One of the questions we get asked most frequently by our readers involves how to choose a responsible tour operator, eco lodge or green hotel.
Research shows that global interest in ecotourism (which was defined by The International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people”) has grown rapidly in recent years.
According to the Center For Responsible Travel’s 2015 Travel Trends & Statistics report, around one in five consumers (21%) say they would be willing to pay more for a trip with a company that has a better environmental and social record.
A 2012 report by The Travel Foundation found that 66% of travelers surveyed would like to be able to identify a “greener” holiday more easily. And 84% of those working in travel PR/marketing see “green” credentials becoming increasingly important in the near future.
Unfortunately, these sorts of stats attract a good bit of greenwashing from profit-driven people looking to cash in on the eco-friendly movement. So how do you find a responsibly managed eco lodge when you travel? And what’s the difference between an eco lodge and a green hotel?
Read on for the answers, and a brief guide to some of the most acclaimed eco lodges around the world…
My wife Emma and I have been farm-hopping for the last two years, volunteering with off-the-grid gurus who are doing all sorts of ingenious things.
We’ve learned a lot about several cool, low-impact cooking/kitchen devices that work to leave but a smidge of a carbon footprint behind. I’m talking about DIY-style, no-electricity-needed cooking appliances that are fun to make, awesome to use, and fantastic for impressing folks.
Many of these have been developed by NGOs looking to combat the negative health and environmental impacts of cooking over wood fires indoors, as much of the world still does (The WHO estimates 3 billion). But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t take advantage as well!
Check out some of these simple but brilliant off grid living ideas, and maybe try making one or all five of them…
There’s a powerful transformation that happens within the soul and spirit anytime we take the first step of a journey. And sometimes even the anticipation of adventure can be just as powerful as the adventure itself. Such was the case during our first visit to Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans, more commonly known as Volcanoes National Park (not to be confused with the park on Hawaii’s Big Island).
Located in northwestern Rwanda and bordering Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes is home to 5 of the 8 volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains. It’s most famous as home to more than 50% of the world’s endangered Mountain Gorillas, thanks in large part to the groundbreaking research and conservation efforts of Dian Fossey.
The excitement was palpable from the moment we entered the visitor center parking lot. There are 80 tourists a day who gather at sunrise for a once-in-a-lifetime trek to see one of 10 habituated gorilla groups. There were over 100 guides, trackers and porters there to ensure things run smoothly, as well as a young group performing traditional Rwandan songs and dances in front of a spectacular volcano backdrop.
We weren’t there to see the gorillas that day. Instead, we joined a group of 8 other travelers for a gentle trek to see Rwanda’s endangered Golden Monkeys, an endangered species found only in the Virunga Mountains. Found in groups of up to 60, the Golden Monkeys are significantly less well-known than the gorillas, and have only been habituated to human presence over the past 15 years.
The hike was almost impossibly picturesque, with majestic mountains towering above us on all sides. We passed by glorious fields of Pyrethrum flowers, which are known as “nature’s insecticide” and constitutes one of Rwanda’s most important cash crops. Kids from neighboring villages walked beside us for part of our journey, waving “Hello” and then giggling uncontrollably as we responded in kind.
The hour we spent with the monkeys, watching them leap from tree to tree and gnaw on bamboo shoots contentedly, was wonderful. But the journey was perhaps even more memorable than our ultimate destination, surrounded by spectacular sights we’d dreamed of seeing for decades. In this case, to paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous quote, the great affair was to move. –Bret Love; photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett
If you enjoyed our post on Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans, you might also like:
PIC OF THE WEEK: Baby Mountain Gorilla in Parc National des Volcans
ENDANGERED SPECIES SPOTLIGHT: Western Lowland Gorilla
GO GREEN TIP #112: Simple Wildlife Photography Tips
NEPAL: Hiking The Annapurna Circuit
We caught the ferry to Isla de Ometepe, as most people do, from the western side of Lake Nicaragua. Before we’d even left the mainland, the two adjacent volcanoes that form the island already seemed imposing.
As the boat neared Volcano Concepción (the larger and more active of the two), it mutated into something out of a cartoon, rising in perfect conical form with the top ensconced in clouds. It was hard to believe anyone in their right mind would voluntarily strand themselves at the foot of this monolithic beast… and I couldn’t wait to do it.
The grandeur of Isla de Ometepe has been admired through countless centuries. It was even thought to be sacred by its indigenous inhabitants. Truth be told, though we were far from the first visitors to set foot upon the island’s shores, our opinion was pretty much the same.
There are few places we’ve ever traveled that had the immediate “WOW!!!” impact of Tanzania’s massive Ngorongoro Crater. Formed two to three million years ago when a volcano exploded and collapsed on itself, this is the largest intact, inactive and unfilled volcanic crater in the world.
But as breathtaking as the scenery is from afar, exploring the 2000-foot-deep, 100 square mile-wide crater reveals amazing details you won’t see from the observation deck. Ngorongoro provides a home to more than 25,000 large mammals. There are buffalo, hippos, zebras, wildebeests, a remarkably dense lion population and even rhinos and elephants during the wet season.
Based on fossil evidence found at the nearby Olduvai Gorge, where Louis and Mary Leakey began their famous archaeological excavations in 1931, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has been inhabited by various hominid species for approximately 3 million years. The Mbulu people arrived around 2,000 years ago and were joined by the Datooga in the 1700s, but the Maasai drove both tribes out of the region in the early 1800s and have lived here ever since.
Separated from Serengeti National Park in 1959, Ngorongoro (whose name in Maasai means “the gift of life”) became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It’s unique because it’s the only conservation area in Tanzania that protects wildlife while also allowing humans to live there, prohibiting cultivation of the land at all but subsistence levels.
The number of tourists allowed into the park each day is very limited, with your admission including just six hours inside the crater. But that’s plenty of time to explore its surprisingly diverse ecosystems, which include montane forest highlands, open grassland, Acacia-dotted woodlands, Lake Magadi (which attracts thousands of Lesser Flamingoes) and various springs and streams.
We spotted a remarkable array of wildlife during our afternoon in the crater, from Warthogs, Hyenas and Hippos to Grey-Crowned Cranes and a Lion pride crossing the open plains. But our favorite image came as our guide, Rama Mmasa, raced up the hill towards the park’s exit. The gates close promptly at 6PM, so leaving late requires a government official’s approval.
TANZANIA- Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro
PHOTO GALLERY- Serengeti National Park Wildlife Safari
PHOTO GALLERY: The Wilds of Amboseli National Park & Timbavati Game Reserve