Set amid 16,000 square meters of lush forest in Colombia’s mountainous coffee region lies 12 ‘habitats’: the contemporary, greenery-topped guest rooms of Bio Habitat Hotel, so discrete that from an aerial view of the property, they are almost invisible to the eye.
This eco-resort is leading the way in ‘bio-design’: an architectural approach that owners Julian Escobar and Jorge Gonzales describe as building with minimal disruption to the environment. The property is the perfect example of ‘passive architecture’; structures not only blend into the natural environment but take advantage of its offerings to reduce the need for man-made technology. ‘Cool-light glass’ absorbs the region’s powerful sun during the day to keep interiors warm during chilly nights. Heavy rainfall sinks into the foliage that lines the roofs of guestrooms, purposely designed on an incline to enable excess water to drain off. To reduce the need for air conditioning and to cool the rooms naturally, high ceilings encourage the circulation of air and buildings are constructed with thin rock that is designed to remove excess heat.
While some of these strategic architectural choices may be easily overlooked, the passive design is crucial to enhancing guests’ connection to nature and enabling them to “get back to their origins,” the philosophy of the hotel. When the owners began building the hotel, they were determined to not disrupt the essence of the place, hoping that visitors would experience the same feeling of awe they felt when they first discovered this magical spot in the mountains. Subsequently, the hotel restaurant Basto Restobar as well as the guest rooms feature floor-to-ceiling glass walls so that guests can take in the breathtaking views of the valley. Dim lights are used to encourage stargazing while short grass encourages visitors to walk barefoot. Every detail has been designed with the guest experience in mind. “That’s what interior design is all about. A space that has been designed thoughtfully can change the whole experience,” says hotel manager Juan Jaramillo. “When all the thoughtful details come together, it makes the whole experience more valuable.”
As Gonzales says, “Colombia’s wealth lies in its biodiversity,” and so by designing passively to enhance the distinct attributes of the surrounding environment, a stay at Bio Habitat Hotel allows guests to truly experience Colombia. “We are in the tropics and the mountains, the climate is unique to this region. Here we have the most beautiful birds and animals in the world. You can see plants here that you won’t see anywhere else,” says Gonzales. “I’m fully aware of how unique this place is and that’s why we want our clients to be aware of their surroundings.” Similarly, Maria Clara, the head chef of Basto Restobar, where local products are used to enrich guests’ connection to the earth, says, “You can see the sun, the rain, every natural force in its purest form here. The hotel makes it a Colombian experience. The design lets you be here.” By connecting guests to nature through their bio-design approach, Bio Habitat Hotel enables visitors to become grounded and develop a more intimate relationship to their surroundings.
Guests deepen their experience of Colombia, not only by connecting to the region’s unique natural elements, but also by getting to know the local culture at Basto Restobar. Design features are inspired by local tastes, such as a lamp made of the machinery used to peel coffee beans, while menu items bring Colombians back to their origins through the use of familiar flavors. Rather than emulate international cuisines, the kitchen uses local foods to elevate dishes that Colombians recognize. Take for example the ‘Milo Brownie’: a sweet brownie made of ‘Milo’ hot chocolate powder, a drink that many Colombian children like to sneak behind their parents backs, paired with ice cream made of ‘Klim,’ another beloved powdered drink. For locals, Bio Habitat Hotel recreates experiences they may have overlooked all their lives, catalyzing a newfound adoration for their culture. For tourists, these references make their experience more authentically Colombian by enriching their understanding of the local culture.
While the luxurious property provides a calming retreat from the fast pace of the surrounding cities, a stay at Bio Habitat Hotel is more than just a mindless vacation. Whether it be through encouraging guests to minimize waste or intensifying their sense of place, every experience here aims to raise consciousness. Chef Clara believes, “Our values are changing. People don’t want classic luxury anymore, they want every element to change them. When you’re on vacation, your mind is open. What we’re doing here is to communicate how to have less of an impact and be a conscious traveler. To make people realize that no matter where you are, your decisions not only affect you, they impact the place you are in.” While Bio Habitat Hotel is still in its first year, plans to expand the experiential and sustainability elements of the property will only serve to make travelers more conscious. Such plans include the building of a small pond on property for the kitchen to source fish as well as tours of their native seed garden to educate guests on Colombia’s diverse bounty. Bio Habitat Hotel demonstrates that luxury does not have to be mindless and that connecting to nature out of a desire to relax can grow into a deeper awareness of our relationship to the Earth.
The late development of Colombia’s tourism industry provides an opportunity for hotel and business owners to make environmentally and socially responsible decisions from the start. “We want tourism but we want it to be conscious tourism that appreciates our country and natural environment. Tourism is an impact activity. Hotels like this make tourism sustainable because it attracts people who want to be aware of their surroundings. The more hotels we have like this, the more positive impact on the earth,” says Gonzales. “Innovation is a form of changing the world. You show people different ways of doing things which has the potential to change lives.” Bio Habitat Hotel is not only setting the standard for sustainable architecture through their use of bio-design, they are demonstrating that an eco-luxury experience has the potential to inspire travelers to be more cognizant of their impact, not only when they travel, but also in their everyday lives.
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Photography by: Anna Haines