From risotto lunch to whale watching: 7 compelling experiences that also give back to the local community
The pandemic made it clear just how important travel is for many destinations around the world — the guides, artisans, hoteliers, and wider communities in countries that usually thrive from visitors suffered as the world came to a halt.
That’s why we’ve rounded up seven of our most compelling experiences that also benefit the people in the places you’re visiting. From making a tagine with a women’s co-operative to whale watching off Newfoundland, these are great ways to enjoy your next trip while knowing you’re helping communities recover and flourish once again.
Ban Pong Huai Lan, Thailand
Local lunch, weaving & a visit to Grandmother Som’s farm
Nestled in the verdant rice fields outside Chiang Mai, Ban Pong Huai Lan is a small farming village selected by the late King Rama IX as part of the Royal Project Initiative. The goal was to help improve life for the people in the region and to provide education about sustainable farming techniques. A visit here gives you a chance to see authentic Thai village life up close.
The village itself is cupped by gentle hills and nestled amid fields that are lushly green during the monsoon. You’ll be welcomed with a cup of fragrant herbal tea — probably citrussy lemongrass or spicy galangal — before heading to the the local fish farm in the nearby Huai Lan Reservoir. There, you can admire the hills reflected in the still water and learn how the reservoir provides both farmed fish and irrigation for the local fields.
After a lunch created from ingredients grown locally, you’ll also visit some of the village’s weavers and, if you’d like, you can try your hand at creating a small object. From there, visit Grandmother Som, an elder of the village who’s happy to discuss her farm’s sustainable methods. Finally, end your visit with a dish of kanom khee maeo, a regional dessert made from rice flour and coconut.
Have this experience for yourself: Any itinerary through Northern Thailand can include this visit to Ban Pong Huai Lan.
Risotto lunch on a rice farm
The area outside of Verona gets less attention than regions like Tuscany, but don’t let that dissuade you. A driving tour through the hilly, cypress-dotted countryside to visit local artisanal producers gives you a chance to glimpse rural life. You can also sample some of the exceptional produce the area is known for, including local wine, acacia or chestnut honey, and Grana Padano cheese.
The last stop is a local rice farm. Owner Gabriele is passionate about the history and heritage of rice farming. He’s even won awards and accolades for his work to preserve the traditional farming methods of this region, which is known for its risotto. The visit includes a tour of the 16th-century rice mill and ends with a lunch featuring lusciously creamy risotto.
Gabriele also runs cooking classes for local school children — a venture that your visit supports. The classes have a two-fold purpose: they help foster the local culinary tradition and ensure that children graduate with the skills necessary to get a job.
Have this experience for yourself: You can experience this tour as part of any trip that includes time in Venice, like this suggested visit to Northern Italy.
Lemanak Longhouse, Malaysian Borneo
Immerse yourself in Iban culture
Deep in the heart of the Borneo jungle, the Iban people live much as they have for centuries, with a dozen families living together in a communal longhouse by the river. To immerse yourself in the Iban culture, we can arrange for you to spend the night with the community at the Lemanak Longhouse.
When you arrive, via a wooden canoe, you’ll be greeted by the tribe and shown around the longhouse. In the evening, you’ll join the community around the fire, when there’s often dancing and singing — but this isn’t a performance for visitors, it’s a continuation of daily life here. There’s the chance to sample homemade rice wine — go easy, it’s strong stuff — and you’ll spend the night as the families do, asleep on a mattress on the wooden-slat flooring.
In the morning, a tribe member will lead you on a walk through the forest to show you the medicinal plants and teach you the art of using blow darts. Before you leave, lunch is cooked on an open fire on the banks of the Lemanak River.
The visits here are strictly regulated, and your visit contributes to a community fund kept by the Iban people. The money can be borrowed by any family for pressing issues such as their children's education or emergency medical needs.
Have this experience for yourself: A stay in the longhouse is included in this suggested itinerary that focuses on the Iban people.
Cenote Yokdzonot, Mexico
Relax at a watery oasis in the jungle
Scattered throughout the dense green Yucatán, you’ll find thousands of cenotes — otherworldly sinkholes filled with water. Lit by golden shafts of sunlight that pierce the jungle canopy, the water is filled with shifting shades of cerulean and turquoise — it’s easy to see why the Maya believed them to be portals for speaking to the gods. Today, these remote, shady pools are popular destinations for locals and visitors who want to swim and relax — especially the ones close to Tulum, which can get busy.
