Sustainable Travel in South America: World’s Best Eco-lodges by National Geographic
UPDATED JANUARY 2020
When National Geographic released its collection of World’s Best Eco-lodges, we certainly weren’t surprised to find that 12 out of the 51 worldwide contenders are found in South America. Given that sustainable travel is at the core of our own 2020 Vision, and the fact we’re huge proponents of responsible luxury (yes, you can have both!) we’ve known about the continent’s impressive array of socially-conscientious lodges for years.
The best eco-lodges in Latin America are as unique as can be, although they all share common themes. Each is set amidst some of the most pristine and precious wilderness in the world and each one, in its own way, is a beacon of sustainability and environmental protection. For guests, this means they get to totally immerse themselves in nature; they get to discover local flora and fauna, enjoy guided wildlife-watching hikes, delight their taste buds on organic, locally-grown food and learn more about local, oftentimes indigenous, communities. A stay in any one of Latin America’s eco-lodges is a truly magnificent experience, one that actually allows you to give back.
Here are our most favourite eco-lodges that we know you will love:
Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
Sitting high on the western side of the Ecuadorian Andes, right in the heart of the Chocó Cloud Forest, Mashpi Lodge is one of the most visually arresting lodges in the world. The brainchild of the former mayor of Quito, a butterfly enthusiast with a deep love of conservation, this jaw-dropping place was constructed on the site of an old wood-mill. Roque Sevilla utilised recycled materials and already-existing trails to create a real labour of love – not only offering an exquisite, nature-filled stay for true wilderness lovers but, primarily, as an ode to the very forest he has helped protect. This is one of the last pristine regions of the Chocó jungle, one of the world’s most biodiverse yet endangered corners, and Mashpi is considered the most sustainable way you can enjoy it.
Mashpi Lodge sits at 1,000m above sea level, just over 100km from the capital, Quito, covering 3,000 acres of fervently protected forest, home to a plethora of endemic and endangered wildlife. With only 24 guestrooms and a dedicated team of passionate staff, the lodge offers an intimate and interactive cloud forest experience. A fantastic Life Centre, elevated observation deck and hiking trails are all aimed at making you feel part of the wilderness, not mere spectators to it. A team of in-house scientists carry out research on local endangered flora and fauna, and profits are poured back into a fund that aims to continue purchasing more and more land to protect it from logging and any kind of exploitation. Creating this ‘bubble of sublime comforts in the heart of the jungle’ is proof that responsible tourism can and does work. When you stay at Mashpi, you feel as if you’re not just having an ethereal experience, but you’re contributing to a very worthy cause.
Tierra Chiloé, Chilean Patagonia
The Tierra group is one of our favourite partners in South America, all three of their incredible lodges (Tierra Chiloé, Tierra Patagonia and Tierra Atacama) spearheading sustainable tourism in their respective regions. The Tierra Chiloé Hotel & Spa is like a pocket of seriously unreal indulgence in what is, in essence, one of the harshest and remotest corners of Patagonia. The Chiloé archipelago is in the heart of Patagonia’s ancient Mapuche land, drenched in centuries-old lore, superstition and belief. The coastlines are havens for endemic birds and penguins, the frigid waters visited by dolphins and, between January and March, humpback whales. Tierra Chiloé, with its panoramic windows, private traditional boat, pool, sauna, jacuzzi, spa treatments, organic meals and private beach is an absolute dream way to experience this incredible wild corner of the world.
Revered for its UNESCO-listed wooden churches, stilt-homes, cuisine and distinct dialect, Chiloé is an off-the-charts destination, where history, culture and nature intertwine to offer a magnificent Patagonia experience. The guided historical, nature and wildlife-watching excursion, be they by horseback, on foot or 4WD, always include a cultural exchange so one really comes away feeling incredibly enlightened about the native peoples who have been thriving in this seemingly inhospitable place since time immemorial.
Estancia Los Potreros, Argentina
Offering an authentic estancia experience in Argentina’s beautiful Cordoba region, this family-owned ranch is a working farm with a most defining difference. Guests can have a delectable test of outback life, Argy-style, with horseback riding trips, polo games, bird-watching excursions, farming experiences, rock-climbing, trekking, fishing, waterfall swims and the kind of home-made gastronomic feasting everyone dreams when visiting Argentina. The farm’s eco-tourism enterprise is part of efforts to keep the 6500-acre property protected and thriving for posterity.
