Ten amazing adventure lodges with a green conscience

For many, the idea of staying at an "eco" lodge may conjure up visions of mosquitoes, jungle huts, and beds made of recycled corn husks. But the truth is, there are now many lodges around the world that offer comfort, adventure, and a truly "green" experience. They're friendly to both the environment and the local culture.

I consulted experts from Sustainable Travel International and the International Ecotourism Society while compiling my list of 10 amazing eco-lodges. From luxurious but affordable adventure in a Costa Rican rainforest to encounters with isolated tribal cultures on a tropical Pacific island, you'll be surprised and excited by the experiences these lodges can provide.

Unveil the mysteries of Easter Island in style

Lodge:explora en Rapa Nui Price:from $1,230 per person for three nights

Although it's more than 1,000 miles from the nearest inhabited island and 2,300 miles from the nearest continent, travelers have been making the effort to reach the beguiling island of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, since about 700 A.D. The earliest inhabitants crossed the Pacific in dug-out tree trunks, which makes the current method (a five-hour flight from Santiago, Chile), seem downright effortless. And most modern-day travelers who've made the trip agree, Easter Island—with its mysterious Moai statues, volcanic landscape, and disarming Rapa Nui culture—is one of the most fascinating destinations on earth.

Now there's even more reason to go: Already known for its luxurious, eco-friendly lodges in remote parts of Chile, explora recently opened explora en Rapa Nui, the region's first LEED-certified business, a distinction given only to properties utilizing stringent "green" building practices.

What sets this lodge apart? While the building itself is owned by explora, the land upon which it was built is still owned by a local Rapa Nui businessman. Its uniquely open design reduces the need for electricity for lighting and air-conditioning. And, much of the construction material came from stones and wood already on the property.

Explora en Rapa Nui's greatest assets, however, are its guides. "We have 10 guides, all from the local community on the island," says Marcela Sigall, explora's vice president of guest relations. "It's so important because everyone on staff can talk about their culture, their past. [They can tell you], 'This is how my ancestors lived, [or] this is what our oral tradition tells us about the island.' Our guides are all trained in archaeology, first aid, and guest relations and each goes to explora's guide school to learn the 'explora way.'"

"[We] customize the morning and afternoon outings each day based on the age, fitness, and interests of our guests," says Sigall. "The idea is always that guests enjoy themselves and take something away from the experience." Outings might include hikes to Moai (pronounced moe-eye) statues and quarries, other archaeological sites, beaches, and volcanic craters; cycling coastal roads; and cultural activities, like attending a Rapa Nui dance performance or learning to fish using traditional methods.

At the end of each day you can dine on a four-course gourmet meal, relax with a pisco sour in the hot tub, or browse books about the island in the lodge's library. You'll stay in one of 30 rooms, which all have amenities like hydro-massage bathtubs, furniture made of local rauli wood, and a view of the Pacific.

Trip planning:The lodge is open year-round. Prices cover Easter Island airport transfers, accommodations, all meals and alcoholic beverages, guides, and activities. Round-trip November fares from Los Angeles to Santiago, Chile start at $982, including taxes, from Hotwire.com. From Santiago, flights to Easter Island cost $670 plus taxes on LAN.

Luxurious and guilt-free adventure in Costa Rica

Lodge:Pacuare Lodge Price:from $326 per person for a two-day package

It's hard not to be enthralled by a hotel you get to by rafting down a Class III and IV whitewater river, especially when that same hotel offers 300-thread-count Egyptian cotton linens and serves three-course candlelit dinners with filet mignon and wine. What's really heartening about Pacuare Lodge, however, is that this upscale jungle retreat was built to prevent deforestation and has helped employ and educate the local indigenous people.

Opened in 1995 on the banks of the Pacuare River in the Costa Rican rainforest, Pacuare Lodge has served as a model for eco-lodges around the world and was one of only 65 ecotourism businesses worldwide identified by the World Tourism Organization as models of sustainable development. "Because of its isolation and unspoiled terrain, Pacuare Lodge was devised to have a minimum impact on its surroundings," says Luz Caceres, the lodge's marketing director and wife of owner Roberto Fernandez. Caceres says 100% of its employees are local and 98% of the land owned by Pacuare is kept in its natural state, and most of the lodge's power is generated by water and the sun.

Guests stay in elevated thatched-roof bungalows and suites with canopy beds, private bathrooms and verandahs, and almost 360-degree views. Staff members serve meals on fine china in the open-air restaurant in Pacuare's new main lodge, where there's also a small bar and lounge area.

