One of the first carbon-neutral tour operators, Intrepid has invested more than £2.5m into grassroots projects globally and donated 100% of profits from a season of trips to Nepal to help rebuild after the 2015 earthquake. The first company to drop elephant rides from its trips, Intrepid is a leader on child protection, uses local guides and aims to double female tour leader numbers by 2020. On its 15-day Kathmandu to Delhi trip, guests stay at Madi Valley homestay, which it helped set up with WWF (from £1,044).
This Canadian adventure firm works with social enterprises and NGOs across the globe through the Planeterra Foundation. It uses small, locally owned companies, helps develop community-based rural tourism projects and has a “ripple score” for each trip, evaluating what percentage of expenditure stays in the local economy. In India it supports Women on Wheels (female-only chauffeurs) and last year partnered with Wiwa Tours in Colombia, the region’s first indigenous-run operator.
Much Better Adventures
With a focus on short trips in Europe and a strong responsible travel ethic, this company ensures at least 80% of the cost of a trip goes into the local economy and conservation projects. It works with charity Cool Earth, a leader in addressing climate change and its Adventures for Good collection was developed with Tourism Concern. Options include a three-day Raft, Kayak and Hike Albania tour with local activists to help save the Vjosa, one of Europe’s last wild, free-flowing rivers (from £350).
This small tour operator specialises in sustainable activity breaks in the Alps, taking guests to areas where tourism has a positive impact on local people. All guides and suppliers used are local. A tailor-made seven-night summer holiday in the French Alps with choice of activities costs from €390.
The Blue Yonder
This Indian-owned company has long spearheaded immersive travel in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and South Africa, ensuring maximum local benefit. Initiatives range from preserving a climate change-resistant variety of rice to its Chekutty trail in Kerala, focused on empowering local weavers. Its signature tour is 12 days in northern Kerala (£2,000), starting on the banks of the Nila, with guides who formerly worked as illegal sand miners, and meeting artisans who practise traditional ways of working bell metal, and practitioners of the state’s own martial art, kalari.
For more than 20 years, this Northern Ireland-based company has been building a worldwide network of responsible trekking and climbing companies, guiding treks up some of the world’s most iconic mountains. Its Annapurna Circuit (£1,595) crosses Thorong La, takes in the hot springs at Tatopani and ends in Nepal’s second city, Pokhara. The alternative in its name refers to its business model – not outsourcing but nurturing its own local operations, and running development initiatives through sister NGO Moving Mountains to improve livelihoods in remote villages.
Better Places Travel
Working until now in Africa, Asia and Latin America, this company publishes the full impact of every trip, including accommodation and experiences. It advises on the least environmentally damaging flight option and offsets every trip at its own cost, while maximising the positive impact of each holiday. A 13-day South Africa Highlights tour (from €1,052) takes in the best view in Kruger, stretching down the river from Olifants camp; the buzz of Johannesburg; and the pick of the Cape, with wine lands, whales and penguins on Boulders Beach. In 2019, it is planning to add destinations reachable from Europe without flying.
Trips to Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Sri Lanka turn traditional volunteering holidays on their head. Travellers go to the countries to learn and engage with activists and journalists, explore local history, culture and nature, and then return home as knowledgeable advocates for the causes they have seen. In Colombia, for example, visitors can see how street art brings people together on a day tour of Bogotá ($55pp). On a more immersive 14-day trip ($3,600pp), participants meet with former Farc guerillas in the mountains, party at Barranquilla carnaval (the second-largest in the world), and marvel at Medellín’s renaissance.
Global Himalayan Expedition
Participants on Global Himalayan Expedition’s Largyab Expedition ($2,600), get to travel on the world’s highest drivable road, at an altitude of more than 5,500 metres in the northern Indian region of Ladakh. But the purpose behind GHE’s expeditions is to send groups of travellers to remote off-grid mountain villages, taking with them the technology and expertise to build a working solar microgrid. Without a solution such as this, these villages would probably never be electrified. So far they have visited more than 50 villages, giving their inhabitants the chance to study after dark, run homestays, and get rid of kerosene lamps.
European Safari Company
A partner of the Rewilding Europe foundation, this wilderness-focused operator works only with sustainable firms in areas with rewilding projects. Money from the trips goes into conserving the wild places it visits. Wolf safaris in Italy and bison safaris in Romania are among its options. A three-day winter wolf tracking safari in the Appennines costs €460 with most meals, accommodation and guides.