As a quieter alternative, we suggest visiting Cenote Yokdzonot, a 20-minute drive from Chichén Itzá. The deep, cool-water pool is shaded by the dense jungle, with vines trailing down into the crystal-clear water. Developed as a sustainable eco-adventure destination, the cenote is a jungle oasis where you can ride a zipline, hike or cycle on the web of surrounding trails, or simply relax in a hammock. The restaurant serves a menu of traditional Yucatecan cuisine, prepared with local ingredients.
Overgrown and being reclaimed by the jungle, the cenote was cleared and is run by Zaaz Koolen Haá (Clear Water), a co-operative of local Maya women who were looking for alternatives to poorly paid agricultural work. Today, it’s an important source of jobs and income for the Maya, and the co-op donates a portion of its profits to a fund that supports those who work in the fields.
Have this experience for yourself: A day at Cenote Yokdzonot is easy to include in an itinerary through Mexico's Yucatán.
Learn to make tagine
Cooked in the signature conical vessel of the same name, a tagine is one of Morocco’s signature dishes and you can find these spice-scented, slow-cooked stews wherever you go in the country. At the Amal Women's Training Center and Restaurant in Marrakesh, the chefs will help you create a traditional tagine lunch, along with several side dishes.
In Morocco, cooking, and of course, eating, is a social occasion. As the meal cooks, you can sip mint tea — picked from the herb garden — with your instructors and sometimes with the association’s director. As the tagine is slow-cooked over charcoal using traditional techniques, you’ll have time to talk about life in Marrakech and learn more about Amal’s work.
The association was begun as a way to help single women — divorced mothers, widows, or orphans, who have had little or no formal education. The six-month training course teaches them to become chefs, as well as providing psychological support and therapy, to help restore their confidence and give them the skills they need to support themselves.
Have this experience for yourself: You can add a tagine lesson to any trip that includes time in the city, like this suggested itinerary that features Marrakesh, mountains, and desert.
Whale watching, snowmobiling & jam making at Fogo Island Inn
A small, windswept island off the coast of Newfoundland, Fogo boasts a desolate beauty at the easternmost tip of Canada. For hundreds of years, residents considered this one of the four corners of the world and eked out a living as fishermen in the rich, stormy waters.
Today, the island is largely untouched by modern development with the exception of Fogo Island Inn. Perched on stilts on the stony shore, it’s a sleek, contemporary space with generous windows that flood the interior with the lucid, shimmery light of the sun reflected off the North Atlantic.
During your stay here, you can choose to enjoy a vast roster of activities that vary by season — islanders mark seven seasons instead of the mainland’s four. You might go snowmobiling during pack-ice season, join jam making classes in berry season, take a whale-watching cruise in summer, or simply relax in the wood-fired sauna or rooftop hot tubs overlooking the ocean.
The hotel is a community asset, rather than a private one, and was built on sustainable principles, ecologically as well as financially. It was intended from the start to help sustain livelihoods for the residents of the island, so more than 65% of every dollar you spend — including all profit — stays within the community. Many of the experiences are led by islanders, who’ve also handmade much of the inn’s furnishings — you can even buy their handiwork, including patchwork quilts.
Have this experience for yourself: You can add a few days at Fogo Island Inn to a trip to the east coast of Canada, including this suggested tour of the country’s eastern cities.
Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Take a safari at Camp Moremi
Across all our safari destinations, we choose camps that are thoughtfully run, employ local staff, and have just a handful of rooms. It means you get a more personal experience where your surroundings are kept as wild and natural as possible, while not compromising on your comfort.
Botswana, with its focus on low-impact, high-quality safaris, has these camps in abundance. One that stands out is Camp Moremi, whose 12 thatched tents are scattered among trees within the wilderness of the Okavango Delta’s Moremi Game Reserve.
Here, you can head out on twice-daily game drives (and, when water levels are right, boat safaris) led by experienced naturalists who’ll notice even the subtlest hint of an animal’s presence. As well as spotting headline animals like cheetah, leopard, lion, elephant, and buffalo, you’ll begin to appreciate more understated species — rainbow-feathered bee-eaters flit between the reeds, hyena packs crunch down on skeletal prey, and elusive sitatunga antelope wade through the waterways.
Moremi’s Desert & Delta CARES philosophy embodies the holistic approach that we prefer. Together with sister camps across Botswana, they’ve created and support a variety of community initiatives that fund scholarships, mentor and train local woman and youths, and provide comprehensive health care.
For example, they work closely with Khumaga Primary school to offer career guidance, education assistance, day trips, and lectures for the children of the Khumaga Village. They also support the Tsidillo Stimulation Centre, a facility for children with mental, physical, and learning disabilities.
Have this experience for yourself: You can stay at Camp Moremi on this suggested itinerary for a Botswana family safari.
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