While at the lodge, you can choose to relax and get a massage or go on optional excursions: Explore the rainforest canopy on a system of transverse cables, hike to an Indian community and visit with a local shaman, or go on a naturalist-guided walk to observe the wildlife and tropical flowers. One of the best parts of a Pacuare trip, though, is getting there. After transferring from San Jose, Costa Rica's capital, to the Pacuare River, guides will lead you on an hour-and-a-half rafting trip, passing through canyons and skirting the edge of the rainforest. If you're not up for rafting, the lodge will transfer you to the property via 4×4.

Trip planning:You can visit year-round, although the dryer months of December to March are the most popular. Trips to the lodge are sold as two- to five-day packages which include accommodations, transfers to and from San Jose, rafting or 4×4 lodge transfers, guides and equipment, and all meals. Prices start at $326 per person. Optional activities, wine, and airfare are extra. Round-trip December fares from Miami to San Jose start at $284, including taxes, on US Airways and Mexicana.

Epic Iceland

Lodge:Hotel Hellnar Price:from $198 per night

With its lava-blackened coastline, glacier-topped volcano, and mossy green hills, Iceland's Snaefellsnes Peninsula seems like the perfect setting for an epic adventure narrative. And it is. Nine of Iceland's 40 sagas—medieval accounts of Viking exploration, epic battles, and Norse family histories—are based in Snaefellsnes.

Amidst this mystical landscape sits Iceland's first green-certified hotel, Hotel Hellnar, a farm-turned-eco-lodge with one of the country's most enviable locations, just outside the entrance to Snaefellsjokull National Park.

"The hotel is situated at the top of a hill, about 40 meters (130 feet) above sea level, overlooking the bird cliffs along the oceanfront," says Owner Gudrun Bergmann. "During the months of May through August, we frequently spot orca whales just off the coast, so guests can enjoy them from the deck of the hotel or from their room window. To the north, facing the entrance of the hotel towers lies the mystical Snaefellsjokull Glacier. Close by are old lava fields which are the result of eruptions in the glacier itself, as underneath the icecap is an active volcano."

The hotel, which was recently awarded Green Globe gold standard certification, one of the highest levels of international eco-certification, is simple but comfortable, offering guests double or single rooms with private bathrooms, dining with great views, and easy access to the area's attractions.

"Hotel Hellnar far surpassed our expectations," says Clyde Haggard of Ft. Worth, Texas, who stayed at the hotel with his wife Sharon last May. "[My wife] immediately wanted to plan another trip to Iceland, with a much longer stay at Hotel Hellnar. The staff was gracious and helpful in planning our tour of the sights in the area. We love glaciers, waterfalls, and volcanic activity, so we had it all."

"I always recommend a trip to the top of the glacier if the weather permits, as it is such a unique experience," says Bergmann. The staff can arrange a snowmobile tour to the top for you. In the national park you can hike over lava fields, wander through the ruins of ancient fishing settlements, and look for wildlife like Arctic foxes and white-tailed eagles. Nearby, you can go on a whale-watching cruise from the town of Olafsvik, soak in the geothermal pools at Stykkisholmur and Lysuholl, and go horseback riding on the beach.

Trip planning:The hotel is open May 10 to September 15. Rates are based on double occupancy and include accommodations and breakfast. Activities, other meals, and transportation are extra. Round-trip fares in late August from Boston to Reykjavik, Iceland's international gateway, start at $516, including taxes, on Icelandair. From Reykjavik you should rent a car for the two-and-a-half-hour drive to the hotel.

Machu Picchu trek minus camping

Lodge:Mountain Lodges of Peru Price:$2,500 per person for a six-night package

Any true adventure traveler knows, the only respectable way to get to Machu Picchu is with your own two legs. However, Enrique Umbert, a Peruvian businessman and avid outdoorsman, won't think any less of you should you forgo the tent cities and squatter potties of the traditional Inca trail and opt to trek to the Incan city via a lesser-known route where you can stay in his newly opened first-class eco-lodges.

At Umbert's Mountain Lodges of Peru, four upscale buildings set on the Salkantay route to Machu Picchu, you can end each day of tough trekking with a hot shower, an exquisitely presented dinner, and a fluffy bed with 400-thread-count sheets. If it all sounds good, but you're sad you won't be hiking "The Inca Trail," don't despair. There are many Incan trails—ancient foot highways created by the Incas—and the Salkantay route is one of them.

