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Maho Bay Camps: A true eco-resort in St John, USVI
Roughly 1100 miles southeast of Miami sits one of America's most precious resources: the United States Virgin Islands. Named by Christopher Columbus for Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgins, the former mouthful "Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes" has mercifully been shortened to the Virgin Islands, but it still casts the same kind of mythical charm over both first-time and regular visitors alike.
Today, the US Virgin Islands consist of three main islands: St. Thomas, known for its cruise-ship-friendly mega-port, Charlotte Amalie; St Croix, a (largely) working-class island boasting some excellent scuba diving; and St John, 75% of which is national park and therefore: pristine, lush, verdant. Think: America's jungle.
Considering how untouched St John is, it makes sense for the island to host "green" hotels. In 1976 -- long before the phrase "eco-resort" even existed -- a visionary named Stanley Selengut decided untrammeled St John needed a self-sufficient hotel integrated seamlessly into the natural vegetation. To that end, he set about creating Maho Bay Camps. Today, Maho's resort shines as perhaps the single finest example of an ecologically-friendly, low-impact resort in the world. Moreover, given its unspoiled, undeveloped location, this place is truly a hidden gem.
On the northwest edge of St John, overlooking idyllic Maho Bay -- and the widest stretch of beach on the entire island -- Maho Bay Camps are essentially numerous canvas-sided tent-cabins framed with composite lumber. In order to harmonize with the environment -- rather than simply replace it -- Maho's tent-cabins are built onto raised 16' x16' platforms, and all the buildings, from the admin offices to the restaurant (at right), are connected by nearly three miles of raised walkways to prevent vegetation from being trampled. In fact, ground cover and other plant and animal life flourish beneath the raised walkways and tent-cabins, and the trees and shrubs grow emphatically around both, making the camp feel like a natural extension of the hillside.
For those who think "eco-resorts" have to be uncomfortable or primitive, let's dispel that myth right now: Maho's 114 tent-cabins are, while simple, more than adequate for comfortable, long-term living. In fact, each tent-cabin has --
- electricity and a fan
- two beds and a sofa
- a propane stove and cookware
- a lock box for securing valuables
- an ice chest and storage containers for drinking water
- killer views of a diamond-tipped bay
- recycling 100% of aluminum cans, glass, and clear plastic bottles (including using some of the glass in the on-site artists' studio)
- installing rain water catchments that collect 345,000 gallons of rainwater per year, for use in the laundry and restroom facilities
- reusing 2000-7000 gallons of "gray water" per day as irrigation for the adjacent terraced orchard
- operating aeration tanks to break down wastewater
- saving 12,000-15,000 gallons of water per year with waterless urinals
- running high-efficiency photovoltaic roof panels provide energy for lights, appliances and other equipment
- morphing "trash" as diverse as garbage bags, old automobiles, ketchup bottles and light bulbs
- various water sports, such as snorkeling (turtles frequent a reef an easy 10 minute swim from the beach); scuba diving; sailing; and sea kayaking (Whistling Cay is an uninhabited island in the bay, perfect for picnics);
- a variety of art classes, yoga, and massage;
- land-based excursions, like hiking trips to preserved ruins (both self-guided and, um, guide-guided);
- and of course, just 118 steps from the main boardwalk, there's a large white beach spilling onto a sparkling aquamarine bay. If the dozen-or-so folks sunning on the beach seems oppressive, within 10 minutes, you can be sitting on Francis Bay -- and probably have that beach exclusively to yourself for the bulk of that day.
- See ... photos of Maho Bay on Flickr.
- Watch ... a video detailing Maho's tent-cabins on YouTube.
- Learn ... pertinent information on the USVI from the official tourism site.
- Understand ... the islands from the USVI's official Twitter account.
Hope remains that the Trust for Public Land will be successful in their efforts to purchase Maho's 14 acres from the private owners. However, as the time draws near, we must assume that Maho will close its tent flaps at the stroke of midnight, July 31, 2011.
Fortunately, this means there's still time for you to visit ... but you'd better hurry.