Plan a meaningful trip for 2021 at one of the world’s most remote eco lodges, says Sarah Marshall.
For the last nine months, a gloomy cloud has cloaked the planet, leaving many of us dreaming of getting away from it all.
With lockdowns ever looming and travel corridors opening and closing like a jack-in-the-box, it’s no wonder everyone is looking ahead to brighter days in 2021.
In an era of so much uncertainty, one definite conclusion can be drawn: travel will never be the same again.
Seeking solitude in remote places away from crowds and chaos, we’re all desperate to explore far-flung corners of the globe untouched by events of the past year. More importantly, we want to travel responsibly – making sure our time and money is spent wisely, and our impact on the environment is minimal.
Embodying these trends, here are some of the world’s most remarkable and remote eco retreats; places where travel becomes both a positive and restorative force.
1. Mar al Cielo, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
Washed by the ocean and blessed with blue skies, this simple but spectacular two-bedroom lodge is surrounded by jungle and sand. Located in a nature reserve close to Lo de Marcos on Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit, it offers access to quiet beaches and wild forest treks. A private chef can prepare meals in a nearby pavilion, where yoga is also available. Time a visit with the annual humpback whale migration from November until the end of March; blue whales, sperm whales and orcas can also be seen.
How: Rates from €185 per night (minimum two-night stay). maralcielo.com
2. Shinta Mani Wild, Cambodia
Surrounded by three of Cambodia’s wildest national parks, 15 safari-style tents occupy a river valley once vulnerable to poaching, mining and logging activities. By offering local communities an alternative source of income, the area is protected, while the camp has also upped its eco game by banning single-use plastics and bottling water on site. Locally foraged ingredients are used in the restaurant and spa, and to complete the jungle experience, guests can arrive by zip-line.
How: Audley Travel (audleytravel.com) tailor-make a 14-day trip to Cambodia, including a three-night all-inclusive stay at Shinta Mani Wild from £7,200pp/€8,023pp, including flights.
3. Wa Ale, Myanmar
An ambitious, privately-owned eco-tourism project, this 14-villa property (read Nicola Brady's review here) occupies an island in the Mergui archipelago – a cluster of mere dots on the global map. Part of the Lampi Marine National Park, it’s an excellent place to dive reefs, trek rainforest trails and kayak through mangroves. Whale sharks, dolphins and manta rays regularly visit the waters, and the beaches are an important nesting site for green and leatherback turtles. The Wa Ale Lampi Foundation funds a turtle hatchery, protecting nests and ensuring hatchlings make their way safely to the sea.
How: Full board stays from €350pp per night, including boat transfer to the airport. waaleresort.com
4. Rewa Eco-lodge, Guyana
Rivers replace roads in most of this secluded South American country, where rainforest covers 80% of the land. It once took several days to paddle upstream to Rewa lodge on the confluence of the Rupununi and Rewa Rivers, and although the journey is now much faster, the sense of adventure is far from diminished. Annually, less than 200 people visit the comfortable camp, which is run by members of the indigenous Makushi community. Committed to safeguarding their ancestral land, the owners live a low-carbon lifestyle and are dedicated to preserving the abundant wildlife.
How: Wildlife Worldwide (wildlifeworldwide.com) offers the 15-day Guyana: A Pristine Wilderness tour from £5,845pp/€6,514pp, including flights. Departs September 6, 2021.
5. Azura Marlin Beach, Mozambique
Escaping crowds requires some effort, so you’ll need to take a helicopter to reach this idyllic Indian Ocean-lapped island in the Bazaruto archipelago. Home to Africa’s only population of endangered dugongs, it’s a pristine hideaway where efforts have been made to erase even footprints in the sand. Every brick in this new luxury resort, which opened in October, has been made by hand; other materials were sourced locally, including wooden beams made from trees felled by storms. Financial contributions are made to a variety of social and environmental projects, benefitting communities.
How: Rooms from €600pp per night. azura-retreats.com
6. Wolwedans Private Camp, Namibia
An endless sprawl of ever-changing shapes and impressions, deserts invite focus and contemplation; few other landscapes spell out solitude in quite the same way. Catering to just six people, this private lodge is part of the NamibRand Nature Reserve, where conservation efforts have earned the area International Dark Sky Reserve status. At night, stars shine so bright, it feels as if the sky is ablaze. Using sustainable technologies, the camp has been designed to minimise environmental impact; it can easily be dismantled and moved away.
How: Full board stays from €534 per night (four sharing). wolwedans.com
7. Longitude 131, Northern Territory, Australia
A mighty rock with immense spiritual significance, Uluru is at Australia’s beating heart. Sitting in its awesome shadow, this 16-tent camp is immersed in the wilderness, providing the peace and quiet needed to fully appreciate one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. To reduce energy consumption, tents have been built with naturally insulating materials, while solar panels are used to heat water. An area of land next to the site has also been set aside as a conservation reserve for the mulgara, a carnivorous marsupial endemic to central Australia.
How: Stays from €1,024pp per night (minimum two-night stay). longitude131.com.au
8. Cosmoledo Eco Camp, Seychelles
With a name like Wizard Island, this jungle castaway in the Cosmoledo atoll is guaranteed to be magical. Perched on removable plinths, designed not to disturb the powder-soft sand, eight shipping containers have been repurposed as sea-facing ’eco pods’. Continuing the recycling theme, tables have been constructed from tree trunks, hanging lamps made from fishing nets and all cleaning products used are fully biodegradable. Spend days snorkelling, diving and kayaking, or have lunch on the flats with warm water lapping your ankles.
How: Pods cost €733 per night. bluesafari.com
9. Hoanib Valley Camp, Namibia
Almost half of Namibia is protected wilderness, so it’s not to hard to deviate from the beaten track. But the Hoanib Valley, a seasonal river backed by pink feldspar-flecked mountains, is remote – even by this country’s far-flung standards. Fully solar powered and constructed mostly from recycled materials, this Natural Selection camp works closely with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, giving guests an opportunity to track and monitor desert-adapted giraffes.
How: Full board stays from €574 per night. naturalselection.travel
NB: All prices subject to availability and change.
When times are hard - and God only knows 2020 has been hard- it's only natural to reminisce about the better days. And, if you're anything like me, you're finding comfort during lockdown not only in the giddy dreams of future travel, but in the romantic, misty-eyed nostalgia of past adventures.