Earth Day isn’t the most widely celebrated of holidays. Sure, since its inception in 1970 more than 193 countries have begun holding events to mark the day, but without costumes and traditional dishes it’s hard for people to truly rally together. Maybe we need an Earth Day masquerade so that folks can flex on Instagram.
Regardless of hype or lack thereof, Earth Day is important. Every available metric and shred of data points to the fact that humans are negatively impacting the planet. It’s time to do something. The tourism industry has finally figured this out. They’ve seen your 30-minute vacation showers and laundered the fifteen towels you use each day. They know all about your rampant “I’m on holiday!” food consumption and waste. 10 years ago, properties were happy making small (and profitable) tweaks to their linen programs; a few years later, there came a huge eco greenwashing phase in travel; but today, we’re seeing hotels with a legit commitment to ecology.
Check out the hotels below and celebrate earth day by committing to make your next vacation a green one. You can feel pampered while limiting the negative outcomes of your vacation.
Gaia Hotel and Reserve — Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
At first glance, this boutique hotel does not radiate the eco-friendly vibes people have come to expect when they hear a phrase like “conservation initiative.” However, Gaia Hotel and Reserve matches 5-star pampering — 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton bedding, jacuzzi tubs, and rooftop sundecks — with a private nature reserve and a strong social responsibility policy.
The hotel sits on 13-acres of private reserve that has been used since 2013 to reintroduce scarlet macaws into the Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. So far, 40 birds have been released successfully and three chicks have been hatched. There are more Earth Day-relevant acts too, like programs to produce fertilizer from waste, intelligent water and power consumption programs, composting, biological water treatment, the rescue of endemic species, the regeneration of forest areas, the protection of national parks, and the conservation and protection of land-sea spaces.
Rooms start at $311 per night.
Hix Island House — Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico
Architect John Hix designed this property, which launched in 2000 as an eco-retreat set on the hillside of Isla de Vieques in Puerto Rico. Hix Island House is less a traditional hotel and more a collection of four concrete buildings that house 13 loft apartments. Hix is known for creating energy-efficient buildings that mesh with nature, which is why Hix Island House is made of stark, solid concrete building material — inspired by the granite boulders that dot the landscape of Vieques.
Don’t expect air-conditioning, phones, or TVs at Hix Island House. Instead, the units are meant to be an ecologically sound example of how everyone in the tropics could live off of solar and wind energy with only the most limited need to generate energy by burning oil. The buildings run from solar-powered batteries. The cisterns are filled with rainwater. And hot water is heated by the sun. All the gray water from the showers and the sinks goes to the plants and fruit trees that punctuate the landscape. Plus, the buildings take advantage of the cooling trade winds while generating protective shade.
Rooms start at $106 per night.
Garonga Safari Camp — Phalaborwa, Africa
Garonga Safari Camp experienced an overhaul to arrive at a more eco-friendly state in 2009. Set in the Makalali Conservancy, the camp is made up of six luxury tents that offer over the top comfort and service to people looking for a “safari for the soul.” The units are made of rough plaster walls and canvas tents, and they each have a deck with a hammock and an outdoor shower. They are perfect for hearing and seeing the wildlife that surrounds the hotel.
The 2009 updates added solar panels that work like mofos in the South African sun — these are used to meet 30 percent of the energy needs on the property. Heater pumps took the place of the electrical geysers at Garonga, meaning power is only used when the tap for hot water is turned on. That change alone reduced electrical power by up to 80 percent. Further, both food and natural waste get mixed and placed in a pit within a glass dome. From the dome, a pipe extends to the staff village kitchen where the natural gas released is used for cooking. They are also making use of gray water, which is pumped into a feeder tank that leads to six filtration plants. Once it is completely filtered and cleaned, it is emptied into the camp waterhole for animals to drink. Game drive vehicles are also run on bio-fuel and a third of the camp’s food needs are satisfied by the garden on the property.
Rooms start at $544 per night.
