We asked Lonely Planet’s authors and travel editors to nominate outstanding eco-friendly hotels and hostels. From the incredible array of green stays around the world, our panel of experts hand-picked 10 of the best. So if you want your next trip to make a positive impact, our round-up of wilderness lodges and solar-powered retreats is sure to inspire.
The owners of Lapa Rios (www.laparios.com) named their eco-lodge after watching a family of scarlet macaws fly across a backdrop of jungle. The flock of macaws (lapa in Costa Rican) created a river (rio) of red, orange, yellow, green and blue. Witness this spectacle for yourself at Lapa Rios, which looks out over the Golfo Dulce, a tropical fjord where whales and dolphins nurse their young in nutrient-rich, Crayola-blue waters.
The lodge lies in a private nature reserve that serves as a buffer for Costa Rica’s remote Parque Nacional Corcovado. It consists of 16 gorgeous bungalows with four-poster beds, garden showers and private decks lining ridges rising above the rainforest. The lodge also boasts a beautiful pool, and a palm-thatched restaurant, complete with a spiral staircase leading up to a panoramic viewing platform, where you can eyeball a toucan from a few feet away. Simply put, this is the promised land for nature lovers.
“I encountered three species of monkey within an hour of arriving at Lapa Rios - nature owns the freehold here; humanity has a short-term lease.” - James Kay
2. Bulungula Backpackers, Bulungula River Mouth, Eastern Cape, South Africa
The road to Bulungula (www.bulungula.com) leaves the highway near Qunu, the village where Nelson Mandela spent much of his childhood and where he was recently buried. Turning south into the heartland of the Xhosa, collections of freshly painted rondavels (round huts with thatched roofs) dot the green rolling hills that stretch to the horizon. At the end of the road where the Bulungula River empties into the Indian Ocean, the unspoiled beauty will take your breath away.
Bulungula Lodge is nothing more than a group of traditionally designed rondavels owned in partnership with the adjoining community, but a stay here is an immersive experience. This is a place to unwind and disconnect, completely solar- and wind-powered, with 'rocket showers' (where rainwater is heated by lighting paraffin at the bottom of a pipe), and where a menagerie of animals wander the unfenced property.
“Days are spent on coastal walking trails, in a canoe, or doing nothing at your own pace. Nights are spent gathered around the firepit craning your neck at the Milky Way, wondering how you could ever leave.” - Michael Grosberg
3. Chole Mjini, Chole Island, Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania
This lodge is like nowhere else along the Tanzanian coast. Accommodation is in imaginatively designed tree houses – simple, chic and nestled amid the vegetation for maximum privacy. A short walk away are vine-covered 19th-century ruins, and beyond that, a lively village. Chole Mjini (www.cholemjini.com) doesn’t have a beach, but sea and sand dominate life. Snorkelling and diving are highlights, as are excursions to glistening white sandbanks and neighbouring islands. All profits are channelled into local eco-projects. Over the almost two decades of its existence, the lodge has had a major positive impact on island life, especially in the areas of education and health. Village tours and visits to the nearby school and clinic give a glimpse of what has been achieved.
“Chole’s mangrove forest, colourful village, superb sunsets and lazy island pace were a wonderful immersion into life on the Swahili coast.” - Mary Fitzpatrick
Jose Koechlin von Stein is a pioneer of eco-tourism in Peru; Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel (www.inkaterra.com/inkaterra/inkaterra-machu-picchu-pueblo-hotel) may just be his crowning achievement.
In the valley below the world’s most famous ruins, Koechlin bought and restored a patch of the fast-disappearing Andean cloud forest. At its heart is a hotel in the form of whitewashed casitas, or cottages, scattered through a 12-acre site. The rooms are full of Peruvian fabrics, ceramics and art commissioned by Koechlin’s wife, Denise. But the real enchantment is the forest itself, a stupefying ecosystem of butterflies and birds, not to mention the world’s largest collection of native orchids.
The hotel’s guides lead tours to the fabled citadel, but a walk in their company through the grounds - which contain fruit and vegetable gardens, a bear sanctuary, and even a tea plantation - is a self-contained adventure you’ll remember almost as much as a visit to the Lost City of the Incas.
“German film director Werner Herzog once opined that Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel was the ‘most wonderful place in the world’. Who am I to argue? In a town bedevilled by overdevelopment, the Koechlins have created a little corner of Andean Eden.” - James Kay
Tucked away down a seldom trampled dirt road some 38km from the next nearest anything, the tiny hamlet of Chepu sits in the northern sector of Parque Nacional Chiloé. Perched on an overlook peering out to the confluence of three rivers and 140 sq km of fascinating sunken forest – a result of the devastating 1960 earthquake – is EcoLodge Chepu Adventures (www.chepu.cl). The owners have designed everything at this eco-fierce property with the end goal of complete self-sufficiency, from infrared solar showers to wind-generated electricity to wood-alternative fibre construction. Fernando and Amory, two lovely souls who fled Santiago years ago in search of an off-the-grid life, wine and dine green-conscious travellers, who cannot get enough of the mystical kayak trips at dawn, the views and the BBQs.
