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Ecotourism & Budget Birding: Fly South

There’s no question that ecotourism has become a major travel trend, thanks to growing interest in the outdoors. From a simple hike to some serious birdwatching, ecotourism in all forms offers a great way to travel on a budget. There are few better destinations than South Carolina, Florida, and the Caribbean. All those birds flying south couldn’t be wrong!

According to Jack E. Mannix, president of the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (ICTA), ecotourism and birding offer travelers a responsible means of contributing to the conservation of a destination and preserving the local customs and ways of life. Mannix, whose organization (www.icta.org) even offers a specialty in ‘Special Interest Travel’ to Certified Travel Counselors, says, “This segment of travel is hot right now and I have no doubt it will continue. It is estimated that more than 43 million Americans have taken some sort of ecotourism-oriented trip in the past few years.” In fact, a 2000 National Leisure Travel Monitor study (Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown/Yankelvich) revealed that 54% of American travelers took some sort of nature-based vacation last year.

For nature-based vacations, South Carolina, Florida, and the Caribbean provide perfect opportunities. These destinations have long been popular with the outdoors set and for good reason. Below, you’ll find lots of specific ideas that to get you headed in the right direction (south)!


The state of South Carolina ((800) 810-5700; www.travelsc.com) provides a diversity of natural environments for nature lovers. Whether it’s a rushing whitewater river, tranquil moss-draped swamps, tea-stained a slow-flowing black rivers, or salt marshes, you’ll find it in South Carolina. To plan your next paddling trip, visit www.paddlesc.com. To explore nature-based tourism, visit www.scnatureadventures.com, the website of the SC Nature-Based Tourism Association. With more than 375 species, birders flock to the state to see migrating coastal birds, the southern bald eagle, and the red-cockaded woodpecker. For a free birding brochure and special ‘Nature Getaway Packages,’ visit www.sc-heritagecorridor.org.


A bird’s eye view of a great Florida vacation focuses on the Kissimmee-St. Cloud area, located right next door to Walt Disney World(registered mark). The natural choices are immense. Guests can train their binoculars and focus their cameras on nesting bald eagles, egrets, blue herons, and other birds on the Great Florida Birding Trail or gasp at the area’s other amazing wildlife. To discover more about Kissimmee-St. Cloud natural vacation choices, call (800) 327-9159 or visit www.floridakiss.com.

Central Florida’s Polk County offers a unique environment that truly celebrates nature. Home to rare and endangered species, visitors can experience a variety of habitats that include more than 600 lakes, five rivers, several state parks, scenic trails, nature preserves, and more. Canoeing, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and bicycling are just some of the ways to enjoy this area bathed in sunshine and marked by wide open spaces and majestic scenic beauty. Birdwatchers have access to two Audubon Nature Centers, with guided tours providing educational excursions. The area is also know for it’s affordable accommodations. For a free ecotourism brochure and vacation planner, call (800) 828-7655 or visit www.sunsational.com.

The Indian River County region is like no other on earth. Here, the warm-temperature climate to the north meets a subtropical climate from the south, providing a great diversity of plant and animal life. There’s an abundance of unique opportunities for the environmentally-minded visitor, in that the area is home to the West Indian manatee, loggerhead turtles, and thousands of plants, animals, fish, and birds, including species that are considered rare or endangered. The area is a beautiful home to people as well, who travel from around the globe to surf the waves, fish the waters, go birdwatching, swimming, diving, boating, and more. For further information, visit www.indianriverchamber.com.

Further south, situated on the east coast of Florida, from Boca Raton to the Jupiter/Tequesta area, Palm Beach County ((561) 471-3995; www.palmbeachfl.com) represents the ecology-minded travel with a wealth of nature resources to explore. From the Everglades to the Atlantic Ocean, the subtropical environment can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, including hiking, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, airboat rides, camping, and more. There is also 47 miles of beaches for swimming, boating, and scuba diving (including many exciting natural and man-made reefs to explore. In addition, outdoor attractions include wildlife and botanical gardens and several state parks. Other options include more than 150 golf courses, world-class shopping, and wonderful cultural attractions.