While certainly indulgent, the Mountain Lodges of Peru weren't opened just to provide hikers with more comfortable accommodations. Umbert, who's been working on tourism projects with Peru's indigenous people for 10 years, wanted to create an enterprise that helped the economically depressed communities of Salkantay achieve a higher standard of living. Eighty percent of the staff is local, and Umbert has helped community entrepreneurs start small businesses including a tourist shuttle service and a fish farm. He also started an NGO to provide health care, education, and other necessities to the people.

Mountain Lodges of Peru sells the Salkantay Trek as a fully inclusive seven-day package, with bimonthly trips in 2008 and biweekly departures in 2009. You start with two nights getting acclimatized at Salkantay Lodge and then take four days to complete the 22-mile trek, staying at Wayra, Colpa, and Lucma Lodges. The trail begins in the high Andes near 12,000 feet, climbs to nearly 15,000 feet, and then descends into cloud forest, passing through villages along the way. At the end of the trek, you'll spend the night in a hotel near the base of Machu Picchu, and then have a whole day to explore the ruins.

"The trip exceeded our expectations," says Calgary resident Jean Hollingworth, who completed the trek in March with her husband. "The views were spectacular and it was fascinating meeting Peruvian people. Our guide knew almost all the locals and so we were able to visit with some families. We especially loved the idea that at the end of a challenging day of hiking we could go to a great lodge, where we were treated like royalty—hot water bottles in our bed at night, and clean, dry boots in the morning."

Trip planning:Trips are scheduled regularly through 2009. Rates include all ground transportation from Cuzco, six nights' accommodations, all meals, guides and porters, and a Machu Picchu tour. Airfare is extra. Round-trip September fares from Miami to Cuzco start at $932, including taxes, on LAN Airlines. You may also book this experience as part of a longer Peru tour with Mountain Travel Sobek.

Nature immersion on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Lodge:Maho Bay Camps Price:from $80 per night

Way back in 1976 when being environmentally friendly meant not shooting the wildlife, Stanley Selengut opened some of the world's first eco-accommodations, Maho Bay Camps, a tent-cabin village set on 14 acres of tropical forest bordering Virgin Islands National Park. He built the cabins on platforms within the forest in such a way that the native plants and animals could continue to live largely undisturbed, and also made sure the white-sand beach and coral reef the camp overlooked went undamaged. His concept caught on, and now Selengut is credited as one of the founders of the ecotourism movement. Thirty-two years and dozens of awards and accolades later, Maho Bay still offers some of the most ecologically friendly lodgings in the Caribbean. With rates from $80 per night, Maho Bay is also one of the region's best values.

Maho Bay now has 114 screened-in tent cabins grouped in clusters and connected by a network of stairs and boardwalks along a hillside overlooking the bay. The accommodations are definitely reminiscent of camping—there's no hot water or air-conditioning, wild critters may reside right outside your room, and you have to walk a distance to get between cabins—but that's all part of the wilderness experience for Maho Bay's many loyal return guests.

"The accommodations are so cozy," says Donna DeCost of Lakeville, Massachusetts, who's been making regular trips to the camps for 16 years. "It feels as if you are living in a tree house. You get to be as close to outdoors as possible without the discomfort of bugs or having to sleep on hard ground. I love eating breakfast and dinners on the private deck (all cabins have one) accompanied by the sugar-eating banana quit birds on the railing and iguanas sunning themselves at eye level."

Besides becoming acquainted with the local wildlife, there's a lot to do at Maho Bay. Its ocean views, easy access to a pristine beach, and the bay's 80-degree turquoise waters are among its top attractions. "Maho offers a complete watersports shop including kayaks, sailing boats, scuba diving and snorkel gear rentals," says Melody Smith, Maho Bay's marketing manager. "For guests who bring their own snorkel gear, they need only swim to coral reefs bordering the beach to see a wide assortment of fish, coral, and turtles."

The camp, which runs St. John's only recycling program, also operates the Trash to Treasures Art Center, where guests can take classes in everything from making hand-blown glass objects from used bottles and to papermaking with shredded office paper. "Every night there are scheduled activities that are free to guests—like movies, slide presentations on marine life, stargazing presentations, and performances by local bands," says DeCost.

