10 of the best ethical trips for 2017

written by Gavin Haines

updated 7.11.2020

Last week something remarkable happened: a new national park was born in Chile. The million-acre Parque Pumalín was, in a previous life, defunct farmland, but a 25-year rewildling project has slowly turned the region into a haven for wildlife.

The new park was the brainchild of pioneering conservationist, Kris Tompkins, and her late husband, Doug, but hundreds of volunteers, many of them travellers, helped make it possible.

Here are some other worthy sojourns for the ethically minded:

1. Creating parks in Patagonia

The Parque Pumalín is not the end, but the beginning: Tompkins Conservation, which was the subject of our latest travel podcast, will continue its rewilding mission in Patagonia. But the organisation can’t do it alone and is encouraging volunteers to come to Chile or Argentina, where they can get involved in tree planting, wildlife monitoring and, sometimes, reintroducing locally extinct species.


© Erlantz P.R/Shutterstock

2. Going on safari in Laos

The last remaining home for tigers in Indochina, Nam Et-Phou Louey is a hotbed of biodiversity and an unexpectedly brilliant place to go on a safari. And we’re not talking about any old safari; we’re talking about the Nam Nern Night Safari and Ecolodge, which ploughs most of its profits into local outreach programmes that educate locals about conservation and sustainability. Twice a winner at the World Responsible Tourism Awards, guests on the safari not only support admirable conservation work but also have the opportunity to spy endangered species, mingle with locals and sleep in low-impact bungalows.

Tiger in the wild

© Pixabay

3. Crashing with locals in India

For remote Himalayan communities there can be scant opportunity for employment. However, thanks to an organisation called Village Ways, some of these isolated societies now have a steady income from sustainable tourism. The organisation puts intrepid explorers into homestays in India and Nepal, providing locals with a revenue source and an opportunity to celebrate their Himalayan traditions, culture and cuisine.


© Aleksei Kazachok/Shutterstock

4. Trekking with ethnic minorities in Vietnam

As tourism booms in Vietnam, not everyone is feeling the benefit: some of the country's ethnic minorities are reportedly being left behind. However, Shu Tan, from the Hmong ethnic group, is trying to address that. The former street vendor has set up an award-winning social enterprise, Sapa O'Chau, which offers guided treks and homestays for tourists in Sapa, northern Vietnam. Managed by ethnic minorities, her organisation generates revenue for impoverished communities, where some people can’t afford to send their children to school.

Sapa, northern Vietnam

© Pixabay

5. Supporting Maasai landowners in Kenya

The Mara Naboisho Conservancy in Kenya is a 50,000-acre reserve created by 500 Maasai landowners. The park is home to bountiful wildlife – including big cats – and revenue from tourism provides the Maasai community with a sustainable livelihood, which in turn helps preserve this diverse corner of Kenya. The conservancy’s stellar work was rewarded in 2016 with a gold medal at the African Responsible Tourism Awards.


© Kzenon/Shutterstock

6. Turtle conservation in Mexico

The deserted shores of Veracruz are just the tonic for hectic lives. They’re also a breeding ground for endangered turtles, which face a range of challenges including pollution and habitat loss. Cue the Yepez Foundation, a non-profit organisation that has spent the best part of half a century safeguarding turtles and their habitats in this corner of Mexico. They’re always on the lookout for volunteers who can help with a range of projects, from beach clean-ups and community outreach programmes to coastal reforestation.


© Ricardo Medina C/Shutterstock

7. Conducting reef research in Malaysia

The world’s coral reefs are, alas, in grave danger, as pollution, disease and climate change wreak havoc with these underwater ecosystems. Cue Biosphere Expeditions, which is running an eight-day excursion to the colourful colour gardens of Malaysia, where participants can help collect data from reefs, which could be used to preserve the beleaguered ecosystems. Open for qualified scuba divers only, the 2017 expedition takes place August 15-22.

Divers in Malaysia

© Pixabay

8. Taking the train in Ecuador

Wending its way from Quito to the coastal city of Guayaquil, via mountains and rainforests, Tren Ecuador is one of the world’s greatest train journeys. It is also an award-winning enterprise: last year the restored railway scooped top prize at the World Responsible Tourism Awards. Judges praised it for creating jobs and reducing poverty in remote regions of the South American nation. Anyone who hops aboard is helping.

Train travelling Devils Nose, Alausi, Ecuador

© ireneuke/Shutterstock

9. Walking the Loop Head Heritage Trail in Ireland

It was once an isolated, wind-swept corner of Ireland that few people visited. Today Loop Head Peninsula is still isolated and wind-swept, but it’s now on the tourist map. That’s thanks to residents in County Clare who created a heritage trail along the coast, which joins the dots between holy wells, stone forts and other ancient buildings. Tourism will now help safeguard those historic sites, which is one reason why the trail won the award for Best Cultural Heritage Attraction at the 2016 World Responsible Travel Awards.


© Fabian Dietzel/Shutterstock

10. Birding in Cambodia

Song Sleuth. Heard of it? It’s an app that, like Shazam, identifies a bird by its song. Twitching, it seems, has gone high-tech. Some even say it’s cool now. If you’re inclined to agree then you might want to consider birding in Cambodia, where non-profit operator Sam Veasna Center runs award-winning birdwatching trips. As well as showcasing the country’s birdlife, the organisation trains locals to become guides thus helping communities see the value of conservation.


© tee262/Shutterstock

For more inspiration, listen to our latest podcast, featuring Kris Tompkins and Amos Bien, two of the world’s most ambitious and outspoken eco-pioneers:

Top image: Atacama Desert, Chile © Vaclav Sebek/Shutterstock

Gavin Haines

written by Gavin Haines

updated 7.11.2020

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Ready to discover
tailor-made travel?

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