9. Most Unusual: BajaTrek, Baja California, Mexico
© BajaTrek. Gus and guests in Baja.
Do you easily tire of even the most spectacular view? Then Gus the Baja Beach Bus in Mexico may be the vacation accommodation for you. This "carbon-neutral hostel on wheels" runs on 100 percent recycled waste vegetable oil donated by local restaurants and takes intrepid travelers to explore the Baja California mountains and beaches. Sign up and you'll both visit wineries and watch whales.
When they're not sleeping on the retrofitted bus, adventurers practice low-impact tent camping or stay in small, locally owned hotels or hostels and eat healthy meals with a focus on vegetarian and local foods. Beside keeping environmental and economic costs down, the BajaTrek folks see running on recycled fuel as a way to be an eco-emissary in a region full of (often poorly maintained and polluting) diesel buses.
"When Gus is not faithfully motoring good folks through Baja he serves as a teaching tool for the local community," they say. "Our 2009 project goal is to have just one bus company convert just one bus to run on eco-friendly bio-diesel or recycled waste vegetable oil." That, and to catch some killer rays.
10. Most Harmonious with Nature: Abram's Creek Lodge, Mt. Storm, West Virginia
© Abram's Creek Lodge. The lodge house.
Abram's Creek, which has dorm-style accommodations in its main lodge in addition to a family campground, was built entirely in natural open spaces between the trees. No chemicals, pesticides, or environmentally damaging products of any kind are used on the grounds or in the buildings, and an organic garden provides produce for mainly vegetarian meals. CFLs, eco-friendly cleaning products, low-flow showerheads and recycling are de rigueur, and the lodge uses an efficient, on-demand, tankless hot-water heater, while solar-powered lights show the way along the roads.
Diligent down to the last detail -- the trash bags used are made either from post-consumer recycled plastic or biodegradable corn-based materials -- the folks at this West Virginia retreat run workshops on botany and wilderness-survival skills and are working with local officials to keep their namesake waterway "pristine and creature-friendly for generations to come."
11. Best Educational Opportunities: Shadowcliff, Grand Lake, Colorado
© Shadowclif. The view from, and of, the lodge.
Nonprofit employees, businesspeople, and government officials have been coming to this northern Colorado "mountain sanctuary" for years to participate in sustainability workshops. Individual guests enjoy regular nature and conservation lectures, interpretive hikes, and visits from rangers and naturalists at nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. (They can even take the in-room books on "Simple Sustainable Choices" home with them as a parting gift.)
While Shadowcliff landscapes with low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants, uses compact-fluorescent light bulbs and solar-powered lights, actively recycles, and composts yard waste, there's one surprising thing it doesn't do: compost food waste. Why not? The answer they provide is simple: "We have bears." They are, however, continuing their search for a bear-proof composter. Now that's wild.
12. Truth in Advertising Award: HI-Montreal, Montreal, Canada
© HI-Montreal. What's cooking in the kitchen? Photo via HI-Montreal.
After researching a host of hostels that claim to be "eco-friendly" but offer no details to back it up, what HI-Montreal has to say is awfully refreshing: "We are light green, but we'll do better."
The hostel's attempts to go green "slowly but surely" include using new ecological and biodegradable cleaning products, swapping regular light bulbs out for CFLs, installing recycling bins on each floor and in all common areas, looking for green suppliers, and offering guests information on public transportation and carpooling -- and reusable grocery bags to take shopping. Just the kind of small steps every hostel could, and should, be taking.
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