Want to spice up your next trip by making a contribution to the local population? You will return home with the best souvenir: the satisfaction of knowing you made a difference. An ever-growing group of socially engaged travelers has already changed thousands of people’s lives.
Luxury and philanthropy go hand in hand
It is time to lose yourself in Nicaragua’s nature. The tropical paradise with lakes, volcanoes and not to mention some of the world’s best coffee and rum. In the midst of all this lies the luxurious resort of Nekupe.
Its name says it all, meaning “heaven” in the language of the indigenous Chorotega people from Honduras. “Heaven” is located in the countryside on a 1,300-acre nature reserve. The intimate eight-bedroom luxury hotel’s presidential suite is more than 120 square meter and boasts a personal concierge and a dedicated park ranger to guide you through when reconnecting with nature.
This non-profit hotel was created to help the local community. Its owners are the best-known philanthropists in the country, as they created the American Nicaraguan Foundation to reduce poverty in the area. Don Alfredo Jr. and Doña Theresa Pellas believe that maintaining a constant dialogue with locals helps guests build a deeper connection with the country, which led them to create a range of programmes for their guests to visit or they can volunteer with ANF-funded projects. So if one day you feel like going and picking some crops in a green house or visiting the local school, this is the place for you. All help is welcome, financial or otherwise, even a good idea could make a difference, the owners say.
A socially and enviromentally-consious nature reserve
Where one continent ends and two oceans meet lies a 1,500-year-old Milkwood forest. The Grootbos Private Nature Reserve can be found in the confines of South Africa’s Walker Bay Nature Reserve. It is a luxury travel destination housing a non-profit organization within its walls. The Lutzeyer family call this 2,500 hectares of land their home and are committed to preserving the ecosystem and to supporting the local community via their foundation.
Once you’ve braved the shark-cage diving, horse riding and whale watching, you can indulge in a spot of hiking and enjoy the unique smell of fynbos flowers in the air. If none of these take your fancy, you can visit the organic gardens, get an insight into honey harvesting, have a go at candle making, or help out the coach of the foundation’s football team.
Grootbos plays host to a wide range of activities to keep you busy including eco-tourism, sports development, and education. There are different projects and training courses to support unemployed young adults, ecological research, and early childhood development centres have also been established. If you feel like volunteering or just donating a football or a canoe, Grootbos is the place.
There are quite a few luxury travel companies in the market, including “the Artisans of Leisure” tours, which work hand in hand with local organizations and individuals to find an array of philanthropic activities. As well as building personalized, luxury trips to all kinds of destinations, the company also offers visits local schools, hospitals and the prospect of interacting with disadvantaged children.
If you meet a family in need of help, you can donate a boat, a cow, or another life-changing item. You can get to know a country by engaging with local people and, for example, spend your afternoon with a local child teaching you the names of his cows and goats. It is time to pack: India is just one of the destinations waiting for you.
India also has some other opportunities for responsible, luxury travelers.
If you stay in one of the Lemon Tree Hotels, there’s a chance the waiter serving you will be hearing-impaired or the receptionist could be an amputee. The direction of the hotel hires not only people with mental, or physical disabilities but also individuals with different emotional and financial needs. The hotels give a chance to those who may not have had the easiest time in life. They make up, in total, one fourth of the staff.
If the company can help people why not help animals? Each of its hotels in India houses an adopted, stray dog as its mascot. One hotel has even gone as far as naming their furry friend vice chair dog.
Whale watching in New Zealand
There is no better place to watch whales than the island where locals have strong cultural affinities with these beautiful marine creatures. In New Zeland, the indigenous Māori people have a long history with whales: local legend says that their ancestors arrived on the island on the back of a whale. The locals believe in a spiritual bond with the animals.
Today, this tribe happens to possess one of the most successful companies organizing whale watch tours, among other activities, in the local town of Kaikoura. In fact, the local community trust, founded in 1987 by four Maori families, has played a huge role in reviving the town’s declining economy. They have transformed Kaikoura into a leading eco-tourism destination and the Whale Watch Kaikoura became the largest employer of the season. The enterprise invests a huge part of their annual profit in supporting the community, education, employment, and protecting the environment.
The company offers up-close encounters with giant sperm whales and strives to minimise their impact on the environment. It also runs educational programmes on how to save the environment as well as eco-friendly activities for visitors, such as planting your own tree.
Boarding time in Ecuador
Want to ride on a luxury train in South America? Social responsibility is also part of the package at Tren Ecuador in the land of volcanoes and rainforests, with the secret to their sustainability and development lying in the local people’s well-being.
No surprise then, that the award-winning enterprise decided not only to involve local hotels and cafes but to put them at the heart of the experience.
The antique steam locomotives take you to UNESCO World Heritage sites with local guides, or you can visit artisan squares, markets, rose gardens and talk to musicians, painters and woodcarvers. And after a long day in the Colonial and Republican-style passenger cars, you can relax at a high-end hacienda and try the traditional Andean cuisine.
While exploring the area’s treasures you should keep in mind that everything is provided by locals. These luxury trips sustain around 5,000 jobs for people living in remote, rural communities.
Thanks to Responsible Travel for their contributions to this article.