Five of the best community tourism projects worldwide
Originally set up to help the fishing village of Ban Talae Nok recover after the tsunami of 2008, Andaman Discoveries has expanded its community tourism programmes across Thailand. From the beginning, the social enterprise has been committed to providing communities with additional income to allow them to continue living the way they want, and 50% of all profits support local development. A wide range of activities includes sleeping out in the jungle, visiting ethical elephant sanctuaries and snorkelling with the sea nomads. But for a taste of rural life, it’s hard to beat the original experience: staying in a home, spending time with the family, learning to cook their food, and having a go at batik or weaving.
The solar-powered Bulungula lodge (doubles £30 a night room-only) is owned and managed by the people of Nqileni, a village with breathtaking views across the cliffs and vast beaches of South Africa’s aptly named Wild Coast on the Eastern Cape. A few days here gives an immersion into rural Xhosa life, hanging out with fishermen or taking part in one of Bulungula’s activities, such as A Day in the Life of a Xhosa Woman (£6) – which involves gathering firewood in the forest and carrying it back on the head, and foraging for ingredients for lunch.
The Black Sheep Inn, perched 3,200 metres up in the Ecuadorian Andes (bunkhouse bed $35pp, doubles from $60pp, both full-board), is a hiker’s paradise, with canyons, cloud forest and mountain lakes all reachable on day walks. The inn is run by the local community, the lodge and its gardens are built according to permaculture principles, and offer a hands-on insight into ecological living. Since the inn opened in 1995, it has been committed to improving life in the village of Chugchilán, and its impact is visible everywhere: on the local tourism businesses it has nurtured; the teacher salaries and scholarships it subsidises; the workshops it runs – everything from family planning to first aid; and the library, computer learning and recycling centres it has set up.
The 24-hour Nam Nern Night Safari (£133pp) takes visitors by boat deep into the Nam Et-Phou Louey protected area of northern Laos. Daytime activities include birdwatching and listening to the sounds of the forest, exploring onshore and eating. In the evening the boat drifts silently with the engines off, as tourists scan the riverbank for sambar deer, loris, civets, monitor lizards, porcupines, owls and – for those who are very, very lucky – a bear or leopard. Villagers receive a set fee for running the tours, supplemented from a fund designed to further incentivise the protection of wildlife. At the end of the safari, guests record the wildlife they spotted (rarer species “score” more), and this decides the amount of the bonuses paid to the village development fund.
Every aspect of a stay at the beachside Sandele Eco Retreat (doubles from £70 half-board) supports the community’s sustainable development. Local craftsmen created the buildings using sustainable construction techniques such as stabilised earth blocks and natural ventilation. Its Sandele Foundation spreads its impact among the nearby villages, teaching practical solutions such as water conservation and constructing more efficient woodburning stoves, through an ecovillage network. Guests can choose to get as actively involved as they want, whether sharing their own skills or just using this inspiring place for their own personal development.
Five of the best trips with homestays
KE Adventures’ two-week trekking holiday in north-east Vietnam includes overnight homestays with six ethnic minorities and a full day with the Black Lolo hill tribe. Other highlights are a visit to Ba Be national park, sightseeing in Hanoi, a cruise on Halong Bay and a night on Cat Ba island.
• From £1,299pp, flights extra, next trip 25 Aug, keadventure.com
Customers can build their own itinerary with Rickshaw Travel by choosing from a selection of “bitesize” trips, many including homestays. On a two-day stay with the Bribri tribe in Costa Rica, guests reach the village by canoe, go trekking in the rainforest, visit cacao plantations and make their own chocolate.
• From £218 for two days, rickshawtravel.co.uk
Responsible Travel lists about 20 homestay holidays, from Cuba to Zambia. A Kerala trip can include homestays in the cities of Cochin and Alappuzha, and in the village of Kumarakom (pictured above) on Vembanad Lake, part of the Kerala backwaters as well as an overnight on a houseboat.
