The sustainable travel industry has grown enormously. Large enough so that we are now starting to see travelers make decisions about where to stay, eat and play based primarily around community development, environmental action and social good.
As most of you have, we’ve simply grown tired of these “top destination” lists and a feed filled with the same shots from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia. We’ve been on the lookout for unique destinations bringing us the best of jungle, beaches and adventure. We love South East Asia but could do without the crowd.
That’s why we’re all about Sri Lanka right now.
We partnered with Lokal Travel to experience the best of community tourism on this incredible island of exceptional hospitality, beautiful beaches, and vibrant wildlife. Here’s some of the highlights of this green and empowered island, still recovering from the civil war that only ended in 2009.
Just 30-minutes outside of lively Kandy, in the town of Digana, you’ll find a peaceful escape from city life in the middle of a small jungle. Polwaththa, translating to Coconut Estate, is a rustic, family-owned ecolodge among the trees. Their 10 lodges and 2 homestays offer a homey setting, backed by true Sri Lankan hospitality.
The property offers a mix of comfort, immersion and privacy. For restful evenings among nature, it’s perfect for families, couples and explorers looking to get out of the city. Run by a Sri Lankan and Dutch couple, the ecolodge embodies their passion for environmental action and community empowerment.
Their kitchen serves up Sri Lankan dishes made from local produce, and breakfast is accompanied by organic “wild” coffee grown around the property. The entire staff team is from the surrounding communities and thrilled to show travelers around the area with their day tour offerings, including safaris and boat tours.
Owner, Nihal, runs a small shop onsite that sells hemp and eco-friendly products made from local women in the surrounding villages. In his spare time, he teaches housewives new skills to help with income, including making hemp hats purchased by tourists. The property is also doing their part for the environment. Aside from their multiple initiatives to keep their cabins green, including solar powered water heaters, their reforestation project features planting ayurvedic plants, trees, fruits and herbs with their neighbours and the community.
Sthree is a marketplace selling handmade, eco-friendly products made by local female entrepreneurs and community members living with disabilities. The marketplace is operated by the Women’s Development Centre which provides programming for crisis intervention, community rehabilitation and vocational training.
The shop features a café where local women are given employment to cook traditional Sri Lankan dishes for locals and tourists coming through Kandy, and my goodness do they serve delicious breakfast, lunch and high tea.
They’ve just launched their hands-on Sri Lankan cooking classes where you take part in making traditional foods with women of the organization. Start your morning with the stories of inspiring women and eating mouth-watering foods – plus return home knowing how to re-create them!
At the bottom of the infamous UNESCO world heritage site of Lion Rock in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, you’ll find the oasis of Hotel Sigiriya. This incredible hotel, owned by Serendib Leisure, is all about community. In Sigiriya, they identified the need for pre-school education and in response built and staffed a space for youth. They continue to pay the teacher’s salaries and motivate families to send their children for free pre-school education and resources.
The beautiful property continues to work on bringing more environmental action to their space and has begun their journey with eliminating plastic. Their biggest barrier? Travellers constantly requesting it – wink wink, friends (we need to change our ways!).
The property offers a variety of tours and safaris to the surrounding area, where elephants run wild. Their beautiful pool, overlooking Lion Rock, is perfect for couples and families on a leisure holiday looking to escape mainstream resorts with a side of adventure.
Sigh…this luxury property is pure bliss. Located just outside Gal Oya National Park, Gal Oya Lodge sits nestled behind trees and small, village homes with absolutely no signs to its remote location. It’s literally a hidden paradise. The hospitality, cuisine and overall design of the property is extraordinarily detailed and makes for a tranquil and peaceful space for families, couples and solo travelers. Who says kids can’t experience luxury and a no WiFi zone?
Gal Oya Lodge is famous for its tours and being so close to the entrance of the park. Their team of guides comes from the Veddha aboriginal community and have grown up in and around the park, having developed an incredible knowledge of the ecological makeup and wildlife of the area.
Taking a tour with Gal Oya Lodge is not only an intimate experience, with up to 6 people per tour, experience breakfast among the river bed that flows through the park, a sunrise over the jungle and insight about the park you simply can’t learn elsewhere.
The property features a beautiful pool with an incredible lookout to a hiking point nearby, lodges made from Guinea grass with detailed accents from Nepal, and an environmentally focused kitchen. Food wastage is fed to the nearby duck and pig farm, grey water is filtered through sand and pebbles to feed their onsite greenery, and septic tanks are setup for composting.
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I am a social entrepreneur. That means I use business as a catalyst for social goodness. I am deeply passionate about sustainable travel, zero waste living, ethical fashion and social good. I currently run North India's first zero waste guesthouse, Hara House, and am the Content Director at Causeartist.