Visitors to Bali have almost too many options these days when choosing where to eat and sleep.  It’s both politically correct and lucrative to be ‘green’ in these enlightened times and an increasing number of visitors are voting with their credit cards to stay at environmentally sustainable accommodation.

The word ‘ecotourism’ crops up frequently, but what does it really mean? The International Ecotourism Society defines it as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of local people and involves interpretation and education.’

In the Bali context, this translates as low-impact, small scale alternatives to mass tourism. It takes considerable commitment, knowledge, planning and investment to create sustainable accommodation. When faced with a selection of hotels which claim to be ‘eco’ or ‘green’, here are six questions to ask:

–   What are your policies to conserve water and electricity?

–   How do you manage the solid waste generated at the hotel?

–   How do you manage your kitchen waste?

–   Where does your sewage go?

–   What percentage of food in your kitchen is locally produced?

–   Where were the building materials sourced?

Management and staff of authentically sustainable hotels/lodges/retreats will be eager to share all this information and proud of their achievements.  If you’re not getting enthusiastic and informed answers, take your custom elsewhere.

In this column I refer to five truly eco resorts/lodges/retreats that are fully committed to long term sustainability; I’m sure there are more. Four of these are located in Bali’s central mountains and the other next to the sea near Amed.

All of them follow eco-tourism principals and also practice permaculture (sustainable or permanent agriculture/culture) – a system of integrating agricultural and social design elements, working with nature to create sustainable food, water and shelter.  The concept was originally developed by Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, refined by Australian Bill Mollison and now widely interpreted around the world for different climates and terrains. Working with (instead of against) natural ecosystems is a fundamental principal, as is using materials that are locally available instead of bringing them from a distance wherever possible.

Sarin Buana Eco Lodge and Bali Eco Village were pioneers in bringing the concept of extreme green to Bali long before it became fashionable. Later joined by Bali Eco Stay, these mountain properties bring together the principals of sustainable accommodation with comfort and cultural  integration.

Created in close partnership with the Balinese landowners, all are built with minimal disturbance to topography and natural vegetation, and constructed with local materials by local craftsmen.  Bali Eco Stay and Bali Eco Village generate some or all of their power by hydro-electricity; Bali Eco Lodge employs low wattage, energy saving equipment.  All three manage their solid waste sustainably by re-using and recycling where possible, and all compost their kitchen waste to nourish food gardens. Almost all food served  from their kitchens is locally sourced and chemical-free. Sewage is treated in wastewater gardens. Water is obtained from springs, rivers or wells and recycled back into the environment.

Bali Silent Retreat in Penebel (picture) goes even further. Low wattage electric light from solar panels is available in the common areas, and most of the accommodation relies on solar lights. All of the buildings are made of recycled wood and other materials. A large organic garden and inspired chef combine to provide one of the most interesting vegetarian restaurants on the island. Because the retreat centre encourages silence and introspection, there is no place to recharge a phone or device on the property. A warung in the village can be visited by those in device withdrawal, but in fact it’s very restful to be able to put them away for awhile.

Balila Beach Eco Resort is the only one of these properties to be located on the beach instead of the mountains. Perched on a bluff over a sweeping black sand beach just a 20 minute surfside stroll from Amed, the property currently has five large rooms and seven small ones. Building by the ocean has  different challenges from the mountain lodges. Beating the heat without air conditioning means building walls with local rock and earth, high ceilings, orienting the buildings so direct sunlight never enters the rooms and providing plenty of natural ventilation. Many of the wooden supporting posts are made of neem, a local fast-growing tree with insect-resistant properties.

The greatest challenge here is water conservation on the arid north coast. The property’s well becomes brackish in the dry season, so three rainwater catchment tanks have been constructed under the buildings to hold a total of 62 cubic metres of water. “It’s really difficult to be self-sufficient in water in this area,” explains Birgit, the Austrian-born architect who designed and built the Balila Beach. “Every drop is captured and recycled over and over. The toilet and shower fixtures use reduced water. Black water from the toilets is processed through a wastewater garden and grey water irrigates the fruit garden.”

The garden provides some of the food served in the simple restaurant but it’s harder to cultivate a food garden near the sea than in the mountains. All the food is very local and daily fish is purchased from the fishers whose boats line the beach below. As with Bali Silent Retreat, WIFI is discouraged; internet is available in the restaurant but not in the rooms.

Respect for and consultation with local communities is an integral part of sustainable tourism. All these properties work closely with members of their Balinese communities to create economic opportunities.  Not only are locals engaged as staff but they also lead nature walks, food foraging adventures, treks, boat trips and cultural encounters.  The properties buy local products such as coffee, cocoa, rice, sea salt, coconut oil, fish, vegetables, fruit and flowers, often at above-market rates.

Also to be mentioned here is Bali Asli, a purpose-built cooking school and restaurant incorporating all the principals of eco-tourism. Located outside Amlapura en route to Balila Beach, the spacious property is open daily for lunch. The menu is limited to a large or smaller nasi campur (mixed rice) meal. But the food is amazing; I’ve never encountered Balinese food so clean, fresh and meticulously prepared. Absolutely local, this is Balinese fine dining (or lunching, rather) at its peak and pinnacle. The visitor is invited to experience authentic Balinese cuisine while gazing out over the food gardens to the rice terraces and mountains beyond. (The view is just as stunning from the open-air loo.)

I doubt that the owners of any of these properties are growing rich. This level of attention to detail and the small scale of operation make them labours of love. But there’s a lot to love. Please visit them, support them, promote them and enjoy them. We need a lot more like these.

Sarin Buana Eco Lodge:   www.baliecolodge.com

Bali Eco Village: www.baliecovillage.com

Bali Eco Stay: www.baliecostay.com

Bali Silent Retreat:    www.balisilentretreat.com

Balila Beach: Facebook Balila Beach

Bali Asli Restaurant: www.baliasli.com.au


Ibu Kat’s book of stories Bali Daze – Free-fall off the Tourist Trail is available from :

– Ganesha Books in Ubud, Sanur and Seminyak

– Amazon downloadable for Kindle

E-mail:  ibukatbali@gmail.com

Copyright © 2016 Greenspeak

You can read all past articles of Greenspeak at www.BaliAdvertiser.biz