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The World’s Eco-Friendliest Retreats amid the World’s Most Unforgettable Landscapes.

September 12, 2009

By Dian Hasan | September 11, 2009

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Let’s be frank, we all live with lists! The vast majority of us LOVE it, while others disdain it. But we all get through life – a little easier – equipped with these lists, or a variation thereof. Published Best Of~ lists, in particular, probably fascinate us the most. The Media makes perennial compilations – print, electronic and now… viral. Everyone from Celebrity Gossip magazines to TV Gossip Shows, Yahoo and YouTube… including glossy Travel Magazines, like Condé Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure who each year anoint “what’s hot” and “what’s not”, in Hotels, Spas, Airlines, Restaurants, and Travel Destinations. Even National Geographic has their version of a hot hotel list, but focuses on what matters the most – whether or not they have a green heart. The result: 50 Top Ecolodges: The Most Earth-Friendly Retreats in the World’s Most Spectacular Wilds. Here’s a partial look at some of them, across the 5 different categories of: Island, Savanna, Jungle, Desert, and Mountain.


A decade ago, you could probably count only a handful of the world’s true eco-lodges. But today we are witnessing one of the most significant transformations in the history of modern travel. And ecolodges are at the center of this movement. Once located exclusively in the African bush and Central American jungles, these retreats now span nearly every ecosystem and every budget—and their mission has never been more vital. Sure, they offer great service and comfort in spectacular locations, but they also support local communities, connect their guests to cultures on an authentic level, create impactful conservation initiatives, and increasingly place adventure at the center of the experience. Here we present the most comprehensive ecolodge survey ever assembled, representing diverse landscapes and locales. Click on the dots below to find your green adventure.

1 Daintree-OZ

Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa, Australia
Key Features: luxury, active adventures, local culture

Run in partnership with the local Kuku Yalanji tribe, Daintree is one of the few places where outsiders can interact with Australian Aborigines in their element. Guides offer painting workshops using ocher from the lodge’s waterfall and hiking tours (a must for fans of Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines) to see medicinal plants and ferns with 25-foot fronds. Guests stay in a series of 15 elevated tree house-like villas ensconced in thick, misty rain forest, located a mere 40-minute drive e from the Great Barrier Reef.

Chumbe Island Coral Park, Tanzania

Chumbe Island Coral Park, Tanzania
Key Features: active adventures, wildlife, local culture, family

Welcome, Sierra Club members! Chumbe’s seven bungalows, outfitted with solar-heated showers, are fit for Robinson Crusoe. The lodge was founded in conjunction with Zanzibar’s first marine park and now trains local rangers. Spot the rare nine-pound coconut crab, the largest on land, then snorkel with dol s and hawksbill turtles.

3 Sukau Rainforest Lodge-BORNEO

Sukau Rainforest Lodge, Borneo
Key Features: active adventures, wildlife, family

Embrace Borneo’s clamorous jungle life at the 20-room Sukau Rainforest Lodge, a 45-minute flight from Kota Kinabalu, followed by a two-hour boat trip. The lodge offers tours in handcrafted wooden boats with ultraquiet electric motors and has a series of boardwalks with passageways for migrating elephants.

4 Voyages Longitude 131°-OZ

Voyages Longitude 131°, Australia
Key Features: luxury, local culture

It pays to wake up at dawn at Voyages Longitude 131°. A bedside button draws the shades of your safari-style tent to reveal an unfettered view of the sun rising over Ayers Rock, the outback’s famed monolith. By day, Aborigines lead tours around Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. In the evenings, dine out in the open, quaff local wines, and listen to stargazing tutorials.

5 North Island-SEYCHELLES

North Island, Seychelles
Key Features: luxury, active adventures, wildlife

While taking in uninterrupted views of the turquoise sea from a villa handcrafted by local Seychellois carpenters, it’s easy to mistake this as one’s own private island. It’s even harder to believe that the isle was once ravaged by invasive species. African outfitter Wilderness Safaris rehabbed the land by reintroducing endemic tortoises, birds, and plants and building 11 no-expense-spared villas, a spa, and a dive center.

6 Kosrae Village Eco-Lodge & Dive Resort-MICRONESIA

Kosrae Village Ecolodge & Dive Resort, Micronesia
Key Features: active adventures, local culture, family

Located east of Palau, the jumble of steep jade mountains known as Kosrae Island is farther than most tourists venture. That’s why Kosrae Village, the island’s one and only ecolodge, feels like such an authentic slice of South Pacific life. Dive for a coral-monitoring project, learn to weave at a local village, and dine on coconut-smoked wahoo.

