Giving Back

Stay to Give Back: Hotels Making the World a Better Place

by Team Fathom
Playa Playa Viva's eco bungalows. Photo by Kevin Steele / courtesy of Playa Viva.

To celebrate the launch of our new book, Travel North America (And Avoid Being a Tourist), we'll be publishing excerpts throughout the summer. We're starting with a roundup of hotels that are making smart, sustainable choices that contribute positively to the local community. Feels especially relevant and important in a post-pandemic world, doesn't it? We should all travel better, smarter, and more thoughtfully. These places deliver on all of the above, and so much more. 

Playa Viva

Juluchuca, Mexico
South of Zihuatanejo, in a small agricultural town nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Madre Mountains, this pristine eco-retreat was conceived on a Regenerative Development model built around environmental and community awareness. After recognizing that the property is surrounded by beautiful beaches, an estuary, and ancient ruins, but also poor schools and a poaching problem, the Playa Viva team got to work. They built an organic agricultural system to benefit both the local residents and the hotel, lead a volunteer-run sea turtle conservation project (you can apply to volunteer there if you can speak conversational Spanish), operate completely off-grid, and have a trust that funnels investment into local education, health, and economic development. It's no small thing that Playa Viva is also extremely good-looking and nice to be part of. Farm-to-table meals and daily yoga sessions are included in the stay, and the airy organic structures that serve as rooms and communal spaces blend seamlessly into the environment.

Flat Creek Ranch

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA
A dude ranch for low-impact dudes. The experience starts with a rigorous 15-mile (24-kilometer) drive across the National Elk Refuge with crazy Grand Teton views before arriving for your secluded stay in one of five historic (and luxuriously refurbished) cabins in the pine woods. The former homestead (circa 1921) is on the National Register of Historic Places and has a hard-earned BEST certification, a program with serious criteria for environmental, community, and economic sustainability. The place stays up to date with sustainability measures – solar energy, recycling, non-intrusive wilderness activities, and a general commitment to a greener future – while providing guests with incredible back-country access, a dining philosophy centered around the seasons, and a wood-fired hot tub for easing post-hike aches and marveling at the stars.

Just look at that pool. Photo courtesy of Montage Palmetto Bluff.

Montage Palmetto Bluff

Bluffton, South Carolina, USA
The Palmetto Bluff Conservancy was created to ensure the preservation of the thousands upon thousands of verdant maritime forests and winding rivers that define the spectacular Lowcountry geography. Wildlife educational classes, workshops, tours, and research programs use the vast outdoor classroom as a learning tool. Artists' residencies and community events ensure intentional interactions with each other and the land. There are suites and village homes full of southern charm, but we love the cottages with their fireplaces and and furnished screened-in porches.

Hix Island House

Vieques, Puerto Rico
This Zen-like compound on a quiet island east of Puerto Rico took a decade to build with intention, low-impact elements, and wabi-sabi design features that conserve energy, reduce repair and maintenance, and minimize the use of chemicals. The all-solar guesthouse (the first in the Caribbean) is completely removed from the electrical grid. Gray water from the shower and basin flow to the papaya and lemon trees on the property. Spacious, self- contained lofts have sea views, private terraces, and outdoor showers. Kitchens are stocked with homemade bread, local coffee, eggs, and milk for making healthy, hearty breakfasts after outdoor yoga. The 50-foot (15-meter) ionized pool (a thing of beauty!) runs on the power of the sun.

Cozy by the fire. Courtesy of Inn by the Sea.

Inn by the Sea

Cape Elizabeth, Maine, USA
This elegant oceanfront resort has a serious eco streak, with solar panels, rubber and cork flooring, green cleaning products, and biofuel for heating. There's a Silver LEED- certified spa and nectar gardens to support butterflies. Service is sweet without being obsequious – a knock on the hotel room door may be a toasted marshmallow delivery. The hotel evokes Portland's attitude in a nutshell: thoughtful, cozy, and community minded. Clean, bright, modern loft cottages and beach suites are great for families, big groups, and pets. There's a fantastically forward-thinking, seasonally driven restaurant, and a wooden walking path through the resort's "rabbitat," a woodsy briar patch for cottontail rabbits (they're endangered!) separating the inn from the ocean beach. As part of the hotel's advocacy work with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, they arrange educational jaunts for guests on Portland's lobstering boats.

Volcano House Cabins and Campsites

Big Island, Hawaii, USA
Just a few miles from the original 1846 Volcano House are a group of ten rustic, one-room camper cabins nestled in a fragrant eucalyptus forest within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The always-in-demand accommodations are low-key and low-impact – no running water, no bathrooms, one electric outlet – but there is a refurbished community bathroom (hot showers!) and a front desk courtesy phone. The hotel, which maintains its own sustainability initiatives (recycling, sourcing local foods), can also arrange to set up (and take down) a tent for two inside the National Park.

Rockhouse winds around the cliffs of Negril. Photo courtesy of Rockhouse.

