Ecolodges travel guide


There are a lot of debates around the word ‘eco’, but when it comes to ecolodges an acronym ticks all the boxes: Exquisite, Community-focused and Obstinate. First and foremost they are exquisite, sometimes even luxurious and catering for that once in a lifetime, spoil yourself venture into nature. The O may seem like an odd one, but actually people who have striven to create places of paradise, in paradise, have nearly always had to stand strong for what they believe in. People who charge a bit more for a cabin by a Gambian beach so they can pay their staff a top wage all year round. People who train the local Sri Lankan community as expert naturalist guides, so that they don’t have to destroy the landscape to live off it. People who build schools for Berber girls in the Atlas Mountains. And, it is worth noting that people who are obstinate, also make brilliant hosts. Because they care.

Find out more in our ecolodges travel guide.
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What is an ecolodge?


Ecolodges have inherited this name because they tick various environmental boxes and may even be totally off grid. And yet they can never really be pushed into one category, as they are created as unique builds, based on individual passions and visions. They also have their own cultural influences, because as well as being environmental, true ecolodges rarely function in a bubble but are part of the local community. They are, therefore, about people just as much as they are about place, and this is what makes them the most extraordinary places to stay.

Ecolodges & the environment

Many ecolodges are built sustainably, using natural materials such as hemp or lime, mud or local wood. Such as the tented chalets and mud hut style lounge on the edge of Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, or a bamboo treehouse on the Caribbean island of Dominica. And a vineyard cottage in Croatia is made in traditional style using only local stone and wood. Nearly all strive to be either off grid or as near as dammit.
An ecolodge in Gambia, for example, runs everything off solar power including your bedroom fans and gadget chargers. Their waste is all recycled and they practise Permaculture. Ecolodges on a farm in Devon now produce more clean, green energy than they consume, harnessing wind and solar energy for all their uses. And an ecolodge in Malaysia’s Berembun Forest Reserve has been designed with natural openings throughout so that despite being in the rainforest, air conditioning is not needed. They don’t do things by halves these ecolodges, and are always looking for new technology or techniques to make things cleaner and greener.

Ecolodges & the community

A true ecolodge should never function in a bubble of beauty. They are outward looking, see themselves as major contributors to the local community and economy and are in it for the long haul. In the Gambia, for example, people who built the original Footsteps Ecolodge are now its managers. In the Atlas Mountains, Kasbah du Toubkal founded Education for All, which provides secondary education for girls which simply didn’t exist before. All the staff there are Berber and it oozes real Berber hospitality. And the ecolodge in Ecuador’s Napo Wildlife Center works in partnership with the Anangu Quichua community, who receive half of the profits.

Ecolodges & you

Some people may be put off the word ‘ecolodge’ because they think that they aren’t going to be comfy, or able to cater for some of those treats that we all seek out on special holidays. But far from it. Imagine bathing in a traditional hammam in a kasbah in the Atlas Mountains; going from hammock to freshwater pool in Gambia; or seeking peace and quiet on a private veranda in Sri Lanka or the Caribbean. Yes, some are more ‘au naturel’ than others, but hot water, quality linen, cool drinks, great food and top service are still part of the package in many ecolodges. Ideally all just ethically sourced. Air con and hairdryers are not always on the cards, however; the look is more ceiling fan and ruffled-by-a-tropical-breeze.

Ecolodges & nature

Nearly every ecolodge we feature sits on the sidelines of, or indeed in the heart of, a protected landscape, meaning that ecology and protecting natural heritage is at its heart. Be it the Pacuare Nature Reserve ecolodge in Costa Rica where giant leatherback turtles come to rest, or a stunning ecolodge in regenerated jungle and protected Sri Lankan forest, connected to Yala National Park, where elephants, sloth bear, wild buffalo and sambar deer roam. Or the lakeside bungalows at the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador, where you are guided by local naturalists through rainforests that are home to tapir, monkeys and myriad tropical birds. Closer to home, wake up to the sounds of the river that borders Portugal’s magnificent Southwest Alentejo and Vincentine Coast Natural Park, where white storks, fishing eagles and otters are just a few of the region’s precious residents.

What makes them special


Kathy Jarvis, from our supplier Andean Trails, supports Napo Wildlife Center Ecolodge in Ecuador: “This is a fabulous Amazon Lodge which offers a high level of comfort to the tourist, while supporting conservation efforts locally. The lodges were built with local materials by the local Anangu Quichua community in conjunction with EcoEcuador, a non-profit organisation which is dedicated to conservation efforts in Ecuador. A percentage of profits from the lodge go towards conservation and preventing logging, hunting and oil extraction, all of which are actively destroying local forests.”
David White, founder of our supplier, Footsteps Ecolodge, Gambia: “We set out in 2002 to create a lodge which benefitted not only the visiting guest but also the local community. We did that by hiring locally and offering full time, well paid positions with training and opportunities for advancement. Today what makes us special is that we have never sacrificed our principles. Around 50 percent of our staff has been employed at Footsteps since 2001. They were my original building team and of the remaining staff half of those have been with Footsteps 10 years or more. It has given me enormous pride to watch the children of my staff grow into the youth which will now make Gambia great.”
Lars Sorensen, owner of Tree Tops Jungle Lodge, Sri Lanka: “Tree Tops Jungle Lodge was the first place in Sri Lanka to stay in a jungle itself. It is also wild elephant habitat. We have team of staff from the local community who really knows how to be in the jungle; what to do and not do if wild elephants are around, close to us. They know, for example, to be aware of sound and light impact on wildlife. Anyway we are off grid so there is no electric light illuminating all corners and the whole hotel ground. We have also preserved the lodge as a special small place to stay with only three accommodation units, thus minimising the impact.”

