Some say travel is a human right, others that it is a luxury. With climate change and global shortages on the one hand, and the fact that the tourist industry generates income and employment on the other, travel is a subject that provokes hot debate. Yet for many of us, travel serves as a much-needed break, expands our horizons and is one of the things we enjoy most in life.
Nevertheless, reconciling the desire to travel with the moral dilemma of an expanding carbon footprint can be problematic. A few things can be done before setting off, such as becoming carbon-neutral online, via websites such as Carbon Footprint (carbonfootprint.com), but, thanks to a growing number of ‘eco-hoteliers’, it is becoming easier to keep up the good work when away.
The growth of eco-lodges seems to be particularly prolific in South America, where sustainable hotels are popping up across the continent from Ecuador to Easter Island, Patagonia and Uruguay. Sublime brings you a tried-and-tested selection of some of the best of these purpose-built eco-destinations.
Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
Opening in April, Mashpi Lodge is two and a half hours’ drive west of the capital, Quito. Set in a 2,970-acre private reserve and built on stilts to preserve the jungle, it has 22 glass-walled suites and its own hydroelectric plant to generate clean power.
Chilean entrepreneur Roque Sevilla bought the plot of land from a logging company 14 years ago. Determined to protect the flora and fauna in this primary forest, he teamed up with other shareholders and three years ago began building Mashpi Lodge.
Ecuadorian architect Alfredo Ribadeneira was commissioned to design the eco-lodge, and the earthy interiors are the work of designer Diego Arteta. The full-length glass windows and wooden slatted structure make the most of the outstanding location, situated in the middle of a cloud forest. You are effectively immersed in nature, so that even when you are inside you can still watch birds.
Solar power is used where possible, and mashpi has a particular focus on working with the local community. Local people have been employed both for the construction and in permanent jobs afterwards. The chief of the nearby village plays a key role in overseeing all major decisions where the hotel is concerned.
The idea at Mashpi is to be outside on treks, climbing the observation towers or using the aerial gondola, which travels through the forest canopy. It is situated in an ecological hot spot, the surrounding forest home to a huge diversity of species from birds to amphibians and insects.
There are natural bathing pools and a butterfly centre, where biologists from Quito collect and study local species. Twitchers will be pleased to hear that the reserve has three ‘leks’ (concentrated areas where birds come to mate).
Playa Vik, Uruguay
Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott designed the futuristic beach hotel in the hip village of Playa José Ignacio (ten miles up the coast from the famous hedonistic hangout, Punta del Este). It opened in December 2010, and is made of six separate casas (houses) located around a central boat-like building called the Sculpture. Designed to minimise energy use, all the heating at Playa Vik is ‘radiant heat’ generated by solar tubes. Water is collected and recycled, and homegrown vegetables and eggs are provided by Estancia Vik, the 4,000-acre sister ranch-style hotel located ten minutes inland.
The meat and fish served in the restaurant are also locally sourced, and just as neighbouring Argentina is famous for its beef, so Uruguay has unbelievably tender steak. After all, this small country has 16m cows (and just 3.5m people).
Made of stone, glass and curved titanium, the bowed walls of the Sculpture make an impressive outline against the sea. However, the pièce de résistance lies on the other side of the Sculpture’s 55ft-wide sliding glass wall: a 75ft black granite infinity pool which stretches out towards the Atlantic Ocean, and lights up at night with solar-powered fibre optics that mirror the stars above.
Each casa has two or three bedrooms, and is topped with earth ‘roofscapes’ covered with pink bougainvillea. Inside, the bedrooms are spacious, and the large bathrooms are made of slate or marble, with stand-alone wooden bathtubs and his-and-hers sinks.
The striking exteriors of this design hotel are complemented by the modern art inside. An eclectic collection of artworks and installations hang on the walls, from a mural of faces by Uruguayan artist Martin Verges to a light installation, Tall Glass, by James Turrell. An angular white bench is the work of architect Zaha Hadid.
Hangaroa Eco Village, Easter Island
Newly opened at the beginning of 2012, Hangaroa is causing a buzz on Easter Island. With a population of just 4,000 and an estimated 20,000 archaeological sites, this 64sq mile volcanic archipelago is five hours by plane from Chile and claims the title of the world’s most remote inhabited island.
The stone monolith statues known as mo’ai, and the mystery that surrounds them, make Easter Island a must-see destination for the cultural tourist. Carved out of the mountains by the island’s Neolithic inhabitants in the 12th to 14th centuries, the looming figures attract more than 50,000 visitors each year.
Previously, all the best hotels were located well outside the island’s main village, but Hangaroa is just a few minutes from the centre. Set on a 10,000m2 plot overlooking the sea, the hotel is made up of adobe-style buildings with curved, grass-covered roofs that mimic the island’s hilly terrain.
As well as being owned and run by the islanders, Hangaroa has been built with minimum impact on its surroundings. Water and electricity consumption is monitored in order to keep it to a minimum, and there is a tri-generation microturbine which is said to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions dramatically.
Entering the reception hall is like wandering into a forest: smooth tree trunks surround you, reaching up to the high ceiling which itself echoes nature – its leaf-like shape is formed by twigs on either side of a wooden stem.
