You don't have to wear a hair shirt and dig a well to give back when you travel. Here are 8 great trips that connect you with the world.
Fair trade in Mozambique
Stay at this eco-friendly resort on an idyllic beach and you'll give the local fishermen jobs—as well as help send their kids to school.
The coast of Northern Mozambique is a laboratory for combining breathtaking beauty with practical preservation. There are pristine jungle-backed beaches with reef-fringed islands. Marine life is abundant, including humpback whales, which appear late June through early October.
Amy and Neal Carter-James built their luxury eco-resort, Guludo Beach Lodge (guludo.com), here on a white-sand beach on the edge of the Quirimbas National Park, not far from the impoverished village of Guludo. Says Amy, "We wanted to find a place where fair-trade tourism could alleviate poverty and provide jobs."
Fishermen from Guludo welcomed the prospect of good jobs and agreed to share their beach. The simple, elegant resort was built and staffed by locals. Whitewashed adobe rooms with thatched roofs have plush beds, open-air showers, and verandas with hammocks.
Entrepreneurs from the village now offer sunset sails in traditional dhows, beach archery, and fishing outings for guests. Elevate Destinations (elevatedestinations.com), a tour operator that specializes in philanthropic trips, just added Guludo to its list.
"This is the Seychelles 20 years ago," says Elevate president Dominique Callimanopoulos. "Guludo Beach Lodge is a model for tourism that lifts up local communities."
The give: For $90, guests can send a teenager to boarding school for a year. Five percent of Guludo's revenue goes to its Nema Foundation, which fights poverty.
The get: A real connection to the community. The foundation is financing scholarships for 77 teenagers. In 2008, it built 28 water wells, helping more than 12,000 people.
Going local: Palm rings woven by Guludo village women (dsdundee.com/charity; $7.50).
Haciendas and people power
Explore Chichén Itzá, go for a swim, have a massage. At these chic hotels, you're truly helping the locals.
The history of the Hacienda Temozon resort hotel (haciendasmexico.com), in the Yucatán Peninsula, about a two-hour drive from Chichén Itzá, isn't immediately apparent. An elegant pool, an airy dining room, a spa—all the qualities of high style are there. In fact, in 1996, when Luis Bosoms and his wife, Marilú Hernández, bought the property in the wake of the collapse of the sisal industry, they purchased not only an abandoned 350-year-old hacienda but 109 worker's houses.
The first thing they did: hand over the deeds to the houses to local people. "If you wanted to create wealth where there was none," says Bosoms, "this way is one hundred percent sustainable. With homes, these people instantly have access to credit." Altogether, the couple bought five haciendas, all of which they turned into resorts.
Today, from Temozón, a guide will take you to the Uxmal ruins, then to visit craftsmen trained with the help of the hotel's foundation. Back at the hotel, get a massage—a local collective owns the spa. You can also head out into the Gulf of Mexico to see migrating birds, turtles, and crocodiles, ending up at the blue stucco Hacienda Santa Rosa, which they also own. From there, Chichén Itzá is a stone's throw away. But if you feel like lazing around the pool, you're still helping the community just by being there.
The give: Visit local shops, which are highlighted on walking maps provided by the haciendas.
The get: The knowledge that your money is going into the pockets of the local people.
Going local: Chic sisal bag made by Mayan villagers (email@example.com; $25).
Guilt free at Victoria Falls
Seeing a cheetah is great, but facing up to poverty can reshape the way you see the world.
Suddenly, sundowner cocktails are interrupted as the tracker shouts "Get in the jeep—now!" Fifteen yards away, a cheetah has killed an impala—not an unusual scene at South Africa's five-star Phinda camp (andbeyond.com), known for helping to save the cheetah. So begins the Southern Africa itinerary set up by Exquisite Safaris Philanthropic Travel (exquisitesafaris.com).
Next stop: Botswana's Okavango Delta, where huge herds range across the terrain, and another five-star lodge, Kwando Lagoon Camp, which employs Bushmen as trackers. But for Pam Donlin, a former banker who traveled there last year, the most memorable moment came in the Zambian bush at the Butterfly Tree Project: A nonprofit, supported by Exquisite Safaris, it runs a school and health center near Victoria Falls.
