The 5 best eco-escapes in the world
Because having a good time and protecting the environment don’t have to be mutually exclusive
One of the great conundrums of the post-pandemic world will be how we can holiday better. We don’t just mean making up for lost time at the hotel bar and restaurant. But rather, how can we continue to see the wonders of the world without wrecking them? The pressing nature of this issue was recognised by the World Tourism Organisation last year, when it laid out a plan to rebuild the tourism industry in a way that contributes to the goals of the Paris Agreement, rather than detracting from them.
Spurning travel altogether is not a great option, after all. In 2019, 10.3% of the world‘s GDP came from travel and tourism. And in some countries – the Maldives and Vanuatu, to name but two – it can be as much as 39%. The key then, is to travel in a way, and to places, which put sustainability as high on their list of priorities as guest comfort. And indeed, many hotels, old and new, are making that commitment as the pandemic recedes. Here we bring you five of our favourites.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa
It was 1991 when the Lutzeyer family first came to see the farm that has become Grootbos. Immediately falling for its charms, the Lutzeyers planned to preserve the farmland and turn the house into a B&B. Skip forward thirty years, and the B&B is one of the most luxurious hotels in South Africa and the landholding has grown into a 2,500-acre nature reserve with 750 different plant species, 118 different types of birds and around 30 different mammals. All these and more are protected and sustained with funds raised by the hotel, which runs a programme of experiences that aim to teach guests about both the wonders and the challenges faced by the natural world. If there is a better place to learn than the veranda at Grootbos with a G&T in hand, we’d like to know about it.
Islas Secas, Panama
The word ‘extraordinary’ is fairly well overused when it comes to hotels, but in the case of Islas Secas, it’s spot on. The hotel threads across 14 private islands in the Gulf of Chiriqui like pearls on a necklace. There are only ever 24 guests, and it’s 20 miles by boat from the nearest town. You can whale watch, take boat-based nature tours, or just sit on your own private patch of white sand beach admiring the sea. What’s even better is you can do all these things without worrying about your impact on the environment – energy comes from a 300-metre solar array, all waste food is recycled, and 100 percent of the wastewater is used for irrigation. Single-use plastic is banned and even the buildings themselves are built from sustainable wood. The best in barefoot luxury – and it won’t leave you with a conscience hangover.
Topas Ecolodge, Vietnam
The glistening arc of the infinity pool at Topas is the stuff of which Insta-dreams are made. High up on a mountain, it gives guests an astounding view of the undulating peaks of the Hoang Lien National Park. It also happens to be a very sophisticated piece of engineering, cutting electricity usage by 85 percent when compared with similar pools. It is emblematic of the approach at Topas: minimise the environmental impact and conserve the surrounding landscape. They even built their own wetland for water purification. Perhaps most important to the long-term success of the hotel and the surrounding National Park is a cast-iron commitment to the local community: all their staff are drawn from surrounding villages – as indeed is the fresh food in the restaurants. What’s better is the employees can access free education programmes, which aims to ensure local villages remain sustainable and their land stewardship continues.
In a topaz-clear protected lagoon off the coast of Mozambique, lies Benguerra island, home to one of the most extraordinary off-grid hotels in the world. &Beyond has collected awards for Benguerra Island like others collect stamps. Not only is it incredibly luxurious – sunset dhow cruises and swimming horse adventures come as standard – it also does measurable good. Beyond the luxurious hush of the swaying forest and rim-flow swimming pool, the hotel is working with Africa Foundation to preserve the oceans which surround it. Together they have formed Oceans Without Borders which supports education, community outreach, and the care of endangered wildlife through the establishment of Marine Protected Areas.
Unyoked – Australia
In 2017, twin brothers Cameron and Chris Grant decided they wanted to unplug from the stresses of everyday life in Melbourne and Sydney and spend a few nights in the wilderness. Nothing on offer quite fitted the bill, so they decided to create something themselves. So Unyoked was born. Unyoked is series of off-grid, solar-powered wood cabins in picturesque locations in New South Wales and Victoria in which guests are encouraged to disconnect from the thrum of modern life. Phone signal is thin on the ground, but what you do get as standard is a shelf full of Penguin Classics, an AeroPress coffee maker and mile upon mile of empty wilderness to explore.
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