The term “Eco-Tourism” calls to mind images of high school kids volunteering at rural orphanages or sharing a cot with various wild animals in a run-down hut on the beach, and while both of those experiences have their rewards (some of those wild animals are quite snuggly), the reality of Eco-Tourism is very different.
There are eco resorts comparable to the best luxury offerings, and more and more travelers are opting to help the world as they take their vacations. According to the Center for Responsible Travel, the number of international eco tourists will reach 1.8 billion by 2030, and the tourism industry has started to take notice. Hoteliers are responding to the demand for conscious tourism with new sustainable construction and retrofitting existing hotels to be greener.
While achieving zero human impact on the earth may be impossible, each of these four hotels and resorts is doing its part to create lux accommodations with an emphasis on ecology, preservation of biodiversity, and humanitarianism without skimping on the room service. And with flight times at around five hours, you won’t have to travel too far to get there. If you’re expecting Gilligan’s Island, think again.
Prana Del Mar
Los Cabos, Mexico
Only 15 minutes from the outskirts of Cabo San Lucas, but a world away from the reggaeton and all-you-can-drink margaritas, is the eco-friendly and yoga-heavy Prana Del Mar (translation: breath of the sea) resort. Owner Erik Singer fell in love with the remote desert location on the Pacific Ocean, on one of his many surf trips. As he puts it, “The stark contrast of the arid desert and green mountains surrounded by the vastness of the sea, the golden morning and evening light, and warm hospitality of the people.” The focus here is on week-long retreats with an emphasis on yoga and wellness. The entire facility is off-grid and solar-powered, with luxury details like organic linens, a stunning solar heated saltwater pool the same azure blue as the ocean, and strand-woven bamboo floors. Guests dine on organic cuisine with ingredients from the on-site garden. If downward dog isn’t your thing, Prana Del Mar is an ideal base for surfing, whale watching from the sprawling terrace, horseback riding, and hiding out from the rest of the world.
El Valle de Anton, Panama
The Canopy Lodge is to birding as Las Vegas is to gambling. Visitors flock to book one of the 12 luxurious rooms, then set out on full- or half-day birding tours in El Valle de Anton, a picturesque and nature-focused community located in the heart of an extinct volcano. The property has over four acres of private trails that wind through cloud forests and waterfalls filled with wildlife and over 1,000 species of birds, including the elusive Tody Motmot and Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo. August and September are quiet for the tourism industry in Panama, but Jenn Sinasac, resident biologist at Canopy Lodge, points out that this is the best time to view butterflies and book at reduced rates. The Canopy Lodge is owned and operated by an El Valle de Anton native, who hires local guides and donates a portion of the hotel’s profit to local and international birding clubs. Guests can hang out on their oversized balcony or hike suspension bridges and swim in a waterfall.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek
San Ignacio, Belize
The Lodge at Chaa Creek allows guests a wide range of luxurious sleeping accommodations, from "glamping" (glamorous camping, of course) in 10 well-appointed camp casitas on the Macal River to luxe tree-top suites with private Jacuzzis. Guests can explore 365 acres of private nature reserve on foot, horseback, and canoe. There aren’t many properties where visitors can pamper themselves in the spa, eat an organic Creole inspired breakfast, then learn about indigenous healing plants from a Maya tour guide, all before noon, but Chaa Creek does just that and they've done it with personality and attention to detail since 1981. Spokesperson Larry Waight shared Chaa Creek’s defining moment, “[W]hen two young travelers stumbled across a patch of jungle within the Macal River Valley after journeying by dugout canoe and horseback to discover what came to be their newly adopted home. From a very humble beginning rich with eager inquisitiveness and a quest for discovery came the birth of an industry - Belizean ecotourism.”
Copamarina Beach Resort & Spa
Guanica, Puerto Rico
Though Puerto Rico receives a high volume of visitors every year, Guanica still remains largely untouched. The Copamarina Beach Resort & Spa is built on a half-mile long beach facing the Caribbean Sea. The hotel is the largest employer in the region and schedules weekly beach cleaning events. From Copamarina Beach & Resort, there’s fast access to the Bio Reserve Guanica State Forest, home to 700 plant species of which 48 are endangered and 16 exist nowhere else on earth. Visitors can hike explore 36 miles of hiking trails and beach. The nearby Wall at Playa Santa is where divers get up close and personal with dolphins, eels, and turtles from a continental shelf dropping more than 1,500 feet. Molly Olive, a hotel representative recommends, “Gilligan's Island also offers calm waters for swimming and is a suitable destination for families with small children.” Or castaways.