Ecotourism in the US Virgin Islands

Virgin Islands Ecotourism: Will ecotours and green hotels work in the Caribbean?

The United States Virgin Islands is a world leader in the development of "sustainable tourism," which protects the beauty of the natural environment while allowing visitors to enjoy it in its pristine wonder. There are numerous activities to be enjoyed in the USVI by the environmentally conscious traveler. The following are highlights of the variety of ecotourism activities available on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.

Ecotourism Resorts

Stanley Selengut, a civil engineer, carpenter and ecologist based in New York, pioneered the vision of balancing "creature comfort and environmental sensitivity" in a resort that tourists can enjoy while visiting the USVI. Since starting Maho Bay Camps in 1976, Selengut has built three additional ecotourism resorts on St. John - Harmony, Estate Concordia and Concordia Ecotents - that allow for intimate encounters with the natural beauty of the Caribbean outdoors as well as comfort and convenience at an affordable cost.

Virgin Islands Ecotours, St. Thomas

Underwater Virgin IslandsThe fragile coral reefs of the Virgin Islands are a treasure worth protecting.
St. Thomas welcomed a new eco-friendly activity for vacationers to enjoy in October 1996 (adding to the existing popularity of sailing in the islands). V.I. Ecotours is a two-and-a-half-hour guided kayak tour through St. Thomas' Marine Sanctuary and Mangrove Lagoon. Led by experienced naturalists and biologists who are knowledgeable about the island's plant and marine life, the kayak tours are a first-hand educational experience for visitors. Participants can view snowy egrets, great barracudas, dwarf herrings, spotted eagle rays, jellyfish, mangrove crabs and even breeding nurse sharks in their natural environment. Kayakers can also explore the lagoon's underwater life by snorkeling in designated areas without fins, so as not to disturb the delicate marine environment. While VI Ecotours helps travelers to be more environmentally conscious, they also allow visitors to see that St. Thomas offers more than duty-free shopping and beautiful beaches.

Virgin Islands National Park, St. John

The V.I. National Park protects the island from industrial development, while preserving the natural, unspoiled beauty indigenous to this tropical paradise. Laurance Rockefeller donated 5,000 acres on St. John to the federal government to establish the National Park in 1956, which has since maintained the vast stretches of green hillsides, exotic foliage and pristine white-sand beaches that have made St. John the popular vacation destination that it is today. Located on the smallest of the three major U.S. Virgin Islands, the V.I. National Park covers two-thirds of the island's 19 square miles. More than one-third of the 11,560 acres that comprise the National Park land are underwater, offering unparalleled diving and snorkeling. The park boasts some of the most beautiful coral reefs, flora, tropical fish and beaches in the Caribbean, as well as 22 within the park's boundaries.

Horseback Riding and Donkey Tours

Take a trip through St. Croix's majestic mountains and rolling green hills on horseback. These guided tours explore the island's lush green foliage and tropical rainforest. Horse and donkey tours are also avilable on St. John. These tours explore the V.I. National Park. Champagne and romance are provided as part of the sunset and moonlight rides that carry couples along St. John's shimmering shoreline.

St. Croix Bike & Tours

untouched Virgin IslandsFew corners of the Virgin Islands are left completely untouched by tourists.
Knowledgeable guides provide private lessons of the island's history and ecology on these guided bike tours of St. Croix's west end. Enjoy the scenery of the island's historic greathouses, dramatic shorelines and lush, green rainforest. Bike tours are available for both experienced and less-experienced bikers, making this an excellent activity for those on a
family vacation in the USVI. Bike rental, lunch and safety equipment are all included in the tour. Full- and half-day equipment rental are also available for those who want to explore the island on their own.

Scuba Diving

Discover the beauty and wonder of the USVI's underwater world by exploring some of the best dive spots in the Caribbean. Divers can view beautiful coral, colorful fish, and solve the mystery of sunken ships, while swimming along the barrier reefs and through coves. The USVI has numerous dive operators which provide equipment and instruction for the less experienced.

Snorkeling: Buck Island National Reef Monument

Buck Island National Reef Monument is one of the USVI's most beautiful underwater paradises. As the only underwater national monument in the U.S., visitors will not want to miss this St. Croix attraction. There is plenty of great snorkeling for everyone on all three islands where the fantasy of the underworld becomes a picturesque reality. No matter which snorkeling trails you choose to explore, you will encounter some of the most beautiful tropical fish and colorful coral in the Caribbean.

Buck Island Reef Hawksbill Sea Turtle Research Program

The preservation of all species of life is an essential part of every ecosystem. The Buck Island Reef Hawksbill Sea Turtle Research Program on St. Croix studies the biology of these endangered turtles in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The research conducted by this organization has significantly contributed to both the survival of the hawksbill sea turtle and the study of environmental sciences in St. Croix's local communities. Several other projects have been initiated since this research program began in 1988, to study the migration of sea turtles after nesting season and to develop non-lethal ways for determining the gender of sea turtle hatchlings. Volunteer assistance from the community has been essential to the success of this program, helping the National Park Service to ensure that these turtles remain a vital part of St. Croix's ecosystem for years to come.

