The hottest, most nature-friendly destinations for the green yogi
by Libuse Binder
While modern society has embraced many comforts from today’s technology, our sense of community and responsibility for the environment are its casualties. One of yoga’s allures is its ability to return practitioners to the powerfully simple virtue of connection.
According to Georg and Brenda Feuerstein, authors of Green Yoga (Traditional Yoga Studies, 2007), “At its best, yoga is a holistic tradition that fully acknowledges the interdependence of everything. Its contemporary teachers and practitioners are called to translate the yogic wisdom teachings into a viable ‘green’ lifestyle, which treats both the inner and outer environment with reverence.”
Both yoga and travel offer ways to explore and expand the connections between our inner selves and the outer world. Thanks to sustainable tourism practices, yoga practitioners and travelers alike can honor their relationship with the earth while exploring the limits of their imagination, engaging with diverse cultures, and experiencing our planet’s rich biodiversity.
Many yoga teachers have embraced the concept of sustainable tourism, making beach locales such as Costa Rica and Mexico popular retreat destinations. “Yoga and nature go hand in hand because they are both so healing,” says Lana Wedmore, owner of Costa Rica’s Luna Lodge, where visitors can come for a scheduled yoga retreat or take one of her daily yoga classes on a platform in the rainforest overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The yoga platforms at Estate Concordia, and its sister property Maho Bay Camps (both on the island of St. John), offer stunning views of the Caribbean. At Utah’s Sundance Resort, guests practice on an outdoor platform with unobstructed views of Mt. Timpanogos. EcoTulum Resorts and Spa in Mexico offers hatha yoga classes either in the tropical jungle or on its Caribbean beachfront terrace. At Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge in Nicaragua, sunrise and sunset yoga classes are on a platform on the secluded beach. In the high desert of Arizona, Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center provides spiritual yoga and juice-fasting retreats against the backdrop of Coronado National Forest.
What exactly does sustainable tourisni mean? While “eco-friendly” and “green” have becorne marketing huzzwords for hotels and resorts, many organizations are establishing rating systems that help tourists determine just how green their prospective destinations really are.
Internationally, The Rainforest Alliance helped to establish a Sustainable Tourism Certification Network, which offers a SmartGuide to Sustainable Travel. The Costa Rica government has established the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program. Lodges, hotels, and resorts can apply for certification based on criteria such as water and electricity use, impact of property on surrounding environment and communities, recycling and reuse policies, and environmental education programs.
Resorts and lodges are often located on the most beautiful Iand a country has to offer. In the case of ecoproperties, an integral part of their operating practices is a commitment to environmental stewardship, with many supporting conservation easements that protect designated Iand. Others establish nature reserves and support the work of national parks.
“The owners of these places realize they are borrowing the Iand,” explains Julie Dohrrnan, a certified Anusara yoga instructor who has led several retreats in Costa Ricc, “and they are honoring the land by inviting others to both experience and help protect it.”
Guaria de Osa rnaintains ethno-botanical gardens, where it grows and protects native and endangered plants, trees, flowers, and medicinal herbs. The Lapa Rios Rainforest Ecolodge, situated within a private nature reserve adjacent to Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park and overlooking the Pacific, has worked with both the National Park and The Nature Conservancy to ensure protection for its 1,000-acre property.
The Sundance Resort partners with the 5,000-acre Sundance Preserve, a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of sustainable land management and innovative creativity and action. Morgan’s Rock, on one of the most secluded beaches in Nicaragua created a private nature reserve, which offers a safe haven for sea turties and even a near-extinct species of iguana. In Baja, Mexico, Rancho La Puerta’s Fundacion La Puerta has initiated a 2,000-acre conservation easement. The resort also funds the Tecate River Park and offers sustainable agricultural education to the communitv.
Because deforestation and irresponsible energy use threatens many of the arcas around these Iodges, construction materials for the resort huildings—along with energy choices, products, water sources, and food—are a crucial part of the sustainability equation. Many eco-lodges specifically choose recycled and renewable construction materials and design buildings that utilize nature’s own heating, cooling, and water filtration systems.
“Green travelers can now enjoy intimacy with nature while staying in dwellings constructed almost entirely of recycled rnaterials,” says Stanley Selengut, founder of Maho Bay and Estate Concordia. Structures at both properties feature green techniques; recycled construction material including nails and tiles; naturally ventilated units that produce their own solar power; and minimal defoliation and soil erosion. Environmentally responsible projects at Luna Lodge include a solar-powered, salt-filtered pool with a recycled plastic deck and a new restaurant built with sustainable wood and recycled plastic lumber.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Colorado uses reclaimed wood for resort buildings. Morgan’s Rock adapted wood from reforestation or certified logging projects to construct its bungalows, rnanv of which have a tree growing through their roof—literally—so no growth would be cut down.
Guaria de Osa’s buildings are constructed out of felled wood from windstorrns. Mexico’s Rancho La Puerta waterproofed local, traditional adobe mud bricks with a mix of soil and prickly pear cacti pulp and even transformed an old tennis court into a service road.
