In 2010, best estimates from the Mexico Tourism Board tell us that over 10 million people passed through the Cancun International Airport. This number considers foreign and domestic passengers including tourists, business travelers and general transit to Quintana Roo. A great many of these visitors are drawn to this area and the Riviera Maya in particular for the astounding array of flora and fauna that can be found in this relatively small geographic region. Let’s all do our part to protect our amazing jungles, cenotes and reef systems by taking steps to travel responsibly. In recognition of Earth Day, here are 10 Tips for Green Travel on the Riviera Maya.

 

1.     Green Before You Go! Green travel starts before you even leave for the airport. Before you lock up the house, turn your hot water heater down to its lowest setting. Make sure you have turned down your thermostat as well to a temperature that will save energy without killing your plants. Appliances, especially televisions and cable/satellite boxes, should be unplugged. Even when turned off, these can draw as much as 40 watts per hour!

 

        Sustainable Tourism Eco-Friendly Accommodations - When selecting your lodging, do a little research online and try to book in resorts or vacation rental properties that adhere to eco-friendly policies. There are a number of websites that list and rate environmentally friendly inns, hotels and resort properties around the world. Each organization may have its own guidelines for rating properties. Look for those that meet the standards that are important to you.  Of particular concern along the Riviera Maya is the health of our precious cenotes and the linked system of underground aquifers that provides all the fresh water for the region and is home to a myriad of fish, animals and microorganisms. Investigate how hotel waste water is treated? Do they have a system to reuse water? How do they minimize energy consumption? Has the property invested in low flow showers/toilets, or eco-friendly lighting? Are they utilizing alternative energy sources such as solar, wind or geo-thermal? An impressive example of eco-friendly lodging can be seen at Hacienda Tres Rios. In addition to making every attempt to promote sustainable tourism within their 326 acre park-like resort, HTR is also helping to reforest the mangroves in the region.

3.     Limit Your Laundry – Laundry, specifically the washing of towels and bedding, consumes almost 40% of the average resort’s energy usage expended for hot water. If you are willing to use your towels and sheets for more than one day you can help hotels reduce their overall energy use by up to 5%. Each hotel or rental property will have its own system for alerting the housekeeping staff to either wash or refold your towels for a second or third usage. If you are uncertain, tell the front desk your intentions or try to leave a note for the staff. Think of it as a good time to practice your Spanish skills!

 

4.     Switch Off and Save - Coming back to a hot room after a day on the beach is no fun but you can make a difference by turning up the temperature air-conditioning by just a few degrees while you are gone. By switching the TV off rather than leaving it on standby, you reduce its energy consumption by 25% and significantly reduce the amount of heat that it throws into the room.  Close your curtain when you leave or pull the blinds down to keep out the sun. When using the spa or gym facilities, remember to turn off exercise equipment, sauna, whirlpool/jacuzzi or tennis court lights when you're done. Certain properties are now installing systems that are activated by your room key. Return to the room, slide the swipe card in and the air-conditioning, lights and TV are functional. Take the key out on your way out the door and it all powers down automatically.  Cool!

5.    Riviera Maya Recycling Recycle - Recycling in the Riviera Maya has come a long way in the past few years. Every municipality is doing its part to help reduce the waste in dumps by providing recycling opportunities for residents and tourists alike. Familiarize yourself with your recycling program offered by your hotel or property management company and sort your trash accordingly. If your hotel or condo complex doesn't recycle, consider reusing your empty bottles or utilizing the recycling bins that can be found in town. Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal and Tulum all have them!

 

7.     Walk the Walk - For now, the downtown areas of our coastal cities are very manageable by foot. Most visitors can easily see and experience all that downtown has to offer on foot or on a bicycle which can be rented by the day or by the week. Thanks to a brand new eco-initiative in Playa del Carmen, visitors can now explore the city by bicycle for FREE! If you are planning to investigate nearby towns, archeological sites or other “must see” attractions, try to utilize the public transportation available instead of renting a car. Buses run up and down the coast from Cancun to Chetumal several times a day making stops in Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. For shorter trips, colectivos are cheap and plentiful and will stop pretty much anywhere you need to go. You can pick one up at the colectivo stops in town or flag them down on the highway. Colectivos are a great way to do a self guided tour of the cenotes that are scattered all up and down the Cancun-Tulum corridor. It’s less stressful than driving in an unfamiliar place and will allow you more time to enjoy the scenery! Taking public transportation will also give you more access to the local people and afford you a more authentic traveling experience.  

