The travel industry is sometimes criticised by green activists for being wasteful. And at times, they’re right, the industry can put quite a bit of strain on the environment if you think about it: burning all that fuel to get around, oversized pools, manicured lawns, and 24x7 air-conditioning. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. You can choose to vacation in a way that will soothe your eco-conscious conscience, too. Hotels and consumers are both getting smarter and becoming more aware of the concept of eco tourism. And they’ve also come to realise that you don’t need to give up on certain comforts just because you’re agreeing to go eco-friendly.
If you’re reading this and find yourself nodding along but think India is far behind in environmental friendliness and probably doesn’t have any eco-friendly resorts, think again. Scroll on for South India’s best eco resorts.
I. Banasura Hill Resort
An eco resort tucked away in the hills of Kerala’s least populous district
Where: Wayanad, Kerala
Best time to visit: Any time during the year. However, the surrounding hills are the most beautiful just after the monsoon.
Banasura Hill Resort is a 35-acre farm tucked away in the hills of Wayanad and covered in tea, coffee, pepper, and cashew plantations. Wayanad is a biodiversity hotspot and is home to many plants and animals. Recognising this, and wanting to make as little an impact as possible, the resort has implemented certain measures to keep its surroundings intact and help conserve the environment: up to 40 percent of its water comes from rainwater harvesting, used water is channeled into the gardens and toilets, and a biogas plant recycles organic waste into manure and kitchen fuel. The huts and cottages at the resort (divided into Earth Rooms, Log Huts, Twin Villas, and Suites) have been built using rammed earth—a technique where only natural raw materials like earth, chalk lime or gravel is used, and elephant grass is used for the roofs to help keep the insides cool.
Cost: Considering all the good this resort does, Rs. 7000 to Rs. 17,000 isn’t that much to shell out per night
II. Elephant Valley Eco Farm
Eco-friendly + pet friendly? Yes please
Where: Palani Hills, Tamil Nadu
Best time to visit: The peak season for sightseeing and other tourist activities in Kodaikanal is between April to June and from September to October. But if you like a bit of a nip in the air, November and January can also be quite enjoyable.
Set at a height of 4,265 ft. above sea level, the Elephant Valley farm has 20 villas and rooms that have been constructed using granite and reclaimed wood. The rooms are equipped with solar lights, low consumption bulbs, firewood fuelled hot water showers and iron wood stoves for the winters. Even most of the ingredients used in cooking come from their organic farm.
Elephant Valley Eco Farm is located in the Palani Hills, about 20 km from Kodaikanal and is spread out over 100 green acres. This densely forested area of the Western Ghats is one of the 25 most important biodiversity hotspots on the planet.
Fun fact: Elephant Valley Eco Farm gets its name from the fact that it is located on an old elephant migration route next to the border of the national forest. And oh, did we mention that it is also pet-friendly?
Cost: You can’t really put a price tag on a few days in paradise, but if you had to, it costs between Rs. 3,400 to Rs. 6,500 per night
III. Kabini River Lodge
From hunting lodge to eco-resort
Best time to visit: The Kabini River Lodge is a great place to visit any time of the year, but during the months of March, April and May, the pools and springs in the forest dry up, bringing the animals to the banks of the river. During monsoon (July, August and September) you will find the forest more green and dense, but the possibilities of animal sightings will be lower.
The Kabini River Lodge is an eco-tourism destination under the Jungle Lodges & Resorts brand owned by the Karnataka government. The Kabini Lodge was its first project and since its inception in 1980, the brand has come to own several properties across Karnataka. Located on a 54-acre property by the banks of the river Kabini, the lodge is a former hunting range that has been converted into an eco-hotel.
The Kabini River is believed to be holy and along its banks lies one of India’s premier wildlife reserves—Nagarhole National Park (Rajiv Gandhi National Park)—which is home to elephants, sambar and spotted deer, wild boars, sloth bears, gaur and the occasional tiger and panther. This area used to be the favourite hunting ground of the former maharajah of Mysore.
