The most environmentally conscious holiday would be camping in a field down the road from your house, but we all need something a little more exotic – and a little less muddy – from time to time. The places listed below have made substantial contributions to the lives of local people and work hard to improve the surrounding land, wildlife and country as a whole. You may feel guilty about your air travel but you don’t have to about your lodging.
In the USA, ‘eco’ often means a place with a spa or health resort, not necessarily suitable for children, usually set in a national park and on the luxurious/expensive side. Glamping on the other hand is something the Americans have embraced whole-heartedly and you can take your pick of some wonderful places.
There are also a number of ground-breaking eco-hotels in large cities, including the Ambrose in Santa Monica (see below) and Robert de Niro’s New York hotel The Greenwich.
Koa Solar Campground, New York State, USA
Offering a serious dose of Americana, this incongruous mix of diamond mines, campsite and solar-powered lodge has won major awards for its innovative design and its success in revitalising a disused site. The three mines, which opened to the public in 1955, contain geometrically shaped ‘crystals’ dating back about 5 million years – get your kids kitted out in miners’ hats and let them loose with a pick (any gems you find, you keep!). Other activities for the family including fishing, tubing, kayaking, the Penny Carnival, Rock & Gem Camp for kids, and the Crazy Hat & Shoes Weekend!
The Ambrose, Santa Monica, California, USA
A luxurious boutique hotel with serious eco-credentials, this is a great place if you want your environmentally sound accommodation to offer more in the way of creature comforts and less in the way of wildlife. Situated in downtown Santa Monica, it offers beautiful rooms (some with two queen beds) in an Arts & Craft style, proper pampering, enormous organic gourmet breakfasts, recycling containers in every room, and hybrid rental cars.
Nipika Mountain Resort, British Columbia, Canada
The Canadians know a thing or two about comfort after a day out hiking, skiing or bird-watching, and these lovely cabins in the mountains provide it in spades. There are rough-cut log cabins with wood-burning stoves or a more luxurious main lodge with warm, comfy beds. The air is fresh, the snow is crisp and the mountain streams taste wonderful. Electricity is from solar or micro-hydro and the focus is on low-impact activities – kids are encouraged to use the wood-burning hot tub, skate on the pond in winter and ski (one of the owners/ski instructors used to coach the Canadian Olympic team!).
Or try these:
Crosby Street Hotel, New York City, USA
One of the first eco hotels in the Big Apple, stylish and hip yet family friendly too.
El Capitan Canyon, California, USA
Glamping on the Californian coast, in cedar cabins, safari tents or canyon yurts.
Strawberry Creek Inn, California, USA
A family-friendly bunkhouse lodge in the Californian hills.
Huckleberry Tent and Breakfast, Idaho, USA
Feather Down Farms style accommodation.
The Hostel in the Forest, Georgia, USA
A famous eco youth hostel deep in sub-tropical forest in Georgia, with geodesic dome and treehouses.
Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge, Alaska, USA
An award-winning lodge, beautiful and remote, offering hand-crafted cabins.
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, British Columbia, Canada
A much-loved resort of luxurious tents near Vancouver, reached by seaplane and offering bear-watching, kayaking and other customized family fun, plus fabulous food.
If you fancy the Caribbean but don’t like the idea of an enormous resort, there are some great eco-friendly options.
Maho Bay Camps, US Virgin Islands
One of the eco pioneers, this beautiful and simple tented retreat has been around since the 1970s. If you can cope with a bit of cold water (this is the Caribbean, after all), rent a tent high up on the hillside, with beautiful views of the sea just below, or there are cabins if you need a bit more luxury. When kids tire of running round on the beach, there’s an arts and crafts program and watersports tuition. There’s a café on the beach and a restaurant for evening meals.
Crescent Moon Cabins, Dominica
This is a quirky, self-sufficient rainforest retreat with wind and hydro generators and home-grown food including breadfruit and mangoes (one of the owners is a chef from Pennsylvania). Nearly everything was crafted from recycled parts – even the coffee roaster is made from old car parts. The cabins are cosy and relaxed, with hammocks and views of the sea. This is an easygoing place with children – a wonderful spot to introduce them to the concept of self-sufficient living. You can go on walks through the jungle, swims in the sea or use the plunge pool. The 5-day family package includes some Montessori lessons and accommodation in the small house.
Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, Portland, Jamaica
This lovely, clean, colourful place up in the hills above Portland uses solar power to heat the water, and has an anaerobic waste-water treatment and natural air-con from its open windows! The food is delicious, there’s a lovely swimming pool and it’s very welcoming to children. There’s also an in-house eco-spa body-care package, and lots of hammocks for plain lounging around.
Or try these:
Mt Victory Eco Camp, St Croix, US Virgin Islands
A beautiful rainforest farm retreat with various family-friendly dwellings, some built around live trees, plus a campsite.
Virgin Islands Campground, US Virgin Islands
Family-friendly accommodation on the beach: tent-cottages sleeping two adults and two kids.
Papillote Wilderness Retreat & Nature Sanctuary, Dominica
A fabulous place up the mountain, amongst the orchids, with several family suites.
Exotica Cottages, Dominica
A beautiful, committed mountain paradise, free to under-12s.
Rosalie Forest/3 Rivers Eco Lodge, Dominica
An award-winning lodge with cottages, an apartment, treehouses, a dorm hostel, and a village homestay.
Le Parc Aux Orchidées, Guadeloupe
Two cottages amongst orchids, plus a pool and spa.