• Eight days from £400, flights extra, responsibletravel.com
Many of Intrepid Travel’s trips include a night with a local family, including its new Vegan Food Adventure, which starts with street food tours and cookery classes in Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Kanchanaburi. Guests then take an overnight train to Chiang Mai for two nights in a hotel and one in a village homestay, where they learn to cook an 11-dish khantohk dinner.
• Eight days from £885, next trip 23 Feb, intrepidtravel.com
Fundo Chincheros, a 19th-century Andean ranch near Lake Titicaca in southern Peru, has recently started farmstay holidays. Guests can help with the llamas, alpacas and other animals, go horse riding and take day trips to the lake and the Uros Islands. Fleewinter’s 13-day family trip includes two nights at the farm, or independent travellers can book direct.
• Doubles from £80 B&B, fundochincheros.com
Five city tours that support disadvantaged people
Guided walks offered by Unseen Tours around some of London’s most popular districts – Soho, Shoreditch, Covent Garden, London Bridge – are led by people who are either homeless or formerly homeless and still vulnerably housed. These are emphatically not about gawping at people who live on the streets. The guides design their own agenda, talking as much or little as they wish about their own experience and the realities of their lives. They reveal hidden sides to the city, from the site of the original Banksy girl with a balloon (now painted over), to the ongoing battle to preserve Crossbones, the outcasts’ graveyard unearthed during work on the Jubilee Line extension.
• £15, sockmobevents.org.uk
Guided by refugees from Syria, Refugee Voices weekly walking tours of Berlin tell two histories. With stops at the old East German parliament building, Checkpoint Charlie, the Topography of Terror and finally the twin churches of the Gendarmenmarkt, the refugees talk of Germany and there experiences there. But they also tell the story of Syria, often revealing how the two countries’ histories have intertwined, from the Stasi training Syria’s secret police in the 1960s and 70s, to Berlin housing more than 500 refugees in the former secret police HQ in 2015.
• Donations €5-€10, refugeevoicestours.org
Reality Tours & Travel’s 2½-hour walking tour of Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, is designed to challenge negative stereotypes and support the inhabitants. Groups are small, no photography is allowed, and your guides are the residents themselves, who reveal how Dharavi’s twisting streets are filled with artisans and micro-industries from pottery and embroidery to leather tanning and poppadom making. Four-fifths of the company’s profits go to development projects in slum communities, providing computer and English classes, a girls’ football program, and a scheme called I Was a Sari, employing women to upcycle old saris into designer products. It also runs slum tours in Delhi and multi-day tours in Kerala and Rajasthan.
• About £9.50, realitytoursandtravel.com
Cape Town tours run by not-for-profit group Uthando (the word means love) take visitors away from the seafront and Table Mountain and into the townships. But where many township tours are seen as voyeuristic, these trips focus not on sangomas (traditional healers) and shebeens, but on the social enterprises working to build a new South Africa. Participants visit three or four of the 20 initiatives that Uthando supports, working on, for example, providing opportunities for rehabilitating prisoners, supporting LGBT people in townships and a community dance project keeping young people out of gangs.
• Half-day £56, uthandosa.org
Authenticitys offers positive-impact trips to an ever-growing number of cities across Europe and Latin America, searchable by city, experience or issue. This might mean: sampling pintxos in San Sebastián on a foodie tour that also finances meals in a soup kitchen; seeing everyday life for women in Delhi, sharing a meal in their home and learning about a foundation that protects vulnerable women’s rights; or getting breathless in Barcelona on a jogging tour led by the founder of charity Street Child España.
• €20pp, authenticitys.com
Five of the best working holidays around the UK
The charity offers many working breaks, from weekends to full weeks, from gardening and farming to drystone walling. Among options for 2019 is woodland regeneration in West Sussex (14-21 July) and tree planting in Wasdale, Cumbria (9-16 March). Prices from £100, including basic accommodation and self-prepared meals.
