Splurge vs. Save: Eco-Friendly Stays

Posted by Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb on April 18, 2013 at 11:35:24 AM EDT | Post a Comment

Once the domain of old-school tree huggers and Gore-quoting greensters, eco-friendly lodgings now have a broader appeal—and a broader range of rates. Want to show your respect for Mother Nature as Earth Day approaches (April 22, 2013)? Whether you're looking to enjoy the high life or just get down to basics, we've found stand-out picks in four coveted categories.

Safari Lodges

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Splurge: Luxe lodges are a fixture on the African safari circuit, and those run by andBeyond are some of the best. Kirkman's Kamp is a case in point: poised on the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa, it's a place where you can spot the "Big Five" on guided bush walks and twice-daily game drives; then retire to a veranda-wrapped 1920s homestead that looks like a filming locale for Out of Africa. Crisp linens, vintage black-and-white photos, clawfoot tubs, and other period details enhance the colonial ambiance in the 18 guest suites that are clustered around it. Kirkman's not only looks good, though—it does good thanks to andBeyond's Africa Foundation, which supports sound conservation practices and promotes sustainable development in the region. Daily rates all-inclusive rates are $645 per person.

Shhhh: andBeyond is currently offering a special deal for honeymooners for all of 2013—brides get 50% off! Check their website for more info.

Save: One cost-cutting strategy is to forgo private reserve lodgings in favor of more basic ones in national parks. For instance, at Kruger National Park, adjacent to Sabi Sands, you can see A-list animals—albeit with fewer creature comforts—by registering for park-run activities and sleeping in an en-suite bungalow or a safari tent (complete with kitchenette) in the Punda Maria camping zone. The nightly rate for two people? Just $90 and $85 respectively, when booked via Krugerpark-direct.com. For alternatives in other South African parks, check SanParks.org .

Overwater Bungalows

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Splurge: The idea of building thatched bungalows over some tranquil, turquoise lagoon originated in French Polynesia in the 1960s, and fans will tell you that it still offers the ultimate overwater experience. Four Seasons Bora Bora seems to bear that out. Maximizing views and making ample use of indigenous materials, its 100 bungalows achieve a contemporary look without compromising that classic Bali Ha'i vibe. Room amenities might include anything from a glass floor panel for impromptu fish-watching and a private plunge pool to breakfast delivered by outrigger canoe. An adjacent lagoon underlines this resort's eco cred: it's actually a sanctuary maintained in partnership with the Pacific Eco-World Initiative and overseen by an onsite marine biologist. Double occupancy rates start at $910 per night.

Save: Detouring to a destination where the concept is relatively new can, on the other hand, yield big savings. Take Malaysia's Golden Palm Tree Resort. Billed as an eco-friendly sea hotel, it has 392 impressive overwater suites—all with thatched roofs, private decks, and a modern-meets-Malay décor—that collectively take the shape of the titular tree as they extend into the Strait of Malacca. The resort has the expected perks, too (a spa, an infinity pool...). The surprise is that prices start at $180 per couple per night. Since the financial and ecological cost of reaching any resort must also be factored in, it's good to know this one is only 45 minutes by car from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, a major Asian air hub.

Beach Beauties

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Splurge: A glamping hotspot with a world-class coast, Australia is the natural choice for a beach-y tent break. If you have deep pockets and a desire to unplug—literally and figuratively—try Wilson Island, a private 5.25-acre plot of sand-capped coral on the Great Barrier Reef. This off-the-grid island, 45 miles from the mainland, has just six marvellously minimalist tents; and technology is limited, so there are no phones or TVs to disrupt the quietude. However, clever use of resources ensures comfort (showers, for example use solar-heated rainwater). If Thoreau struck it rich and decided to swap Walden for a warmer clime, this is probably where he'd go. A double tent costs $1,188 per night, meals included.

Save: Not prepared to pay that much? Reset your GPS for Broome on Australia's west coast. White sand meets the Indian Ocean a few miles away at Cable Beach, and that's where you'll find The Billi. Admittedly, this resort offers neither direct access to the water nor the same degree of privacy; but the upside is that it features handsome eco-tents (cow-hide rugs plus rattan accent pieces) that are spacious enough to include a kitchenette and en-suite bath. Better yet, they're reasonably priced from $100 to $300 depending on the season. Elsewhere in the region, Eco Beach offers a more low-key variation on the theme. Environmentally sensitive, double-occupancy tents with ocean views cost $209-$282 a night.

Rainforest Retreats

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Splurge: Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, an eco-lodge in Peru's Amazon Basin, took rainforest digs to a whole new level when it opened its Canopy Tree House in 2009. Sitting some nine stories above the forest floor, the structure is accessed via a suspension bridge that's part of a 1,130-foot network of elevated walkways. Over-the-top views are, of course, the big draw. But the tree house has its own allure. Thatched roofing, romantically rustic kerosene lamps, and simple white bedding are balanced by the presence of a dedicated butler (you communicate your whims by walkie-talkie), giving it a Tarzan-chic appeal. Just be prepared: like the setting, nightly rates are high—at least $792 for two with cocktails, dinner, breakfast, a private guide, and second ground-level room (in case acrophobia strikes) factored in.

Save: Luckily, the Amazon doesn't have a monopoly on leaf-level lodgings. In fact, Costa Rica has several, including the Tree Houses Hotel. As far as Discovery Channel experiences go, this one is tough to beat. After all, the property—located near La Fortuna, in the popular Arenal Volcano area—boasts waterfalls and plenty of wildlife. The six private tree houses are easy on the wallet, too. They cost $85 to $140 a night for double occupancy, with breakfast included.

The Eco-Lovers Tool Kit

Looking for variations on the theme? EcoHotelsoftheWorld.com and Eco-TropicalResorts.com both cover a broad spectrum in terms of places and prices; while EcoLuxury.com focuses on high-end options for nature-loving sybarites.

Believing that where you stay is as important as where you go, ffodors.com contributor Susan MacCallum is a big fan of cool accommodations—especially environmentally responsible ones. When not sussing them out, Susan lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia with her husband and two children.

Photo Credits: Kirkman's Kamp: andBeyond; Bungalows at Four Seasons Bora Bora: Peter Vitale/Four Seasons Bora Bora; Eco Tent at The Billi; The Billi; Canopy Tree House: Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica

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