Travel isn’t just a one-way ticket to self-improvement; it can also change lives on the other side. Here are our picks for 2019 adventures that will make an impact—both for the traveler and destination.
From bringing tourism back to the Indian state of Kerala post-floods and conservation holidays in the UK to tracking jaguars in the Amazon and observing wildlife rangers in Kenya, we’ve pulled together trips you can take in 2019 that’ll still give you everything you crave—adventure, growth, challenge, excitement—but also raise awareness, shift perceptions and provide resources to destinations in need. And in some cases, just give a much-needed cash injection into the local economies and communities.
Jaguar research expedition in the Amazon, Natural World Safaris
This is no ordinary safari. Conservation and sustainability is at the heart of this trip which combines a stay at Uakari Lodge in Brazil’s protected Mamirauá Reserve with helping wildlife researchers track the area’s tree-dwelling jaguars.
Not only does the reserve have the world’s highest density of this species, during rainy season when the forest is flooded, these big cats head into the trees where they live and hunt for around four months— and Mamirauá is the only place in the world where this happens. Travelers will help researchers with placing camera traps and studying blood samples to tracking the cats via GPS. Other wildlife includes the uakari monkey, giant river otter, three-toed sloth and scarlet macaw.
You’ll then travel along the Transpantaneira Highwa and head south to the northern Pantanal’s waterways, considered the best place in the world for jaguar-spotting—and sightings of their prey such as caiman and capybara.
Find out more at Natural World Safaris.
Trekking the cloud forests of Laos, InsideAsia Tours
In an age of overtourism, there’s nothing sweeter than traveling somewhere that’s visited by just 400 people each year_not only that but 20 per cent of the profits of this nine-day trip go directly to the local community and their conservation efforts.
This rare cloud forest in northern Laos, one of the country’s densest forests, is part of the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area which includes Phou Louey, ‘Forever Mountain’, Laos’ third-highest peak whose is summit reached during a challenging five-day hike.
It’s a trip that focuses on rural Laos, its rice fields, Khmu villages and farmers’ huts, so travelers get a sense of the importance of agriculture to this region while staying in unusual places—think a hanging ‘nest’ in the forest suspended from the tree canopy, homestays and traditional jungle bungalows. Throw in campfire dinners, wildlife walks—the area is home to the rare white-cheeked crested gibbon, civets and medicinal plants—and stints in the beautiful UNESCO heritage town of Luang Prabang.
Find out more at InsideAsia Tours.
Pakistan food tour in Baltistan with Sumayya Usmani, Responsible Travel
Head further north than most visitors to Pakistan do into mountainous Baltistan on Pakistan’s northwest frontier with this small-group foodie trip. Led by cookery professional Sumayya Usmani, the trip also goes a long way to contributing to local economies, restaurants and hotels.
With gastronomic influences from the Middle East, Far East and India, this mouthwatering trip has a hyper-local element, with visits to Sumayya’s friends who will help her cook up unforgettable feasts, local farms in the Karakoram Mountains to show farming traditions, and into the rural villages of Khaplu in the beautiful Hunza Valley.
Travelers will learn to cook traditional Baltistan dishes and how the cuisine has evolved against a background of politics, conflict and generational changes.
Find out more at Responsible Travel.
Kenya: Wildlife Rangers Expedition, Intrepid Travel
Ever wondered what it’s like to be on the front line of wildlife conservation? A new trip from Intrepid Travel (part of the same parent company as Adventure.com) in partnership with The Thin Green Line Foundation which supports rangers in the field, gives travelers a chance to visit the ranger training academy as well as follow rangers on game drives and foot patrols through Chyulu Hills National Park, home to the endangered Eastern Black Rhino. The price of the eight-day tour also include a $500 donation to support the rangers’ work.
Another similar trip visits Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, home to the last remaining Northern White Rhinos in existence, Najin and Fatu. The seven-day trip includes several game drives through the region which covers Lake Nakuru and the Great Rift Valley, plus a presentation from the East Africa Wildlife Society on their work. A portion of this trip’s cost, through Intrepid Travel’s not-for-profit organization, The Intrepid Foundation, is also donated to the society to help their work in protecting endangered species and habitats.
Find out more at Intrepid Travel.