Trip planning:Rates cover cabin accommodations, which includes two beds, a couch and a rollaway, and basic cooking facilities, and can fit four people. An on-site restaurant serves breakfast and dinner for an extra charge, and lunch can be purchased at a beach cafe. You must arrange your own ground transportation and airfare. Maho also has a newer, more upscale sister eco-resort on St. John, the Concordia Eco-Tents. Rates start at $105 per night. Early-December round-trip fares from Miami to St. Thomas (where the nearest airport is located) start at $222, including taxes, on American. From St. Thomas, you can take a ferry ($10 round-trip) to Cruz Bay, St. John, and then catch a cab ($7 to $11 one-way) to the resort.

South American superlatives in the Brazilian Pantanal

Lodge:Araras Eco Lodge Price:from $870 per person for four nights

Take the Florida Everglades and multiply it by 10, populate it with record-holding wildlife like the world's largest snake and rodent, and add a local culture that shares more in common with the cowboys of the Wild West than the beach bunnies of Rio, and you've got the Brazilian Pantanal, easily South America's best place to view wildlife. The world's largest wetland, the Pantanal sits between three of the continent's prime ecosystems, the Amazon rainforest, the Brazilian Savannah, and Paraguayan Chaco (dry forest), making it a veritable melting pot of South American plant and animal life. And, unlike the Amazon rainforest—where dense tree cover hides much of the wildlife—most of the animals in the Pantanal can be easily spotted in the region's grasslands and marshes.

Surprisingly, most of the Pantanal is privately owned ranchland, not national park. Although the ranchers and wild animals coexist fairly well, the past few decades have seen thoughtless outside developers, poachers, and chemical runoff from upstream farms threaten to destroy it. A few conservationists have been buying up ranches to protect them, however, including Brazilian Andre Thuronyi, who established a 7,400-acre reserve in the northern Pantanal in 1992. Thuronyi rehabilitated the land and built the region's first eco-lodge, Araras, and hired locals to serve as guides and stewards. Now, species that were once nearly wiped out in the area have grown in number, with some—like the blue macaw and jabiru stork—taking up residence right outside the lodge.

On even a short stay at the lodge (I visited for four days last August), you can easily see a hundred or more bird species; mammals like giant anteaters, giant river otters, and capybara (think 140-pound guinea pigs); reptiles like anacondas and caiman (a crocodilian species); and, if you're lucky, jaguars.

During a stay at Araras, you'll be able to see wildlife in a variety of ways, including day and nighttime game drives, canoe trips on nearby rivers, walking safaris, treetop observation towers, and on horseback. Horseback riding in the Pantanal is particularly fun because the specially bred Pataneiro horses have no problem wading through neck-deep marshes filled with caiman, and the wildlife doesn't spook when you're on a horse. Plus, the guides, who are mostly former cattle drivers and ranch hands, are happy to teach you about the Pantanal's fascinating cowboy culture.

The lodge has 19 rooms with private bathrooms, a swimming pool, and indoor and outdoor dining rooms and bars. At the end of the day, it's great to feast on a steak fresh from the neighboring ranches and then relax in a hammock with a caipirinha, a Brazilian libation made of sugarcane liquor and pulverized fruit.

Trip planning:Rates include round-trip transfers from the airport in Cuiaba, accommodations, all meals, guides, and excursions. When searching for flights, it may be best to book international and internal flights separately, as many U.S.-based online sellers do not include fares from all the domestic Brazilian airlines. Using this strategy for August travel, fares from Miami to Sao Paulo (Brazil's main international gateway) start at $755, including taxes, from Hotwire and fares from Sao Paulo to Cuiaba start at $472 round-trip including taxes on Gol.

Sleep under the stars in Chilean Patagonia

Lodge:EcoCamp Patagonia Price:from $1,059 per person for four-day packages

You could use the term luxury camping to explain this operation, but portable four-star hotel more accurately describes EcoCamp Patagonia, the first eco-accommodations south of the Amazon. Located in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park near the monolithic Paine Towers, EcoCamp Patagonia can also lay claim to one of the most stunning panoramas of any lodging in the world.

EcoCamp was opened in 2001 by Chilean adventure tour operator Cascada Expediciones in an effort to provide its clients touring Torres del Paine with upscale lodging inside the park that also minimized impact on the fragile Patagonian ecosystem. Modeling their design on the huts made by the nomadic Kawesqar people, Patagonia's ancient inhabitants, planners devised a system of domed tents built to be portable but spacious, comfortable, and strong enough to withstand Patagonia's high winds.

The camp consists of 15 sleeping domes, plus two giant dining- and living-room domes connected by wooden walkways. It accommodates no more than 32 guests at a time. Each sleeping dome is fitted with wooden floors, two beds with fleece sheets and feather quilts, lighting powered by solar and wind energy, and round skylight windows. There are separate men's and women's bathrooms with composting toilets and hot water showers. All camp waste is removed from the park.

