There’s a soft spot in my heart for green travel. Eco-tourism usually means ruggedness, simplicity, adventure, community, low-impact and most of the time, quite comfortable. This is an oversimplification, of course. Eco-tourism can shoot in many different directions. It can be in a remote jungle with tree houses for accommodation. It could be a mountain wonderland where rock climbing is the daily activity and evenings take place around a wood-burning stove within a cozy cabin. Then there are the beachfront cabanas alongside turtle rehabilitation centers, or cloud forests in need of reforestation efforts, or desolate plains where you can finally experience a unique sonic setting – one free of noise intrusions and constant chatter. And all (assuming they follow general Eco-tourism protocol) will be committed to environmental and social sustainability. Here are some of our top choices.
Bosque Nublado Santa Lucia – Nanegal, Ecuador
Santa Lucia is a spot that must be plugged. I spent six months working with this organization in 2006, and can’t speak highly enough of the people, the environment and lodge itself. Nestled deep in Ecuador’s northwestern cloud forest, Santa Lucia is reached after a two-hour hike up into the mountains. The lodge is set at the top of a peak that regularly lingers just above the carpet of clouds that consumes the region, making for the most spectacular, 360-degree panoramic sunsets imaginable. There’s hiking, bird watching, a monstrous rope swing, impromptu pickup games of soccer, and plenty of work to be done: everything from planting trees to tending organic gardens and harvesting and processing sugar cane. Go there. It rocks.
Chumbe Island Coral Park – Zanzibar, Tanzania
Chumbe Island is home to Tanzania’s first reef sanctuary and has become a celebrated Eco-tourism success story in the Zanzibar archipelago. Built with palm-thatched roofs and using local mangrove poles, the park manages seven Eco-bungalows. Each bungalow is complete with a rainwater catch and a composting toilet and water from the showers is recycled through plant beds. This is the place to spend as much time as possible snorkeling and in general doing whatever you can to become an amphibious mammal. With almost 400 species of fish, it supports 90 percent of all species recorded in the region. Plus, after a few drinks, few words are as satisfying to howl as “Zanzibar!”
Sukau Rainforest Lodge – Borneo
Sukau, an award-winning Eco-hotel, is completely self-sufficient, subsisting on rainwater and solar energy. It’s complete with electric motorboats, fishing platforms, bird and wildlife-viewing decks and a 1,500-foot Boardwalk (which provides stellar sightings of resident elephants that occasionally hang around the back of the lodge). And besides, Borneo in general is one the most mind-blowing places left on Earth, routinely surfacing in the news for discoveries of new species and in general kick ass scenery. For water lovers, there’s mangroves and wetlands. Hikers and climbers can hit dense forest trails of the Bario Loop or scramble up one of Southeast Asia’s tallest mountains, Mount Kinabalu. This place is hard to beat.
Sariska Tiger Reserve – Rajasthan, India
Located in the Alwar district of the state of Rajasthan, the Sariska Tiger Reserve was once a royal hunting ground. In an effort to protect the Bengal tigers and other jungle cats, golden jackals, four-horned antelope and the Great Indian Horned owl, it was declared a wildlife reserve in 1955. Staying in the reserve, however, is not done in tents or tree houses. Nay, instead you’ll stay at the grand heritage hotel, Sariska Palace, located within the park. The word “palace” is perfectly fitting – just check out the photo. If you feel the need to cruise around local villages, do so via camel safari. Camels, despite their generally sour temperament, beat car travel any day.
Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge & Lodge – Dominical, Costa Rica
Located on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific Coast, Hacienda Baru lodge rests easy where forested mountains meet a 3-kilometer long beach. There’s hiking, birding, canopy exploration and more wildlife and greenery than you’ll know what to do with. The focus of the lodge and refuge is to connect visitors with the trees, animals and plants of the region, and is internationally recognized for its local conservation efforts.
It’s not even remotely close to an exhaustive list, but the choices above can give you some ideas of what’s out there. Tourism that seeks to minimize our environmental footprint and broaden our awareness and appreciation of unique flora, fauna and local cultures is travel nectar, sweet and satisfying and a hell of a lot healthier than most other alternatives.
By Bryan Schatz