        Eco-Friendly ToursResponsible TOURism - There is so much to do and see in and around the Riviera Maya. Going on an organized tour and utilizing their transportation is a more eco-friendly alternative to renting a car and going it on your own. Before you book a tour, be sure to ask about the size of the group. Smaller groups tend to make less of an environmental impact.  Smaller groups also afford the participants a much more intimate experience than the “cattle drive” tours. Find out ahead of time whether the tours are led by locals and how the tour operator contributes to the local community. When scuba diving or snorkeling, do not touch or stand on the coral or stir up sediment, as these actions can damage our reef's fragile ecosystem. Choose an approved biodegradable reef-safe sunscreen. The chemicals found in most commercial sun blocks are harmful to coral and sea life. When exploring ruins or the surrounding jungle, stay on the marked paths. While it may be tempting to touch or feed the wildlife in and out of the water, please refrain from doing do and always maintain a reasonable distance between you and the indigenous wildlife.

8C  Charge it Up – Try to avoid disposable batteries. These are of particular concern as if they end up in one of our dumps, they will degrade and leach toxic chemicals into the earth which cannot be filtered out by the limestone, ultimately poisoning our water supply. If you must use them, please bring the dead batteries home and recycle them properly. An even more responsible and more economical alternative is to bring a charger and use re-chargeable batteries. Plug them in at night before bed and they will be ready to go in the morning! If possible, look for NiMH “nickel metal hydride” batteries as they seem to have the best environmental record. Another tip: Don’t feel too badly about buying those inexpensive “single use” cameras when you have to. The companies that process the photos in the US and Canada all recycle!

        Reusable Shopping BagsEco-Bags Are Cool - It is only since the introduction of non-biodegradable consumer goods and packaging from the “modern” world that litter and garbage disposal has become a major issue in the Yucatan. Just half a century ago, food was wrapped, cooked and served in banana leaves. There were no concerns about trash disposal as everything could be tossed into the jungle to rapidly decompose!  These old habits are tough to break. Now plastic wrappers and bottles are strewn everywhere. The ubiquitous plastic grocery bags are another odious culprit. If you are planning to stay on the Riviera Maya for any amount of time, you will most likely do some shopping. On your first trip to the store, pick yourself up a reusable shopping bag. They are inexpensive and readily available in all the grocery stores and markets.  Looking for something a little more fashionable? Try these super chic eco-bags from WearEarth. They are made from recycled plastic, come in a myriad of colors and designs and are sold in some of Playa’s best boutiques.

10.  Carry Reusable Bottles - The importance of keeping hydrated during a Riviera Maya vacation is often overlooked but cannot be overstated. Many travel related illnesses (headaches, intestinal issues etc.) sometimes attributed to tainted food or water are simply an unpleasant side effect of dehydration. Under the hot Caribbean sun, after a few cervezas, it is easy to forget to drink enough water. Because the water here on the Riviera Maya is not so good for drinking, 20 liter garrafones (large plastic water jugs) are virtually everywhere. Look for coolers at hotels, hostels and car rental or travel agencies. Bring your favorite reusable bottle and refill as you go. Research indicates that 9 out of 10 plastic water bottles wind up as garbage. That adds up to 30 million bottles a day worldwide. Unfortunately, it can take a thousand years for each one of those plastic bottles to biodegrade. Carrying a reusable bottle is one of the simplest things you can do to reduce plastic waste and help protect the environment.

 

Taking a green approach to travel is an easy and essential way to protect the places we love to visit. Do it not just for yourself but for your children and grandchildren and all the people who will continue to live here long after you've flown home. Tell us your suggestions for Green Travel. We all deserve a clean and healthy Riviera Maya.

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