There’s lots to love about camping – it’s cheap, eco-friendly and gets you more in tune with the natural world. Not everyone is cut out for kipping in a tent, though, so if you want to tick the back-to-nature box without a shred of canvas in sight – and without breaking the bank – check out these affordable alternatives.
1. The Rainforest Ecolodge, Sri Lanka – from £105 a night
Old shipping containers end up in the unlikeliest places. In southern Sri Lanka, a few dozen of them have found their way far inland to a working tea estate, where they’ve been transformed into 16 eco chalets, perched on stilts. Each one is decorated with recycled materials (bamboo panelling on the walls; terraces made out of old railway sleepers) and has large picture windows to soak up the lush and lovely views. The ecolodge sits on the edge of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve (a Unesco World Heritage Site, Biosphere Reserve and Biodiversity Hotspot) and your reward for making the long, winding and slightly hairy journey up there is the chance for up-close encounters with delightfully-named resident wildlife such as the ashy-headed laughing thrush and purple-faced leaf monkey.
2. Bambu Indah, Bali – from £104 a night
Try checking out Bambu Indah and deciding it’s not for you. It’s surely not possible. One look and you’re smitten – by the lush valley setting near Ubud, the beautiful buildings, the clearly happy, laidback vibe, and the fact that every guest seems to fall madly in love with the place. The only cause for concern is deciding which room to book. The one built over a shrimp pond, with a glass floor so you can watch the underwater antics? The one where you cross stepping stones to get to the door? Moon House, with its dramatic bamboo architecture? Or one of ‘the tents’ – not tents as we know them but sleeping platforms high in a mahogany tree with views over the Ayung Valley? Whichever you plump for, you also get natural pools, free yoga, organic food and a whole magical little world of its own.
3. Uros Titicaca Lodge, Peru – from only £32 a night
Think artificial islands and you tend to think Dubai and its palm-tree-shaped archipelagos. But the Uros islanders of Lake Titicaca were way ahead of the game. For centuries they’ve been making and living on their own little floating islands, created from bundles of totora reeds, and there are now 70-odd scattered along the shoreline near Puno. Pretty much everything in and around them is made from reeds as well – the huts, the furniture, the boats, the toys… It’s an extraordinary environment and one that you can experience, albeit briefly, by staying overnight at Uros Titicaca Lodge, where the rooms come with hammocks, brightly coloured traditional fabrics and lake views. And an outdoor reading house. We’re not entirely sure what that is but we definitely want one.
4. Great Huts, Jamaica – from £60 a night
Up on the northeast coast of Jamaica is pretty Boston Bay and, perched on the cliffs 100 feet above it, Great Huts. Afro-centric (it was designed as a celebration of West African heritage and culture), eco-friendly and more than a little eccentric, it’s a far cry from your average Caribbean resort, with 17 rustic huts and treehouses scattered around a jungly four-acre site. You’re definitely closer to nature here: no rooms have TVs, only a few have hot and cold running water, and guests are warned that small lizards, frogs and hermit crabs wander freely in and out. All rooms, though, have lashings of quirky character and are decorated with colourful African-influenced artworks. There’s something for every budget here, and at the cheap and cheerful end of things that means bamboo huts, stone towers or (not something you stay in every day) a reproduction of an African millet-seed silo.
5. River Kwai Jungle Rafts, Thailand – from £63 a night
You can’t get closer to the water than this – staying on a chain of floating rafts linked together along the banks of the river Kwai in central Thailand. Three hours’ drive away from Bangkok, it‘s the polar opposite of the Thai capital, shiny modern skyscrapers and neon lights giving way to traditional thatched bamboo huts and flickering oil lamps. No electricity, no WiFi, no phone signal most of the time – but there’s a massage raft, glorious displays of stars at night, and plenty of hammocks and loungers where you can lie back and be soothed by the sound of lapping water as you soak up the river-and-mountain views. Clearly, it’s tailor-made for chilling out but if you’re itching for action, take advantage of the water-based activities right on your doorstep, from rafting to river jumping.
6. The Hobbit House, Portugal – from £139 a night
No, it isn’t underground and no, it doesn’t have a perfectly round front door. But let’s not be pernickety – there’s more than enough hobbity quirkiness about this Portuguese cottage to justify its name, from the organic shapes and use of natural materials to the peaceful rural location. Set high in a remote part of the Alentejo region, the house is perfect for a digital detox, not least because there’s no WiFi signal. With no online distractions, you can focus on gentler, more natural pursuits instead – hiking the hills, lolling in the hammock while distant cowbells lull you to sleep, and enjoying fabulous displays of stars at night. If you fancy a change of scene, jump in the hire car and pootle down to the nearby Atlantic coast, where there are some lovely beaches hidden away between the cliffs.
7. Borthwickbrae Shepherd’s Hut, Scotland – from £89 a night
When you want to be close to nature but not too close, shepherd’s huts are perfect. At this lovely little number up in the Scottish borders, the surroundings are suitably rural, with beautiful views over fields and forest, but it’s set within the grounds of a B&B (so you can have breakfast there if you like) and the high-spec interiors would put many houses to shame. There’s a Belfast sink and full-size oven in the kitchen area, a bathroom with electric shower and vintage fixtures, and in the bedroom area pretty tongue-and-groove panelling and tastefully neutral bed linens on the full-size double bed. Further afield, you can spend time hiking, cycling and exploring the nearby town of Hawick, where the recently opened Borders Distillery is the perfect place to pick up a bottle for sundowners on the deck.
Ready to get closer to nature? Book your flights and ‘alternative’ accommodation below:
All flight and prices mentioned in this article are estimates of the cheapest prices based on Skyscanner’s flight search tools. These are subject to change and were correct at time of writing on 25 June 2019.