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What is an eco lodge? How do eco lodges work?

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Staying in an eco lodge is a great way to have an authentically sustainable tourism experience. Found all around the world, eco lodges facilitate environmentally friendly travel and offer tourists a unique experience. But what actually is an eco lodge? Read on to find out…

What is an eco lodge?

eco lodge

Eco lodges are a type of hotel found in many places around the world, but especially in various African countries. They are often located in areas with plenty of lush nature surrounding them. Eco lodges have many different characteristics. For those looking to travel in a more sustainable way, an eco lodge is a great option when it comes to booking accommodation for an upcoming trip.

While they are sometimes a more expensive option, this factor is outweighed by how much better they are for the environment than a traditional hotel, B&B or other type of holiday accommodation. An eco lodge will give back to its local community in many ways. This article looks at what an eco lodge is, and what sets them apart from their competitors within the industry.

How long have eco lodges existed?

Eco lodges have been around since the 1990s.

While tourism is an older concept, ecotourism is something much newer.

Green hotels have been around for a while, too, but an eco lodge is really something much different. Green hotels are hotels that have pledged to be more sustainable. They offer less frequent towel-washing, for example, and use energy-saving bulbs. These hotels install low-flow toilets, and try to use less plastic or single-use products. They partner with more sustainable suppliers and overall, make an effort to be more eco-friendly within their business.

Many of these hotels will have a LEED certification. This is 4-tier system that was launched in 2009, with points given for how sustainable a green hotel is. But having this doesn’t make them an eco lodge! 

So what really is an eco lodge?

Typically and traditionally, eco lodges are named because of their location – usually in jungles or particularly green areas. While you might find ‘green hotels’ (as described above) in big cities, proper eco lodges tend to be in areas that are much more nature-focused.

Eco lodges are particularly common in Costa Rica, Indonesia and the Gambia. Usually, they must meet the following criteria:

  • A dependence on the natural environment
  • Having ecological sustainability
  • A proven contribution to local conservation
  • Provision of environmental training programs
  • Incorporation of cultural considerations
  • Provision of an economic return to the local community

Definitions vary wherever you go, but generally an eco lodge is a hotel in a fairly rural area that relies on its surroundings as well as giving back to them. Often they are built from sustainable resources, and most use solar energy. The food is organic and locally grown, thus providing farmers in the area with jobs. Overall, they are properties that are trying to do their best by the local community and the planet.

What characteristics do eco lodges have?

Not all eco lodges are the same, of course. However there is a basic premise when it comes to characteristics that eco lodges have – some of which you will find below…

  • They are usually small, with generally less than 30 rooms. This means they are always having less impact on the environment.
  • You will find eco lodges located in a natural area, or in a rural area within a short distance to a natural area. They tend not to be significantly impacted by a townsite, noise, traffic, smog or pollution.
  • Eco lodges employ systems that will protect the environment from any pollution and degradation.
  • They often use energy saving tactics and possibly renewable energy technology.
  • Eco lodges will contribute to the local economy. They help to demonstrate that ecotourism is a more sustainable long term way to earn income than destroying or changing local habitats for short term capitalist gains.
  • Eco lodges aim to employ interpretive nature guides. These are people who are either trained in biology, or have significant local knowledge of the habitat. They can provide education for guests and visitors. 
  • These lodges provide books, posters, maps, photographs, orientation talks or other ways to inform visitors about the biology of the immediate and local area.
  • Eco lodges train and employ local people at fair wages. This is one major way of giving back to the community.
  • Lodges aim to inform guests, staff and visitors on the importance and value of a healthy ecosystem. They will show how to best enjoy the area without impacting it. Often, eco lodges offer programs and activities that allow guests to work on the land and give back to the local community too!

Of course, all eco lodges are different. Some will have farms on site, and some will offer you the chance to work. While some eco lodges take themselves really seriously, some are equally as laid back. There are so many amazing eco lodges around the world, and if you get a chance to stay in one on your travels you won’t regret it!

What are some of the best eco lodges to stay in?

You will find proper eco lodges in many countries around the world. As mentioned, many of these are the Gambia, Costa Rica and Indonesia.

These are all beautiful countries that are on many peoples’ bucket lists. If they are on yours, be sure to consider staying at an eco lodge during your trip. Not only will you get a more authentic experience of wherever you are staying, you will also be offsetting your own carbon footprint while travelling.

Sustainable tourism is more than just a buzzword. We only have the one planet (for now, until interstellar tourism becomes a reality…) and it is important that we protect it for future generations to explore in the ways we have been able to do. Anything you can do to make your own travel adventures more eco-friendly will be appreciated by others in years to come, as well as by locals now! 

The Gambia

The smiling coast of Africa is known for a lot of things including its sex tourism and lively beach holidays. It might not occur to you as a particularly sustainable or eco-friendly location, but it really is. There are so many eco lodges in the Gambia to choose from…

Footsteps Eco Lodge

eco lodge

Next to Kufoong Forest Park, this is one of southern Gambia’s best eco lodges. It is recommended for all types of travellers from solo backpackers to families, and you can take part in plenty of activities here. Choose from sports, yoga and more – or just relax!

From cabins to private houses, all with en suite facilities and heated by sunlight, this is a comfortable and sustainable place to stay in the area. Odourless composting toilets, self-catering facilities and so much more make this a great option for an eco-friendly stay in the Gambia. They’ll even let you bring your pets to stay!

Evergreen Eco Lodge Retreat

eco lodge

Located in Tujerung, not far from the beach, is Evergreen Eco Lodge. Surrounded by lush green tropical loveliness, the weather is perfect year-round and it really is an amazing place to stay.

If you’re interested in fishing or bird watching, head here. It is perfect for families, couples and solo travellers too! The entire lodge is solar-powered with on-site wellness facilities, bikes for hire and so much more to make this the perfect eco-friendly trip to the Gambia.


Bali is the hotspot of Indonesia, and its somewhere on so many peoples’ backpacking bucket lists. With eco lodges in top supply across the country, you’re bound to find something to suit you. Here are the best-

Sarinbuana Eco Lodge

eco lodge

Located in the jungle in the Tabanan area, you’re just a 15 minute walk from the rainforest if you book a stay here.

With only 12 guests at any one time, room service availability and water straight from the mountain, there is so much wonder to discover here at Sarinbuana Eco Lodge.

There is an on-site local trekking guide available to answer any questions you might have, too!

Gili Eco Lodge

eco lodge

On Gili T, one of the famous Indonesian islands so popular with backpackers and gap year tourists, you’ll find the Gili Eco Lodge.

The whole island has a no car or motorbike rule, so the pollution here is minimal. With villas built from locally sourced and sustainable materials, you’ll be living in nature during your time on Gili T. The resort even has its own vegetable garden and greenhouse!

Costa Rica

This beautiful country has so much to offer, and nature is a big part of it. Immerse yourself in Costa Rica’s beauty at one of these eco lodges…

Dantica Cloud Forest Lodge

Mixing sustainability and luxury in the perfect way, this Costa Rican eco lodge has just 10 guest rooms and is located not far from the Rio Savegre Waterfall. The views are stunning and the resort features multilingual staff who are always happy to help you get to know the beautiful local area.

Rancho Margot

If you want vegetables and meat sourced on-site and to fall asleep to the sounds of a rushing river, you can’t go wrong with Rancho Margot. This stunning eco lodge has an organic farm, rustic bungalows and even a dormitory-style accommodation for those on a tight budget who still want to experience the wonders of an eco-friendly stay in stunning Costa Rica.

What is an eco lodge? Further reading

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