Trees for Life works to restore native forests in the Scottish Highlands. Its volunteers have planted over a million trees, and aim to plant a million more. Join a Conservation Week in Dundreggan or Glenn Affric, helping to keep some of the wildest parts of the UK wild. From £395 (£185 concs), with meals, accommodation and transport from Inverness.
Learn about organic lifestyles by helping on a smallholding, garden or farm with Wwoof UK (for placements further afield, see wwoofinternational.org), with bed and board in return for practical help. Options include helping with a yurt business in Devon and clearing scrub and building bridges in Perthshire.
Volunteer stays with Europe’s biggest wildlife conservation charity include helping at the visitor centre and observing nests at the Operation Osprey Project in Loch Garten in the Cairngorms, available from April to mid-August, habitat management at Ynys-Hir in Powys, and working at the Seabird Centre on Rathin Island in Northern Ireland. Volunteers . Most placements are for two weeks, although there are some one-week options.
The Inland Waterways Association works to protect and restore 6,500 miles of canals and rivers. Volunteers on week-long Canal Camps help clear vegetation and maintain and renovate locks. There are 25 sites in England and Wales, including three family camps. From £70, with accommodation and food.
Five of the best trips that support women
Ladakh’s first female mountain guide, Thinlas Chorol, and her 20 guides, porters and employees, all women, lead treks across the region’s passes and peaks that aim to support and inspire Ladakhi women, particularly those living in remote villages. Nights are spent in homestays run by women, giving them a chance to earn money where they live instead of having to find work in cities, and also to interact with visitors. In turn, tourists get a glimpse of the “real” Ladakh, including its traditional food. The trips attract solo female travellers in search of adventure although everyone is welcome. Tours vary from a one-day trip to Ladakh’s most impressive gompa (temple complex) to a challenging 14-day hike.
• Day excursions from €60; multi-day hikes from €1,500pp, ladakhiwomenstravel.com
Tourism Caith is a Cusco-based organisation that operates four hostels in Cusco, Yucay, Accha and Puno, and tailormade tours across the country. All proceeds from overnight stays, trips and excursions help fund programmes run by Yanapanakusun, an NGO that works with girls and young women who are at risk of, or have been rescued from, domestic slavery. Rescued girls are offered education and training, particularly in tourism. Many of the girls go on to work for Tourism Caith as managers, cooks, hotel staff, drivers or friendly guides.
• Tour prices from €1,500pp for up to 15 days, hostels from $20pp pn, turismocaith.org
Indian Ocean islands are usually associated with luxury resorts, but on sleepy Ibo island, off the north coast of Mozambique, Casa das Garças offers affordable rooms in an idyllic setting with strong links to the poor local community, in particular women. The lodge, which opened last year and also hosts visiting researchers, provides jobs and training, as well as buying products made by women (coffee, jams, peanut butter) and encouraging guests to eat at local seafood restaurants run by women.
• From €61B&B, reopens in March, casadasgarcas.org
Through Stories and Hands of Women is a six-day small group tour dedicated to the women of remote, depopulated villages of Abruzzo. Guided by archaeologist Alessia, the tour starts in L’Aquila, a town still recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2009, and includes visits to 12 women who are preserving local traditions and trying to revitalise the region through their work; they include a wine maker, saffron grower, and several craft artisans. The tour is offered by ViaggieMiraggi, a sustainable tourism organisation that supports community projects around the world.
• From €550 for a six-day tour including workshops and all meals, italy.viaggiemiraggi.org
Argan oil, or “liquid gold” as it’s been known since 600BC, provides a livelihood for thousands of Moroccan women. Many work for cooperatives that ensure the oil fetches a fair price. One of them, Coopérative Asdikae Bila Houdoud, organises an eight-day guided tour called Traditional Cosmetique where, in addition to extracting argan with local women, you can also learn how to make soaps, couscous, herbs, using centuries-old local recipes and techniques. Website is in French but tours are accompanied by an English speaking guide.
• From €820 including accommodation, food, guide and transfers, marocnatureculture.org
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