When you're ready to travel again, consider these three eco-destinations
The future of travel is—without a doubt—sustainable travel. It’s hard to imagine a future where people are hanging out in crowded cities, piling into bars and flocking to places overrun with tourists.
In reality, that might not be the worst thing for the travel industry. Researchers conducted a global survey of 160 countries between 2009 and 2013 in order to calculate the amount of CO2 emissions produced by the tourism industry worldwide—turns out it’s responsible for eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
So, spending a whole lot more time outside, getting to know the wildlife and true culture of a place, and intentionally exploring our planet in a way that gives back to people and places where we can have unique experiences? Count me in.
From the Middle East to Mexico to South America, here are three eco-lodges to put on your travel bucket list...
1. Feynan Eco Lodge, Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan
Feynan Eco LodgeMystical—the perfect word to describe this wildly unique part of the world tucked away far into the desert region of Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve. Feynan Eco Lodge, rated one of the best in the world by National Geographic, is sustainable travel at its finest. It’s a place where they care equally for their guests, the surrounding environment and the local Bedouin communities.
You know the saying: "The journey is equally as important as the destination"? In this case, the 15-kilometre hike from the ancient village of Dana (a three-hour drive from Amman, Jordan’s capital) into the biosphere reserve is the perfect introduction to the wonders of the Jordan Trail. After a day’s walk through twisted canyons and arid desert speckled with juniper trees (the only place to find shade along the way), seeing the façade of the stone lodge come into focus feels surreal. A mirage, perhaps.
Upon arrival, I’m surrounded by genuine Bedouin hospitality, welcomed into the lodge as if we’re arriving at their home. And it is in a sense. The lodge employs all of its staff from the local villages. I decided I could handle a few more kilometres when local guide, Mohammed Zanoon offered to take us up the top of a nearby mountain for a small fire to watch the sun sink into the mountains and surrounding valley. Suddenly, everything is a rusty red. I think to myself, Bedouins are magician-like when Mohammad pulls out a beautiful black steel kettle from his small bag to boil water over the fire, alongside 15 small glass cups and makes us all fresh mint and sage tea which we share before the sun disappears.Feynan Eco LodgeWhen we return to the lodge, it’s idyllic—lit only by candles, resting against the backdrop of the magnificent Wadi Feynan, surrounded by an astounding number of stars poking through the otherwise completely dark sky. We’re ushered to a long, family-style table in a dining room where we’re served a delicious Arabic-style vegetarian meal. The rooms feel both rustic and luxurious at once, with stone walls featuring small niches filled with mirrors, candlelight and draping fabric above the beds.The ecolodge’s ethos is to contribute to conservation, have a minimal environmental footprint, create a benefit for the local community and offer unique and authentic visitor experiences. And the experiences are as legit as you can get. Local guide Suleiman Hasaseen will take you for a walk amongs shepherds, show you the ropes or introduce you to a Bedouin woman who will teach you how to make Arbood bread over a dome set atop fiery coals.Or, my favourite experience, join him in a family tent where you’ll learn the history and culture behind Bedouin coffee-making and drinking—the ceremonious lifeblood of Bedouin culture used to mark the beginning of serious conversations, marriage proposals, life and death. It’s a true art, a cause for celebration and grief. The experience—including the melodic grinding of the coffee, the call of the Bedouins—will be forever ingrained into your memory.
Planning an expedition in Jordan takes some logistics and a huge amount of planning. Leave it to Experience Jordan, who specialize in experiential, sustainable travel—with hiking, biking and cultural tours led by local guides, including young women, who are authentically passionate about their home and sharing their local secrets with their guests.
2. Los Colibris Casitas, Todos Santos, Mexico
Los ColibrisThey say everyone comes to Todos Santos for a reason, never just by accident. Possibly thanks to the magnetism of its location near the Tropic of Cancer, possibly because of the special draw of the natural light, or maybe simply because it’s hard not to have your heart captured by Mexico.
