Tread lightly in Ladakh, India
I was amazed to discover that it is possible to enjoy the extreme beauty of Ladakh while treading lightly and investing locally. Plastic-free co-operative shops that would be the envy of Brighton and Bristol abound in the capital, Leh. At shops like Dzomsa on Old Fort Road you can fill up your water bottles, scoop bulk fruit, nuts and herbal teas into paper bags and pick up unpackaged, locally made soap and knitted goods – the sun-dried Ladakhi apricots are wonderful. We trekked for eight days through Markha Valley. Solar-powered homestays, run by women, provide cosy accommodation and delicious home-cooked meals. All homestays (which we didn’t book in advance) had exceptionally clean compost toilets, supporting water conservation and organic agriculture.
Keep it in the community, Madhya Pradesh, India
Friends of Orchha helps people enjoy the small town of Orchha, with 12th-century riverside cenotaphs, a 14th-century seven-storey temple, and fantastic local markets. It promotes stays in the homes of villagers, where visitors can enjoy fabulous rustic cooking, rent bicycles, take a picnic by the boulder-strewn river, and ensures that your money stays in the community with those who need it most. Given how chaotic Indian towns and cities can be, it was a pleasure to kick back and relax. Room rates are from £8 night with full meals for £2.
At peace in the mountains, Sri Lanka
High in the mountains overlooking the spectacular Knuckles range, yet totally accessible by public transport, Gammaduwa bungalow employs and trains local villagers, pays fair wages and is working towards a profit-sharing business. Having come to Sri Lanka as a VSO volunteer in 2009 (at the tail end of the civil war), supporting local peace and human rights organisations, Dave and his partner Sengli renovated this former tea plantation residence. It had been a rundown guesthouse but now is an outstandingly beautiful heritage bungalow. The food, prepared from locally sourced organic products, is a delight.
• Doubles from £65 B&B (discount for Amnesty members), gammaduwa-bungalow.business.site
Remote islands, Philippines
In Palawan, many people are struggling economically, especially young fisherman, whose traditional way of life is in decline. Tour operator Tao is entirely staffed by fantastic locals, supporting the local economy. Part of the profits go to the Tao Kalahi foundation, which provides education and skills. There is a strong focus on sustainability, and eco-friendly practices throughout the trips. There are various trips all to remote islands and beaches: we went on a five-day expedition to Culion, Linapacan and El Nido ($605). It was blissful.
Food for all, Cairo
Check out Bellies En Route in Cairo. Led by two Egyptian women, it’s a food tour of the city that ensures there’s no waste by asking for all leftover food to be wrapped up then given to the homeless people who are encountered along the way.
• $70pp, includes all food and bottled water at seven stops and generous tips, four hours, belliesenroute.com
Conflicting views, Northern Ireland
Black taxi tours up and down the Falls and Shankill Roads are commonplace on tourist itineraries in Belfast today, and seem rather old hat. The same can’t be said, however, for the Conflicting Stories tour, guided by people once imprisoned for their beliefs – political prisoners in short. £18pp is a small price to pay when considering the money funds work by Republican and Loyalist charities encouraging youths to coexist peacefully.
Lee P Ruddin
Renew your energy, West Sussex
Canute Cottages, on the shores of Chichester Harbour, is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with activities to match. In this wide-open expanse are a series of barn conversions, with energy supplied by both solar thermal, solar photovoltaics and topped up using a 100% renewable energy provider. The sustainable policy includes active land management – for example, planting trees, and hedgerow and pond restoration work. Walkers, cyclists and dinghy sailors are all welcome, and each of the four cottages is wheelchair-friendly.
• Four nights from £205, canutecottages.co.uk
Animal magic, Costa Rica
Project Asis in Costa Rica is a sanctuary for injured, sick and abandoned animals. It has a volunteering programme where visitors can stay with a Costa Rican family and be immersed in their hospitality, beautiful cooking and culture. Guests prepare food for the animals and feed them. Feeding a baby howler monkey was just magical. The centre releases as many animals as possible back into the wild and has a plethora of dedicated staff that educate guests about each of the species and impart a passion for animals. It’s a special programme and a memory-building holiday that our family will never forget.
Eco hill fort, Morocco
A Moroccan hill fort lovingly restored by a local couple, the award-winning Atlas Kasbah near Agadir is a celebration of Berber culture. Village craftsmen working on the project have their names and skills proudly recorded. Using clever irrigation techniques, the hill has been transformed into a terraced garden supplying fruit, vegetables, and herbs. The cook conjures sublime food using local culinary traditions, including imaginative vegetarian menus. Strong eco-credentials extend into commitment to the local community – developing the local economy, rather than depleting it.
• Doubles from £65 a night for a double room-only, atlaskasbah.com
Family dining, Vietnam
We went with G Adventures on a two-week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia starting in Hanoi then heading south via Hội An, through Ho Chi Minh City and Cambodia to Siem Reap. In both countries the group dined with local families, learning about and supporting sponsored projects to help people escape poverty, and providing much sought after English practice to our hosts. The tour was roughly £800. I really felt that my experience was much richer for this beneficial side of the trip.
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