With hundreds of eco certifications all aiming to guide us to more meaningful, sustainable travel experiences. Behind the Green takes it back to basics. Back to storytelling and human connection. Meet the visionaries behind the world’s best sustainable and regenerative stays.

Written by Rebecca Woolford

Tim feels happiest in the wilderness, exploring the jungle where wild elephants roam – his favourite animal. It makes sense. He grew up here, in Nepal, in a safari lodge run by his parents. Witnessing first-hand how tourism can enable and support critical conservation work, Gal Oya Lodge is his passion.

Learn more about Gal Oya Lodge here >

What’s it like living in a jungle on the edge of a national park?

“The best part is the surprises we get to witness and enjoy at the lodge, like a herd of wild elephants just passing through at dusk. There are no fences here so the natural migrations can still happen, allowing the wild elephants to pass through in order to graze. We just sit back and enjoy. “

When did you first decide to set-up Gal Oya Lodge?

“I first came to Sri Lanka to meet a good friend of mine, I recall saying jokingly at the time lets set-up an eco-lodge together. We also invited one of my best friends, who had grown up in the jungle, to come in on this new venture with us. We had no idea where in Sri Lanka to locate the lodge, it took 4 months of travelling around to find the perfect place. The lake, the pure remoteness and the fact we knew we would be the only operation running in the national park meant we decided to locate the eco-lodge where we are today. People told us we were crazy and maybe we were but we knew it was perfect!”

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an eco-lodge?

“It has to be seeing the guests when they leave Gal Oya lodge with the biggest smiles on their faces, reflecting on the reality of everything they have learnt whilst here. All the experiences are centred around education and changing misconceptions about nature, which usually involves getting our naturalists talking to adults and kids. We see people coming here scared of snakes and leaving very differently.”

What have you observed regarding the impact on the community, has it changed their awareness and attitudes towards sustainability and conservation?

“This has been the most challenging aspect for us. When we first came to the area, the local Vedha tribe, who are hunter gatherers, had lots of questions for us. It took time for them to learn to trust us and realise that we were doing something positive for the wildlife, community and area. We got them involved and still do, which helped to build their trust. We have something called the Vedha walk-in, which is where the guests get to meet the chief. He talks about the medicinal plants and their properties, which is really interesting. We also have day-to-day communications with the local school children, in which our naturalists give talks and educate them on why it is better to take care of the wildlife and about conservation efforts. We are much more proactive these days in letting the local community know the type of vegetables we are looking for, asking local farmers to grow them so we can provide business and source local produce.”

What’s the latest green initiative implemented at Gal Oya Lodge?

“The thing we are working on at the moment is zero plastic. We are great at doing this at the lodge, however, implementing this in the staff-house is another thing. When the staff uniform comes off we sometimes see people going back to their old habits. Reducing waste is something that we are not only trying to make happen in the lodge with our guests but also with staff outside of work and in their wider communities.”

What is the best local dish guests just have to try at Gal Oya Lodge?

“It has to be our ‘river fish wrapped in banana leaves’, the fish is locally sourced from a river just down the road so you can’t get fresher than that. It’s delicious!”

Where do you see the biggest area of improvement in your approach to sustainability?

“We would love to go completely off the grid, I see the biggest area for improvement to be in our energy sourcing. We have solar for some of the power we use such as heating water, however, we would like to be totally self reliant one day.”

What’s next for Gal Oya Lodge?

“We don’t want to expand Gal Oya lodge as this would compromise our intimate, low impact and authentic experience we currently provide to guests. However, we want to take the ethos and our green practices to a different part of Sri Lanka, to make a positive impact elsewhere. A second lodge is next on our minds.”

Find out more about Gal Oya Lodge & do your own green checks here.

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