To help conserve water, Estate Concordia installed rain catchers on roofs and processes what’s collected on-site to potable standards. Devil’s Thumb Ranch uses a water-sand filtration system so the resort doesn’t rely on man-made resources. Morgan’s Rock and Rancho La Puerta filters gray water on-site and uses it for irrigation.
At Maho Bay, Estate Concordia, and Rancho La Puerta, guests get in on the conservation with Iow-flow or composting toilets and pull-chain showers.
Intelligent building design also assists in regulating indoor temperature. Many eco resorts are off the grid, meaning that they rely on alternative forrns of energy. Lapa Rios, Luna Lodge, and EcoTulum run generators for limited electricity. Luna Lodge, which is now converting to a hydroelectric power system, has bio-gas for cooking and low-watt lighting. Guaria de Osa uses solar power, and Estate Concordia offers guests solarpowered eco-tents. The Sundance Resort, in partnership with Utah Clean Energy programs, has replaced 50 percent of its tradtiona1 electricity sources with wind power. Devil’s Thumb Ranch, honored in 2004 with an EPA Award for Environmentally Sensitive Remodeling and Expansion, heats cabins and other resort buildings with geothermal heat.
Fresh, delicious food, made with local and organic ingredients, supports sustainable agriculture and reduces greenhouse gases created hy shipping. Many lodges, including Luna Lodge, Guaria de Osa, Rancho La Puerta, and Sunrise Springs grow their own organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Sundance Resort’s Tree Room Restaurant, built around a tree that stands as its centerpiece, treats guests to seasonal mountain cuisine prepared with organic and local ingredients. Devil’s Thumb sources local producers for its organic meats and produce.
For even more of a food experience, Rancho La Puerta offers cooking classes, and the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center takes visitors to the source of their food with organic farming courses and by serving 100- percent organic, vegan fare—rnuch of it grown in its own gardens. Sunrise Springs, a memher of Slow Food International, also serves organic and local cuisine served in its restaurant.
While many hotels and resorts offer basic recycling facilities, green resorts do more to reduce the effects of consumption on the local environment by using cleaning supplies and personal-care products made from biodegradable,non-toxic ingredients.
Sorne resorts have stepped up efforts with sheer innovation. Recycled rnilk jugs transformed into tables and chairs on the decks of the Sundance Resort; old wine bottles fresh out of the glass-works kiln turn into housewares and eye-catching art around the property. At Maho Bay and Estate Concordia, used glass becomes handblown art; old bed linens morph into waIl hangings and tablecloths.
Organic beauty has also made its mark on eco spas. EcoTulum’s holistic Mayan spa relaxes visitors with organic, locally made beauty products. Sunflower-seed panels and hernp fabric decorate Sundance Resort’s spa, built of salvaged lumber frorn the Great Salt Lake. Most oils and scrubs cornprise organic ingredients and guests can wrap themselves in soybu robes, a blend of soybean and bamhoo. Rancho La Puerta incorporates organic herbs grown on-site into its treatment products.
Commitment to Education
The tranquility of these resorts often belies their existence within and around native populations.
For many, preserving and contributing to the indigenous cultures is as important as protecting local ecosystems. They buy locally, employ area residents, and offer educational opportunities.
The owners of Lapa Rios helped found the Carbonera School for the children of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica’s least developed region. In Nicaragua, the Americas’ second poorest country, Morgan’s Rock offers education and employment opportunities to the community .
Ecotourism raises awareness about fragile ecosystems, involves local communities, and encourages guests to partake in conservation. At Lapa Rios, visitors can choose among such get-smart adventures as an overnight trip through the jungle, a reforestation tour that includes planting trees, and a visit to the local school to share stories with students.
Guests at these properties also have opportunities to monitor wildlife, assist in protection programs, and learn about surrounding ecosystems. “Protecting the land is important for the wildlife, and the health of the landscape,” explains Jessie Walthers, environmental education director at the Sundance Nature Center. “People are more inspired to protect the land when they can see firsthand what they are trying to protect.”
If the practice of yoga has the power to heighten awareness of both ourselves and our places within the greater community, then these beautiful, remote destinations serve as lenses to focus such introspection. By stepping into nature and connecting with her elements, We not only place ourselves firmly within the natural world, we begin to understand our fundamental responsibility in sustaining its sublime balance.
Libuse Binder is currently writing a book, 10 Ways to Change the World in Your 20s. www.tenways.org
Wherever your wanderlust takes you, these eco-havens help you connect with both your spirit and your planet:
Devil’s Thumb RanchTabemash,Colorado www.devilsthumbranch.com
EcoTulum Resorts and Spa Tulum, Mexico www.ecotulum.com
Guaria de Osa Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica www.guariadeosa.com
Lapa Rios Rainforest Ecolodge Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica www.laparios.com
Luna Lodge Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica www.lunalodge.com
Maho Bay Cam psi Estate Concordia Coral Bay, St. John, US
Virgin Islands www.maho.org
Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua www.morgansrock.com
Rancho La Puerta Tecate, Mexico www.rancholapuerta.com
Sundance Resort Sundance, Utah www.sundanceresort.com
Sunrise Springs Inn & Retreat Santa Fe, New Mexico www.sunrisesprings.com
Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center Patagonia, Arizona www.Treeoflife.nu