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by Sarah Stevens 

Around the world, urban areas are reintroducing natural environments to revitalize, restore, and improve their cities. Great Ecology’s past posts have detailed many positive impacts of urban greening, in particular the boost that urban parks and open spaces bring to local economies, as well as the improved health and happiness of urban residents who live near these preserved areas.

Urban developers are not the only greening pioneers, repurposing materials to create ecologically sustainable structures, designs, and restoration projects. Worldwide, environmentally sustainable resorts are changing the way we vacation, most importantly, the way we experience nature. Ecotourism may be the latest “vacation trend” but it is much more than just a fleeting movement with solar paneled resorts; it encompasses much larger ideas and innovative approaches to conservation.

Ecotourism provides an outlet for people to experience the environment directly. How are we able to understand our impact on the environment if we don’t experience it firsthand? I’m not talking about spending a day at your local public park–that’s a great start but the manicured lawns and neatly organized landscaping don’t compare to the vibrant rainforests or unaltered mountain ranges. Ecotourism reflects a growing movement to create ecologically sustainable infrastructure that advances habitat restoration and conservation efforts.

There are many eco-friendly resorts, boasting solar power and water conservation, but the following examples highlight some of the world’s most unique and creative resorts.

Chumbe Island Coral Park – Tanzania

The development of this incredible nature reserve was based on the conservation of the island’s natural environment, including a protected coral reef sanctuary and a forest reserve, which is home to many rare and endangered animals. The resort integrates ecotourism, conservation, and education. The three aspects are intertwined. Ecotourism supports conservation and research and education programs support local communities while promoting conservation efforts.

The resort’s seven bungalows are purposefully designed with an understanding of the surrounding fragile ecosystems and aim to have small, if any, impact on the environment. Each bungalow features state-of-the-art eco-technology, including stormwater collection, photovoltaic energy and solar water heating, composting toilets, and vegetative greywater (water generated by domestic activities) filtration. As there is no groundwater on the rocky portion of the island, each bungalow collects, filters, and stores its own rainwater runoff. The unique roof design facilitates collection of water that is passed through a complex filtration system and heated by solar-power. The resort also filters shower and sink greywater, preventing polluted water discharge into the Reef Sanctuary. This filtered water is used in specially sealed plant beds planted with species that easily absorb remaining nitrates and phosphates. The bungalows also include composting toilets that look exactly like the common toilet minus the pollution and need to flush–preserving water and the surrounding ecosystems.

With only seven bungalows, the island is never overcrowded, providing an unforgettable environmental escape to a pristine and preserved corner of the world.

Check out some other innovative eco-resorts.

STF Kolarbyn – Sweden

This eco-hotel takes ecotourism to a new level as Sweden’s most primitive lodging with no electricity or running water. While that may be enough to scare off the average traveler, it’s perfect if you’re looking for a unique eco-adventure. This unique forest escape integrates natural and cultural systems by encouraging people to think about their environmental efforts by interacting with nature.

V-Houses – Mexico

The V-Houses of the Verana Hotel outside of Yelapa inMexicoare the ultimate example of ecological design integrated into the surrounding jungle landscape. Designed by Heinz Legler and based on the “hooch” designs of Jo Scheer, the V-houses mirror tree house structures, constructed 16 feet above ground. They blend sustainability with modern amenities, including composting toilets, solar panels, and greywater systems. In addition, the open design of the V-Houses offers incredible views and a built-in natural AC system. Another key element of the ecological design is the seamless integration into the jungle landscape. The prefabricated structures were built in Puerto Rico and transported to the site, requiring no construction or destruction of nearby resources. Originally built as an eco-friendly shelter for workers, the V-houses have slowly gained in popularity as hotel accommodations.

Whitepod – Switzerland

The Whitepod eco-resort provides a one-of-a-kindAlpsexperience. Located high in the Swiss Alps, the private ecological resort is the ultimate combination of nature and luxury. The 15 private guest rooms are geodesic dome pods (aka, dome shaped tents) built on wooden platforms. This creative design has minimal environmental impact and aims to be an example of sustainable tourism through reduced water and energy uses as well as environmental education. The resort received the World Prize for Sustainable Tourism in 2005.

Dasparkhotel – Germany and Austria

The Dasparkhotel represents a different take on ecotourism through innovative repurposing of materials. Although it differs significantly from the other properties it showcases an ingenious upcycling of unconventional building materials, thus leaving a minimal footprint. Designed by architect Andreas Strauss, the hotel is constructed out of repurposed draining pipe sections, creating unique spacious bedrooms which are affordable and environmental sustainable. Built within a public park, guests can enjoy a one-of-a-kind experience.

Summer may be ending, but it’s the perfect time to start planning your next vacation. I challenge you to consider an unconventional option. Travel outside of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in nature. After a few days high in the trees of a rainforest, on the slopes of the Swiss Alps, or on a remote island, I guarantee you will leave with a deeper understanding of our daily impact on the environment and the value of ecological safeguarding.