8 tips to travel more sustainably in the Caribbean
Take a reusable bottle or flask in your hand luggage.
Tap water in most Caribbean countries is not drinkable, but if you’re like me, you may have concerns about using single use plastic, including bottled water. Many resorts and hotels now provide filtered water stations, so this may be preferable to single use bottled water.
Check with your resort to see if they provide filtered water filling stations. If they do, use your reusable bottle and fill it with filtered water before going on an excursion or day trip.
Even if your hotel doesn’t provided filtered water stations, you can still take your reusable bottle with you. You can fill it with water while at the airport in Canada and take it on excursions just in case you can fill it up outside the resort.
Immerse yourself in the Caribbean culture.
Instead of staying in an all-inclusive resort in a tourist hot spot, choose a boutique hotel, guest-house, bed and breakfast or other family-owned and run accommodation in a smaller off-the-beaten-track town. You’ll likely have more chance of meeting the locals when staying off-resort, and the owners/staff will likely share tidbits and hidden gems with you.
However, if you prefer the luxury and convenience of a resort, or travelling off-the-beaten-track is way too out of your comfort zone (or if it’s unsafe to do so), DO venture off the resort for some of your meals and other immersive and authentic activities. If you’re travelling solo, you can book these types of experiences with local guides in advance.
Use local guides and/or tour operators.
If you do decide to stay at a resort, choose excursions and activities offered by local tour operators not the resort. If you’re planning a tour, check with your travel agent that the tour operater uses local guides. This will help the local economy and will often be more immersive and authentic experiences.
If you’re booking tours and excursions after you arrive in destination, ensure you use reputable tour operators, that keep you safe.
Whether you prefer to plan ahead or are winging it, have your travel agent do some research on your behalf before you go, and either book them for you in advance or provide you with a list of reputable tour operators to choose from while you’re there.
Purchase locally made produce, souvenirs and gifts.
Consider purchasing items and produce, such as souvenirs, gifts, fresh fruit and tasty treats, while you’re off resort, either at a local market or small family run store.
Even better, if you can, purchase souvenirs and gift items directly from local crafts people who made them. These items will not only be much more meaningful and symbolic of your trip but will also help the local community and economy.
If you’re not sure whether an item is locally crafted, check the tag to see where it was made or look for a stamp or marking on the item. Often the artist will add their signature. (When I was in Cuba, I watched as the artist made one of my souvenirs).
Tip the hotel / resort staff generously!
Tipping is the norm in many Caribbean countries. Even if a restaurant adds a tip onto your bill, you can still give a little extra. In the Dominican Republic for instance, even thought they add a 10% tip to the bill, it’s still customary to give up to 10 percent in extra tips. Restaurant staff are not paid well so any amount will be appreciated, but do try to be as generous as your budget allows. Tip the resort staff generously and often, you’ll not only help them, but they’ll often show their appreciation in many ways.
Tip other service providers.
Don’t forget the other service providers, such as taxi drivers, tour guides, bar staff, and other travel service providers, during your vacation. It’s not only resort staff that rely on tourism dollars. Most personnel in the tourism industry, especially in the Caribbean, work hard for little money and will appreciate the extra cash.
Eat locally grown and prepared Caribbean dishes
If you’re cruising the caribbean or staying at an all-inclusive resort, all your meals are provided. However, you should still visit local restaurants to taste locally grown and prepared food. This may mean missing a meal that would be included in your package but it will be so worth it.
You’ll not only enjoy a more authentic meal and even have the chance to meet some locals, but you’ll also enhance the livelihood of a local business as well as help boost the local economy that relies on tourism dollars to survive.
Of course, if you’re going off resort, do check with the concierge about where is safe to go and for ideas on the best restaurants for an authentic experience. They can sometimes arrange for a private dinner or you can ask your travel agent to arrange and pre-book local culinary experiences as part of your vacation itinerary.
Learn the lingo before you go!
Before you leave home, learn some basic phrases in the primary language of the Caribbean country you’re visiting. This will be especially beneficial if you plan to venture beyond the tourist spots. Not only will it be useful to communicate your needs to local service providers, store owners and restaurant staff, but they will appreciate you making the effort to speak their language.
If learning languages is not your thing, learn how to say hello, thank you and goodbye as well as some names of popular local food dishes in the local language. Remember, although many Caribbean countries speak Spanish, there are some that speak French or Dutch. So check with your travel agent to find out which language is spoken.
Plant trees to offset your carbon footprint.
I’ll be addressing this idea in a longer post later on, but wanted to include this here. Most people who vacation in the Caribbean can’t afford the luxury of choosing “sustainable” accommodation, besides there currently wouldn’t be enough “eco-lodges” to accommodate everyone. Neither is there a sustainable way to travel to the Caribbean. Inevitably your trip is going to include a return flight and or cruise or both, neither of which are currently sustainable.
However, something you can do is plant trees to offset your carbon footprint. The Trees4Travel website helps you calculate your carbon footprint when travelling, so you know how many trees you need to plant. You can then arrange to purchase the number of trees needed to offset your carbon footprint directly on the website. The trees are planted as saplings, so they are not too expensive but will benefit the entire planet.
If you can choose the location that your trees are planted, select the Caribbean country you’re going to visit or the one that needs the most help environmentally, so you’re not only offsetting your carbon footprint, but giving back to the destination you visited.