Any resort can call itself an eco-resort, but not all pass the test. Here is a roundup of some African eco-resorts that not only talk the talk, but walk the walk: many use natural local materials; some give back to their local communities; and all have a reduced carbon footprint due to environmentally-friendly energy, water and food practices.
1. Basata Eco-Lodge, Egypt
Basata means “simplicity” in Arabic, and Egypt’s first eco-lodge, Basata, provides an environment of simple, serene comfort that leaves little or no impact on the environment. Chalets and huts are built of indigenous, biodegradeable materials such as bamboo, mud, clay and natural stones. All trash is recycled at Basata, and there is no air-conditioning or other artificial cooling systems. In addition, all planting and landscaping is done with flora endemic to the area.
2. Udzungwa Forest Tented Camp, Tanzania
This camp, in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, has made sustainability second nature: technology includes solar panels and a pico hydro generator for power, solar heated water, and composting toilets. Take an eco-tour and learn how the camp is replenishing the rainforest by planting indigenous trees.
3. Zafara Camp, Botswana
Zafara Camp, on the southern bank of Zibadianja Lagoon, prides itself on its minimal carbon footprint. The airy luxury tents are powered by a noise-free “solar farm” consisting of over 150 205-watt solar panels, and drinking water is treated through a UV filtration system which precludes the need for disposable plastic water bottles. Experienced guides lead guests on nature walks and game drives in 4×4 vehicles that operate on a mix of 85% vegetable oil and 15% diesel, and are careful not to disrupt pristine areas of the reserve while observing the elephants, lions, and buffalo.
4. Tsara Komba, Madagascar
On the island of Nosy Komba — also known as Lemur Island — Tsara Komba’s eight lodges sit in a tropical garden in a private nature reserve. Don’t let the luxurious atmosphere fool you into thinking the resort isn’t committed to the environment. In addition to recycling trash and wastewater, Tsara Komba uses solar water boilers, low-voltage lighting, eco-friendly building materials, and purchases only local foods. They also run a program to plant native baobab trees, and provide micro-loans to local boaters.
5. Namib Desert Lodge, Namibia
This lodge, located at the foot of a fossilized sand dune, recently installed 1,700 rooftop solar panels. The panels generate 200,000 kWh of electricity per year and cover 50% of the lodge’s energy needs. Other eco-friendly practices at the lodge (and others owned by Gondwana Lodges in Namibia) include recycling water for use in garden irrigation, and waste recycling.
6. Sandele Bay Eco Retreat, The Gambia
Situated on a long, secluded stretch of beach, Sandele features 10 guest rooms and four lodges built using compressed earth blocks. Electricity is produced by solar and wind power, and shower water is heated by the sun. A natural ventilation system and outdoor kitchen using minimal wood both help economize on resources.
7. Maji Moto Eco Camp, Kenya
All structures at Maji Moto, which is operated by the Masai people, were built Masai-style, using only local materials such as branches, stalks, grass, cow dung and stone (no trees were felled for construction). There is no electricity in the camp, and water for showers is brought in from a nearby hot spring — so no heating is required!
8. Chole Mjini Eco Lodge, Mafia Island, Tanzania
Explore Chole Mjini’s 16th-century ruins by day, then relax in simple comfort back at the lodge, watching the sun set over the mangroves and the ocean beyond. The resorts’s signature treehouses were made completely by hand, using traditional tools and utilizing materials sourced only from traders living on Chole. The owners give a portion of profits to back to the community by supporting a local school, adult education center and general fund.
9. Kasbah du Toubkal, Morocco
Consistently named one of the world’s top eco-retreats, the Kasbah has also been described as having the best rooftop views in north Africa due to its location in the High Atlas Mountains. The lodge, which employs local Berber people and gives 5% of proceeds back to the community, prides itself on its low impact on the environment and has won many eco-tourism awards.
10. Nyungwe Forest Lodge, Rwanda
This newer upscale lodge has won awards for its sustainable design; all materials used to build the structure were locally sourced, including the volcanic stone, brick, wood shingles, and eucalyptus poles. Even some of the interior items are local, such as the floor mats and cooking pots.
11. Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, South Africa
With a superb location in the Cederberg Mountains (itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and guardian of exquisite Bushman cave arts within their lands, Bushman’s Kloof takes its responsibility as custodian extremely seriously. As well as taking out the prestigious Condé Nast award for top hotel, it is also the proud winner of a host of ecological awards. The staff are passionate about conservation and closely monitor all impact on their surroundings, and have put in place some incredible waste disposal technology. Over the years the lodge has worked hard to restore the land, removing alien plants and reintroducing indigenous flora and fauna (including the rare Cape Mountain Zebra).
12. Bulungula Lodge, South Africa
Consisting of ten rondavels (traditional rounded thatched huts), Bulungula Lodge is co-owned and managed by Xhosa villagers, and is powered with renewable energy. It’s a bit rustic, but very welcoming and you can help out the local villages with activities such as making bricks or brewing beer. The lodge provides an important economic source for the community. It’s very popular with backpackers, and has been rated as one of the best eco lodges in the world by both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. Were that not enough, its location on the Wild Coast is spectacular. It was the first lodges in the world to be given a Fair Trade accreditation.
13. Eagle View Camp, Kenya
Aptly named, you too will get an eagle’s-eye view of wildlife as you sit on the observation deck, watching the animals below at the Koiyake River water hole. There are nine tents, constructed from sustainably sourced wood and located in a prime position on the escarpment above a valley for wildlife watching. Nature walks are offered by Maasai guides and at night you can opt to go on walks to spot the nocturnal wildlife. In addition, visit the neighboring Masai Mara National Reserve.
14. Damaraland Camp, Namibia
Damaraland Camp has been a pioneer in successful conservation programs in Namibia, including helping to increase elephant numbers and expand the range of the endangered black rhinos. Set on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, this is beautiful camp consists of ten tents, and as well as raising awareness among tourist visitors of the struggle for the native fauna, the camp also combines conservation with community development. As a bonus, visit the nearby Twyfelfontein rock art sits, one of the most important in Southern Africa, and dating back more than 6,000 years.
15. Chumbe Island, Tanzania
Chumbe Island is Tanzania’s first marine national park, and home to an amazing 400 species of coral, 200 species of fish and an eco-resort with seven eco-bungalows. Specially designed, these collect rainwater, while solar power provides all energy needs. Even the toilets are composting, to keep the marine park free from all pollution. There are plenty of activities to partake in, yoga classes, hikes with expert rangers where you may see a rare coconut crab (the world’s largest land crab) and snorkeling trips to marvel at the beauty of the healthy reef.
This article was originally published on May 21, 2014.