Dig Deeper
January 07, 2020

By: Nick Dall

The South American lodges taking eco-friendly to the next level

Secondary Categories: Machu Picchu, Galapagos Islands, Amazon, Chile, Ecuador, Peru

From the overabundant megadiversity of the Amazon Rainforest to the desolate fragility of the Atacama Desert and everywhere in between, South America’s natural hotspots are taken from the very top drawer. When you’re visiting somewhere as ecologically important as Patagonia or the Galapagos Islands, however, you want to be sure to tread as lightly as you possibly can. Which is where these stellar eco-friendly properties come in…

Finch Bay Hotel: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

With a cornucopia of endemic species that led to Darwin formulating the Theory of Evolution, the Galapagos archipelago is arguably the most dazzling natural wonder on the planet. The Finch Bay Hotel – which has been voted the World’s Leading Green Hotel for six years running – takes preserving this slice of paradise seriously (without compromising on your comfort in the slightest).

Finch Bay is the only hotel in the Galapagos that treats its own sewerage, and the property also has an extensive rainwater collection system. This water is used to irrigate the hotel’s gardens – including its impressive organic fruit and vegetable garden. Solar panels are used to heat water, while superior insulation and energy-efficient fittings keep the hotel’s reliance on the grid to a minimum. All waste is classified and recycled/composted, the restaurant doesn’t do takeaways (excess packaging is a big no-no), and all guests are given reusable water bottles.

 Finch Bay goes the extra mile to operate sustainably. (Courtesy Image)

Both staff and guests are encouraged to participate in the hotel’s sustainability efforts – on and off premises. An impressive 70% of hotel staff commute to work on bicycles, and guests are welcome to join in the daily clean-up of the neighboring public beach. As a guest at Finch Bay, you’ll sleep soundly in the knowledge that your linen was dried on a good old-fashioned washing line, that all of the hotel’s soaps, shampoos, and detergents are biodegradable, and that the revenue generated by your stay goes towards educating the local community about sustainability and replanting fragile mangroves.

Tierra Atacama: Atacama Desert, Chile

Eerie, otherworldly, and mind-altering, the Atacama Desert on South America’s Pacific coast is also the driest place on the planet: average annual precipitation is 0,6 inches, and some Atacama weather stations have never recorded rain. While guests are (rightly) wowed by the Tierra Atacama’s exquisite, understated rooms, massive landscapes, and indulgent spa and wellness offering, this luxurious gem is so much more than a pretty face.

Thanks to Tierra Atacama's water project, the abandoned land around the hotel has been transformed into gardens brimming with native species over six lush hectares. (Courtesy Image)

Tierra Atacama was the first South American hotel to produce its own solar-powered electricity, and they haven’t done things by halves. Almost 600 PV panels take advantage of the abundant sunshine (the region averages 8.5 hours per day, year-round) to reduce the lodge’s carbon footprint by around 350 tons of CO₂ every year.

It goes without saying that water is an extremely precious commodity in the fragile Atacama. Which is why the lodge extracts 100% of its water from its own well, thus ensuring that the town of San Pedro de Atacama is not deprived of even a single drop. The water is then treated in a reverse osmosis plant and used throughout the hotel. Here, every drop counts and recycled grey water is used to irrigate the 15-acre man-made oasis which provides much of the fresh produce that’s served in Tierra Atacama’s award-winning restaurant.

Tierra Atacama is the first hotel in South America to produce solar-powered electricity, with a hybrid system that meets the hotel´s daily energy demands. (Courtesy Image)

In an effort to ensure that the hotel’s sustainability efforts continue for years to come, Tierra Atacama has partnered with a local technical school to apprentice 40 young local people in the fields of tourism, agriculture, and solar-electricity.

EcoCamp Patagonia: Patagonia, Chile

The vertiginous cliffs, shimmering lakes, and dazzling glaciers of Torres del Paine National Park in Southern Chile are torn from the pages of a fairytale… And EcoCamp Patagonia’s commitment to sustainable practices ensures that this one will have a happy ending. The EcoCamp’s green credentials start with its innovative construction. Put together from insulated geodesic domes (small ones for rooms, larger ones for common areas, kitchens, laundries, etc.) mounted on low-impact wooden platforms, the entire camp could be dismantled and removed without leaving so much as a trace on the pristine Patagonian landscape.

EcoCamp's domes are revolutionary in their design and eco-friendly mission. (Courtesy Image)

The roaring rivers of Torres del Paine provide for 75% of the camp’s electricity needs (via a micro hydro turbine, a battery bank, and a bevy of inverters), while solar panels cater for a further 20% or so, depending on the weather. (A generator fills in the remaining cracks – but only in case of emergency.) To complement the lodge’s massive investment in renewable energy, guests are urged to use electricity sparingly – and hairdryers and electric kettles are entirely outlawed. The lodge is heated by wood/pellet stoves and (only when utterly necessary) propane heaters.

Anyone who’s had the privilege of hiking in Torres del Paine will know that the water in Patagonia is both incredibly abundant and unbelievably pure – and EcoCamp aims to keep it that way. Composting toilets are used throughout the hotel, while staff wastewater is treated in a biofiltration dome which uses a combination of microbacteria and earthworms to return H20 to its pristine state. (The byproducts of both processes are used to fertilize the soil.)

EcoCamp Patagonia offers travelers the perfect combination of immersion in nature and rustic luxury. (Courtesy Image)

In addition to these big ticket initiatives, EcoCamp also feasts on the low-hanging fruit of sustainability by buying meat, fish, veg, fruit, and dairy from local farmers, supplying biodegradable toiletries in guest rooms, and sorting and recycling/composting all waste. You’ll also be glad to know that they’ve partnered with local schools to teach youngsters about sustainability, and that they get involved in restoring hiking trails and replanting endangered lenga trees in the National Park.

Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel: Machu Picchu, Peru

In addition to being a forested haven of orchids, ferns, and hummingbirds on the doorstep of one of the world’s greatest archeological wonders, the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel also plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the entire town of Machu Picchu is the first and only zero-waste municipality in South America.

The influx of tourists to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail is great for the local economy, but not so wonderful for the environment. In 2016, Inkaterra teamed up with Peruvian beverage manufacturer AJE Group to donate a PET waste compacting plant to the local government. Every day, the plant compresses up to 14 tons of plastic waste into compact bundles which are transported (by train, of course) to recycling facilities in the city.

The Eco Center at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. (Courtesy Image)

A year later, AJE and Inkaterra installed a biodiesel plant on the hotel grounds which transforms used cooking oil from nearby households, hotels, and restaurants into biodiesel. Not only does the plant produce 20 gallons of fuel per day (not to mention a glycerin byproduct which is used to polish the town’s pavements), but it also keeps 6,000 liters of vegetable oil out of the ecologically delicate Vilcanota River every month.

The most recent phase of the project focuses on processing organic waste into biochar through an environmentally friendly process called pyrolysis. The plant can process up to seven tons of organic waste per day, in the process producing a valuable organic fertilizer which is proving instrumental in ambitious reforestation projects in the area (the government is well on its way to planting one million trees around Machu Picchu). Now put that in your pipe and smoke it…

Itching to embark on a green Galapagos adventure of your own? How about a solar-powered Atacama side trip? Speak to one of our Destination Experts about crafting the sustainable South America sojourn of your dreams.

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