"Besides being consummate hosts, Fernando and Amory's dedication to the vision blew me away; and the view of the sunken forest, a phenomenon I had never even heard of, elicited an audible gasp: the dead tree-strewn Río Punta is one of the most amazing things I've seen over my travels to 78 countries and counting." – Kevin Raub
Occupying a tall medina house in the walled market town of Taroudant, Maison Anglaise (sites.google.com/site/cecumaisonanglaise) is an excellent place to learn about Berber culture. The English-speaking staff organise visits to rural villages and schemes the guesthouse supports, including soap-making and beekeeping cooperatives. Maison Anglaise was awarded the Green Key (www.green-key.org) eco-label for its sustainable practices, such as using solar panels to heat water and serving locally grown produce. Tasting the latter in a bubbling tajine with a multi-coloured platter of Moroccan salads, served on the roof terrace with views of the High Atlas, is a great way to end a day in Taroudant’s souqs. What really makes the British-owned Maison Anglaise (‘English House’) special are the warm welcome and local insights offered by the staff, led by husband and wife Said and Latifa.
“I stayed at Maison Anglaise with my brother on his first visit to Morocco, and it was an excellent introduction to Moroccan culture. We particularly enjoyed a day trip with Said to the High Atlas foothills, where we walked through olive groves to a swimming hole.” - James Bainbridge
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to live completely off the grid, then this is your chance. In the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Taos, New Mexico, lies a small collection of buildings that seem equal parts Gaudí masterpiece and Dr Seuss whimsy. These are the so-called Earthships (earthship.com): radically designed buildings made from recycled materials and boasting impeccable green credentials. Solar panels generate electricity around the house, while a rain- and snow-collecting cistern provides all the water for the house. There's even a greenhouse.
Yet you won't have to sacrifice comfort staying here. These rentals come with wi-fi and smart TVs, and have a bohemian-chic interior that will appeal to design-minded folk.
“What I loved most about this place - aside from the surreal experience of staying inside an adobe-like building actually made of old tires and glass bottles - was the incredibly peaceful setting. You're in a magical part of the Southwest; there's nothing as peaceful as watching the sunset, and seeing the night sky slowly fill up with stars.” - Regis St. Louis
Jordan's top spot to get away from it all is home to one of the Middle East's most amazing views. Dana Guest House (www.rscn.org.jo) blends into the sandstone cliff face sitting on the 1200m-high tip of Dana Nature Reserve with the yawning Wadi Dana gorge tumbling down to the Dead Sea basin below. The simple stone-clad rooms are designed to invite those show-stopping panoramas inside and watching sunrise light up the gorge below is a scene worth waking for.
The guesthouse is run by Jordan's Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), and the staff are highly knowledgeable about the reserve's natural wonders. As well as cooking up feasts full of locally sourced produce, they'll happily spend time pointing out eagles and kestrels sweeping majestically over the terrace. Or talk about their ongoing conservation efforts to preserve the reserve's dazzling biodiversity (over 700 different plant species are found here).
“The spectacular beauty of Dana Nature Reserve is Jordan's best-kept secret. Dana Guest House's personalised service and genuine hospitality make this the perfect base to explore it from.” - Jess Lee
9. Nuli Sapi, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea
It takes no small effort to reach the bungalows of Nuli Sapi (www.facebook.com/NuliSapi). But once there, you'll be awestruck by the setting: Logeia Island in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, is a pristine area of mountainous, rainforest-covered islands, tiny traditional villages and teeming aquatic life. The bungalows themselves are simple but comfortable and made entirely of bush materials, with a veranda perched over the water.
Aside from admiring the tropical beauty and photogenic sunsets, there's much to do here, and Nuli Sapi is deeply committed to the surrounding communities. Locals can take you out bushwalking, snorkelling with manta rays, fishing or simply for a village visit where you can learn about traditional cooking techniques. And if you need some down time, you can take one of Nuli Sapi's outrigger canoes for a quiet paddle to one of the neighbouring islands.
“I love the setting of Nuli Sapi and the cosy design of the waterfront bungalows, but what captivates me the most about this place is the incredible warmth and heartfelt welcome of the islanders who live here. It's a tough place to leave.” - Regis St. Louis
Russia isn’t exactly celebrated for its eco-friendliness, but the country’s only purpose-built hostel on the shores of Eastern Siberia’s Lake Baikal bucks the trend big time. The enlightened owner, Baikal’s very own ‘Mr Hostel’ – Zhenya (Jack) Sheremetoff – realised he had to come up with something extra special to compete with Listvyanka’s many other timber guesthouses and he achieved this by crafting a green sanctuary complete with solar-heated water, triple insulation, an electricity supply generated partially from solar panels, and energy-saving lighting and electrical devices throughout.
Much of this eco-wizardry had to be shipped in from China at quite a cost, but the result is Russia’s most environmentally friendly digs. It’s the perfect spot to recover from cramped, airless sleeper train journeys on the Trans-Siberian Railway while feeling good in the knowledge that you are doing little to damage Siberia’s pristine eco-system.
“The friendly staff, the tang of new wood in the simply furnished, Siberian log cabin-style dorms, the yoga and chill-out decks and the generally chilled atmosphere – I felt a million miles from the post-Soviet urban hullabaloo at Siberia’s premier eco-hangout.” - Marc di Duca