Find out which hotels are setting the agenda for sustainability, says Katie McGonagle.
If only sustainability were as simple as stamping out single-use plastic. Any hotel that takes its green credentials seriously has already eliminated every last trace – from the drinks straw in your cocktail to the shampoo bottle in your shower – but that was only the beginning.
Now, some resorts are going far beyond the basics with environmental initiatives that range from on-site organic farms to full-scale recycling plants, reforestation to coral propagation projects.
There are countless examples out there, but here are just a handful of luxury resorts that are pushing the boundaries of sustainability, and reminding us all how much good work is still going on in travel and tourism around the world.
1. The Datai Langkawi, Malaysia
This wilderness retreat off the west coast of Malaysia is as intertwined with its environment as you can get, edged by 750 hectares of rainforest that abounds with dusky langurs, long-tailed macaques and all manner of birdlife. Current conservation projects include regrowing damaged coral, drawing fish back to its waters to allow for sustainable fishing, replanting native trees and developing ‘wildlife corridors’ so animals can move between wilderness areas divided by roads. Add a permaculture garden and regular beach clean-ups – both involving the local community – and it’s a masterclass in sustainability.
“This wilderness retreat off the west coast of Malaysia is as intertwined with its environment as you can get, edged by 750 hectares of rainforest.”
Book it: Abercrombie & Kent offers seven nights’ B&B at The Datai Langkawi, in a Canopy Deluxe room, from £1,975 per person in November including flights and transfers.
2. Islas Secas, Panama
When you sail to a remote archipelago 37 miles off the Pacific Coast of Panama, you’ve got to be willing to embrace nature, but tiny private-island resort Islas Secas takes it a step further. Accommodating just 18 guests across four casitas, this is true off-grid living, with all energy derived from solar power, all water captured and reused, food waste composted for fertiliser and three-quarters of land left undeveloped. Guests can hike past plant species now extinct on the mainland, look out for migrating humpback whales in its waters, or go snorkelling in Coiba National Park to spot yellowfin tuna and giant mantas, all without a hint of a guilty conscience.
“Accommodating just 18 guests across four casitas, this is true off-grid living, with all energy derived from solar power and all water captured and reused.”
Book it: Islas Secas opened last December, with all-inclusive rates from $2,000 per night for one-bedroom Casita Mirador, including activities and transfers from David airport.
3. Toka Leya, Zambia
Worms and clingfilm probably won’t make it to the top of your sales pitch when recommending this Wilderness Safaris camp, which overlooks the Zambezi River, but knowing the company has eliminated 3,000km of plastic wrap across its properties – in favour of ‘buzzy wraps’ made from beeswax by local villagers – just might. Guests can take a ‘back of house’ tour to see the camp’s on-site worm farm, where organic waste is broken down into compost to feed saplings for a reforestation programme, and can also make use of reusable water bottles and solar-powered water heating.
“The company has eliminated 3,000km of plastic wrap across its properties – in favour of ‘buzzy wraps’ made from beeswax by local villagers.”
Book it: Rates start at $767 per person per night for stays from November 1 to December 19.
4. Jade Mountain, Saint Lucia
This luxury Caribbean resort is famous for its dramatic views of the Pitons and distinctive no-fourth-wall design, but guests might not realise how much goes on behind the scenes to keep it sustainable. Its 600-acre organic estate grows 40% of produce served here and at sister resort Anse Chastanet, plus there’s a rainwater purification plant and recycled water is used to grow tropical plants for use in its gardens. If guests want to be involved, they can pick organic cocoa beans for the hotel’s ‘chocolate laboratory’ or try spear-fishing to curtail the invasive lionfish species that is disrupting the area’s delicate ecosystem.
“Its 600-acre organic estate grows 40% of produce served here, plus there’s a rainwater purification plant and recycled water is used to grow tropical plants.”
Book it: A Sky Sanctuary starts at $1,080 per night based on two sharing, plus tax and service charges.
5. Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
When scientists discover not just one but three never-before-seen species of flora or fauna on-site, it’s a good sign that a hotel is existing in total harmony with its environment, and that’s exactly what this Ecuadorean eco-lodge can claim. The 24-room, glass-fronted lodge is set on Mashpi Reserve, which more than doubled its size last year to 2,500 hectares to create more ‘wildlife corridors’ through the heart of the Andean Choco cloud forest. It takes its community responsibilities seriously too, promoting conservation efforts on local land, employing more than 80% of staff from the surrounding area, and pledging to sell 15% of its shares back to the community.
“The 24-room, glass-fronted lodge is set on Mashpi Reserve, which more than doubled its size last year to 2,500 hectares to create more ‘wildlife corridors’.”
Book it: Rates start from $1,340 per room per night, including activities, meals, guiding and transfers from main hotels in Quito.
6. Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru
Going green isn’t just about appeasing guilt for affluent guests – in the low-lying atolls of the Maldives, it’s about ensuring survival in the face of climate change. So it should be no surprise that this Four Seasons Resort was at the forefront of eco initiatives long before they went mainstream: it has used refillable toiletry dispensers rather than plastic bottles since opening in 2006, introduced paper straws in 2010, glass water bottles in 2012, and installed one of the country’s largest solar energy projects in 2018. Its on-site Marine Discovery Centre has also pioneered research of mantas and dolphins, turtle rehabilitation, coral propagation and sustainable fish breeding.
“Its on-site Marine Discovery Centre has also pioneered research of mantas and dolphins, turtle rehabilitation, coral propagation and sustainable fish breeding.”
Book it: Elegant Resorts offers a week staying half-board in an Oceanfront Bungalow with a Pool from £4,895 per person including flights, seaplane transfers and UK airport lounge passes.
7. Shinta Mani Wild, Cambodia
This 15-tent camp set at the edge of Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains owes its origins to its founder’s environmental ambitions, as designer Bill Bensley chose this spot in a bid to protect nearby wildlife from poaching, and the local area from logging or mining. In fact, some staff – 70% of whom are from the nearby village – were previously illegal loggers and poachers. The resort, which opened at the end of 2018, runs a foundation to fund health and dental care among local communities and support a team of Wildlife Alliance rangers carrying out conservation work in the surrounding area.
“Designer Bill Bensley chose this spot in a bid to protect nearby wildlife from poaching, and the local area from logging or mining.”
Book it: Hayes & Jarvis offers a seven-night trip to Cambodia including four nights’ full-board at Shinta Mani Wild (with unlimited spa treatments) and three nights’ B&B at Raffles Le Royal Phnom Penh, plus flights to Phnom Penh and transfers, from £4,999 per person.
8. Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Rwanda
If you’ve got particularly eco-conscious neighbours who guilt-trip you into upping your recycling game, spare a thought for the team behind Singita Kwitonda Lodge, which opened on the edge of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park last August. They live next to the natural habitat of 320 endangered mountain gorillas, offering a daily reminder of why being eco-friendly is so important. Environmental considerations were built into the lodge’s very foundations, using local rock and steel rather than concrete, natural ventilation rather than carbon-generating air conditioning, and solar-powered water heaters. Plus a huge reforestation programme has already given rise to 250,000 indigenous shrubs, trees and bamboo shoots in the lodge’s tree nursery, Akarabo, helping restore farming land to its natural state.
“A huge reforestation programme has already given rise to 250,000 indigenous shrubs, trees and bamboo shoots in the lodge’s tree nursery.”
Book it: The Inspiring Travel Company offers three nights at Singita Kwitonda Lodge, where meals, local drinks and one gorilla trek are included, plus one night on a B&B basis in Kigali, from £7,580 per person. The price also includes all transfers and flights from the UK, via Brussels.