Sustainable and ethical practices are something we value highly and the moment I learned about ‘Eco-Tourism’, I became fascinated with methods of achieving environmental wellness. After all mass tourism is incredibly damaging to our environment and I wasn’t even sure if there was an alternative way.
I still wasn’t convinced that ‘green tourism’ wasn’t an oxymoron and an excuse to increase the price tag, so when I came across an EcoLodge in Morocco’s desert, I jumped at the chance to stay.
The bigger picture
Green tourism, eco tourism or responsible tourism as it’s sometimes known revolves around making sustainable choices that reduce the impact on the planet.
It’s based around a fundamental belief in harmonious environmental practices which benefit the local community as well as the wider world. An idea of minimum waste, water and energy are used to have as little impact as possible.
Where is it?
On the outskirts of Ouarzazate, nearly four hours south of Marrakech and five hours east of Agadir lies the l’ile ecolodge. It is on the edge of the desert where the local land is pale, flat and a combination of sand and stone.
Although the area is baron and flat it is surrounded by a ridge of mountains. These weren’t particularly visible when we went due to the low winter cloud but in the summer you can see the Atlas mountains surrounding the ecolodge.
Traditional Berber Houses
There are eight individual, traditional Berber houses built on site that each accommodate between one and six people.
Bricks made with mud, sand and straw (sometimes animal dung) are laid out in the sun to dry. They are then stacked on top of a stone foundation and covered with a mud and straw plaster.
Berber houses are usually rectangular and the doorways face ‘Qibla’ – an Arabic word that describes the direction one faces towards Mecca at prayer time. The word Qibla also refers to a doorway that faces east. The east facing door is seen as ‘Qabel’ – honourable and looks too the future, the morning.
The windows are typically small and only allow a small amount of light in. This keeps the heat out and the cool in. Ceilings are often made with bamboo stalks, the trunks of olive trees and covered with rocks and more mud plaster.
Gas heaters for the ecolodge rooms?
The rooms were particularly cold at night. Of course, when the sun goes down in the desert it’s cold. Luckily we took our sleeping bags with us and we used those underneath the sheets and blankets provided!
The rooms are HUGE and the beds are enormous so it’s of little surprise that they’re cold, especially in the winter. The kids had their own separate annex with two beds in which was cosy and dark – great for parents who want their kids to sleep lol.
Outside every room is a portable gas heater which we were reluctant to use however I just did some research which shows that these heaters are quite environmentally friendly! Woops!
Traditional Berber rugs can be seen in the rooms and on the floors of the Berber tents.
The origin of carpet weaving by the Berber populations dates back several millenia. Hand-woven from the hair of goat and sheep, they are used to decorate walls and floor as well as keep the dust levels down.
Berber tents at the ecolodge in Morocco’s desert
There are two Berber tents within the walls where we sat and drank mint tea – when it actually arrived. There was no working wifi on the grounds so it was a good job we took our own. It was very relaxing to sit on the cushions of the tents and have the world wide web at my finger tips.
Much of Morocco reminded me of Europe, pre Industrial revolution but with a sprinkling of technology thrown in too. It was a bizarre combo!
And the lighting?
The electricity at the Ecolodge is created entirely by solar panels. Interestingly to save more electricity, each light had its own separate switch. Something I’ve not seen before and I thought it was a great idea. That way the lights don’t drain the solar battery.
Because the lighting is entirely powered by the sun, we found the rooms a little dim. I suspect this was because the sun outside is just so bright that the lighting could never compare.
What about the water?
I’ve asked about the water’s source and this question wasn’t answered instead I was told that the water came from the solar-power hot water system. I did a little bit of research which did indicate that there are solar panels that can create fresh water so this is a possibility although I’m unsure if it’s used here.
On the roofs of the houses are solar tanks which provide hot water. These tanks provide some sort of filter to make the water drinkable but I’m not sure how.
Bio garden & Restaurant
The bio garden is carefully tendered by a gardener and its reported that the vegetables and meals prepared are from the kitchen gardens.
Breakfast comprised of orange juice, Msemen pancakes which are made from semolina flour and served square, honey, jams, olive oil, cake and mint tea. The first night we stayed at the lodge there were a large number of other people staying and breakfast was really jovial and provided on a serve yourself basis. On the second day we were one of only two families staying and the breakfast was served to our table.
Dinner comprised of Moroccan soup, couscous tagine or vegetable tagine and for dessert oranges with cinnamon or an orange. We were charged 100 dinar per person, per night for the dinner which is extortionately expensive in comparison to other Moroccan restaurants . In my opinion the dinner food served was nothing more than average and a real disappointment.
Peacocks on site
There’s a range of wildlife that live on the premises including doves, peacocks, peahens, guinea fowl, chickens, a turkey, rabbits and a donkey.
The peacocks, peahens and guinea fowl are allowed to wander freely but the other animals are caged or tethered.
There was a lot of peacock shit on all of the pathways which are very dark at night. I felt as if staff should have cleaned it up at the end of every day as it’s a bugger to get out of your shoes!
But where are the women?
During our stay we only saw one woman in the entire complex and she was cleaning on the last day. Rich apparently saw a female chef in the kitchens the night before although I didn’t.
All the staff on show in the Ecolodge are men and whilst a few of them are very nice I got a distinct feeling of superficiality from the majority of them. Richard said he was made to feel as if he were a hindrance when he asked for mint tea (which never arrived) and I got the feeling that our presence was not appreciated.
I appreciate that this might be a cultural but it would elevate some of the problems we felt existed.
Singing around the fire
After dinner on our first night we were invited round the camp fire to join in with Arabic drums and singing. I should have really taken a video because they were so good.
Starry, starry nights at the ecolodge in Morocco’s desert
There was quite a bit of cloud when we visited and although some stars were visible to the eye, they weren’t half as good as at Hamilton Island. There was a lot of light pollution coming from Ouarzazate which made them difficult to photograph.
It isn’t vegan!
The ecolodge is definitely more sustainable than staying in a hotel but it isn’t vegan and some of the treatment of the animals, that we witnessed, wouldn’t be considered caring but again these are cultural differences.
Animals are not respected in Morocco and are seem as mere tools.
Barrage El Mansour Eddahbi
The ecolodge is situated directly next to the Barrage El Mansour Eddahbi. It was the height of winter when we visited so we didn’t make the most of the lake (which is actually a reservoir-dam). In the summer months you can canoe here and spot birds.
I found these videos on YOUTUBE if you’re interested in seeing the reservoir.
Is it actually a proper eco lodge?
I’m not sure whether it is or it isn’t as I have nothing to compare it to. I would say that it has made definite steps to be more sustainable than other forms of hotelierism but it needs to be more transparent in answering guest questions.
I have read other blogs from people who stayed at very experienced and established eco lodges and their knowledge about the practices were far more indepth. This may have been a language barrier though.
What we learnt from our experience
Some of the questions we have learnt to ask in the future are:
- Where does the water actually come from?
- What is the balance used between combustible and renewable energy forms?
- How do you deal with recycling and what do you do with your waste?
- When you don’t grow the food, where do you buy it from?
- How does the local community benefit from you?
- Are you an equal opportunities employer?
How to book the Ecolodge in Morocco’s desert
Since we stayed the Ecolodge has added a pool! It looks brilliant and adds a real charm to the place.
Fancy staying in Morocco’s desert? You can book your stay at the Ecolodge L’ile de Ouarzazate