Stays at EcoCamp are included with Cascada Expediciones trips in Torres del Paine. These all-inclusive packages range from four-day sightseeing and wildlife-viewing trips ($1,059 per person) to challenging nine-day Torres del Paine Circuit treks ($2,129 per person) that begin and end with EcoCamp stays. Prices cover ground transportation, accommodations, all meals, park fees, and guides.

"The guides and staff members were professional, conscientious, genuinely friendly, and caring, striking the perfect balance between creating an intimate setting and meeting 'commercial' expectations," says New Yorker Suchitra Srinivasan, who stayed at EcoCamp last fall. What she witnessed on the trip—staff members helping needy travelers even though they weren't part of the group, and guides picking up trash on the trail left by others—affirmed, she says, "that they don't pay lip service to their values."

Trip planning:Tours depart weekly from October to April. Visit the EcoCamp website to read about the different tours available. Early-November fares from Miami to Punta Arenas, the start point for Torres del Paine trips, begin at $1,293, including taxes, from CheapTickets.

Arcadian luxury in Asia's best-kept secret

Lodge:Three Camel Lodge Price:from $80 per person per night

Of the travelers I've spoken with about their experience visiting Mongolia, all have made essentially the same points: They mystified their friends by going, but they absolutely loved the country. "I fell in love with Mongolia when I first went in 2005 on a Nomadic Expeditions tour—there's an ancient, unifying energy between the land and the sky and the people," says Pennsylvania teacher Debra Eschbach. "I loved it so much I lived there for a year in 2006 and went back again for Christmas break."

"When discussing my vacation plans with coworkers, I got a lot of blank stares," says New Yorker Gary Lehman, who went to Mongolia last year with his wife, also on a Nomadic Expeditions tour. "Mongolia can be experienced and appreciated on many levels. Among a few of the top reasons to go: experiencing Tibetan Buddhism up close, physically rigorous but exhilarating trekking in the spectacular Altai Mountains, meeting the warm and hospitable Mongolian people, and touring the ruins of the ancient capital city and palace of Genghis Khan's Mongolian Empire."

Most visitors wanting to experience the Mongolian hinterlands book horse or camel treks, camping in traditional makeshift yurts called gers. However, in the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia, Nomadic Expeditions operates what are probably Mongolia's most acclaimed accommodations, the Three Camel Lodge, a luxury expedition camp that blends Mongolian design and culture with Western comfort. Local artisans built the main lodge and 45 oversized guest gers according to the tenets of Mongolian Buddhist architecture, using unprocessed stone, handmade latticework, felt and canvas skin, and no nails. Guest gers have luxurious amenities like cashmere blankets, en-suite bathrooms, and wood-burning stoves. Electricity comes from wind and solar power, and all trash is sorted for recycling, a rare practice in Central Asia.

"The Three Camel Lodge was by far the most comfortable ger camp with the best amenities we stayed at throughout our vacation in Mongolia," says Lehman. "We appreciated the commitment of the management staff to the local community and local college-aged students. [Each night] we were treated to a captivating musical performance of traditional Mongolian throat singing with musical accompaniment by the hotel staff, who studied music in university (and were employed by the lodge during their summer break)."

While at the lodge, you can visit a variety of sites nearby, including the Flaming Cliffs, a red rock wilderness famous for its well-preserved dinosaur fossils, and the Hongor Sand Dunes, which "sing" when swept by wind. The lodge can also arrange camel and horse treks, hiking, and archaeology trips.

Trip planning:The lodge is open May to October. Nightly rates are based on double occupancy and include accommodations and three meals per day. Due to the remoteness of the lodge, most guests come to the camp as part of a longer Mongolia package tour. Visit the Nomadic Expeditions website for trip options. Round-trip July fares from Los Angeles to Ulaanbaatar, the city where most trips commence, start at $1,428, including taxes, on Air China.

Surfing and tribal culture in Indonesia

Lodge:Nihiwatu Resort Price:from $266 per person nightly

Nineteen years ago, after witnessing his one-time home of Bali become overrun with trashy development, New Jersey surfer Claude Graves and his wife Petra came to one of Indonesia's wildest places, the Jamaica-sized island of Sumba, to open a responsible adventure sports hotel. The Graves started Nihiwatu Resort in 2001. Their original vision blossomed into a luxurious, award-winning eco-resort and a non-profit organization that works to alleviate the poverty of the Sumbanese people, the island's native tribe.

