Cause & effect: five of the best ethical tours around the world

We’ve pulled together a great list of ethical tours where you’ll truly be giving back to the local communities; where it’s possible to see the tangible impact of your cash, from those that fund grassroots projects to companies ensuring locals benefit.

By Helen Warwick
Published 19 Aug 2019, 11:01 BST, Updated 23 Jul 2021, 11:26 BST

Responsible travel is entering the mainstream, and it goes far beyond voyeuristic village tours and whistle-stop voluntary placements. Hopefully initiatives like these will soon become standard, but for now, here’s some of the best ethical tours out there. 

Championing locals

Where: Ciudad Perdida, Colombia 
Who: G Adventures
What: The man behind this Canadian travel company, Bruce Poon Tip, wanted to create tours that offered a tantalising window into a corner of the world while giving something back to the local community. The result? Many of G Adventures’ trips collaborate with locally owned social enterprises and NGOs across the globe via its nonprofit Planeterra Foundation. The Foundation identifies how local communities can benefit from G Adventures’ tours. One of the latest in a long line of partnerships is a collaboration with Wiwa Tours, an Indigenous-owned enterprise from the people of the Sierra Nevada. Its G Adventures’ Lost City trek — an atmospheric journey to Colombia’s answer to Machu Picchu, the Ciudad Perdida, through a tangle of steaming jungle, remote farmland and off-grid local villages, where visitors can engage meaningfully with the community. 
Why: Descendants of the ancient Tayrona people, the Wiwa community are bouncing back after years of illegal activity threatened their livelihoods. Drug cartels seized their land for marijuana and cocaine plantations and the communities are keen to embrace tourism and reclaim their ancestral territories by working as tour guides and selling exquisite handicrafts. Seven days from £399.

Community focus

Where: Kenya 
Who: Adventure Alternative
What: This innovative tour operator started shouting about responsible travel nearly 30 years ago and has been going strong ever since. As well as operating a collection of trekking and mountaineering trips, it also set up a charity called Moving Mountains in its early days to ensure all its trips make a meaningful and beneficial impact within the communities they operate. The company’s seven-day Maasai Mara and Rift Valley trip possesses all the hallmarks of a classic African safari: sundowners beside glassy water holes, hair-raising game drives, Big Five sightings and drifting off to sleep to the myriad sounds of the savannah. 
Why: Adventure Alternative’s business model doesn’t rely on outsourcing services, and, working alongside Moving Mountains, it empowers local communities to manage its operations and share in some of the equity. This helps to create locally owned independent companies that can flourish in various destinations, including Kenya. The company also uses profits for staff training and development, helping local people to attain financial security and forge long-term careers within the company. Seven days from £995. 

Helping children

Where: Vietnam 
Who: Rickshaw Travel
What: Rickshaw’s something of a pro when it comes to meaningful travel. All of the company’s tours — be it hiking around Borneo or finding solitude in Canada — involve lending its support to a local project. What’s on the menu in Vietnam? Try the 13-day A Taste of Vietnam — there’s the high-tech, high-tempo Ho Chi Minh to explore, the mellow waters of the Mekong, coastal culture in the pretty enclave of Hoi An and Hanoi’s humming streets. When you book this trip, a percentage of the money will go to the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, a grassroots charity, reaching out to children in crisis throughout Vietnam.
Why: Your money goes to a worthy cause — many of the kids in need are victims of trafficking and slavery, and funds given to Blue Dragon are used to help keep children off the streets and provide shelter, safe accommodation, meals and clothes. The Foundation also works to help ensure that all children in Vietnam— including those in poor and remote regions — have access to secondary school education and treatment at public hospitals. The 13-day A Taste of Vietnam costs from £1,448.

Wildlife watch

Where: Italy 
Who: European Safari Company
What: Heading out on safari needn’t mean a long-haul flight. Plot a course to Italy’s Apennines — a wild expanse of mountain ridges running from Liguria to Umbria. Here, in its central region, golden eagles soar, bears patrol ancient forests and wolves scurry in the shadows. Over three days, you’ll roam around the Abruzzo National Park in search of its wolf packs, hiking in a timeless landscape barely touched by tourism. Your digs for the night will be the Bisegna Mountain Refuge — an off-grid bolthole that’s making a destination of this remote region, where stupefying sunsets tie in with lupine howls.
Why: The exceptional thing about the European Safari Company is its knack for positively impacting your chosen destination — it only partners with sustainable companies with a proven commitment to nature conservation. Sign up to one of its experiential nature-based tours right across Europe and your cash sets things in motion for rewilding initiatives in that corner of the continent, thanks to its affiliation with the nonprofit organisation Rewilding Europe. Two nights from €460 (£410).

Protecting nature

Where: Kathmandu, Nepal 
Who: Intrepid Travel
What: You can’t knock Intrepid Travel’s stance on ethical tourism. It’s spearheaded various projects and was the first operator to ban elephant riding on its Asian tours. Take the company’s 15-day Delhi to Kathmandu trip. Intrepid worked with WWF to set up a clutch of homestays on the fringes of Nepal’s Chitwan National Park as an alternative source of income for the forest-dependent communities living in the area. Book this trip and in between padding about the Himalayan foothills, sunrise trips on the Ganges, a visit to the majestic Taj Mahal and more, you’ll spend a night bedding down in the home of a local in the Madi Valley. 
Why: World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Nepal had a mission: to stop the degradation of Nepal’s natural environment and to help build a sustainable future for local villagers, with a particular focus on opportunities and skills-training for women. Intrepid Travel and the Australian government joined forces with WWF to work towards the creation of a collection of homestays in the village of Shivadwar. What’s in it for them? The villagers get a cut of your cash, as well as help learning English and training in hospitality. As for you, you’ll have a priceless insight into Magar culture. 15 days from £1,025.

Published in the Earth Collection, distributed with the September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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