The 75 bedrooms are spread out, with paths running between them. All have private terraces, sofa beds for extra space and skylights to maximise natural light. The bathrooms are bordered by smooth tree trunks, there are leaf-shaped mirrors and highly original handmade clay bathtubs.
The decoration is minimalist, with neutral colours to encourage relaxation, and the expansive bed gives a floating sensation as it rests on a granite ledge extending from the wall. At night, fairy lights create a soft glow from underneath.
In the grounds there is a swimming pool surrounded by native flowers and trees, and a spa which uses only natural products made with ingredients sourced from the island. There are also three restaurants, Poerava, Kaloa and Vai Koa, with a new menu each day and a focus on traditional Rapa Nui cuisine such as ceviche and empanadas.
Guests can choose either full board or bed and breakfast, and there are plenty of excursions on offer. You can explore the island by bike, on foot or horseback, in a kayak or on 4WD trips.
Hangaroa also has Easter Island’s first cinema, which is open to the public as well as guests, and shows art-house films and documentaries on Rapa Nui history and culture.
Estancia Peuma Hue, Bariloche, Lake District, Argentina
Sheltered by mountains and overlooking Lake Gutiérrez, 20 minutes outside the Alpine-like city of Bariloche, Estancia Peuma Hue won the prize for best performance in sustainable luxury across Latin America in 2011.
Awarded by the Center for Study of Sustainable Luxury (CSSL) and the Authentic Luxury Network, the prize was given for innovation in creating a service that promotes positive social and environmental outcomes.
That this unassuming, family-run retreat trumped the rest of Latin America is no small achievement. Peuma Hue means ‘Place of Dreams’ in the native Mapuche language, and the aim of its owner, Evelyn Hoter, was to bring guests face to face with nature in rustic comfort surrounded by dogs, birds and horses. Days are spent in the fresh air and evenings by the open fire eating home-made food.
Evelyn bought a plot of land, cleared it and built two lodges and two log cabins using locally sourced materials. She decorated the interiors with handicrafts and hand-woven rugs, and minimised energy use with thoughtful measures such as installing a glass ceiling in the master suite, allowing natural light to filter in while showcasing the peak of Mount Catedral.
Indigenous species have been planted across the 500-acre plot of land, and all Evelyn’s dogs and horses roam free. Days are spent outside hiking, biking and kayaking in summer, or Alpine and Nordic skiing in winter.
Horse-riding is a must at Peuma Hue, thanks to Chris Barrett, the horse-whisperer guide. Outings are varied and refreshingly challenging – the horses are so good that even beginners feel comfortable cantering along the waterfront and climbing steep hillsides to see the view.
For the more adventurous there is a rope course run by professional mountain guides, which includes a 30m abseiling wall. For those who want to take it easy, massage treatments and yoga classes can be arranged, as well as cooking lessons.
The majority of the food served at Peuma Hue is picked or dug up from the organic vegetable garden. The menu each night is set rather than à la carte, and guests can choose to eat together or at individual tables.
The Singular, Puerto Bories, Patagonia
Housed in a converted cold-storage plant built by the British in 1915, this 57-room hotel is a unique addition to the Patagonian hotel scene. For nearly seven decades it was a hive of industry, where millions of sheep were processed, frozen and exported to Europe. But after a plunge in the value of wool and meat, the factory ground to a halt and the building was rescued from demolition by the great-grandchild of one of the factory’s original employees, John MacLean Fraser.
In 1996 it was declared a National Historic Landmark of Chile, and in November 2011, after ten years of careful renovation and restoration, the former Bories Cold Storage plant became The Singular hotel.
In a building such as this, preservation of the architectural and cultural heritage is a priority, so local architect Pedro Kovacic and Chilean interior design company Enrique Concha & Co had the original idea of leaving the machinery rooms intact and building the hotel around them.
The result is a juxtaposition of the old industrial structure with a modern wing of guestrooms, a large spa overlooking the grey waters of the Last Hope Sound and a dining room with replica 1900s furniture. Walkways connect the various rooms, and as you pass heavy steel machinery made in Derby, Birmingham or London, you feel as if you are walking through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
The conversion from factory to hotel was carried out with minimum impact on the environment, which resulted in The Singular being awarded the LEED environmental certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) by the US Green Building Council in recognition of its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint through innovative, alternative energy.
Throughout the building, great efforts have been made to ensure efficiency and restraint in the use of construction materials. Tests were carried out on the area’s weather conditions, water reserves and ecosystems to ensure maximum thermal efficiency with least impact. The result is minimal energy consumption for heating, cooling and lighting, as well as efficient use of energy and water.
In the hotel’s grounds are two private 38,000-acre reserves dedicated to the conservation of natural species of flora and fauna. Situated in the heart of the Patagonian fjords, half an hour from the border with Argentina and a few hours from Torres del Paine National Park, The Singular is a great starting point for exploring Patagonia. Excursions include boat trips to see glaciers, horse-riding outings and a trip to a cave inhabited 10,000 years ago by giant sloths.
For more information
Playa Vik, Uruguay
00 59 8946 5212
The Singular, Chilean Patagonia
00 56 2954 0480
Hangaroa Eco Village, Easter Island
00 56 32 2100 299
Estancia Peuma Hue, Argentina
00 54 9115 101 1392
Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
00 59 32 2988 200