Thala Beach Lodge — Port Douglas, Australia
Set between the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, Thala Beach Lodge’s 145-acre property offers truly singular experiences. Guests can go stargazing in an area free of light pollution with telescopes and binoculars provided. The hotel offers the only coconut tour in the country. And there are a series of onsite experts who lead tours that focus on birds, butterflies, nature, and the gardens. Other talks are held with elders from the local Aboriginal community, who share stories passed through generations. The luxurious rooms and the private beach are awesome, but it’s these activities that make the property special.
Part of the reason that Thala Beach Lodge is eco-certified and has received the highest ecotourism accreditation is because of the experiences highlighted above. But they’re also fighting to decrease the property-wide impact. Owners, Rob and Oonagh Prettejohn purchased the property in the 1970s when the 145-acre plot only had 45-acres of the original forest thanks to sugar cane farming. They made sure the hotel was built in a low impact style with sustainable materials, and they began planting thousands of indigenous plants as part of the area’s rehabilitation. With the return of the forest has come an explosion in local wildlife populations. As a result, they are one of only five Australian eco-retreats to be granted membership to the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.
Rooms start at $194 per night.
Six Senses Con Dao — Con Dao, Vietnam
Guests find all the appeal of an island resort at this charming hotel set on an archipelago in the South China Sea off the southern coast of Vietnam. Six Senses Con Dao is literally designed to replicate a traditional Vietnamese fishing village, which extends to having its own replica high street that is home to a shop, a bar, and a restaurant. All of the wooden villas have their own pools, and the ocean front properties have a private path from the pool to the sand. Plus, there’s an observatory, cooking classes, scuba diving, and trips to the marine park’s turtle hatchery.
Working with the National Park, the hotel has committed to fully protecting the bay (currently open to the local fisherman) that sits alongside the property. A recent study determined there are five different types of seagrass beds around the island and 60 different types of coral on a nearby reef. However, it was all damaged in 1997 when Hurricane Katherine blew through. Right now, the hotel and the park services are implementing a plan to protect and restore both resources. The grass is particularly important, as it is the food for dugongs, a globally endangered species whose prime habitat is in front of the hotel. Sadly, there are only 10-12 animals left, so preservation is critical.
Rooms start at $536 per night.
Proximity Hotel — Greensboro, North Carolina
Proximity Hotel is widely recognized as the greenest lodging in America. But that doesn’t mean that it is lacking in comfort. The hotel is full of relaxing spaces filled with custom made furniture, original art, and natural light. In the rooms, they couldn’t find the perfect bedding, so they designed their own. They tweaked a Magi Bed to make the ideal base on which to put four plush pillows; Egyptian combed cotton, Italian woven sheets and pillowcases; and topped it with a hypoallergenic fiberfill blanket. You won’t want to get out of bed.
The first LED Platinum green hotel, the Proximity Hotel is literally accepted as the pinnacle of design, construction, and operation of a green building. The building uses 39.2 percent less energy than a comparably-sized conventional hotel or restaurant. There are 100 solar panels on the roof that cover 4,000 square feet and produce enough hot water to supply a hundred homes. By planting local, adaptable plant varieties and rebuilding banks and buffers, the hotel was able to restore 700 linear feet of stream that had been damaged by erosion. During building, 87 percent of the construction waste was recycled, which kept 1,535 tons of material out of landfills.
This place is the benchmark for going green in the United States tourism sector.
Rooms start at $246 per night.
The Green House Hotel — Bournemouth, England
Every aspect of this hotel is influenced by an environmentally-friendly mindset, which is why the hotel bills itself as Britain’s most eco-friendly accommodation. The fun thing is that The Green House Hotel isn’t some modern building filled with angles and light. Nope. It’s a straight Victorian clifftop villa — not exactly what you’d expect, but consider it a core structure rooted in the past and built upon with a modern sustainability ethos.
