The Future of Sustainable Luxury, Eco-Lodging, and Regenerative Tourism

The Future of Sustainable Luxury, Eco-Lodging, and Regenerative Tourism

Ecotourism has likely existed in some form as long as people have traveled, but traveling to far-off destinations to experience the natural world there started to gain prominence in the 1980s. A big part of the first movement towards ecotourism started in Costa Rica, and before long came the first “eco-lodges”, eco-friendly hotels with a light ecological and energy footprint for discerning ecotourists who wanted to help preserve the destinations they visited.

In the four decades since then, both concepts have evolved. Today’s travelers are better informed than they have ever been about the impact of where they stay and what activities they support, which has transformed the entire tourism industry, not just ecotourism. 

In the hospitality industry, we know now that solar panels, conserving water, and recycling are just the start of what it means to have sustainable practices, and that truly protecting these destinations means taking an active role in improving not only our natural environment but the human communities that surround us as well. 

At the same time, visionary designers, builders, and ecological specialists have continued to iterate on and improve the concept of eco-lodges, resulting in fully eco-friendly hotel and resort options that can provide world-class comfort, amenities, and experiences even in the heart of the world’s most exotic environments. 

In this article, we’ll review how many eco-lodges have evolved over the decades into a new vision of eco-luxury, and how today’s vision of a new, regenerative tourism blends environmental sustainability, world-class comfort, and community initiatives.


Costa Rica, the Home of the First Eco-Lodges

Costa Rica was the epicenter of the ecotourism movement, and today it’s a world leader in the field, regarded as a respected expert despite its small population and landmass. 

That’s because what Costa Rica lacks in square mileage it makes up for in the  sheer number of species that live here, and the density of natural beauty you can find within its borders. Add the fact that Costa Rica has a cultural focus on preserving and protecting its natural heritage that predates even the early days of the ecotourism movement, and you have a rich history of sustainability. 

As a result, many of the first eco-lodges and eco-friendly hotels emerged right here in Costa Rica, including Rara Avis, which is considered by many to be the very first eco-lodge in the country. 


Elevating Eco Lodging into Eco-Luxury

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The first eco-lodges were very rudimentary, built using early understandings of sustainability practices, possibly renewable energy technology, and an unspoken implication that you might be "roughing it" a bit. Even the best eco-lodges offered visitors immersion in the natural world and the knowledge that they had made an impact but often had to make trade-offs with comfort and amenities.

This was a bit of an obstacle to the growth of ecotourism at first. Many people wanted to travel sustainably if they could, but when environmentally friendly travel came at the cost of sacrificing the private plunge pool, top-of-the-line cuisine, and thousands of comforts of other travel experiences, the choice got a lot harder. 

This is where the four decades of growth and evolution both in the tourism industry as well as in the mindset of the global population have resulted in a lot of progress. There was a time when sustainability was a new, fresh marketing tactic, one that was often paid for by deficiencies in other areas. 

Today, consumer demand for sustainable travel options has pushed new technologies, new ways of thinking, and new methods to offer world-class comfort with a light ecological footprint and an affordable price tag. 

The result is that travelers and hotels no longer have to make so many hard decisions about choosing comfort and quality over sustainability, and this isn’t just limited to ecologically-related decisions. 

Those four decades of innovation and sustainability-focused thinking have also helped hotel and resort providers understand not only the impact that they have on the natural resources and habitats around them, but also on the local communities that they work with and rely on. 


Investing in People, Empowering the Local Community

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Today, we at Nayara are a part of the regenerative tourism movement, which views travel, tourism, and hospitality as a positive force on the community and surrounding environment, as long as it’s done correctly.

Regenerative tourism expands sustainable thinking beyond just environmental stewardship, adding an additional focus that the benefits of tourism are shared equitably with local communities. For tourism to be truly sustainable, it must contribute to the health of the local region and the local economy, address social issues, and promote societal well-being.

Fair wages and employment opportunities for individuals from the local communities are just the tip of the iceberg. True regenerative tourism sees investment in the local community as a long-term investment into the health of the hotel or resort, which it is, and acts accordingly.