Kerala: A tropical paradise, Wayfairer Travel
In August 2018, the south Indian state of Kerala was devastated by the worst floods in almost a century; they left hundreds dead and thousands homeless.
Thankfully, quick actions to rebuild affected areas has resulted in houses being reconstructed, rubble cleared and boats relaunched. But despite picking itself up with relative speed, the severity of the floods has affected tourist numbers, with some hotels reporting 20 per cent occupancy in October when 50-60 per cent is the norm—which in turn affects jobs and local economies.
And with nothing to stop travelers heading that way now, the best way to support this beautiful region is by vacationing there. This adventure itinerary has a strong local focus with visits to temples, tea plantations and Keralan towns, plus small-boat cruises through Kerala’s famous, peaceful backwaters.
Find out more at Wayfairer Travel.
DRC: Bonobos—tracking our closest living relatives, Secret Compass
Found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo, bonobos (also known as pygmy chimpanzees) are most endangered species of great ape in the world—they’re also our closest living relative and are more related to humans than gorillas. This brand new trip for 2019 is the first official expedition into Congo’s Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve, home to a new research and conservation center.
The journey, via plane, boat, dugout canoe and foot, is an adventure in itself, taking in wild jungle and floating fishing villages. The trip is supported by Congo’s government and the African Wildlife Foundation, and gives intrepid travelers a chance to appreciate and observe these animal in their natural habitat. The aim is to increase awareness of the bonobos’ plight and raise money towards their conservation. You’ll also see four other primate species, trek and camp in the bonobos’ natural habitat and visit rehabilitated bonobos in sanctuaries and orphanages.
Find out more at Secret Compass.
Conservation projects, National Trust
For a vacation with a twist—if you don’t mind a little physical exertion—consider a National Trust volunteering break in the UK. Not only do these trips help the environment or local heritage in some way, you’ll also learn new skills and find out about ancient traditions and crafts.
Trips vary and take place year-round such as the river restoration at Croome in the county of Worcestershire, where, with your waders on, you’ll be pulling out reeds from the Capability Brown-designed river to restore the clear waters. Other trips include Surveying ‘The Rise of Northwood’ Slindon Estate in West Sussex, which is the National Trust’s largest woodland regeneration project. Here, participants will survey the habit and record plants, invertebrates, butterflies and birds, with a week’s accommodation in a converted stable block.
Find out more at the National Trust.
Hiking, biking and rafting Patagonian rapids in Chile, Much Better Adventures
Who knew hiking, biking and rafting Patagonia’s Futaleufu rapids could also help protect surrounding wild rivers from the threat of dams? But showing that tourism can support the economies surrounding these waterways may also halt unwelcome development, such as dams. Many locals are committed to protecting some of the world’s remaining white-water rivers and bringing visitors there is one to show they have value.
This particular project is centered around protecting the Futaleufu river corridor in Patagonia as there is currently no official conservation or protection in place to ensure the survival of these wilderness rivers.
A similar trips takes place in Albania along one of Europe’s last wild rivers. When Much Better Adventures heard it was under threat of being dammed by the Albanian government, they took it upon themselves to use tourism as a weapon to fight back so now, the untamed 167-mile Vjosa River can be rafted, kayaked and hiked as well.
Find out more at Much Better Adventures.
Beyond the Silk Road, Walks Worldwide
In recent years, Armenia’s neighbor Georgia has really hit its stride from a tourism perspective, following years of conflict; now, Armenia—after similar struggles_is starting to follow suit. And there’s nothing better than visiting an emerging destination with fewer crowds and supporting local economies.
With peaks of up to 2,500 meters, Armenia offers fantastic, challenging trekking through the canyons and gorges of the the wild Geghama mountains, including the summit of Aragats, Armenia’s highest peak and picturesque ‘Armenian Switzerland’. Spot vultures and wild flowers as you hike, and look out for Caucasian leopard, wolf, lynx, bear and Asian wild sheep. Other highlights include Lake Sevan, the ‘Lake Titicaca’ of Armenia and one of the world’s largest Alpine lakes, passing nomadic shepherds, historic monasteries and ancient caravanserai (roadside inns). The trip also starts and ends in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, where sights range from the food market to the Tsitsernakaberd-Genocide Memorial.
Find out more at Walks Worldwide.