Rockhouse

Negril, Jamaica
Forty studios, bungalows, and villas weave along a dramatic cluster of rocky cliffs set on sparkling blue- on-blue Caribbean waters. The food is as fresh as can be, often sourced from Rockhouse Organic Farm across the street. The staff is professional and cool – and will remember how you like your rum. The hip crowd is decidedly unhurried and fantastically laid back, and the vibes are uniformly harmonious. Bold guests try the local sport – cliff diving – by leaping off a bridge into the sea below. (It's a thrill!) In short, Rockhouse offers a postcard-perfect Jamaican idyll, but one with heart and soul, actively giving back to the community through its non-profit Rockhouse Foundation, which is also supported by its sister outposts, Skylark Hotel on Seven Mile Beach in Negril and Miss Lily's restaurant in New York City. The foundation has invested millions in seven schools in Jamaica and in Negril Library – and fed families during the pandemic. Hotel guests are encouraged to visit the schools and meet the spirited, smart, and well-rounded students. Owner Paul Salmon is a model of what a foreign owner in a developing country can do to act responsibly; he invests in the staff, the guest experience, the environment, and the community.

Stanford Inn

Mendocino, California, USA
Environmental stewardship is at the helm of this family- run inn on the Big River on California's northern coast. Invigorated by the energy and vitality of the area, the Stanfords pledged to create and maintain a peaceful escape centered around their organic farm, beloved plant-based restaurant, wellness center, and a slew of nature activities, workshops, and classes. They have a rigorous recycling and composting program, biodiesel fuel trucks, and the Environmental Leadership Field School to mobilize future leaders of the sustainability movement.

A performance in the Big House. Photo by Jack Plant / courtesy of Spirit Bear Lodge.

Spirit Bear Lodge

Klemtu, British Columbia, Canada
A stay at this remote, one-of-a-kind, Indigenous-owned wildlife viewing lodge in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest is a commitment to become part of the cycle of stewardship of the land, its culture, and its legacy of knowledge. Monitored closely by the governing body of the Kitasoo/Xai'xais First Nation, Spirit Bear's impact tourism program allows the people of the tribal territories to grow economically and provides a sustainable path for future generations. Every single aspect of the lodge is created and maintained with the intention of sustainability, regeneration, and revitalization of the Kitasoo/Xai'xais culture. For guests, this means access to spectacular wilderness, rare animal species, and real interactions with the local community who help make the lodge possible; Spirit Bear employs nearly 10 percent of the population.

Hotel El Ganzo

Los Cabos, Mexico
It's nice to see a hotel that's built on sustainability practices and is still continually doing more. Stylish and beachy with a rock-and-roll attitude, you could spend an indulgent weekend at this hotel (just twenty minutes from San Jose International Airport) without ever thinking about the pool running on solar power, the water bottles being reusable, or the cactus-based laundry detergent cutting down water usage by 80 percent. You could drink margaritas, eat guac and chips, and listen to live music without learning about how the hotel uses permaculture as the main framework for its mission or noticing what flourishing sustainable agriculture looks like: learning gardens for children, organic farmers' markets, recycling programs, and free arts education in the permanent community center they built across from the hotel. But once you catch that vibe, your whole stay will be even cooler.

The lobby at The Breakers. Photo courtesy of The Breakers Palm Beach.

The Breakers

Palm Beach, Florida, USA
They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but this grand dame resort with century-old bones now regularly implements ecologically friendly practices to protect its oceanfront environment and enhance the quality of life for future generations. These days, the Green Team oversees water conservation (reverse osmosis irrigation for the golf course) and waste and energy reduction. The resort's do-gooder philosophy extends to developing a culture of wellbeing for employees (all two thousand–plus of them), who participate in education, fitness, and impact projects and give back regularly to local causes.

Cosmos Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia
High on a ridge, just north of Saint Lucia's old French capital and just south of Anse Chastanet Beach and marine reserve, is a modernist open-air eco-lodge with big ideals and a light touch. Rendered in white coral, polished concrete, and teak, the sophisticated hillside villa is powered by solar energy, harvests rainwater, discourages single-use plastics, prioritizes locally sourced food (including the harvest from their fruit garden), and supports the local economy through employment and guest activities. The infinity pool, where you will surely want to spend a lot of time, is hemmed in by colorful bougainvillea and relies on a saltwater ozone system that uses ultraviolet light (not chemicals) for a truly refreshing swim.


Don't Stop There. Read the Whole Book!

Buy Travel North America (And Avoid Being a Tourist) from your preferred local bookseller or online from Amazon.com or Bookshop.org.

Excerpted with permission from Travel North America: (and Avoid Being a Tourist) by Pavia Rosati and Jeralyn Gerba, published by Hardie Grant Books, June 2021.

Everything on Fathom is independently selected by our editors. (Especially our own book.) If you shop through a link on our website, we may earn a commission.