Graced with pristine beaches, lush rainforests, colorful flora and prolific wildlife, Latin America showcases some of Mother Nature's best work. Happily, protecting it is a growing priority for meeting and incentive groups when they visit the region. From Argentina in the south to Mexico in the north, destinations are attracting groups that care as much about the fragile environment as they do about warm weather and rich culture.
As a result, eco-friendly properties are proliferating across Latin America, giving travelers an opportunity to enjoy the land while respecting it as well.
Emblematic of the trend is Malibu Popoyo, a new all-inclusive boutique surf resort that opened on Dec. 1 in Popoyo, Nicaragua. Located along Nicaragua's Costa Esmeralda -- considered one of the world's best surfing destinations -- the resort caters to environmentally conscious surfers, yogis and adventure travelers.
"We aren't just a hotel, a surf break, a retreat center, an organic restaurant or a yoga studio. We are all of these and so much more," reads an informational download from the property's website.
Currently, the resort has six guest rooms that combine natural raw materials with culturally significant elements in one neat sustainable package. Each room includes open-air rain showers and vanities, organic linens, and locally sourced amenities, while the larger property offers an open-sided yoga palapa, a 16-meter pool, a poolside lounge and an on-site restaurant serving an all-organic Nicaraguan menu.
An expansion already is underway to add six more rooms and more. Scheduled for completion in spring 2019, new features will include a beachfront area with an intimate yoga palapa that will double as a live music venue, along with a beachfront bar and bonfire pits.
In addition to accommodations, guests who stay at the resort get three meals per day, one two-hour surf lesson, and one guided yoga or meditation session.
"Travel to Nicaragua has increased drastically over the past few years, and the country is quickly becoming a much sought-after travel destination," says resort owner Jade Chang Sheppard. "As a surfer, the area's surf culture, world-class waves and the amazing hospitality of the Nicaraguan people really spoke to me. When I first visited, I immediately felt connected to this community, and I look forward to making Malibu Popoyo one of the most authentic surf and wellness experiences in the world."
Four More Options for Sustainable Stays
While its small size and niche focus make Malibu Popoyo an ideal destination for intimate incentives or retreats, environmentally aware groups have plenty of other choices across the region. Here are four of the most promising.
• Chaa Creek (San Ignacio, Belize). This resort has been specializing in eco tourism since 1981. Located on a 400-acre private nature reserve in the Belizean rainforest, Chaa Creek is committed to environmentally and culturally sensitive business practices. In addition to supporting local conservation projects -- which receive 10 percent of all room revenue -- the property has a robust "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle" program, as well as extensive energy- and water-management operations. The resort doesn't skimp on comfort, either. Along with 23 palm-thatched cottage rooms and two luxury suites, there are a number of luxury villas -- including the new Ix Chel Villas, which can accommodate up to six guests, come with a personal butler and feature floor-to-ceiling glass walls with 180-degree views of the surrounding jungle. There's also a restaurant, a spa, an infinity pool, stables, a woodworking shop, an organic farm, a natural-history center, a conference center for meetings of up to 100 people and a vast trail network for nature walks.
• Finch Bay Galápagos Hotel (Puerto Ayora, Ecuador). The world-famous Galápagos Islands have long been a locus for eco-tourism. Ecuador's Finch Bay Galápagos Hotel is one of the premier properties at which to experience the reverence for nature so prevalent here. Nestled within a secluded bay on Santa Cruz Island, where it's the only beachfront hotel, the property prides itself on its environmental footprint, which it keeps as small as possible by sourcing local foods, integrating endemic species into its landscaping and employing native Galápagueños from nearby communities. The property's environmental commitment also is evident in its support of coastal cleanup efforts, in the educational programming it provides aboard its 20-passenger private yacht, and through its sustainable business practices, which encompass an on-site water-treatment plant, solar panels and an organic garden. Lest you forget it's a hotel and not a wildlife sanctuary, there also are 27 guest rooms and suites, a gourmet restaurant, indoor and outdoor lounge areas, an outdoor bar, a solar-heated freshwater pool, and beach access.
• Lapa Rios Lodge (Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica). On the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica, Lapa Rios Lodge is hidden within 1,000 acres of rainforest reserve. Guests enjoy indoor/outdoor living in the property's 17 open-air, screened-in bungalows with ceiling fans, spacious private decks, outdoor rain showers and hammocks for lounging. And in case you get tired of communing with nature from within your bungalow, you can head over to the open-air restaurant or the salt-based pool, or take al-fresco yoga classes and get massages. On-site guides, biologists and naturalists lead hikes and tours through the surrounding rainforest. Just as important as what the lodge has, however, is what it lacks: Because the remote property is designed for unplugging, there is no phone, Internet or TV service. Sustainability features prominently in the form of low-impact construction, locally sourced biodegradable products and organic foods, and an all-local staff. Sustainable business practices include solar water heating, housekeeping with organic cleaning products and the use of methane cooking gas that's harvested naturally from the lodge's resident pigs.
• Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel (Aguas Calientes, Peru). Some 6,600 feet above sea level in the small Peruvian town of Aguas Calientes, otherwise known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, Inkaterra is an ideal home base for incentive groups who want to experience the famed historic Incan ruins. Occupying 12 acres of private Andean wilderness, the hotel consists of 83 whitewashed adobe casitas amid 372 native orchid species, more than 200 kinds of birds and 111 species of butterfly. Traversing the grounds are several miles of trails that take guests over terraced hills and past serene waterfalls to a natural hot springs where they can rest their sore muscles after hiking the world-famous Inca Trail. There's also a thatched-roof, glass-walled restaurant serving local cuisine; a bar decorated with Andean artifacts; an Andean spa that uses natural ingredients in its treatments, and an "eco media center" with books and magazines on nature-related subjects. Because its operator is Inkaterra -- a Peruvian hotel company established in 1975 by an environmentalist -- sustainability is front and center. The hotel was built, for example, without removing any native hardwood trees. Also, the property uses hydropower for renewable energy, sources organic coffee and tea from its own gardens, and supports local conservation efforts like the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel Spectacled Bear Project, which protects a rare and endangered species by rehabilitating and reintroducing specimens into their natural habitat.