Expect the usual green moves from this hotel. There are EV charge posts in the garage. They use energy-efficient lighting. Guests are asked to reuse towels. These are steps that most hotels are taking these days. But they also use solar power to heat the water and a combo heat and power unit that generates much of the electricity onsite. Every room features 100 percent wool carpets that were made locally and eco beds from a leading UK luxury bed manufacturer. Solid wood furniture used throughout was crafted from trees felled by storms or tree surgeons. The wallpaper was made in the UK using vegetable dyes. It goes on and on.
Seriously, the company car runs on cooking oil that was used in the kitchen.
Rooms start at $108 per night.
h2hotel – Healdsburg, California
Nestled in the heart of California’s Northern Sonoma Wine Country, the h2hotel houses 36 rooms with private balconies or patios. They call them “eco-chic,” and they are indeed strikingly beautiful. In addition to well-appointed rooms, each floor has computer stations with internet access and waterbars that dispense both sparkling and still water into carafes made from recycled wine bottles. Sundays mean a free Ashtanga yoga class. And there is a daily complimentary breakfast with fruit, juice, house-made baked goods, egg dishes, cereal, and coffee.
All of the above amenities make it fun to say at this property, but it’s the green considerations that make your footprint a little smaller when you do. When the hotel was built, more than 85 percent of the debris was recycled, and many of the materials used were recycled and sourced within 500 miles of Healdsburg. There are the standard solar panels on the roof that are used to heat the pool and guests’ hot water. But there’s also a green roof that filters rainwater in order to lessen the impact on the local storm-drain system and the neighboring creek. It also reduces the volume of heat that the hotel gives off, which helps limit disturbances to the local microclimate. In rooms, sustainable bamboo flooring, fair-trade rugs free from chemicals, organic sheets, and recyclable paper hangers keep guests happy with a limited impact on the Earth.
Rooms start at $279 per night.
Jicaro Island Lodge — Jicaro, Nicaragua
Located on a private island in the Granada Isletas, Jicaro Island Lodge is also a member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World. It is a five-star property made up of nine luxury casitas with views of Lake Nicaragua. There are also gorgeous views of the Mombacho Volcano on the other side of the lake. Everywhere you look is an Instagram moment. As a whole, the property is fairly secluded and staffed by friendly people who are dying to do your bidding. Which helps the luxury element of the resort come through loud and clear, but the eco-aspect is legit too.
Like some of the other entries on this list, this property made use of reclaimed timber. The entire hotel was built using trees blown down by Hurricane Felix. They also built around large trees and boulders, allowing the existing environment to dictate the layout of the resort. To respect harmony with nature and the local community, Jicaro Island Lodge makes sure all water onsite is filtered for drinking so that no plastic bottles are being sent to landfills. Solar panels heat water for guest and kitchen use. Cross ventilation and fans provide enough cooling to dispense with air conditioning. There is a solid recycling program, but the hotel makes it a point to emphasize the reduction of waste by limiting the amount of trash that comes to the island. Wastewater is also treated on the island in a plant that complies with acceptable international standards.
Rooms start at $368 per night.
Conscious Vondelpark — Amsterdam, Netherlands
The 81-room Vondelpark arm of the Conscious Hotel brand was the second in the line, and it boasts proximity to some awesome Overtoom restaurants and to the green Vondelpark. The rooms are completely stylish with simple furnishings and large murals that enhance the padded headboards on the beds. You can also expect 40-inch LED HD TVs with satellite channels in every room. If you are into exercise, be warned the hotel doesn’t have a gym because it is next to a David Lloyd Fitness and Wellness center for which you can snag a pass in the gift shop.
The hotel is Green Key Gold certified, which is a voluntary eco-label — considered the leading standard in the tourism industry for superiority in both the realms of environmental responsibility and sustainable operation. Rooms have energy-saving LED lamps, eco-cotton towels, and water-saving showerheads. But there are also tables made from recycled coffee cups, “stone” counters made from pressed paper, and all the wood in the furniture is from sustainable forest sources. Plus, all the cleaning is done with an Ionater, which uses no chemicals. There is an eco-roof with a beehive and a living plant wall in the lobby. Guests can also rent bikes for getting around the city without creating emissions.
Rooms start at $116 per night.