Ranger Reef Project

ecoresorts in St. JohnSt. John has been a world leader in ecotourism.
In an effort to reverse the effects of compounding damage to the United States Virgin Islands' coral reef environment, island residents have launched a community pilot program aimed at involving island youth in the restoration and protection of the reefs and the fish, grasses and turtles inhabiting the area. Witnessing the slow but sure deterioration of the reefs from natural and environmental causes and human neglect, the program's founders vowed to instill an appreciation for the reefs' fragility in this group of 13 young people by educating them about reef ecology, marine biology and environmental preservation. Dubbed "Reef Rangers," the project's young participants have become role models and mentors with a mission to promote reef preservation amongst their peers and in the global community. Nearly a year after its inception in 1995, the Reef Rangers project has brought island youth together with scientists from around the world to develop a working plan to protect and ultimately save the coral reefs surrounding the U.S. Virgin Islands.

St. Croix Environmental Association

The St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA) is an organization committed to the conservation and preservation of St. Croix's many natural wonders. One of the organization's greatest successes has been the preservation and protection of Salt River Bay, a historically significant site to St. Croix and the U.S. because Christopher Columbus landed there in 1493. When developers expressed an interest in building a large hotel / condominium / marina complex on this site, SEA immediately took action to stop the development. Because of SEA's efforts, the area is now the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve. SEA continues to educate the public about the importance of this area through articles, lectures, workshops and field trips. Since the organization's formation in 1986, SEA continues to stand by its mission statement which is "to encourage environmental action through awareness, education and advocacy." Last year, SEA was named the winner of Islands Magazine Annual Ecotourism Award which recognizes organizations that promote tourism in the Caribbean and the protection of an island's environmental and cultural assets.



US Virgin Islands Ecoresort Listings

  • Harmony Studios
    PO Box 310 St. John U S Virgin Islands 00831 (800) 392-9004 Toll Free (340) 776-6240 Phone e-Mail: mahobay@maho.org

    Harmony is the world's leading luxury eco-resort & a model for sustainable development. Spectacular hillside setting above Maho Bay, overlooking the U.S. & British Virgin Islands. Features 12 studio apts. Private baths, cooking facilities, ceiling fans, 24v solar power. Recycled materials in 80% of construction. $120-$230/night

  • Maho Bay Camps
    PO Box 310 St. John VI 00831 (800) 392-9004 Toll Free (340) 776-6240 Phone e-Mail: mahobay@maho.org

    Award-winning eco-resort. Accommodations are 114 furnished tent-cottages connected by wooden walkways & stairs. Peaceful, wooded, beach-front setting overlooking spectacular Maho Bay. Restaurant, commissary, full water sports, PADI dive shop, sailing. $80-$130/night

  • Botanical Villas
    Estate Peter's Bay North Shore Road (305) 573-8074 (340) 779-4051 e-Mail: botanicalvillas@yahoo.com

    Daughter of St. John, Elsa Hall, has created this comfortable place to rest in the magnificence of nature on family land held within the Virgin Islands National Park. Wood floor cabins (with kitchens or refrigerator only) are built in traditional Caribbean architectural style. Eco-tents & bare sites allow for privacy & offer the natural feeling of being outdoors. Enjoy panoramic views overlooking Peter's Bay & beyond to Tortola & Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands. Moonlight, ocean breezes, canopy of stars, no extra charge. $30-$125/night

  • Concordia Eco-Tents
    16371 Estate Concordia St. John US Virgin Islands 00830 (800) 392-9004 Toll Free (340) 693-5855 Phone e-Mail: concordia@maho.org

    The ultimate camping experience. Dramatically built into the hillside on the southern tip of the island, these 25 solar-powered loft tents combine sustainable technology with some of the most spectacular views on the island. Restaurant, store & yoga/event pavilion. $105 to $185/night

  • Cinnamon Bay Campground
    P.O. Box 720 St. John, USVI 00831 340/ 776-6330 Phone 340/ 776-6458 Fax

    Cottages, tents, campsites on Cinnamon Beach in VI National Park, watersports, hiking, cafeteria, commissary. $30-$100/night

  • Estate Concordia Studios
    20-27 Estate Concordia St. John VI 00830 (800) 392-9004 (340) 693-5855 Phone e-Mail: concordia@maho.org

    Nine spacious studio apartments designed to allow guests full enjoyment of the natural surroundings with exceptional quiet & privacy. Units are equipped with kitchen area, bathroom, queen-size sofa bed or futon, outdoor deck & ceiling fans. Overlooks Salt Pond Bay & Ram Head on the most southerly tip of the island. Restaurant, store & yoga/event pavilion. $95-$225/night

  • VI Environmental Resource Station - VIERS
    Lameshur Bay St. John, U S Virgin Islands 00830 (888) 647-2501 Toll Free (340) 776-6721 Phone e-Mail: viers@islands.org

    Historic cabins on remote southern shore of Virgin Islands National Park. Fourteen sleeping rooms in 7 cabins. Close to hiking trails, birding, beaches & snorkeling coral reefs. Great for personal enrichment, outdoor learning, stargazing, diving, coastal & marine science classes. Individuals, couples, families, groups & researchers welcome. Low cost lodging, meal plan available. Call for rates

  • Trinidad Charlie's Cottages
    Bird Pepper Farm Guinea Ghut St. John U S Virgin Islands 00830 (340) 693-8959 mailto: trinidadcharlie@yahoo.com

    Very special, eco-fancy tent cottages in quiet, private, lush tropical garden setting next to running stream, half mile from Cruz Bay. Each unit has electricity, full (simple) camp kitchen, queen bed, hot shower, comfortable living room, dining area. Rent one or both. No extra charge for birds singing, moon rise spectacle, canopy of stars. $600/ week