Rebuild Dominica, Responsible Travel
Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean hard in 2017, with many islands suffering loss of life, homes, and businesses. The ‘nature island’ of Dominica was one, with parts completely obliterated, and the harsh wind leaving 95 per cent of its trees without leaves.
In response, several tour operators have created new holidays where travelers can enjoy the island and help with rebuilding. On the Help rebuild Dominica after Hurricane Maria trip, you’ll stay and help at an ecolodge which needs everything from gardeners and anyone who can sew (to make school uniforms for children who lost theirs) to skilled carpenters and roofers. They also welcome donations of tools and school items. In between jobs, you can relax in hot springs, go snorkeling, and see Dominica’s famous waterfalls.
You can also help to clear debris from the island’s only long-distance path, the 185-kilometer Waitukubuli National Trail; the route is also a community tourism project, bringing revenue to nearby villages. And if you want to help while at sea, this special yacht charter with purpose combines the two. When the company’s fleet manager lost her family’s farm and life savings, it prompted founder and CEO Ann McHorney to set up a Gofundme that raised over $25,000 in 2017. The itinerary includes clearing debris from the trail, and from the marine reserves and rivers, plus plenty of sightseeing, hiking, and cultural activities.
Hetta Huskies, Finland
Iceland has been all the rage for some time; now, Finland could well be the next red-hot, cold-climate destination—minus the crowds. So in effort to lessen the impact of overtourism in Iceland, why not consider Finland in 2019?
And no self-respecting traveler could possibly visit Finland without embarking on a husky sledding adventure. Not all husky sledding operators are created equal, however, and while many companies in the Arctic claim to provide their dogs with the highest quality of life possible, sadly this isn’t always the case.
Finland’s Hetta Huskies, however, has taken it upon itself to not only provide an ethical and sustainable husky sledding experience for travelers, but also to improve the industry overall. The company was awarded a gold in the 2015 World Responsible Tourism Awards for Best Animal Welfare Initiative.
Offering incredible short and multi-day husky safaris through arctic Finland, Hetta Huskies also provide a wealth of information on their website about the worldwide need for better welfare standards in the sled dog industry. They even offer a service that allows regular punters to adopt their elderly or injured dogs who can no longer run.
Find out more at Hetta Huskies.
Walk the Masar with Leon McCarron, Silk Road Adventures
It’s not a region that gets the most positive press, but it’s one that offers so much, taking in some of the world’s oldest inhabited cities and a landscape of desert gorges, rocky mountains, and olive groves. It’s also home to some of the warmest people on earth; in fact, the idea behind this itinerary was to give a “human face” to the Middle East, as well as develop new trails, promote walking in the region, and encourage sustainable community tourism.
The 14-day trip from Silk Road Adventures travels north to south in the West Bank along the ancient Masar Ibrahim al Khalil or Abraham’s Path, from the village of Rummaneh near Jenin all the way to Jerusalem, staying in family homestays and Bedouin settlements. The walk is led by Adventure.com featured contributor, long-distance walker and adventurer Leon McCarron who says, “Of all the expeditions I’ve done, the Masar has been the most instantly inspiring.”
Find out more at Silk Road Adventures.
Haiti is more than its disaster and aid-dominated headlines. There’s no doubt it’s had its fair share of challenges, from natural disasters to ongoing social and political unrest, but it has plenty to offer culture- and adventure-driven travelers; think undeveloped beaches, hidden waterfalls, centuries-old forts, and Vodou-infused art.
Curious about Haiti? One way to see the country while still making an impact is via English in Mind (EIM) Haiti, a non-profit Haitian-led adult English program in Port-au-Prince that aims to empower rising Haitian leaders through vocational training. Speaking English greatly improves Haitians’ chances of finding meaningful, long-term employment—jobs generated by the influx of foreigners, NGOs, and a developing tourism industry.
EIM Haiti’s volunteer and tourism trips are one way to support this Caribbean nation. Led by Haitian students, these trips provide them with rewarding work, simultaneously letting visitors see Haiti through a local’s eyes. Trips include language and culture exchange with the students, and experiencing the country under their lead, from hiking the mountains in Furcy to following Rara bands through the streets of Jacmel.
Find out more at EIM Haiti.
Aboriginal Cultural Tours, Australia
Just three per cent of modern-day Australia’s population is comprised of people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. That’s a whole lot of culture—some 50,000 years’ worth—that needs to be sought out. And it’s just not going to come to us.