This can take countless forms, like offering certification programs for local residents as guides and specialists, donating time and resources to local community initiatives, supporting education, food security, and childcare, offering free transportation and housing for employees and other locals, and so on. 

Ultimately, following regenerative tourism means believing in two things — first, that a healthy destination leads to a more vibrant travel experience and second, that those who facilitate travel have a duty to improve their surroundings (from both a natural and human perspective). 


Luxury Regenerative Tourism in Action Across Nayara

Much like ecotourism itself, the birthplace of Nayara Resorts was in the rainforests of Costa Rica, and the Nayara Resorts emerged out of a simple idea — create a world-class, luxury experience guided by the foundational principles of regenerative tourism. 

This started at Nayara Gardens in the Arenal Rainforest, and over the years our success in intertwining true luxury with regenerative tourism has led to the creation of two more offerings in Arenal (Nayara Springs and Nayara Tented Camp), as well as the addition of locations in Bocas del Toro, on Easter Island, and in the Atacama Desert. 

In other blogs, you can read up on the experiences and vision behind each of those destinations, but in this article, we’ll focus a little deeper on how each of our destinations offers a perspective on regenerative tourism. 


Sustainability in the Costa Rican Rainforest | Nayara Gardens, Springs, and Tented Camp

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Located in the heart of the rainforest, Nayara Resorts in Costa Rica have an intimate relationship with nature. But this is not just a story of coexistence – we have taken proactive steps to contribute positively to our natural surroundings with a massive reforestation effort.

Nayara Tented Camp, the final addition to our family of resorts in Costa Rica, used to sit on a barren cattle ranch without a single bird or shrub to speak of. 

About forty years ago, Costa Rica had one of the highest deforestation rates in Latin America. Fortunately, the country has managed to reverse this: now 25% of the country’s surface is protected as national parks, the highest percentage of its kind in the world (the average is 8%).

We took it upon ourselves to bring the rainforest back to this desolate landscape, and so we planted hundreds of indigenous trees and plants, creating a habitat for countless wildlife in the process. This included dozens of crecopia trees, a sloth favorite, that turned our resort into a veritable sloth sanctuary. But creating a habitat for local wildlife was just the first step. 

We built two pedestrian bridges hanging over our forest canopy to protect the trees and wildlife below. We built sustainable and renewable buildings. Land topography allows us to orient our rooms smartly to maximize the heating effects of sunlight and ventilation, minimizing the need for air conditioning and heating. We use energy-saving tactics like energy-efficient lighting systems, and water-conserving faucets and towels.

We have managed to become a resort free of single-use plastics and work diligently on the implementation of rigorous policies regarding the reduction, reuse, and recycling of all types of waste.

After a rigorous multi-year effort, we were able to become fully carbon neutral. We calculate and offset all our greenhouse gas emissions so you can enjoy and preserve nature at the same time. 

For our ecological efforts, we were rewarded the Costa Rican government’s coveted Four Leaves Award for Sustainability for our efforts and for endorsing the four tenets of sustainability that ensure we remain one of Costa Rica’s premier eco-resorts, but our work doesn’t stop there.

The majority of our team comes from the neighboring town of La Fortuna de San Carlos. We offer them free transportation, sustainable tourism education, and health services. Some of our additional local initiatives include free early education for our employees’ children, volunteer time, financial support to Hogarcito de Ninos, a local orphanage, and support for local artists.


Sustainability in the World’s Driest Desert — Nayara Alto Atacama

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Our hotels in Chile are located in extremely fragile destinations and within unique ecosystems. For this reason, we seek to minimize the impact of our operations and preserve natural resources.

We believe in leaving no trace or garbage in our destinations and we have strict protocols regarding the reduction, recycling, and reuse of different materials to minimize our impact. We work on the conservation and renewal of energy and water, through modern treatment plants that allow us to purify and subsequently treat and reuse all the water collected in daily use to irrigate our gardens.