Things to do at our ecolodges


Things to do at an ecolodge…

Nothing. Lie in a hammock, sit on the veranda, or chill out on the terrace and seek solace in nature. Ecolodges are also eco escapes, places to detox digitally and recharge naturally. Be it in the Ecuadorian rainforest, on Gambian beaches, in Costa Rican coastal hideaways or under the star-filled, dark skies of deepest Devon.
Enjoy the wildlife. Go bird watching with expert guides in Gambia or Tobago, on safari with local guides at our ecolodge in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka or turtle watching from Pacuare Nature Reserve ecolodge, with their own biologist who leads night time nature treks. And the Berembun Forest Reserve ecolodge in Malaysia offers rainforest hikes led by resident Temuan guides.
Beach bliss. You don’t have to always hike the rainforest or get up at dawn to go bird watching while. Our ecolodges in Tobago, North Devon, the Algarve in Portugal or Manda Island in Kenya, to name but a few, all have coastal paradises nearby for full on chilling.
Live local. Ecolodges are all about tying in with the local community, whether you are connecting through food, fun or a passion for flora and fauna. Those in the Atlas Mountains use Berber guides to take you trekking. And our ecolodge in Tobago doesn’t do breakfast, so you can start your day sipping coffee and eating all things creole in the next door village. It’s all about thinking local.

Things not to do at an ecolodge…

Bring all your gadgets. Most ecolodges are very careful about energy consumption and want to share their sustainable living practices with guests. So leave the hairdryers and anything that needs super charging at home.
Create waste. If you are in a rainforest in Malaysia, a Kenyan island or a remote part of the Atlas Mountains, waste disposal is always an issue. Leave all packaging at home, buy as much as you can locally from sun cream to sarongs, and don’t use bottled water unless necessary. Some ecolodges filter their own or use large containers to fill up refillable bottles.
Pollute the environment. Sometimes we forget, as we spend time in a remote rainforest or along a pristine coast, that we can also be carriers of pollutants. Think about the parabens or microbeads in products you are wearing or washing with, toxins in sun creams or hair products and shop ethically.
Be shy. Top ecolodges are at the heart of the local community. It might feel as if you are stepping out of your comfort zone when getting to know local people. But simply think of them all as your welcoming hosts, learn from them as they share their stories and local culture and your holiday will be richer for it.?
Photo credits: [Topbox: Bryn Pinzgauer] [Ecolodge and the environment: Murray Foubister] [Ecolodge and you: calypso24] [Special - Kathy:] [Special - Lars: luca] [Helpdesk: sergejf]
Written by Catherine Mack
North Devon ecolodge, England

North Devon ecolodge, England

Uniquely quirky Devon eco lodge with fantastic views

From £501 per week (sleeps 8)
Chalalan Ecolodge in Madidi National Park

Chalalan Ecolodge in Madidi National Park

One of the most diverse parts of the world

From £435 4 Days ex flights
Devon eco lodge accommodation, England

Devon eco lodge accommodation, England

Award winning lodges on a wildlife-rich Devon farm

From £205 per accommodation per week
Rainforest accommodation in Dominica

Rainforest accommodation in Dominica

A small hotel set within mountain rainforest wilderness

From US $110 per room per night
Ecuador ecolodge, Napo Wildlife Center

Ecuador ecolodge, Napo Wildlife Center

A luxurious eco-lodge in wildlife rich Ecuadorean Amazon

From £1173 4 Days ex flights
Algarve self catering eco retreat, Portugal

Algarve self catering eco retreat, Portugal

Great eco accommodation in nature reserve close to the beach

From €65 per accommodation per night (sleeps 2)
Maquipucuna cloud forest lodge, Ecuador

Maquipucuna cloud forest lodge, Ecuador

Enjoy hummingbirds and virgin forest in Ecuadors cloudforest

From £271 3 Days ex flights
Carriacou beach accommodation in Grenada

Carriacou beach accommodation in Grenada

Experience the genuine Caribbean, come to Carriacou Grenada

From US $85 per accommodation per night
Dubvrovnik countryside villa in Croatia

Dubvrovnik countryside villa in Croatia

Countryside villa & pool for 11 guests in Dubrovnik

From €1520 per villa per week
Ecolodge accommodation in the French Alps

Ecolodge accommodation in the French Alps

Luxury eco-chalet with yoga facilities in the French-Alps

From €499 per accommodation per night
Tobago beach accommodation

Tobago beach accommodation

15 beautiful accommodations in unique eco resort

From £95 per accommodation per night
Pembrokeshire 5 star ecolodge in Wales

Pembrokeshire 5 star ecolodge in Wales

Pembrokeshire 5 star lodge in Wales

From £39 per person per night
Malaysia rainforest bungalows near Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia rainforest bungalows near Kuala Lumpur

A small orchard resort on the edge of the rainforest

From MYR400 per accommodation per night
Photo credits: [Page banner: MAKE IT KENYA PHOTO / STUART PRICE]
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