Donlin, her husband, and her two kids met AIDS orphans and gave out clothes. "If part of travel can be helping others, and can create awareness in one's self, it's a great thing," says Donlin, who donated a $2,500 water well and educational funds. The trip wound up at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, where monkeys scamper through the marble lobby. You can hear Victoria Falls and see the mist from the hotel. Says Donlin: "I thought, Do I ever have to leave?"
The give: Just by going with Exquisite Safaris, you are donating $250 to a local nonprofit.
The get: The knowledge that you are helping children receive education and clean water.
Going local: Take photos with Mothusi Kebusitswe, a guide and camera buff at Kwara Camp (Kwando.co.za).
Cyclos for change
Siem Reap is booming. Connecting with Cambodian nonprofits is a great way to get the real scoop.
French restaurants, nouvelle Cambodian boîtes, and raucous Australian-owned bars keep Siem Reap hot well into the night. By day, you can relax by the pool at a five-star hotel after visiting Angkor Wat. But how much of all that money is trickling down to the people who really need it? Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com), which promotes "meaningful" travel worldwide, offers a "Heart of Cambodia" trip that not only includes the Khmer temples but also connects travelers to the best nonprofit projects working with local people.
"At every stop, our guides helped us become aware of the local issues," says Kristin Kovalik, of Bend, Oregon. The cyclo ride past French colonial buildings along Sisowath Quay, for example, is run by Cyclo Centre Phnom Penh, which helps the city's 1,400 peddlers get health care. And after Siem Reap, before hitting the beach at laid-back Sihanoukville on the Southern coast, you can stop for a pastry at a café run by the Starfish Project, which employs handicapped Cambodians.
Travelers' donations and business help keep the nonprofits afloat. Says Jane Crouch of Intrepid: "There's the money, but there's also a cultural exchange that enriches both parties." In the past three years, the Intrepid Foundation, which matches travelers' gifts up to $250, has raised $426,000 for 30 projects.
The give: A $150 donation to the Starfish Project.
The get: Transportation to Phnom Penh and psychiatric help for a patient with no access to mental health care.
Going local: Fish curry at Phnom Penh's Romdeng, served by ex-street kids (streetfriends.org; $6).
Supporting girl power in Jordan
You must see the ruins at Petra and Jerash. But check out Queen Rania's women's projects, too.
Jordan has one foot in the ancient world and one foot in the future. At the 2,000-year-old ruins at Jerash, you can practically see the Roman chariots rolling down the colonnaded lanes and smell the oils from the ancient thermal baths. And in Petra, the rose-red capital of the Nabatean (an Arab trading empire), time seems to have stood still since the city was chiseled into a rift canyon in the first century B.C.
But back in modern Amman, you can see how the country has become a beacon of progressive thinking in the region. You can even stay at a hotel that is part of that process. With the support of Queen Rania's Jordan River Foundation, Marriott, Four Seasons, and Sheraton have launched an ambitious training program for underprivileged youth. So just by dining at one these hotels' fine restaurants, in a sense, you will be supporting the development of a new professional class.
Stop by Rania's Bani Hamida crafts project, which provides first-time employment for bedouin women. And if you are traveling with Abercrombie & Kent, you can visit the Balquees School for Girls, part of Rania's "Madrasati" public schools rehabilitation project, which has been adopted by A&K. Field trips will be organized for the girls, many of whom have never seen the sites of Amman.
The give: $50 to buy a space heater for a classroom.
The get: You will be helping underprivileged girls—many of whom will be the first women in their families to graduate from high school—to stay warm enough to study. Balquees School for Girls has two shifts, so the donation will do double duty.
Going local: Shawl woven by bedouins at Jordan River Design Project ( osmoqueen.nl $220).
Eco-tripping in Costa Rica—the easy way
The rain forest and beaches are wild, but at these do-good hotels, roughing it never felt so great.
Costa rica is known for ecotourism, but the whole rain forest thing can sometimes sound a bit, well, unpolished. The good news is that at a handful of unique hotels, you can have spa treatments, lounge by the infinity pool, zip-line through the trees—and actually help the locals and the environment while you're at it.
