Where to stay in Central America for a truly sustainable adventure

Where to stay in Central America for a truly sustainable adventure

Views over unspoiled tropical scenes are part of the package at eco-lodges such as Lush Atitlan in Guatemala © Lush Atitlan

The chances are you’re already familiar with the volcanic splendor, lush cloud forests, sprawling Mayan ruins, stunning black sand beaches and rich indigenous cultures of Central America. To tread lighter but delve deeper into the region, just book into one of the region's excellent sustainable places to say. 

There are eco-lodges powered by solar energy, B&Bs made with upcycled materials, organic fincas (ranches) with farm-to-table meals, family-run boutique eco-hotels, rejuvenating yoga retreats and immersive homestays with local communities. These impressive accommodations actively protect Central America’s spectacular biodiversity and living culture, and staying with them is an unforgettable experience all by itself.

Here's a guide to the best sustainable places to stay in Central America.

Introducing Central America

Lush Atitlan – Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala

Best for sustainable lakeside luxury

Flanked by three dramatic volcanoes, and dotted with Mayan villages all along its shores, Lago de Atitlán – the crown jewel of Guatemala's highlands – has long been on the radar of backpackers, digital nomads and serenity seekers. But tourism in this fragile lake ecosystem has often come at an environmental cost, something that Lush Atitlan – one of the few family-run, eco-luxury addresses on the lake – is determined to minimize. Its charming rooms and suites are furnished with upcycled, reclaimed wood and recycled glass windows, and the owners seek to maximize energy efficiency, using biodegradable cleaning products and treating greywater to protect the lake’s pristine waters.

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Aventuras Naturales Yorkin – Talamanca, Costa Rica

Best for chocolate lovers

There’s no dearth of pura vida (pure life) experiences in Costa Rica, where 24% of the country's primary forests are still intact and protected. But to truly understand the significance of the forest, venture off the beaten track to enjoy a homestay in the Yorkin Indigenous Reserve close to the Panamanian border, where the Bribris – one of the last indigenous communities of cacao growers – still live off-the-grid by the Yorkin River, in naturally-cooled thatched homes. Trips are arranged through the Cooperative Consortium National Ecotourism Network and the journey to get here – in a dugout canoe, maneuvering through rapids on a roaring river – is not for the faint-hearted, but the rewards are plentiful. You'll get to harvest, roast, grind and drink (not eat) chocolate in its purest form, swim to a waterfall across the river in Panama (no passport required), and deconstruct your notions of colonialism and how it affected the original dwellers of the Central American isthmus.

Where to stay in Central America for a truly sustainable adventure

A terrace with a dizzying view at El Respiro in Nicaragua © El Respiro

El Respiro Ecolodge – Granada, Nicaragua

Best for a fully immersive experience

A French-Hungarian couple traded in their lives as restauranteurs and chefs to build this truly breathtaking, off-the-grid, four-roomed eco-lodge in the lap of formidable Volcan Mombacho – only a short drive from the ancient city of Granada in western Nicaragua. Powered entirely by the sun (thanks to solar energy) and rain (thanks to rainwater harvesting), this is your exclusive gateway to neighborhood coffee and cacao farms, secret swimming holes, authentic Nicaraguan handicrafts, and stunning hikes up an extinct volcano. Return home to gourmet meals sourced from the in-house organic farm, panoramic sunsets from a private wooden deck, cooling dips in a stone-carved pool, and a shimmering canvas of stars to round off the night.

Dolphin Bay Hideaway – Bocas del Torro, Panama

Best for a Robinson Crusoe vibe

Bocas Del Torro might be Panama’s favorite party destination, and home to some of its most coveted beaches, but you can leave behind the crowds – literally, as the only access is by boat – at the family-run Dolphin Bay Hideaway, set on a small, otherwise uninhabited island in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean. The cozy, off-the-grid cabanas (huts) are fed by solar power and rainwater, and the retreat lives up to its name, with frequent sightings of dolphins, stingrays and other marine wonders offshore. Swim, snorkel, learn about the islands’ incredible biodiversity and grab lunch on nearby islands by day – at night, after lovingly made communal evening meals, marvel at the vast, starry skies.

Where to stay in Central America for a truly sustainable adventure

Staying at Omega Eco Lodge is an opportunity for jungle adventures such as riding the rapids on the Cangrejal River © Manuel Chinchilla / Shutterstock

Omega Eco Lodge – Pico Bonito National Park, Honduras

Best for easy rainforest access

Sandwiched between the wild forests of the Pico Bonito and Nombre de Dios national parks in northern Honduras, Omega Eco Lodge has been handcrafted from upcycled wood and fitted with a home-engineered solar-powered water heating system. All the water used across the lodge is recycled and right on your doorstep, you can enjoy some of Central America’s most epic mountain biking, rainforest hiking and birdwatching trails, along with Class IV rapids on the Rio Cangrejal – an experience not to be missed! Wrap up a day of thrill-seeking with a bit of toucan spotting from your hammock or a refreshing dip in the freshwater pool, until the natural rainforest air-conditioning lures you into a deep slumber.

Volcan Laguna – Nayarit, Mexico

Best for yoga lovers

Set on the shores of the Santa Maria del Oro volcanic crater lake, surrounded by mountain vistas in Nayarit in western Mexico, Volcan Laguna is an entirely plant-based, partially off-the-grid yoga retreat – and a coming together of artists, volunteers and travelers looking to commune with nature in its purest form. Okay, we know Mexico is not officially in Central America, but it would be remiss not to mention this amazing place. The retreat’s vegan kitchen uses seasonal ingredients to create nourishing food – vegan cheeses, flavorful salads, and dishes made according to ayurvedic recipes – to please all tastebuds. Savor homemade picnic lunches while waterfall-hopping, then return to elaborate veggie burger bars after a day of volcano hiking, stand-up paddle boarding or swimming off the deck. Above all, let the fragile beauty all around be your inspiration to leave a lighter footprint on the planet.

Where to stay in Central America for a truly sustainable adventure

Staying by at Bio Itzá is an opportunity to escape the tourist crowds and properly explore Lago Petén Itzá © Rob Crandall / Shutterstock

Bio Itza – Lago Peten Itzá, Guatemala

Best for Mayan adventures

Far from the beaten path in northern Guatemala, the shores of the hauntingly beautiful Peten Itzá lake are dotted with small Itzá Maya villages, dense tropical forests and ancient Mayan ruins – including famous Tikal. In the tiny village of San Jose, the Bio Itzá community-led ecotourism initiative provides homestays with local Maya families and Spanish immersion programs, plus a chance to engage with the ancient – and sadly eroded – culture of the Itzá Maya. Staying here is a rustic and enriching experience in equal measures, ideal for anyone looking to delve deeper into the fascinating past and challenging present of the Maya people.

Rancho Margot – Lake Arenal, Costa Rica

Best for organic living

Nearly 20 years ago, long before the #regenerativetravel hashtag became trendy, a Chilean scientist began converting the depleted Rancho Margot cattle ranch near Lake Arenal in the northern highlands of Costa Rica into an endemic forest. Today, scattered across this 400-acre zone of regrowing greenery, you'll find bungalows fitted with living roofs for temperature control and hydro-electric generators for power, spring-fed rock pools and an organic farm that provides over 75% of the ingredients for the wholesome farm-to-fork meals served to guests. Adventure seekers can kayak, hike and mountain bike around stunning Lake Arenal and the Caño Negro River, while volunteering and sustainable living immersion programs are available for slow travelers looking to embark on a deeper journey.

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