In addition, onsite at Nayara Alto Atacama we have created an Andean Garden, where highland trees, cacti, shrubs, and native plants have been planted. In the lake aquatic life flourishes and the garden is filled with bees and birds that arrive looking for shade and food. 

As a result of those efforts, Nayara Alto Atacama is the only luxury hotel in San Pedro de Atacama with an “S” certification for sustainable tourism from the Chilean government.

Within our community, we’ve seen an impact as well. Nayara Alto Atacama is known in the area as being a stable place to work, and most of our team comes from the neighboring towns. We give yearly scholarships to young people to finish high school, both in the area and in other places in Chile.

And whenever we implement new innovations, we make sure that we share them with our community. In a first for Chile, we broke ground on a new solar panel and battery project completely disconnected from the national electricity grid, and throughout the project, our team worked alongside people in the local community to create solar panel projects of their own.


Sustainability at a UNESCO World Heritage Site  — Nayara Hangaroa

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On the UNESCO World Heritage site of Easter Island, we aim to create a positive impact that makes it feasible for the new generations to live and prosper on the island. Of course, this starts with the physical changes. 

We built sustainable and renewable lodging and took advantage of the land topography and green roofs to make natural cooling and heating more effective, minimizing the need for air conditioning.

However, the main impact of our work has been involving the community in every aspect of our activities, and taking an intentional role in protecting Hangaroa's cultural heritage. From the Rapanui family that inhabited this land for generations to the team of architects, landscapers, and artisans, everyone who visits Nayara Hangaroa wishes to honor Rapanui culture and history. 

The hotel was designed as a tribute to the Orongo ceremonial center, one of the most iconic places on the island. When you walk through the Rano Kau crater and see the amazing architecture of the ancient houses, with their green grass roofs and curved stone walls, you’ll see the immediate similarities. They continue into the details of national artisans that are everywhere in the hotel, from the ceilings to the volcanic stone tubs and lavatories.

Our team comes from the neighboring town of Hanga Roa and other areas of the island, and they’re involved in every aspect of our operations, especially as guides and communicators of the history of the Rapa Nui. After all, who is better to share the history of Easter Island than those who have significant local knowledge and deep roots here? In some cases, you’ll be learning from individuals whose very lineage is tied to the ancient stone faces of the Moai. 

Through these details, and through continuously working with the local community and the Rapanui families that steward the history and culture of Easter Island, we are slowly working so that this global heritage site remains thriving and active for the years to come.  


Sustainability on a Protected Archipelago — Nayara Bocas del Toro

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Even on a private island paradise, a type of destination once synonymous with unsustainable and over-the-top luxury, we’ve been thrilled to tackle the challenges of providing a world-class experience while maintaining a positive impact on our environment and community. 

From the very beginning, we conducted five different environmental studies so that we could build Nayara Bocas del Toro without harming the native mangroves and coral reefs. That's why we built the hotel on stilts and off-grid and designed our own clean water and energy infrastructure on the island. 

100% of our freshwater for drinking, bathing, and cooking is provided by harvested rainwater, thanks to a system of custom gutters and catchment basins that can store as much as 100,000 gallons. The water is then purified using a cutting-edge ultraviolet purification method and reused throughout the hotel. 

And in a place so intertwined with nature as the Galapagos of the Caribbean, everyone is involved in ecological activities and ecological protection. We work exclusively with local tour and experience providers, supporting these industries. 


Sustainability Is An Investment in Our Future

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Here at Nayara Resorts, we follow the principles of regenerative tourism even as we work to provide a peerless, world-class experience, but not because it’s a compelling marketing tool. In some ways, it is emotional — these destinations are our homes, and we want to protect them. 

But as countless others in the regenerative tourism movement understand, investing in our environment as well as the health and local economy of our communities is just a smart investment in the future, one that has already begun to pay dividends in ways that you might not even notice when you come to visit. 

If you’d like to learn more about the decisions that we’ve made at the Nayara Resorts to support sustainability, or if you’d learn about what you can do on your own stay to make sure your travel makes an impact, you can reach out to us at