel + Leisure 2021 Global Vision award winner for its commitment to sustainability and conservation in all its resorts, Six Senses has bottled its own water in glass bottles from filtered seawater since 2003, banned plastic straws in 2016, uses solar power and aims to be totally plastic-free in 2023. Now part of IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), Six Senses was founded by Soneva’s founders decades ago.