The totally off-grid experience in this self-sustainable ranch is undoubtedly one of Argentina’s most authentic stays, so leave the i-pads, i-phones and beauty treatments where they belong – in another world – and come be a real gaucho for a few days instead. The rolling hills of the ancient Sierra Chicas, believed to even predate the Andes, have been at the heart of cattle ranching for centuries, yet are nowadays mostly known within hiking and horseback riding circles. What makes this place so special is the fact that local ranchers seemed to have made some sort of secret pact to keep the region, and the overall estancia experience, as traditional and authentic as possible, thus helping preserve an inherent part of their centuries-old culture.
See the unforgettable 6-day experience we offer at Estancia Los Potreros
Lapa Rios, Costa Rica
THE Latin America eco-conscious destination by which all others are measured, Costa Rica features yearly on National Geographic’s World’s Best Eco-lodges list. This year’s winner is Lapa Rios, a much-celebrated conservation lodge set on a privately-owned 1000-acre protected reserve in the heart of the Osa Peninsula. Lapa Rios is set high above the canopy, overlooking the breath-taking Pacific Coast and offering jaw-dropping views from its ridiculously beautiful thatched-roofed bungalows. A salt-water swimming pool refreshes guests after a long hot day in the jungle, with morning yoga classes, massages and gourmet meals enticing you to, quite literally, never-ever want to leave. There’s a gloriously deserted beach just 5-min walk away and over 400 hectares of prime protected forest to explore. In this kind of unspoilt wilderness, Lapa Rios doesn’t just feel indulgent: it feels incredible.
The wild western Osa Peninsula is home to some of Central America’s last remaining lowland tropical forests and inhabited by a host of endemic wildlife like scarlet macaws, several species of monkeys, coatis, both two and three-toed sloths, pumas, jaguars, ocelots and more birds, reptiles and amphibians than you could ever spot in one lifetime. If you’ve ever visited a prime jungle forest before, you’ll know just how difficult it is to actually explore it, and that’s where Lapa Rios genially comes in.
Our 4-day Lapa Rios Stay offers a beach and forest escape you’ll never forget, with daily wildlife watching guided excursions included in your stay
The Lodge at Valle Chacabuco, Chile Patagonia
Rated as one of the Best Patagonia Lodges in Chile, right at the doorstep of the brand-new Parque Patagonia, The Lodge at Valle Chacabuco offers a sublimely cosy mountain escape amidst what is, without a doubt, some of the most magnificent wilderness on earth. A central living area entices togetherness and chit-chat whilst a library elicits moments of contemplative solitude. Expansive windows ensure you never miss a second of that glorious view and a cosy fireplace, plush furnishings and luxurious rooms do a fine job of fighting your urges to get out there and actually explore the park. But you really should! A rustic and homely lodge that screams warmth and hospitality, this is a mountain hiker’s ideal retreat. Built using local and recycled stone and timber, The Lodge respects the wilderness which surrounds it and runs under strict eco-friendly principles, using biodegradable products throughout and minimising the impact of its guest’s patronage.
Parque Patagonia itself, part of Chile’s new Route of Parks, is one of the world’s most impressive environmental success stories, created to protect over 200,000 acres of priceless Patagonian wilderness and all those wonderful Patagonian wildlife species who call it home. Just a short drive away from Cochrane, an old ranching outpost along the adventure-filled Carretera Austral, the lodge and its surrounding area are perfect for those who want to be overwhelmed by nature and keep way off the trodden path.
Ask us how to include a stay at The Lodge on a discovery tour along the famed Carretera Austral
This list of Latin America’s best eco-lodges is by no means exhaustive and, because we’ve always been a little ahead of the tourism game, we’ve also only recently released five of our best sustainable travel experiences for 2020. If you care about how you travel, as much as where you travel to, the options for responsible tourism will leave you excited and thrilled to start planning a trip.
Want some help finding the right eco-lodge for your next trip to South America? Contact us for more info.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”