I admit I’m always a little wary of the term ‘eco-hotel’. As there is nothing to stop any ol’ hotel owner from whacking this label on their property – and many do – travellers can easily be duped into supporting businesses that do not show much of a commitment to the environment at all.
Technically, an eco-hotel is accommodation designed to have a minimal impact on the environment. But the term has evolved to encompass social responsibility, too, with many eco-hotels now also committing to make a positive, sustainable impact on the local community through initiatives like employing local staff, using locally-made products, and investing in community projects such as building schools and improving access to healthcare.
So how can you identify a bona fide eco-hotel from an imposter? First up, check if the property has an official seal of approval from an eco certification program such as the US Green Building Council, EarthCheck (Australia), Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance (Latin America, Caribbean), or Green Tourism Business Scheme (UK). It’s important to remember, however, that some accommodation providers can’t afford to meet strict eco certification regulations, yet try hard to operate their properties in a responsible and sustainable manner – it usually doesn’t take much research to help you identify the good guys from the shysters.
There are some wonderful eco-hotels around the world set for a 2017 opening. Here’s five I’m swooning over…
Bawah Private Island, Anambas Archipelago, Indonesia
If you haven’t heard of Indonesia’s remote Anambas Archipelago before, this new eco-hotel is bound to put it on the map for you once and for all. Spread across a cluster of six virtually untouched tropical islands, Bawah Private Island – set to open in June – is positioning itself as the ultimate sustainable luxury escape from Singapore, just 150 nautical miles to the southwest. Its resume is impressive: Bawah’s 35 sumptuous, renewable energy-powered tented villas (which can accommodate 70 guests between them) have been meticulously designed using sustainable materials like bamboo and recycled copper, and the resort has made a commitment to creating meaningful employment opportunities for local residents.
Fishing and the collection of marine life is forbidden around Bawah, which is set in a marine conservation area in Indonesia’s Riau province. Pesticides are banned, too, with Bawah utilising a revolutionary natural mosquito termination system called ALO that keeps the blood-thirsty insects away from humans, while simultaneously controlling the mozzie population.
If you can drag yourself away from your idyllic villa, activities at Bawah range from hiking through virgin jungles to snorkelling or diving among the stunning reefs that fringe the property, to lazing on no less than 13 white-sand beaches. You can also hang at the treetop club house which will feature a yoga pavilion, spa, and a stunning infinity pool.
How to get there: Bawah is accessed via seaplane from Indonesia’s Batam island, just a one hour ferry ride from Singapore. Guests arriving from elsewhere in Indonesia will need to fly to Batam’s international airport, which also services Kuala Lumpur.
Pinky’s Eco Retreat & Beach Club, Rottnest Island, Western Australia
Until now, accommodation options on the ruggedly beautiful West Australian isle affectionately known as ‘Rotto’ have been quite limited. Pinky’s, an ecologically sensitive glamping retreat due to open around December, is set to change all that, offering different levels of accommodation to suit various budgets, starting at a bargainous AU$75 per night.
Adjacent to the island’s current campground between The Basin and Pinky’s Beach, the development is set to comprise 29 four and five star solar-passive eco-tents, ten two-bedroom ‘family’ tents, and 35 budget tents, anchored by a beach club featuring a restaurant, a bar, a cafe and a function space built atop an elevated deck that boasts breathtaking sunset views. In total, the resort will provide an additional 200 beds on the sandy island, an A-class nature reserve with few permanent residents, its most famous being the quokka, a small wallaby that has become a selfie sensation in recent years. While viral snaps have helped to boost tourism to the island, environmental experts warn that touching or feeding quokkas while taking photos can be detrimental and even fatal to the threatened species, so remember to take a hands-off approach if you’re after your own photographic souvenir.
The island also boasts 63 beaches, 6,500 years of history, and superb snorkelling, fishing, biking and walking opportunities.