In Central America, Costa Rica – a pioneer in green tourism – has some of the finest eco-accommodation in the world, but the success of its ‘back to nature’ lodges has spread to its neighbours and you can find great eco properties throughout the region. Many are in the jungle, so bring insect repellents and swot up on other health issues. South America has also embraced the idea of eco-tourism, and you can find everything from bush camps to luxury eco-hotels there.
Hotel Ecologico Finca Ixobel, Petan Jungle, Guatemala
Stay in rooms, treehouses or bungalows, or camp, depending on how hardy you’re feeling. This wonderful finca is in a pine forest in the foothills of the Mayan Mountains, and a night in a treehouse with the parrots calling to each other from your eaves is an experience not to be missed. You can go river-tubing, caving or riding, or trekking through the jungle – children go half-price on the trips – or just lie in a family-sized hammock listening to the birds. The home-style dinners made from local organic produce are often served under the stars.
Hotel Eco Paraiso Xixim, Yucatan, Mexico
This is a place for serious nature-lovers – lovely adobe cabins situated on 5km of white-sand dunes, simple and clean with terracotta floors, ceiling fans, hammocks and legions of geckos. Flat, gently sloping sands, warm clean seas and enormous skies are the wholesome compliment to the organic meals. The commitment to a minimal impact here extends even to moving insects along rather than crushing them… Catch your own fish, go kayaking, visit local Mayan ruins, or just sit and watch your children play in heaven.
Chan Chich Lodge, Belize
Offering remote family-friendly luxury for anyone who’s ever wanted to be Indiana Jones (and bring up baby Indys), this beautiful eco-lodge is set amongst the un-excavated ruins of a Mayan city. If that wasn’t exciting enough, it’s famous for its jaguar sightings! There are spectacular views, a beautiful garden, jungle treks, luxurious accommodation (try to bag the villa) and even a pool. As well as having sound ecological credentials, the lodge has been very active in encouraging the return of threatened species. Take gallons of repellent against the (non-malarial) mosquitoes.
Rock View Lodge, Rupununi Savannah, Guyana
You have to fly in a tiny plane to get to this small lodge on the edge of the jungle near a large Amerindian community, one of whom is the co-owner. You sleep in tents or hammocks, or in one of eight rooms in the lodge itself, two of them for families. It’s simple and peaceful; you can eat the superb food outside with the hummingbirds around the pool or in the cool restaurant. There’s bird-watching, boat-trips, horse-riding with cowboys and special tours for children (all ages are welcome but this is best for kids 7+ because of the journey and heat). The jungle is alive with extraordinary creatures just outside your window.
Tahuayo Lodge, Peru
These award-winning thatched cabins built on stilts are tucked into a bend in the Amazon River, on one of the most amazing reserves in the world. You have to travel 4hrs up the river from Iquitos to reach them, but there’s a very warm welcome once you get there. The price includes a private guide and excursions – the whole place is very much about adventure, and your family should be a hardy one (kids must be 8+). The cabins are very comfortable, with four-posters and private toilets (you wash in the river water, neatly trapped for showers). The communal buffets are a good opportunity to chat to other intrepid travellers. The place is lit by solar panels and kerosene lamps, so you feel just a breath away from the jungle.
Finca Santa Anita, Salta, Argentina
A true treat: an ancient, traditional tobacco finca on a plain beside forested mountains, run by the local mayor and his large family – partly to fund a biodiversity program for local communities. You join the family riding through the plantation and rafting down the Juramento River, and they’ll show you how to make traditional bread in the clay ovens and milk the goats for their cheese. The charming rooms are very good value; there’s a self-catering option in the barns, but it’s best to dine with the family and other guests – the food is from the plantation or the organic kitchen garden and gets rave reviews. A family/community affair, this is wonderful for kids of all ages.
Or try these:
Baja Camp, Mexico
A summer-only campsite on an uninhabited island, offering snorkelling and beach adventures for only 10 people at a time.
A beautiful but inexpensive little eco-hotel in the Yucatan, virtually free to under-3s.
The Lodge at Pico Bonito, Honduras
Wooden cabins in a cacao farm in the rainforest; some connect for larger families.
Leaves and Lizards Arenal Volcano Resort, Costa Rica
Eco-cabins perched on hills for a treehouse feel; one has bunks for kids.
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge, Costa Rica
An award-winning jungle lodge with lots of family activities and a kids’ menu.
Finca Terra Viva, Costa Rica
A budget-friendly environmentally sustainable farm where you can milk cows and chase monkeys, with basic accommodation.
Tico Adventure Lodge, Costa Rica
A little green oasis on the Nicoya Peninsula’s western shore, with treetop apartment for 4–6.
Hotel Las Tortugas, Costa Rica
A sustainably run hotel with a turtle-shaped pool. It doubles as the centre for the Tamarindo National Wildlife Sanctuary and Las Baulas National Marine Park (park rangers lead tours to view nesting turtles at night).
Tree House Lodge, Costa Rica
On the Caribbean Coast, at Puerto Viejo, this is fun with kids, with four houses in a lush tropical garden. Iguana and adventure tours are offered.
Chaa Creek, Belize
A nature reserve with treetop suites for up to 4, villas and thatched cottages.
Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa, Chile
A boutique hotel in an extraordinary landscape, with two family suites.
Patagonian Eco Camp, Chile
An extraordinary mountain camp of igloo-type domes, welcoming kids.
Pousada Picinguaba, Brazil
French chic – a 10-room hotel and private villas – in an amazing rainforest location
Yachana Lodge, Ecuador
An award-winning jungle lodge with serious community credentials. The family cabins fit up to 5, and adventurous activities include Galapagos visits.
Rincón del Socorro, Argentina
A conservation-minded eco-hotel in a beautiful setting, with rooms and bungalows, plus a children’s game room, a pool and organic cuisine.