7 Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa-UAE

Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, United Arab Emirates
Key Features: luxury, active adventures, wildlife

Though set in Arabian Desert dunes only 45 minutes from Dubai, Al Maha feels impossibly remote. Credit goes to the resort, which helped establish a 55,600-acre reserve, the country’s first. Guests can camel trek, ride purebred Arabian horses, and watch falconry displays, then bed down in decadent Bedouin-style suites with Persian rugs, antiques, and private pools.

8 Lapa Rios Eco Lodge-COSTA RICA

Lapa Rios Ecolodge, Costa Rica
Key Features: luxury, active adventures, wildlife, local culture, family

Set in a thousand-acre private tropical rain forest reserve on the Osa Peninsula, Lapa Rios was Costa Rica’s first ecolodge to combine creature conservation with creature comforts. Hardly a weed was harmed in the building of the 16 thatch bungalows outfitted with locally made bamboo furniture, solar-heated showers, and hammocks overlooking the Pacific.

9 Feynan Eco-Lodge-JORDAN

Wadi Feynan Ecolodge, Jordan
Key Features: active adventures, wildlife, local culture

Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve covers 116 square miles, protecting rare wildlife like the sand cat and Syrian wolf. In 2005, to raise funds for the reserve and employ local Bedouins, Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature established this 26-room, solar-powered retreat with a mountain bike trail system. The inn, a model for Jordanian ecolodges, offers unprecedented access to Bedouin life.

Uno Eco Lodge, Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico

Uno Eco Lodge, Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico

Uno Eco Lodge, Mexico
Key Features: active adventures, wildlife, local culture, family

Uno Eco Lodge is perched above the Urique River on the rim of Copper Canyon—deeper than the Grand and a lot less crowded. The nine solar-powered rooms are owned by the Raramuri Indians, and your stay supports their 65,000-acre wilderness, where pumas and bobcats prowl. Trek to caves, waterfalls, and archaeological sites or skirt the canyon in a 1950s-era open-deck railcar.

11 Black Sheep Inn-ECUADOR

Black Sheep Inn, Ecuador
Key Features: active adventures, local culture

The Black Sheep Inn, perched at 10,500 feet in the Ecuadorian highlands south of Quito, has transparent roofs to let sunlight into the indoor flower gardens, with views of the Rio Toachi Canyon. Everything else at this simple eight-room eco-retreat and bunkhouse follows in irrepressible green style. After hiking through remote Andean villages and canyons, feast on a vegetarian dinner from the organic garden, sit in the sauna, then cap it all off with a glass of Ecuadorian rum.

12 Wolvedans-NAMIBIA

Wolwedans, Namibia
Key Features: active adventures, wildlife

Like many private African reserves, Wolwedans started when a Namibian businessman bought up desert farms to return them to nature. But Wolwedans, which offers four camps to suit all tastes, is anything but typical. Play Hemingway in a canvas-and-gum-pole tent or in an elegant wood-and-canvas chalet—both staffed by trained villagers—and hike through the vast quiet of the golden sand dunes, punctuated by oryx and springbok. Our advice: Splurge on hot-air ballooning at dawn.

13 Rosalie Forest Eco Lodge-DOMINICA

Rosalie Forest Eco Lodge, Dominica
Key Features: active adventures, family

Instead of white sand and palms, the Caribbean isle of Dominica is covered in volcanoes and virgin jungle. A15-minute hike into the vines and heliconia, Rosalie’s tree houses and cabins feature wind-powered lights and rainwater showers. After waterfall hikes, eat an organic dinner with Brit owner Jem Winston, a London taxi driver turned sustainable-living guru.

14 Vumbura Plains Camp-BOTSWANA

Vumbura Plains Camp, Botswana
Key Features: luxury, wildlife

Located outside the trekkers’ capital of Pokhara, 125 miles from Kathmandu, Tiger Mountain The Okavango, encompassing thousands of square miles of floodplains, is a paradise for avian species and megafauna. Vumbura, set on the delta’s northern edge, has minimalist-chic suites with private lounges and plunge pools overlooking the plains. The lodge also offers the best way to sneak up on those wattled cranes and rare Pel’s fishing owls: the mokoro, a traditional dug-out canoe.

15 The Lodge at Pico Bonito-HONDURAS

The Lodge at Pico Bonito, Honduras
Key Features: local adventures, wildlife, family

Travelers in little-visited Honduras often feel a unique sense of discovery. This is especially true at Pico Bonito’s secluded cabins, built with hurricane-downed timber in a remote stretch of rain forest near the eponymous national park and the Bay Islands. Horseback ride and whitewater raft one day, snorkel and visit Maya ruins the next.

16 Desert Rhino Camp-NAMIBIA

Desert Rhino Camp, Namibia
Key Features: luxury, active adventures, wildlife

Thanks to the joint efforts of outfitter Wilderness Safaris and Save the Rhino Trust, Namibia’s million-acre private Palmwag Conservancy hosts the largest free-ranging population of black rhinos in Africa. Track the beasts on foot with SRT rangers and researchers across rolling hills and desert scattered with ancient welwitschia plants, then sip South African Merlot and retire to an elegant canvas-and-thatch tent overlooking red-rock badlands.

