Scott Barbour  /  Getty Images file
A young couple and their child look out to the sea at sunset in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
updated 10/18/2006 7:06:12 PM ET 2006-10-18T23:06:12

We not only love to travel to far-flung locations to experience their cultures, but we want to make a difference and learn while we’re there. In this vein, ISLANDS has selected seven trips orchestrated by companies whose missions we admire. Whether you’re looking to make a tangible contribution, or you intend to travel in a mindful manner — minimally impacting the people and the place while ensuring that profits from your visit directly benefit the local economy — we’ve got the trip (or the company to help you find the trip) that’s right for you.

Sri Lanka
Witnessing elephants in their natural environment is the experience of a lifetime. Imagine having the equivalent of a backstage pass to get up close and personal. Join a Global Vision International volunteer group in the Matale District, the central province of Sri Lanka, and you’ll be part of a new field study program conducted by the Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society that will have you doing everything from compiling a photographic catalogue of the area’s pachyderms to conducting dung counts and their analysis. Yes, you’ll be two hours from the nearest Internet café and without electricity, but in return you will be based in the beautiful Sri Lankan wilderness. Projects last from two to 12 weeks.

Blackbird Caye, Belize
Few of us are immune to the charms of dolphins. But what do you really know about them? Here’s your chance to become part of the scientific process, collecting behavioral information, mapping dolphin locations and capturing images of these fascinating creatures. Travel with the National Wildlife Federation and spend a week on a remote Belizean caye, 90 minutes by boat from Belize City, assisting researchers from the Oceanic Society. They’ve been studying bottlenosed dolphins in this area since 1992. You’ll stay in comfortable beachfront cabanas bordered by white-sand beaches. April 14–21.

Planning a trip to Bali? Contact JED Village Ecotourism Network. It will customize a day trip or an overnight home stay in one of four villages — each preserving its unique way of life. Go with a farmer to tour seaweed plantations by canoe on Ceningan Island. Learn about the cultivation and making of salak wine in Dukuh Sibetan, where you can also help prepare the village for a ceremony or festival. Intrepid travelers can hike four to five hours from here to Tenganan, an ancient fortress village, to learn about customs based on philosophies of interconnectivity lost to the rest of Bali. All profits from these trips go directly to community development or conservation projects in the villages.

St. Croix
Night life takes on a whole new meaning after participating in an Earthwatch Institute mission to help protect the eggs and hatchlings of leatherback turtles on St. Croix. Patrol the beaches of Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge each night to watch for female turtles, which can weigh up to 1,300 pounds, coming ashore to nest. Then, you’ll record data such as nest location and number of eggs laid. Later, volunteer teams help hatchlings reach the sea. This program is largely credited with the dramatic recovery of leatherbacks in the area. Eleven-day research missions are scheduled for April and May.

Chole Island
Sometimes you want to do good without actually doing anything. Escape to Chole Mjini, a treehouse lodge on Chole Island off Tanzania, and you’ll be doing just that. Ten dollars per guest per night goes to the island village. The resort also buys from local fishermen and employs locals. The owners actively raise additional funds to benefit the village’s education and health care. All this “do-gooding” happens while you’re snorkeling or diving the incredible reefs, combing the tidal flats, bird-watching or chartering the lodge’s dhow for an overnight cruise. Open year-round except from mid-April through mid-June. Book through Tribes Travel, the 2005 global winner of the Responsible Tourism Award.

Kosrae Island
Here’s one for divers who want to put their bubble blowing and perfect buoyancy to good environmental use. Spend two weeks next September surveying Kosrae’s coral reefs, some of the most pristine in the world. Di-vers have been compiling data on fish counts, mapping, visibility and more since 1996. This is a proactive project that monitors the health of the reef as more visitors discover the Micronesian island each year. You’ll stay at the Kosrae Village Dive & Eco Adventure Resort, dive daily for the project and for fun, and experience the island’s authentic culture.

East Timor Island
Curious about visiting the first new country formed in the 21st century? Go to this Southeast Asian island with Intrepid Travel. Their responsible travel code of conduct is put into action on all their trips. You’ll experience this land of soaring mountain ranges, crystalline waters, green valleys and coffee plantations with knowledgeable local guides eager to help you break down barriers with the friendly Timorese people. Expect to learn about community projects along the way and to be invited to leave behind your unwanted clothing and medicines at the end of the journey. 2007 dates TBD.

Each issue of ISLANDS Magazineexplores the most beautiful island destinations in the world, from tropical island outposts to the sophisticated gems of the Mediterranean. Our top-rate photographers and writers discover the quiet beaches, boutique hotels, and unique cultural experiences that make island travel unique.


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