For example, at Lapa Rios Ecolodge ( laparios.com)—which uses solar power to heat its water, implements extensive recycling, and also built a school on the Osa Peninsula—the decks are perfect for watching a family of howler monkeys swing across the valley below. (The peninsula's rain forest is home to more than 375 bird and 700 tree species.) After Lapa Rios, fly to the Guanacaste Peninsula for a few days on the beautiful, rugged beaches.
At the Punta Islita Hotel (hotelpuntaislita.com), which has 30 thatched rooms with balconies, hammocks, and an infinity pool, you can surf or horseback ride on a black sand beach. What really sets this hotel apart is its community projects: scholarships, training for craftsmen, recycling programs, and jobs in an impoverished region known for unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture.
Visit the little museum, which was built by the hotel, and purchase works by local artists. And have a spa treatment that incorporates herbs used by the local Chorotega tribe—all while knowing you are doing good.
The give: Sign a voluntary pledge to use energy judiciously; plant a tree during your stay; and visit one local restaurant.
The get: In return, you receive a reward such as a free spa treatment. The museum reaps $25,000 a year in art sales to travelers—revenue that supports 62 local artists, providing the women with income for the first time. You will probably need to spend the night in the capital, San José. Stay at its most eco-friendly hotel, the quirky 13-room Finca Rosa Blanca Country Inn (fincarosablanca.com), which has its own worm composter.
Going local: Seviche with mollusks at Cambute Restaurant, owned by an Islita villager (about $6).
Family values in Kenya
Five-star safaris are decadent, but this tour operator connects you with real people—and gives back, too.
Kenya's Masai Mara is a notoriously popular safari destination. But at the seven-tent Naibor Camp (shompole.com), tucked amid a riverside acacia grove, you are just one of 14 travelers on the edge of an 8,500-acre conservancy. Tented doesn't mean it's not deluxe: The camp is part of Micato Safaris' collection of luxury Kenyan and Tanzanian destinations, and the tents are decked out with king-size beds, hand-carved furniture, and private verandas with daybeds overlooking the Talek River.
"What they do with a tent is unbelievable," says Camille Feldman, of Palos Verdes, California, who traveled through the Mara with her family on a Micato safari in 2007.
The trip was wonderful, but she says the experience that changed their lives was a visit to Harambee Center, which serves orphans from the Mukuru slum, outside Nairobi. It's run by Micato's foundation, AmericaShare, which—with the help of travelers—also sends hundreds of youths to boarding school.
The visit inspired Feldman's 16-year-old son to raise $34,000 for the center—enough to send four kids to boarding school for four years. The center's success is a direct result of travelers' generosity, says AmericaShare Director Lorna Macloid. Three years ago, a single donation built the facility. Today, it houses a Microsoft-funded computer lab that teaches computer skills and HIV/AIDS awareness through interactive video games.
The give: $1,500 sponsors a child's tuition, books, uniforms, and room and board for an entire year.
The get: A real connection—sponsors correspond with the children and receive progress updates.
Going local: Masai elder Rakita Ole Nkere explains how your visit helps his people (micato.com).
The real Kerala
Tourism is helping revive spiritual and musical traditions on India's Nila River.
In the village of Mannon, in Kerala, India, you can watch musicians in sarongs play high-pitched drums as villagers in elaborate orange headdresses dance. "The villagers wanted to play for us," says Copenhagen-based Karen Stigsen, who visited last December with her husband and two boys.
"This was not staged." Gopinath Parayil, founder of the Blue Yonder tour company (theblueyonder.com), never asks the musicians to play in a hotel, away from their natural environment. Indeed, the point of traveling with his company, which supports a foundation working on the Nila River's environmental problems, is to experience the real Kerala.
Blue Yonder is supporting local culture and traditions that have been threatened by industrialization. Until recently, the performers, who come from the lower castes, had no outlet for their music.
"We wanted to build social acceptance for these people," says Parayil. After performances, travelers mix with the villagers. "We have 24 interpreters who have learned English because they want to share their legends with the world," says Parayil. Travelers sail on boats traditionally used in the coconut trade and visit artists, potters, and bell-metal workers. They stay in 400-year-old homes, ending at Cochin's luxurious Malabar House, where tradition meets chic.
The give: Parayil pays the musical troupes more than $150 per performance.
The get: Development. Some villages, where the daily wage is only $8, use the funds to start microcredit systems.
Going local: Traditional pottery from craftsmen in a village along the Nila River ($2).