Harmony Studios and The Reef Bay Trail – Cruz Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, Lesser Antilles (U.S. Territory)

An Eco-Friendly Resort on a Protected Island

For environmentally conscious vacationers who like their paradise injected with a little intellectual and moral challenge, this ecotourism phenom­enon is peerless. Harmony Studios (and the appendage of the no-frills, permanent-tent colony of Maho Bay camps), set in the midst of St. John’s verdant national park­land, was the first resort to be built almost entirely of recycled materials and designed to operate exclusively on solar and wind power. But it offers no telltale signs of its building materials’ humble origins: rubber tires, bottle glass, waste plastic, newsprint, and discarded lightbulbs.

The resort’s two hillside sites were excavated by hand, built on stilts, and linked by an intricate labyrinth of elevated steps and wooden walkways, leaving the environment undisturbed. Rather than dominate the beau­tiful, pristine tract of parkland that leads down to its own white-beached aqua cove, Harmony blends with it, leaving guests to feel like privileged interlopers in paradise. This is not everyone’s idea of a dream vacation, but with some of the highest occupancy rates in the Caribbean, they must be doing something right.

In large part due to the foresight of conservationist Laurance Rockefeller back in the 1950s, more than two-thirds of St. John is protected virgin forest, with three dozen well- marked hiking trails winding through more than 9,000 tropical acres. The Reef Bay Trail, starting not far from Harmony Resort from a spot on Centerline Road, is one of the most popular. It’s all downhill, beginning at 800 feet above sea level and winding past spectac­ular views, ancient graffiti-like petroglyphs, and the ruins of 18th-century Danish plantation houses before ending about three hours later on the southern shore.

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