Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

Holidays that make a difference: 25 ethical trips in the UK and worldwide

Our pick of community projects, homestays, ethical tours, working holidays and trips that benefit women’s charities and initiatives.

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.

South Africa
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.

The Gambia
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,

Costa Rica
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,


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,

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,

Fundo Chincheros, a 19th-century Andean ranch near Lake Titicaca in southern Peru, has recently started farm stay 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,

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