What you'll find in this story: ecolodges, eco-friendly travel, environmental travel, luxury lodging, international resorts
You've seen those signs in hotels that ask you to reuse your bath towel to help the environment. Talk about a baby step.
The truth is, tourism hurts. But with a little effort--even if it's simply staying at a place where the owners care--you can make it less painful, and even improve matters.
In search of the world's best ecolodges, we conducted an informal survey, asking top travel professionals for recommendations. These 10 were named most often. They span the globe, but what they all have in common is owners who are willing to go the extra mile. The question is, are you?
Australia, Binna Burra Mountain Lodge: In existence since 1933, Binna Burra is on more than 90 acres of private land within Lamington National Park, in the rain forests of southeast Queensland (a 90-minute drive from Brisbane). Despite the lack of radios and TVs, the lodge is state-of-the-art: It has its own sewage-treatment plant, composting worm beds, a UV water-filtration system, and an Environmental Education Centre with scratch-and-sniff exhibits. 011-61/7-5533-3622, binnaburralodge.com.au, from $180.
Sri Lanka, Ranweli Holiday Village: You ride a paddle ferry across a lagoon to get to Ranweli, which sits on 22 acres in a coastal wetland estuary just 11 miles from Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital. Treated waste is recycled in the gardens; showers are solar-powered; materials and food are bought locally. The 84 rooms--in brick bungalows and communal buildings--sit between an Indian Ocean beach and the wetlands. Ranweli runs many ecotours, including flora walks and trips to nearby ruins. 011-94/31-227-7359, ecoclub.com/ranweli, from $106, including breakfast and dinner. Note: Due to the 2004 tsunami, tourism in Sri Lanka may take a few months to fully recover.
Costa Rica, Selva Verde Lodge: Location is the highlight of the Selva Verde Lodge, which occupies a large expanse of rain forest in the country's northeast, near Braulio Carrillo National Park. Among the activities: horseback riding, river rafting on the Sarapiquí River, and bird-watching. The 21-year-old lodge has 5 villas and 40 rooms, which are elevated above the forest floor and connected by thatched walkways. Selva Verde is a two-hour drive from San José via a decently paved highway. 800/451-7111, selvaverde.com, from $114, including meals.
Bolivia, Chalalan Ecolodge: Chalalan Ecolodge is deep within the 4.5-million-acre Madidi National Park. After flying from La Paz to Rurrenabaque, you take a canoe for five hours on the Tuichi River. On the edge of Lake Chalalan, the lodge recycles waste water through a biological process and uses solar energy. The indigenous Quechua-Tacana Indians are involved with parts of the operation. Most of the nine thatched-roof rooms, which sit on stilts, lack air-conditioning--but the mosquito nets are cinematic. 011-591/3-892-2419, chalalan.com, lodging, meals, boat transportation, and activities $140 per person per night.
New Zealand, Awaroa Lodge: This lodge is surrounded by one of the most undisturbed regions in New Zealand: the Abel Tasman National Park, at the north end of South Island. Getting there involves a 90-minute water taxi or a 15-minute helicopter ride. Situated along wetlands, the W Hotel-style lodge is a haven for avian life, which you can enjoy from your wooden veranda or one of the outdoor fireplace areas. The lodge recycles its water, and the restaurant features hotel-grown organic vegetables. 011-64/3-528-8758, awaroalodge.co.nz, from $160.
Fiji, Oarsman's Bay Lodge: Part of the Turtle Island ecolodge group, Oarsman's is on a calm beach in the remote Yasawa Islands of Fiji, near the historic village of Nacula. Stay in an individual beachside bungalow with a bathroom, porch, yard, and swaying palm trees all around, or in the 20-bed dorm for just $21 a night. Proceeds from the ecolodges help fund medical clinics. 011-679/672-2921, fijibudget.com, $127, including all meals.
Egypt, Basma Hotel: Atop Aswan's highest hill, the Basma is the eco-version of a large, full-service hotel. Along with 24-hour room service, a business center, and a four-diamond restaurant, it has also been accredited with the perfect Green Globe 21 rating, which means it meets some of the highest environmental standards. Basma recycles water for landscaping and keeps energy output low. basmahotel.com, from $100.
Barbados, Coconut Court Beach Hotel: At the 100-plus-room Coconut Court, the environmental program involves recycling, use of local materials in food and buildings, and water and waste management. Coconut Court has also received the Green Globe 21 award and the Best Program for the Environment award from the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, in part due to the hotel's participation in the Marine Education Programme. It includes taking guests on low-tide beach safaris and snorkeling trips to interact with fish and coral during controlled feeding sesions. 246/427-1655, coconut-court.com, from $125.
England, Cumbria House: On the face of it, this Lake District B&B looks like any other cozy British inn: There's a library with a fireplace, and breakfasts are served in a room overlooking the dells. But underneath beats the heart of an ecolodge--low-flow toilets, an insulated hot-water system, and low-wattage lights. A portion of your bill goes to a local conservation program, and owners even give a 5 percent discount to guests who arrive by foot, bike, or public transport. 011-44/17-6877-3171, cumbriahouse.co.uk, from $86.
Canada, Aurum Lodge: Located in Nordegg, Alberta, Aurum Lodge was built almost entirely using recycled materials. Additionally, 60 percent of the windows face south, with roof overhangs providing shade in summer and solar warmth in winter, and the owners work to control erosion and generate power via windmills and solar panels. On top of that, up to 4 percent of the gross receipts are donated to a variety of environmental causes. The main lodge has six bedrooms, and there are also three self-contained units. 403/721-2117, aurumlodge.com, from $90.
How to find one you can trust
Check with the eco-experts: In 1993, a nonprofit called Green Globe (greenglobe.org) was launched by the World Travel & Tourism Council, and it's becoming the main certification program for ecotourism. Another resource, ecoclub.com, maintains a database of ecolodgings in 26 countries. And for $26 a year, Ecoclub can get you a discount of 5 percent to 30 percent off stays at ecolodges worldwide.
Question surcharges: No hotel needs to charge more to make up for being ecologically responsible. Some practices, such as solar energy, may incur high up-front costs, but most green policies actually help establishments save money in the long run.
Encourage goodwill: Make sure that what goes around comes back to the community. Ask if the ecolodge contributes to the area's economy by buying regional materials. The finest will also promote efforts to help locals protect their environment and culture.