If you’re looking for budget accommodations in Florida or elsewhere, Hotel Reservation Network can definitely help. This popular company offers discount hotel rooms and condominiums up to 65% off in most cities worldwide, including rooms for sold-out periods. Some examples include: Orlando from $39; Miami from $49; New Orleans from $59; New York from $69; Las Vegas from $29; San Francisco from $59; Paris from $59; London from $79; and many more cities and destinations. They also offer condominiums from $89, ranging in size from studios to four-bedroom suites. To check out this great service, call (888) 511-5317 or visit www.hotelreservationnetwork.com.


Even further south, the Caribbean tops the lists for many ecotourists and birders. The following destinations and resorts (as well as a perfect cruise line and cruise) are the perfect places to start a green Caribbean getaway.

Long known for its incredible beaches, unspoiled nature, and friendly people, Anguilla (www.anguilla-vacation.com) is also becoming popular with ecotourists, birds, and birdwatchers, who all fly south for the Caribbean winter. The Anguilla National Trust is proving to be a huge help to visitors, with a field guide to Anguilla’s wetlands, a checklist for birders, new glossy bird identification cards, and much more. The field guide is especially popular, in that it’s a complete guide to the island’s incredibly diverse natural environment, including all ponds, birds, and plants, as well as photos, detailed maps, directions, history, and more. Established in 1993, the Anguilla National Trust acts as custodian to the island’s unique heritage, preserving and promoting the natural environment and the archaeological, historical, and cultural resources for the present and future generations.

Over on the ‘sister islands’ of St. Kitts & Nevis (www.st-kitts-nevis.com), more ecotourism and birding opportunities await. Both islands have become big draws, thanks to government and local support and preservation, including the recently launched Environment and Tourism Awareness Programme (ETAP).

On St. Kitts, the green set will love settling into the recently renovated Ocean Terrace Inn (www.oceanterraceinn.com), where the accommodations, amenities, activities, and more make this an ideal base for exploring all of St. Kitts above and below the surface. Frigate Bay Resort (www.frigatebay.com) is another excellent St. Kitts choice, with a wide variety of accommodations, amenities, convenient island activities, and more awaiting lucky guests. Over on Nevis, Golden Rock Plantation Inn (www.golden-rock.com) is a haven for birdwatchers and all ecotourists, with a setting at the edge of the Mt. Nevis rainforest and more than 30 different birds right on the property.

Down in Tobago and nestled in the forest above the Caribbean, Immortelle Nature Resort (www.immortelleresort.com) is an ideal island base for birding and a wide variety of other outdoors activities. Spread over 160 acres and two valleys and three ridges, this 52-room property even has it’s own 35-acre Nature Park, where trails help guest mingle with countless species of birds, butterflies, and plants. Whether it’s a hike to the nearby waterfall or a full birding outing, Immortelle Nature Resort makes any Tobago visit special.

If your looking for a great way to explore the great outdoors in the Caribbean, hit the high seas with Windjammer Barefoot Cruises ((800) 327-2601; www.windjammer.com). This line offers many great ways to get green in the islands, with a July 20-August 2 sailling providing a perfect example. The 13-day ‘Gardens/Birds Cruise’ is aboard the Amazing Grace, Windjammer’s freighter/passenger vessel, and includes stops at Trinidad, Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, Nevis, St. Barts, Virgin Gorda, the Dominican Republic, Great Inagua, Conception, and Grand Bahama. On this colorful voyage, passengers will discover how geographical location, soils, and weather all affect the types of plants and gardens seen. Where there are plants, there are birds--from the shores of the sea to the heart of the rainforest, cruisers can observe a wealth of exotic bird and other animal life. Highlights include: visits to private, resort, and botanical gardens with an expert horticulturist; following ‘Rasta Man’ through his herb and vegetable gardens; sampling tropical delicacies at markets; exploring rainforest preserves with an expert ornithologist; snorkeling through a natural rock garden (The Baths of Virgin Gorda); and much more.

Thus, from the shores of South Carolina, down to the Sunshine State, and on to the islands (and ships) of the Caribbean, birds (and smart travelers) head south. These destinations are enough to make any ecotourist or birdwatcher green with envy.