With the simple aim to inculcate a sense of appreciation within their guests for the things around them, the resort has adopted various policies that contribute towards a conservation-based lifestyle, such as, sourcing provisions from their local markets and having reformed poachers as staff members, they work towards educating their guests about conservationist practices. They have pulled the plug on TVs and phones, because they believe nothing should come between you and nature. This group works towards helping people appreciate the smaller aspects of nature by showing them how to appreciate organisms like ants, spiders, beetles and butterflies and not just the elephants, tigers and leopards.
The resort has a well-stocked bar where you can spend your evenings, a river-facing Gol Ghar where you can eat, and rejuvenation centres for you to relax. Don’t leave without going on a jeep safari and a boat ride downstream.
Cost: The price tag of Rs. 7,000 to Rs. 11,000 per night isn’t much considering the bragging rights you’ll go back with.
IV. Kadumane Homestay
A stay here is a lesson in eco-friendliness
Where: Dandeli, Karnataka
Best time to visit: Between March and October, when you have a higher chance of spotting wildlife.
The brainchild of Narasimha Bhat, a passionate naturalist, the Kadumane Homestay is located just 12 km away from Dandeli. Set in three acres of land near the Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserve, the property offers five eco-friendly cottages made out of laterite stone and locally sourced materials. They also have a mud house and 20 tents, all surrounded by fragrant fruit trees.
As an ardent nature lover, Bhat tries to spread his knowledge among his guests. He will spend hours with you, identifying the various plants around the homestay and even show you how to extract honey from beehives. You can also go trekking, hiking, kayaking, river rafting and bird watching, as well as embark upon wildlife safaris.
Cost: Considering it only costs Rs.2,000 per night, you can easily stay more than a few days
V. Karadi Malai Camp
Your neighbours will be wildlife—and you’ll like them more than your neighbours at home
Where: Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu
Best time to visit: Between December and April, when birds from different parts of the world migrate to India, making this place a paradise for bird watchers.
Karadi Malai Camp lies on the border of the Vallam Reserve Forest 50 km south of Chennai. Owned by Rom Whitaker and Janaki Lenin, the farm is rich in birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. When they started out, this 12-acre land was a barren rice field. Now, it’s lush and teeming with life.
You won’t have to venture out too far to see some of the beautiful animals. They have a resident leopard, civet cats, porcupines, owls, scorpions and snakes (cobras, Russell’s vipers, common kraits, rat snakes) within their compound. You will find emus following you around, owls, spotted owlets, paradise flycatchers, pitta, brainfever birds, woodpeckers, sunbirds and at least three types of bulbuls flying across the property.
Karadi Malai Camp offers guests accommodation in one of three airy, bamboo cottages. Each hut has a modern attached bathroom and looks out on to reforested land. Each solar-powered cottage is surrounded by a moat, which ensures that the property’s snakes and smaller animals let you sleep in peace.
Sometime during your stay, go on a morning walk, take a dip in the swimming pool and go on safari. You can also hike the surrounding hills or visit the monuments at Mahabalipuram.
Cost: Rs. 4,000 per night to have a leopard and civet as your neighbour? Yes please!
VI. Karuna Farm
Stay off the grid in Kodi
Where: Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu
Best time to visit: Anytime between April to June and August to September, when the weather is at its best—temperatures stay in the region of a comfortable 20°C to a bracing 10°C.
Located on a hill overlooking the Kodaikanal Valley, Karuna is a community farm with cottages available to rent. For the owners, it is a way to promote their idea of an alternative lifestyle where man lives in harmony with nature without compromising on basic amenities and comfort.
The farm is completely off the grid and only uses solar energy and hydroelectric power. The climate and water resources are good for cultivation all through the year. Karuna Farm also grows Brazilian coffee, avocado, lime, jackfruit, custard apple, and passion fruit through organic methods. It even has its own beehives. The huts here have been made from reused tyres and tin cans rammed with earth and it relies solely on solar energy for heating. Rainwater is harvested and stored in insulated tanks and sewage is treated on-site.
Each of the nine cottages at the farm is equipped with a kitchen for those who wish to cook and for the others, there is a restaurant overlooking a lovely little waterfall, which serves vegetarian meals to order. Located at the confluence of two rivers, the scenery that surrounds the farm is breath-taking. You might not get to spot big-ticket wild animals, but you will get to be around countless monkeys, cats, dogs and squirrels.