We arrive at Los Colibris after a two-hour drive down a dusty dirt road a couple of hours from Cabo San Lucas airport, passing giant cacti and small villages. The boutique eco-hotel comes into view just as the most magnificent sunset burns the sky. I highly recommend trying to time your arrival in time for sunset—it’s when the sun turns this unmistakable red hue only found on the Mexican coast as it sets over the Pacific Ocean.Owned by an American-Mexican couple, Sergio and Bryan Jáuregui, who met on nearby Isla Espiritu Santo in the middle of the Sea of Cortez, where their dream of opening a sustainable boutique hotel was born, Los Colibris feels as intimate as a private vacation home, with all the amenities of a boutique hotel. Each casa and casita has sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and you’ll often see whales frolicking and manta rays leaping from your window.
In the evenings, sign up for a cooking class led by the finest chef in Todos Santos, Iker Algorri (who, after a few homemade margaritas, might even teach you some salsa moves). In the morning, take a yoga class on the platform overlooking the ocean then enjoy breakfast à la carte, prepared by chef Iker, of course.
Don’t miss out on exploring the small town, which has oh-so-much charm to offer. A French artist was once asked why he moved to Todos Santos—famed for being an artists' colony—and his response was to take note of the light. I understand immediately, as I watch the way it hugs the pastel-coloured buildings in the small town, one of Mexico’s eight Pueblos Magicos—small towns honoured for their natural beauty, cultural significance, or historical relevance. Todos Santos happens to have all of the above.
Note: Sergio and Bryan Jáuregui also run Todos Santos Eco Adventures and two sustainable luxury glamping spots. First, Camp Cecil de la Isla on Isla Espiritu Santo (complete with an on-site chef and real beds with lovely lines). Second, a little more into the countryside and their latest project, Camp Cecil de la Sierra, where you’ll be immersed in the life of Mexican Rancheros.
3. Chaa Creek, San Ignacio, Belize
Chaa CreekChaa Creek is Belize’s original eco-resort, where you’ll find a family-owned and -operated paradise of sustainable luxury deep in the jungle—just 15 minutes from the enchanting village of San Ignacio in the Cayo district. If you arrive on a small Tropic Air flight to what seems to be the world’s tiniest ‘airport,’ the Maya Flats Airstrip, it’s a 10-minute drive to the lodge, set along the banks of the Macal River and stretching towards the foothills of the Maya Mountains.
Chaa Creek has a huge variety of accommodations: from luxurious villas with private hot tubs and plunge pools to tree-top suites, rooms with river views, thatched palm cottages as well as budget-friendly eco pods—small comfortable cabins raised above the jungle floor, each with private hammock-hung porches. And, 10 percent of all accommodation revenue at Chaa Creek goes directly into environmental and community projects. There’s a huge focus on wildlife and environmental sustainability with a butterfly breeding centre, on-site kitchen garden, nature walks and a trail identifying over 100 medicinal plants used in traditional Maya medicine. Here, you share your home in the jungle with some true locals—howler monkeys—who are very keen to make their presence known first thing in the morning (their calls have you expecting some giant creature to emerge from the bushes, not these sweet-faced primates).Wake up with the first morning light to explore one of Chaa Creek’s many on-site trails when the trees are also just waking up, making a crackling sound, like they are stretching out after a long sleep. Or take a guided bird-watching walk with a local birder, ride horseback, hop on an ATV through the rainforest, or head down a short trail to take a canoe out for a paddle on the Macal River, keeping an eye out for toucans along the way.
In the evening, there are guided nature walks with the on-site naturalist to spot creatures of the night, as well as an al fresco restaurant with local specialties and dishes made with ingredients from their 33-acre Maya organic farm, such as fresh fish wrapped in Santa Maria leaves and drenched in lime juice or pan-seared snapper. Before or after dinner, visit the cozy bar, fully stocked with spirits infused with local herbs, fruits and vegetables. Try the jalapeño-pineapple-infused tequila in a cocktail—there’s nothing quite like it. At Chaa Creek, you coexist with nature.
Note: Chaa Creek is currently offering ‘virtual vacations’ for guests who’ve had to postpone trips or are planning a future visit, providing educational resources for families to learn about Belize, the birds and other wildlife found on the property, and how to prepare for the real thing.