‘Ecotourism, Sustainable Tourism, Green Tourism’. These are phrases that are thrown around a lot in these educated times we’re living in, but what do they actually mean? The Oxford English Dictionary defines sustainable tourism as ‘Tourism managed in a way which can be sustained in the long term and which preserves the integrity of the environment’
The travel industry is thought to account for around 5% of worldwide C02 emissions, much of it created by air and overland travel and the required supply chains. So it makes sense to try and offset some of the carbon footprint where we can. Most hotels now ask guests to reuse towels and turn off the lights, but eco-friendly hotels and lodges across the world take this to higher levels; welcoming visitors and allowing them to enjoy their local natural environments, whilst at the same time working hard to preserve them for future generations.
If the word ‘eco-lodge’ conjures up images of drafty tents, long-drop loos and cold showers, prepare to think again. I’ve researched some of the world’s most luxurious sustainable holiday accommodation, enough to turn you green (with envy).
Campi Ya Kanzi – Kenya
Campi Ya Kanzi is found on most lists of the best eco-lodges on earth, and rightly so. Founded in 1996 by an Italian safari enthusiast who had fallen in love with the area 20 years earlier, the camp is situated in the Chyulu hills of Southern Kenya, and surrounded by a 283,000 acre reserve.
The only lodge that sits within a Maasai reserve, Campi Ya Kanzi has, through employment, and the distribution of conservation fees, forged unbreakable partnerships with the indigenous Maasai tribes. Where previously the local wildlife was seen as a threat to livestock and farming, the initiatives put in place by this camp have turned that on its head, highlighting the financial value of the tourists that come from all over the world to marvel at the breath taking landscape and big game – and who will continue to come if that environment is preserved.
Accommodation here is a selection of elegant tented cottages and suites, sustainably built by local hands and filled with locally created art. Most look over the nearby watering hole for the complete safari experience, and each features comfortable beds dressed in Italian linen, a full en-suite bathroom with hot & cold running water and totally organic products.
Running on 100% solar energy and completely carbon neutral, this is 5* luxury with a conscience. Accommodating just 16 guests, a total of 65 staff are on hand to offer a once in a lifetime experience, from private game drives to yoga lessons, horse-riding or hiking in the surrounding hills.
Misool Eco-Resort – Indonesia
Misool Eco-Resort, located in a remote part of Indonesia, is an exclusive dive resort like no other, with a story almost as spellbinding as the scenery. Hidden within an archipelago of otherwise uninhabited Islands, Misool boasts the richest reef in the world, thanks in no small part to a dedicated conservation effort by founders Andrew & Marit Miners. Having visited this spectacular isolated reef on their 3rd date (!) and discovering an abandoned shark finning camp and decimated fish stocks, they vowed to do what they could to protect the area from further harm.
Having been granted permission to lease the island and surrounding waters to build a conservation centre, a 3 year labour of love followed before Misool opened for business. A team of local rangers were employed to patrol the reserve for illegal fishing, and the decade since has seen a 250% increase in biomass, including 25 times more sharks and countless more manta rays.
The protected reserve has now grown to 300,000 acres (twice the size of Singapore) and offers visitors 60 unique dive sites to explore, each teeming with marine life.
Guests are just as well looked after as the Groupers, with elegant water cottages and villas carefully designed to blend in to the natural surroundings. All are constructed from reclaimed hardwoods, milled on-site, filled with hand-crafted furniture and fittings, and allow direct access from veranda to the lagoon and house reef. The nearest village is 20km away by boat, so all meals are provided and include sustainably line-caught fish, and home-grown produce.
Diving and snorkelling are obviously the main attractions here, however those who prefer to lay back in a hammock and enjoy the smug satisfaction of helping to save the world are more than welcome too.
Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge – Costa Rica
Nestled in verdant rainforest and facing the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean Gulf of Nicoya, Playa Nicuesa is reachable only by boat, and arriving visitors would be forgiven for thinking they’ve been transported straight into paradise. The 165 acre reserve is largely undeveloped and teems with wildlife. Awarded the highest rating for sustainability by the Costa Rica government’s Tourist Board, Playa Nicuesa makes environmental sensitivity their priority.
With 98% of staff sourced from the immediate local area, the lodge operates several community initiatives including sponsorship of local students and scout troops, support of campaigns to clean up and maintain local public areas, and bolstering the local economy through the purchase of goods and promotion of tours and activities. Operationally the green credentials continue, with solar energy providing electricity, all laundry being dried naturally, and the use of natural pest controls and organic cleaning products.
The elegant accommodation here was constructed by local labour, and used recycled materials and naturally fallen or reclaimed hardwood wherever possible. Guesthouses and cabins are designed to create as little impact as possible on the reserve they sit within, and each is oriented to maximise natural light and ventilation. Each room has a private terrace with up-close rainforest views, is beautifully styled in ‘jungle-chic’ décor (their words, not mine) and most have an inviting outdoor shower with organic and biodegradable products.
Guests are encouraged to explore and enjoy the surrounding natural wonders, with guided rainforest hikes, kayaking or paddle boarding tours and open air yoga classes amongst the most popular picks.