How to get there: Just 18km off the WA coast, Rottnest Island is most easily accessed by ferry (try Rottnest Express or Rottnest Fast Ferries). Services take approximately 25 minutes from Fremantle, 45 minutes from Hillarys Boat Harbour, or 90 minutes from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty.
Bisate Lodge, Rwanda
When I travelled to the jungles of Rwanda several years ago to spend one precious hour with the country’s critically endangered mountain gorillas (which you can read about here), I couldn’t imagine anything topping the experience. Until now.
Situated next to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, conveniently close to the park headquarters where gorilla treks begin from, Wilderness Safaris’ newest lodge is on track to open for guests in June. Comprising just six forest villas, Bisate Lodge offers sweeping views towards the Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno volcanoes, with plenty of space for guests to relax and enjoy the biodiversity of the Albertine Rift. Rooted in Rwandan building tradition, the spherical, thatched structure echoes the hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, while the detailed interiors will exhibit surfaces and screens made from a variety of woven materials with strong resonance in Rwandan culture. Each spacious forest villa features a bedroom, a reception space and a bathroom, all warmed by a central fireplace and with views out across a private deck towards Mount Bisoke.
Based around Wilderness Safaris’ ‘4Cs’ sustainability ethos of commerce, community, culture and conservation, the Bistae experience promises to take guests beyond gorilla viewing, offering opportunities to make a dramatic and far-reaching impact on not just the mountain gorilla, but also the entire ecosystem of the Virunga Massif and the rural people living adjacent to it.
How to get there: Bistate is located in the village of Kinigi. Frequent local buses make the two-hour run between the capital Kigali and the nearby town of Ruhengeri, about 10km south of the lodge, from where you can grab a taxi. Alternately, you can organise private transfers through the lodge.
Chinese philanthropist Ma Dadong was reportedly so upset to discover that a forest of 2000-year-old camphor trees along with several historic villages were due to be destroyed to make way for a dam project that he embarked on a 10-year conservation project to move them to a new site.
That site is Amanyangun, the newest property from the ultra-luxe Aman group. Just a short hop from the bustle of Shanghai, the tranquil oasis takes its name from the phrase ‘yang yun’, which means ‘nourishing cloud’. Set to open in October, the project involved the transportation of 10,000 trees and the painstaking dismantling of 50 Ming and Qing dynasty houses, which were rebuilt in the new location on the outskirts of Shanghai.
The carefully reconstructed houses – which feature ornate carvings and reliefs dating back two millennia – will now provide 24 ‘club suites’ and 13 ‘antique villas’, the minimalist interiors designed by Australian architect Kerry Hill using simple unfinished materials including bamboo, wood and stone.
At the centre of Amanyangun stands Nan Shufang. Named after the royal reading pavilion in Beijing’s Forbidden City, the spectacular dwelling will act as a space for contemplation, learning and discussion where guests can enjoy a number of cultural activities such as ancient calligraphy, and enjoy a Chinese tea ceremony. On top of six dining venues, the resort will boast a comprehensive Aman Spa devoted to holistic health, fitness and wellbeing.
How to get there: Just 27km south of Shanghai, Amanyangun is best accessed by taxi or via private transfer.
Jabali Ridge, Tanzania
Set in the heart of a conservation catchment area the size of New Jersey, Ruaha National Park is one of the continent’s richest wildlife locations, it’s dramatic landscapes home to some of the highest densities of lion, leopard and elephant in all of Africa.
Set to open in September, Jabali Ridge will offer a luxurious, eco-conscious base in the heart of the national park near the banks of the Mwagusi River, a prime spot for wildlife viewing. Built entirely with wood from local, sustainable sources, the lodge will offer 10 contemporary, stylish suites, all creatively positioned among dramatic boulders and baobab trees. Suites can be opened right up for optimum views out over Ruaha, with elevated walkways allowing for easy access around the property.
Activities at Jabali (aside from lounging around the lush swimming pool and feasting on fresh, homemade food) will be centred around private game drives and walking safaris.