Owner Quenten Agius has built an immersive and award-winning set of itineraries, offering travelers the opportunity to embark on coastal (Adjahdura) or outbush (Ngadjuri) tours, or both. “Our aim is to take people on journey, not only physically but also spiritually, to a place where they have never been to before,” says Agius. “With each tour, our guests gain a wealth of knowledge about Aboriginal heritage, culture, traditions, and beliefs.”
Find out more at Aboriginal Cultural Tours.
Social Tours, Nepal
It’s been an eventful three-and-a-half years for Nepal after the devastating earthquake of 2015. In reponse, Social Tours, who promote deep cultural immersion, support local communities and entrepreneurs, and generate income for local people, has created a fascinating 10-day Experience nepalNOW itinerary which helps travelers discover what makes Nepal tick.
You’ll see how the capital Kathmandu has got back on its feet post-earthquake, and better understand the country’s cultural, political and even architectural history. Travelers will also see the part Buddhism and Hinduism play in the Nepali psyche. The tour then explores the Kathmandu Valley to see life in rural Nepal—including meeting artisans who are keeping traditional skills alive—before ending with a stint in the lakeside town of Pokhara or wildlife haven of Chitwan National Park.
Find out more at Social Tours.
No Footprint/Lighthouse Relief, Greece
Struck by both a financial and refugee crisis, the last few years haven’t been kind to the people of Greece (or those hoping to enter Greece, for that matter.) Travelers hoping to head to this spectacularly storied part of Europe can help alleviate—if only in a small way—some of these difficulties through making better choices and being better informed.
Billed as Greece’s “ultimate eco-walking” company, No Footprint is focused on low-impact walking tours that maximize the positive impact on local people and the environment. All tours use local businesses, guesthouses, taverns, agriculture, and markets—and in a country dealing with a devastating national debt, tourist dollars can go a long way.
For those interested in helping refugees, the first step is research. Rushing over without finding out where your help is required will do no good; it could even add extra strain to other volunteers and services on the ground. Lighthouse Relief takes into account each volunteer applicant’s skills before deciding where they’ll be best situated to help.
Volcanoes Safaris, Rwanda and Uganda
Gorilla tourism isn’t just about seeing the great ape up-close; tourism has also helped to conserve this magnificent creature and one of the pioneering companies behind this is Volcanoes Safaris, renowned for their gorilla and chimpanzee tourism.
After the Rwandan genocide in the ‘90s, Volcanoes Safaris helped kick-start gorilla tourism in both Rwanda and neighboring Uganda; they were also the only private sector company to sign up to the UN Kinshasa Declaration on Saving the Great Apes. Now, they’re part of a wider aim to not only preserve the habitat of the great ape, but also ensure local communities benefit.
Volcanoes Safaris runs several safari tours including the popular six-day Gahinga and Virunga trip in Rwanda and Uganda. You’ll get to track gorillas and golden monkeys through pristine bamboo forests, climb a volcano, and get to know the Batwa people of southwestern Uganda through community and heritage tours. You’ll also trek to the grave of celebrated primatologist Dian Fossey and the gorilla cemetery where her favorite gorilla Digit, among others, has his final resting place.
Find out more at Volcanoes Safaris.
Maori cultural tours, New Zealand
New Zealand is streets ahead when it comes to celebrating its indigenous culture: Artwork and Maori greetings adorn most international airports; the All Blacks—their international rugby team—perform the Haka (a traditional Maori war dance) before every game; Maori language and history is taught in schools. But on a global scale, there’s still much to be done from an education perspective.
Luckily, there are plenty of on-the-ground adventures for those who want to dig deeper. Napier Maori Tours, run by a young local Maori family, offer ‘eco-cultural’ day tours along the protected Ahuriri Estuary where travelers can practise traditional fishing methods and take archaeological tours of an ancient Maori village, the largest and oldest in the country.
And if you find yourself in Northland—New Zealand’s northernmost peninsula—Footprints Waipoua offer Maori-led tours through the Waipoua Forest, home to Tana Mahuta, the country’s largest living tree.
Hailing from all across the globe, Adventure.com's team of editors are on the pulse of adventure news and travel trends, bringing you the latest developments and strange, interesting and peculiar happenings from around the world.