For many, the idea of staying at an "eco" lodge may conjure up visions of mosquitoes, jungle huts, and beds made of recycled corn husks. But the truth is, there are now many lodges around the world that offer comfort, adventure, and a truly "green" experience. They're friendly to both the environment and the local culture.
I consulted experts from Sustainable Travel International and the International Ecotourism Society while compiling my list of 10 amazing eco-lodges. From luxurious but affordable adventure in a Costa Rican rainforest to encounters with isolated tribal cultures on a tropical Pacific island, you'll be surprised and excited by the experiences these lodges can provide.
Unveil the mysteries of Easter Island in style
Lodge: explora en Rapa Nui
Price: from $1,230 per person for three nights
Although it's more than 1,000 miles from the nearest inhabited island and 2,300 miles from the nearest continent, travelers have been making the effort to reach the beguiling island of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, since about 700 A.D. The earliest inhabitants crossed the Pacific in dug-out tree trunks, which makes the current method (a five-hour flight from Santiago, Chile), seem downright effortless. And most modern-day travelers who've made the trip agree, Easter Island—with its mysterious Moai statues, volcanic landscape, and disarming Rapa Nui culture—is one of the most fascinating destinations on earth.
Now there's even more reason to go: Already known for its luxurious, eco-friendly lodges in remote parts of Chile, explora recently opened explora en Rapa Nui, the region's first LEED-certified business, a distinction given only to properties utilizing stringent "green" building practices.
What sets this lodge apart? While the building itself is owned by explora, the land upon which it was built is still owned by a local Rapa Nui businessman. Its uniquely open design reduces the need for electricity for lighting and air-conditioning. And, much of the construction material came from stones and wood already on the property.
Explora en Rapa Nui's greatest assets, however, are its guides. "We have 10 guides, all from the local community on the island," says Marcela Sigall, explora's vice president of guest relations. "It's so important because everyone on staff can talk about their culture, their past. [They can tell you], 'This is how my ancestors lived, [or] this is what our oral tradition tells us about the island.' Our guides are all trained in archaeology, first aid, and guest relations and each goes to explora's guide school to learn the 'explora way.'"
"[We] customize the morning and afternoon outings each day based on the age, fitness, and interests of our guests," says Sigall. "The idea is always that guests enjoy themselves and take something away from the experience." Outings might include hikes to Moai (pronounced moe-eye) statues and quarries, other archaeological sites, beaches, and volcanic craters; cycling coastal roads; and cultural activities, like attending a Rapa Nui dance performance or learning to fish using traditional methods.
At the end of each day you can dine on a four-course gourmet meal, relax with a pisco sour in the hot tub, or browse books about the island in the lodge's library. You'll stay in one of 30 rooms, which all have amenities like hydro-massage bathtubs, furniture made of local rauli wood, and a view of the Pacific.
The lodge is open year-round. Prices cover Easter Island airport transfers, accommodations, all meals and alcoholic beverages, guides, and activities. Round-trip November fares from Los Angeles to Santiago, Chile start at $982, including taxes, from Hotwire.com. From Santiago, flights to Easter Island cost $670 plus taxes on LAN.
(Author's note: Additional reporting on explora en Rapa Nui was provided by Josh Roberts.)