Nihiwatu now has a legion of faithful guests who return to surf Sumba's world-class breaks and to relax in comfort and isolation, far from modern society. However, says Graves, "It is the Sumbanese culture that is truly incredible. The people are friendly and welcoming [even though] they endure difficult hardships every day. Through it all they maintain a level of dignity and joy we can all learn from."

The resort is mostly staffed by locals, and other community members benefit from the non-profit Sumba Foundation, an organization Graves co-founded with friend Sean Downs. The foundation works on education, sanitation, and health projects. Guests of the resort can visit local villages to spend the day learning about the daily life of the Sumbanese. Some also volunteer in the community or make donations to the foundation. Lucky visitors may be invited to attend special rituals, such as Pasola, a controlled battle in which riders on horseback fight with spears.

"The real highlight for us every time we go back is to see the changes in the health and the well-being of the families and children in the surrounding areas," says Melbourne native Lynda Lim, who's been coming to Nihiwatu with her husband for seven years. "When we first came and visited the villages, we were looking at sick children and families living in almost Stone Age conditions. Now, with income, healthcare, food, and education being made available, it is a real pleasure to see many happy, smiling healthy babies and children."

Aside from the culture, guests can surf, go sportfishing, ride Sumbanese horses, and take yoga and meditation classes in Nihiwatu's open-air studio. There's also a spa, a restaurant that serves dishes made from local produce and freshly caught fish, and a cabana bar. Travelers stay at luxurious bungalows or private villas with canopy beds, oceanview balconies, and antique Indonesian decor.

Trip planning:The resort is open from March to early January and requires a minimum stay of five nights. Prices are based on double occupancy and include bungalow or villa accommodations, airport transfers in Sumba, all meals, a village visit, and a full-body massage. Airfare and other activities are extra. Round-trip October fares from Los Angeles to Denpasar, Bali, where the nearest major international airport is located, start at $1,135, including taxes, on Continental. From Denpasar, Nihiwatu runs weekly charter flights to Sumba at a cost of $290 per adult.

Desert elephants, mountain zebras, and oryx, oh my!

Lodge:Damaraland Camp Price:from $354 per person per night

Most Americans don't know much about Namibia—other than it's where Brad and Angelina had Shiloh—but this country that sits above South Africa claims some of the continent's most stunning landscapes. It's also a relatively safe and stable travel destination. There's plenty in Namibia to keep adventure travelers engaged: the Skeleton Coast, where white sand dunes tumble down into the sea; Fish River Canyon, a gorge second only in size to the Grand Canyon; and semi-arid plateaus where desert-adapted elephants, oryx, and other arid-adapted wildlife roam.

Wilderness Safaris, an ecotourism company that's been running safaris in southern Africa for 25 years, has 15 camps and lodges in Namibia, including some of Africa's most acclaimed eco-accommodations at Damaraland Camp. Damaraland sits within the protected Torra Wildlife Conservancy in Namibia's mountainous northwest, home to the rare desert elephant, Hartmann's mountain zebra, and southern giraffe, as well as some of Africa's best-preserved ancient rock engravings. Before the camp opened in 1996, however, the landscape was largely denuded and poaching was rife. Wilderness Safaris formed a partnership with the local Torra community, making the community stakeholders in the camp, which gave them incentive to protect the environment and wildlife.

"Today, this area has been transformed—the wildlife numbers are climbing and many of the animal populations have increased substantially," says Wilderness Safaris guide Martin Benadie. "The camp staff is sourced from the surrounding community, who also get a percentage of the camp's profits. Thus, the very existence of the camp has been instrumental in alleviating poverty in the region."

Travelers can book individual nightly stays at Damaraland Camp or work with an agent to create a Namibia tour that includes stays at Damaraland and other Wilderness Safaris camps. Benadie suggests a three-night trip to Damaraland. During your visit, you'll stay in one of 10 large walk-in safari tents, and spend your days on game drives, walking safaris, and trips to see rock-art sites. Back at the camp, you'll dine in the main stone lodge, eating meals cooked over an open fire. You can also relax in an on-site sunken bar and swimming pool.

Trip planning:The camp is open year-round, but desert-elephant viewing is best from July to December. Prices cover accommodations, all meals and activities, guides, and parks fees. Airfare is extra. Round-trip fares from New York to Windhoek, Namibia start at $2,001 including taxes, on United.

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