Cost: With rates starting as low as Rs. 750 and only going up to Rs. 2,500 per night, this place is super affordable.
VII. Rainforest Retreat at Mojo Plantation
Come away having learned about better farming and sustainable living
Where: Coorg, Karnataka
Best time to visit: While you can visit Coorg anytime of the year, the best time would be between the months of November to April. During this period, the weather is cool and nature is at her best. Try and avoid the rainy season in Coorg (end of June to September) but be sure to pack an umbrella while visiting as there is always a chance of unexpected showers.
Botanists Sujata and Anurag Goel started Mojo Plantation as a way to promote ecotourism alongside sustainable agriculture and environment education. Modelled on an organic farm, the plantation works on ecological principles that the founders have picked up during their 20 years of experience in the field of botany.
At this plantation, they have set up the Rainforest Retreat, a unique eco-tourism project that enables tourists to experience the harmony of living with nature. Through this, they hope to create a platform where they can exchange information about sustainable living, farming practices and research programs with like-minded people. Their ultimate goal is to ensure that farmers are aware of the perils of conventional agricultural practices and to promote organic farming that preserves soil and fosters biodiversity.
Within the retreat, they provide two cottages, each surrounded by bamboo, banana, and fragrant coffee and orange plants. Apart from using solar lights, they also ensure that all organic waste makes its way to the retreat’s biogas plant that powers the kitchen. The rest is composted and used to fertilise crops of coffee, kokum, cardamom, and vanilla, which are also available for sale.
Visit several neighbouring plantations and explore one of the best trekking destinations in India. You can also go on walks, indulge in bird watching and even learn quite a bit about better farming practices and sustainable lifestyles.
Cost: Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 40,000 per night. But you can’t put a price tag on education, right?
Yoga + environment = a holistic holiday
Where: Gokarna, Karnataka
Best time to visit: From October to March when the weather is quite warm and pleasant.
SwaSwara is located on the famous Om Beach amidst 26 acres of green lawns. If you have been looking for a trip that will rejuvenate you, this is definitely a holiday you should consider. With yoga and meditation as their core therapy mediums, they help their visitors find inner peace during their stay. The resort has a number of teachers taking classes every day, and to complement the yoga therapy it offers ayurvedic treatments.
You will rise with the sun and begin your day at with a yoga class or mandala meditation backed by the sounds of the ocean. You can take long walks by the beach, go trekking, kayaking or simply enjoy the wonders of nature while sitting in the resort.
Not one to shy way from protecting the environment, the villas at SwaSwara are made from local laterite stone and clay tiles and have thatched roofs and open-air showers. The pool is filled with harvested rainwater, and every Monday, the SwaSwara team cleans the garbage along Om Beach. Guests are encouraged to join in if they feel like it.
Cost: A minimum stay of five days is required, which costs Rs, 84,000 (single occupancy) or Rs. 1, 11, 800 (double occupancy). Considering the place, a minimum stay is of no concern. Be more worried that you won’t want to leave
XI. The Dune Eco Village and Spa
Where traditional meets modern
Where: Keelputhupet, Pondicherry
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Pondicherry is between October and February. Winter (December and January) is also a great time as activity at the ashram increases due to the birth and death anniversaries of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.
This eco-friendly hotel is just a kilometre from the beach. Located on 35 acres of land along the Coromandel Coast, the hotel is just a 20-minute drive from central Pondicherry.
Choose from 55 uniquely designed bungalows that have been designed by artists, architects and designers fusing traditional and modern architecture. To make things more interesting, each villa has a unique theme. The bungalows are fully equipped with solar water systems, low consumption bulbs and organic linen. Most of the villas have their own private garden, lounge, or terrace as well. Dune also practices rainwater harvesting.
There is also a yoga hall, an aromatherapy house, a gym, a jogging track and a pool.
Cost: Rates start at Rs.4,500 and go up to Rs.8,000. Not bad at all. What say?
Words: Krupa Joseph