Tswalu Motse-Kalahari-Northwest  ZA-2

Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa
Key Features: luxury, wildlife

In just four years, entrepreneur Stephen Boler bought 34 farms in the Kalahari Desert and turned them into a 220,000-acre wilderness reserve, one of the largest private conservation projects in African history. Walk and horseback ride to view resuscitated populations of rare wild dogs, roan antelope, lions, and rhinos. Luxury cottages have private pools and sundecks overlooking watering holes.

18 Tiamo Resort-BAHAMAS

Tiamo Resort, Bahamas
Key Features: luxury, active adventures, family

While hoteliers have jostled for elbow room on Caribbean beaches since the 1950s, remote South Andros Island has remained blissfully development free. To preserve the pristine area, Tiamo?s owners hid their 11 airy wooden bungalows in the jungle and built a field of solar panels to power them. Cast for bonefish in world-renowned flats or snorkel one of the planet?s largest reefs.

nihiwatu_1224

Nihiwatu Resort, Sumba Island, Lesser Sunda Islands, East of Bali, Indonesia

Nihiwatu, Indonesia
Key Features: luxury, active adventures, local culture

Nihiwatu has a consistent break right off its 1.5-mile beach, but this chilled-out surf nirvana attracts more than pro riders. Join the active devotees of this coconut-biodiesel-fueled resort for yoga in the thatch pavilion, find bliss in the spa, and mountain bike to remote villages. Thanks in part to the resort, thousands of villagers now have access to clean water and health clinics.

20 Soneva Fushi by Six Senses-MALDIVES

Soneva Fushi by Six Senses, Maldives
Key Features: luxury, active adventures

“No news, no shoes,” is the resident philosophy at Soneva Fushi, which is to say: Kick back. Dive or windsurf the baby blue waters, take a wine-tasting tutorial with the sommelier, or dine on your own private beach. Behind its elegant facade, this 65-suite resort has committed to zero carbon emissions by 2010 with innovations like deep-ocean water cooling.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2009 10:14 am

    I have been to some of the world’s largest resorts with everything you can imagine but what I truly like the idea of is a quiet vacation. These locations look great I will check them out further.

  2. September 13, 2009 7:19 pm

    Wow, there are some incredible places to stay in the world. Just the snippet here makes me want to go back to Dominica where I once hiked to the boiling lake and then soaked in a hot stream! I’m delighted we’re in such good company as we try to make our own Devon ecolodges and nature reserve as green and sustainable as possible. Places closer to home can be truly special too!

    I’ll be looking at some of these sites to for more inspiration.
    Thanks for the post.

    • uniquetraveldestinations permalink*
      September 14, 2009 5:49 am

      Hi Devon Eco Lodges @ Wheatland Farm, glad you’ve found us. And thanks for your constructive input. Yes, there is a PLETHORA of eco-lodges these days. The choice is absolutely mind-boggling. What used to be mere quaint types, rustic, and a mix of bohemian and tropical shabby (was still missing the “chic”.. ha.. ha..)… has now transformed/evolved into design-oriented (basically involving better architects) eco-retreats (very much like the ones ranked by Natitonal Geographic mag. I’ve covered plenty of them. Pls look at any post w/ “Green & Chic” in it, in my blog.
      https://uniquetraveldestinations.wordpress.com/2009/08/19/green-chic-natural-retreats-uk/

      Pls also visit our other blogs:
      http://www.enchantingeden.wordpress.com, http://www.uniquetraveldestinations.net/blog, and
      http://www.endangerededen.wordpress.com (where I cover Responsible Tourism, VolunTourism, Eco-Tourism, Favela Tourism, etc.)

      Pls stay in touch.
      ciao, dian

    • uniquetraveldestinations permalink*
      September 14, 2009 5:50 am

      There’s a few excellent examples in the UK itself. Nature Retreats is one such co., doing great things, w/ “Designer Eco-Retreats/Cabins”. A nice departure from quaint predictable log cabins of yesteryear!. ciao, dian

  3. October 6, 2009 4:43 am

    Thank you for nice post.I think, this post is very nice.

  4. November 10, 2009 6:29 pm

    Wow, amazing photos. I especially liked the resort in Costa Rica – it’s interesting that luxury travel can be combined with eco lodges and green travel.

    • uniquetraveldestinations permalink*
      December 4, 2009 7:12 pm

      Hi, it’s always a pleasure to see you back, browsing thru our latest blog posts. ciao, dian

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  1. Jordan’s unique Feynan eco-lodge makes it into global ranking « Unique Travel Destinations

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