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Ecotourism has been the catchphrase for many entrepreneurs branching out into the tourism and hospitality business.  However, the actual concept of ecotourism is sometimes overlooked in the pursuit of mere visual appeal. Several hotels and guesthouses across the island that add an ‘eco’ tag may have mud walls, thatched roofs and basic amenities; but the actual concept of eco-hotel/guesthouse means that it embraces sustainability in every aspect of its operations.

The Definition
Ecotourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. Education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.

Principles of Ecotourism
Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement, participate in and market ecotourism activities should adopt the following ecotourism principles:

♦ Minimise physical, social, behavioural, and psychological impacts.
♦ Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
♦ Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
♦ Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
♦ Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
♦ Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.
♦ Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
♦ Recognise the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in the community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.

One establishment that stood out stellar-like in a dark sky is the Rainforest Eco-lodge. Located in Deniyaya in the Southern Province, The Rainforest Ecolodge thrives on a five hundred-acre division of the Enselwatte Tea Estate bordering the South-eastern side of the Sinharaja Rainforest, with forest reserve.

One establishment that stood out stellar-like in a dark sky is the Rainforest Eco-lodge. Located in Deniyaya in the Southern Province, The Rainforest Ecolodge thrives on a five hundred-acre division of the Enselwatte Tea Estate bordering the South-eastern side of the Sinharaja Rainforest, with forest reserve.

The unique partnership of the Tourism Cluster was formed in April 2000 under the USAID Competitiveness Initiative with members representing the association at the centre of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry – the Tourism Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators – the public sector Sri Lanka Tourist Board, and Sri Lankan Airlines, the national carrier.
In August 2003, with support of an international ecotourism expert, local biodiversity experts and other specialists from USAID’s Competitiveness Initiative, the project feasibility was completed and presented to the industry of investment. A number of companies subscribed to the offering and the Rainforest Ecolodge Company was set up to implement the project.

To reach the Rainforest Ecolodge, one has to make a turn off the main road into the Enselwatte Plantation.  Signage is limited.  Once inside the plantation, the signage is woefully inadequate. We experienced moments of panic when we thought we were on the road to nowhere! The drive is totally absorbing with stunning views of mist-swathed mountains on one side and the tea gardens on the other; however absolute concentration at the wheel is necessary.

The hotel comes into view as if by magic.  The stark grey rock walls are embraced by the vivid green tea garden that surrounds it. The Rainforest Ecolodge has been decisively designed to preserve and provide an authentic experience of the forest habitat in all its splendour. The forest environs act as a canvas to provide a marvellous commune with nature even as the accommodation gently embraces total luxury.

There is no formal ‘reception area’. Guests walk into an area encased in glass that provides a 360-degree view of the dense forest.  A fireplace in the centre of this area provides warmth and cosiness.  Check in is casual and friendly.  Aluminium floored corridors elevated off the ground embrace the sustainable concept.  The central building is skeletal-like yet strangely, inviting. From every angle, the forest is visible.

The chalets are visible from the viewing decks.  Sixteen comfortable Chalets designed with recycled material areprovided with every amenity imaginable. There are several expeditions organised by the hotel at different times of day.  Treks into the Sinharaja are with an experienced guide.  Sadly for us though, the driving rain did not allow that long-awaited trek.  We did however brave the weather to walk along some of the paths.  Leeches are plentiful as in any rainforest environment, but the hotel does provide leech socks for the trek.

Although we did not manage to do the actual trek we were regaled with stories about how guests could experience the waves of mist that appear in a split second and last just as long. We had to make do with the sounds of huge raindrops on our shipping container accommodation providing us with a sense of soothing comfort that ensured we had the best nights of sleep ever experienced.

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