Feel-good holidays: 7 life-changing tours where you help make a difference

From volunteer projects in Africa and Asia to eco-aware tours of the Galapagos and the Amazon, these fantastic trips give back as much as they give you

3 mins

1: Helping elephants and people live together in Sri Lanka

Observing elephants in Sri Lanka (Dreamstime)
Observing elephants in Sri Lanka (Dreamstime)

As humans encroach more and more upon the habitat of wild elephants in Sri Lanka, monitoring interaction and resolving conflicts has become vital in the continued survival of elephants. 

Based on the outskirts of Wasgamuwa National Park, you’ll play an important role in monitoring elephant activity and liaising with local villages to develop ways for man and elephant to co-exist.

Monitoring the elephants has two aspects: a high tech one involving GPS, camera and sound traps and remote sensors, and the more traditional approach of tracking trails and spending time in hides along the elephant corridor. 

Both offer plenty of opportunities to encounter other local wildlife, while an evening feasting and chatting with local villagers gives you the chance to hear their side of the story, which will be vital in developing strategies to conserve both the animal habitat and local wildlife.

Who: The Great Projects

When: Every Monday throughout year

How long: From 7 days

How much: From £764 (exc. flights)

2: A sustainable island hop through the Galápagos

The Galápagos by boat (Dreamstime)
The Galápagos by boat (Dreamstime)

After thousands of years hidden from the world, the splendid isolation that made the Galápagos Islands a haven of diversity is under threat. Mass tourism threatens to overwhelm the islands’ fragile infrastructure and introduced species and overfishing threatens many of the species that can only be found there.

This tour is designed to be as sustainable as possible and offers you the unique chance to give something back. Your trips to Kicker Rock, Española Island and Santa Fé islands are operated by former fishermen who have been encouraged to give up fishing to operate these tours. 

You’ll also spend a day at Hacienda Tranquila, taking part in their award-winning reforestation program, tackling invasive species like blackberries and replacing them with endemic ones. Even the hotels you will be staying in are the most ecologically responsible on the islands.

Who: TravelLocal

When: Flexible departures throughout the year

How long: 7 days

How much: From £3,140 (exc. flights)

3: Save the whale sharks of Mafia Island

Whale shark under boat (Dreamstime)
Whale shark under boat (Dreamstime)

Situated off the east coast of Tanzania, Mafia Island is often described as "Zanzibar, 30 years ago." It is certainly idyllic. With its sugar white beaches, startling aquamarine waters and kaleidoscopic coral reefs, the island is the kind of tropical paradise that dreams are made of.

There is an astounding amount of marine life here too, including humpback whales, marine turtles and brightly coloured tropical fish. The real stars, however, are the magnificent whale sharks, and on this conservation-themed tour you’ll play your part in protecting them. You’ll identify and track individual whale sharks, swimming amongst them when needed, and help educate local fishermen and villagers on the benefits of conservation.

You’ll also get the chance to share your new-found knowledge with more conventional tour groups. You may even pick up a few words of the local language, Kiswahili.

Who: The Great Projects

When: Any day Oct-Feb

How long: From 13 days

How much: From £870 (exc. flights)

4: Experience real life Peru on a Lake Titicaca homestay

Life in Luquino Chico (Peru Trip Advisors)
Life in Luquino Chico (Peru Trip Advisors)

53 kilometres east of Puno, on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Titicaca, the Luquina Chico Community is a picture-perfect snapshot of how life in rural Peru used to be. Here, the local people go about their lives as they have always done: fishing, farming and living in harmony with the majestic natural wonders that surround them.

After exploring Cuzco and Machu Picchu, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in this culture, staying with a family on the tranquil shores here. The comforts are basic, but the rewards are immense. This is ­a unique insight into real life in rural Peru that also makes a big difference to the local people. 

Who: Peru Trip Advisors

When: Daily

How long: 12 days

How much: From £1,560 (exc. flights)

5: Save Romania's endangered bears

Wild bear in Romania (Dreamtime)

Wild bear in Romania (Dreamstime)

Situated at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, the Romanian Bear Sanctuary is one of the largest in Europe. You’ll play a vital role in rehabilitating rescued brown bears, helping to feed and monitor them as well as leading tours of the centre and promoting its work.

As well as preparing food for the bears, you will monitor and record their behaviour and health. You will also play an active role in construction and maintenance projects at the centre. The highlight of your day, however, will be feeding them. Seeing these majestic creatures emerging from the undergrowth is a thrill that will live with you forever.

Who: The Great Projects

When: Every other Friday

How long: 14 days

How much: From £1,145 (exc. flights)

6: Relax on an award-winning eco-safari

Colourful tropical fish (Dreamstime)
Colourful tropical fish (Dreamstime)

After an unforgettable encounter with the wild elephants of Amboseli and thrilling safari drives amongst the abundant game of the Masai Mara, you’ll get the chance to unwind and do your bit for the environment at the award-winning Chumbe Island Lodge.

Set on a small island between Zanzibar and the Tanzanian coast, Chumbe Island Lodge adheres to strict ecological and sustainability rules. 

The island itself is surrounded by a protected reef that is home to over 400 species of fish and 200 species of coral, and is regarded as one of the most spectacular coral gardens in the world. There is a forest reserve too, home to the Ader’s Duicker, a small antelope that is amongst the rarest on the planet.

Who: Rainbow Tours

When: Flexible dates throughout 2017

How long: 13 days

How much: From £3,899 (inc. flights)

7: Rehabilitate orangutans in Borneo

Worker sitting beside orangutan (Dreamstime)
Worker sitting beside orangutan (Dreamstime)

This is your chance to help the Matang Wildlife Centre in Borneo rehabilitate orphaned and injured orangutans in the face of relentless deforestation, mining and forest fires. With the habitat of orangutans depleted and under threat, the need for assistance is constant and increasing.

As part of the Matang orangutan volunteer project, you will help improve the lives of the orangutans and work towards their future protection. 

From feeding the animals and cleaning their cages to building shelters and tending the garden that provides their food, you’ll be in constant contact with these gentle giants. There will also be plenty of opportunity to visit the local Iban tribes and learn about the threats facing their lifestyle too.

Who: The Great Projects

When: 5th & 19th every month

How long: From 14 days

How much: From £1,280 (exc. flights)

Main image: Portrait of a young orangutan (Dreamstime)

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