Long before green and ecotourism became travel buzzwords, I chose to sleep on woven mats in stilt huts in Asia in order to give a meager donation to the village chief for my stay. Now, ecotourism—defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) as, “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people,” is a booming industry, with eco resorts springing up like rice in paddy fields after monsoon season.Travelers are going green and spending more green in their efforts to be responsible. Tourists who stay in eco resorts on the Caribbean island of Dominica, spend eighteen times more than the average cruise passenger. And independent travelers who go to Komodo National Park in Indonesia to witness the Komodo dragons spend almost one hundred U.S. dollars more than those on an “irresponsible” holiday package tour.
I went on a hunt to seek out ten spectacular green getaways, because I figured if I’m going to lay down the green, I may as well “tread lightly” when I go.
Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
A couple from Minnesota sold it all to create this eco resort on 1,000 acres of lowland tropical rainforest—the last of its kind in Costa Rica. Sixteen thatch bungalows sit overlooking where the Pacific Ocean connects with the Golfo Dulce on the Osa Peninsula near Corcovado National Park. The lodge employs fifty locals, helps to preserve the primary forest reserve, and educates their workers at the Carbonara School. Guests can enjoy ocean activities, camp in the jungle, and observe wildlife all while their stay supports the preservation of their natural neighbors.
Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile
Ancient inhabitants lived in huts that blended harmoniously with Mother Nature, which was the inspiration for EcoCamp’s geodesic domes that allow 100 mph winds to roll off their design. Patagonia’s eco concept is to expose guests to the elements with the comfort of a four-star hotel. With their nomadic spirit alive (the hotel is portable and can be removed each winter to allow the terrain to recover), thirty guests can enroll in any of Patagonia’s surrounding adventures and come home to their toasty dome and composting toilets.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
During summers spent near Jackson Hole two years ago, I watched the Terra Resort Group build this six-story green hotel in town using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification as their process. By using reclaimed lumber, crushed glass, and even seatbelts in finishes throughout, as well as a runoff water system that collects in an underground tank, filters and releases drip water back into the environment, Hotel Terra reduces any pollution from flowing back into the surrounding habitat. Jackson Hole boasts natural wonders in nearby Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, as well as some of the best skiing, fly-fishing, and rafting in the world.
Jungle Bay Resort & Spa
Dominica, West Indies
As winner of Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s 2007 World Saver Awards for poverty alleviation, Jungle Bay is an eco resort dedicated to its community. Built using TIES principles, thirty-five cottages sit on wooden posts beneath the canopy of Gomier and Cedar trees in order to minimize any soil disturbance, Jungle Bay donated $53,000 to help develop a community-operated facility for indigent children with severe disabilities from Dominica’s southeast and continues with a new venture in their House of Hope. Guests can scuba dive, hike to waterfalls, or hire a local guide trained in responsible travel techniques for a guided tour of the surrounding ecosystem.
Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa
Named one of three conservation finalists for the Smithsonian Magazine and Tourism Cares for Tomorrow Sustainable Tourism Awards, Chumbe Island allows only fourteen people on the island at one time. Seven eco beach bandas made with local materials (one banda has a palm front wall that can be lowered in order to take in the waves and beach just outside the front door) is rustic in nature but introduces guests to incredible biodiversity from the ocean floor. A non-profit run by local employees manages the resort while one of East Africa’s most diverse coral reefs allows for snorkeling trips by local guides. Those here to relax can also visit the old lighthouse at sunset or get to know the other guests and staff while enjoying a mixture of European-Swahili cuisine.
Near Western Cape, South Africa
Guests should ask to stay in Loerie’s Nest, so the sunrise can shine through the trees as you bathe in your personal bathtub while looking out over the trees through the flap of your tented tree house. Teniqua Treetops Eco-Friendly Tented Treehouses give guests the remote experience of relaxing in the canopy of the forest. They harvest their rainwater for guests’ use and process grey and black water by using the latest toilet systems in to keep any waste out of the catchment areas.
Mauna Lani Resort
Kohala Coast, Hawaii
Mauna Lani’s solar energy innovations have earned the resort the distinction of generating more solar electric power than any other luxury resort in the world. The golf water system pumps brackish water into its thirty-eight golf holes and the 8,000 square foot air-conditioned pro-shop uses solar power during peak hours. Guests can enjoy the pools and ocean or take part in the resort’s green sea turtle program, which collaborates with Oahu’s Sea Life Park by Dolphin Discovery to raise turtles in its saltwater ponds until large enough to be released into the wild.
Danzante Eco Resort
With no TVs, phones, or internet to distract guests, this 100 percent solar powered resort overlooking the Sea of Cortez includes a communal dining palapa amidst eight other casitas. Helping to maintain the local fishing village, fishermen’s wives cook the daily catch in the kitchen and a local hiking guide helps guests discover the wild. Danzante also helps local families by providing no-interest loans to help them incorporate solar panels into their architecture and each guest’s stay includes entrance to the Loreto Marine Park, which doubles as Danzante’s donation to the park for maintenance, operations, and program development.
Near Les Cerniers, Switzerland
Perched like life-size snowballs in the Alps at over 5,000 feet, Swiss local, Sofie de Meyer, designed five pods around a traditional 1800s Alpine chalet. The resort encourages its ten guests to use low-impact travel by train, and then clip into skis or snow shoes to access their highly insulated pods (with a luminescent wall for passive solar heating), each equipped with a wood-burning stove. Whitepod also contributes to local organizations and charities to help the environment and restore landmarks, making this a ski holiday that allows guests to leave more than just their ski trail.
Three Camel Lodge
Gobi Desert, Mongolia
This eco resort uses wind and solar power to run its main lodge, which artisans built using ancient architectural techniques (without one nail) as well as the thirty Gers—the indigenous felt tents of nomadic herders—where guests can relax after venturing out into the Gobi desert by camel or horseback. The owners worked with the local government and National Park authorities to agree to a No Hunting clause within a twelve-mile radius of the lodge, which doubles as a wildlife research center and includes nature conservations clubs for local schoolchildren.
With these rewarding options, I think I’m going to have a hard time choosing which environment I’ll want to tread lightly on—the snow, jungle, or the desert.
Photo of visitor center at Chumbe Island courtesy of Craig Zendel