Ethical Gift Guide: For The Sustainable Shopper

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Shopping for gifts can be hard, so it’s only natural that shopping for ethical and fair trade gifts is even harder! With all the thousands of companies out there it can be hard to find those that are really producing gifts that give back. Luckily we’re starting to see a growing trend in sustainably conscious companies, with more and more companies using their business to do good. From sustainably sourced materials, to ethically manufactured products and donated proceeds, these ethical gifts are actually putting something good back into the world. Not only will you feel like a superhero while shopping, but you can also say you’ve contributed to something positive.

Whether you’re shopping for ethical Christmas gifts or sustainable birthday present ideas, or perhaps a little something for yourself to celebrate Self Care Week (yes, it’s a thing!), this ethical gift guide has you covered.



Ethical Clothing Companies



Not only are Everlane’s clothes super cute and comfortable, but they are ethically and sustainably made. They work directly with factories around the world to ensure fair wages and humane working conditions, and provide background information on each factory that they work with. They also do a complete cost breakdown of their clothing, so you know exactly where your money is going.





People Tree

People Tree specializes in sustainable and fair trade fashion. They’ve partnered with fair trade producers for over 25 years, which makes them a pioneer in the ethical fashion industry. They have a ton of great items including cozy knit sweaters and environmentally-centered accessories. They also have some really cool gifts for the home like these leather & pine scented candles that turn into a shot glass once finished!



Alternative Apparel

Alternative Apparel is an eco-friendly clothing brand that only uses factories that ensure fair labor practices. They also sell products from a variety of other brands that align with Alternative Apparel’s commitment to sustainability.






Krochet Kids

Krochet Kids is a social enterprise (with products for kids and adults!) that values the importance of knowing who makes your clothes. Every product is hand signed by the artisan that made it. You can go on the website to see a picture of the maker and read about their story! You can even send them a thank you message to let them know how much you love the product. How cool is that? 




Fair Trade Shopping and Accessories



Warby Parker

The glasses and sunglasses company that revolutionized the industry with their “try on at home” offer is also a proponent of giving back. Through their “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program, they’ve given away over 3 million pairs of eyeglasses to visually impaired people who can’t afford them. Giving a pair of sunnies to your bff means also giving a pair of someone in the developing world. You go Warby Parker!



Fair Anita

Finally, a company that makes ethical accessories that are both stylish and don’t break the bank (the average price of their pieces is $22!)! If you’re an ethical shopper you know that finding the magic trifecta of fashionable, ethical and affordable products is challenging. Well Fair Anita does it so, so well. Since they started in 2015 they have partnered with over 8,000 female artisans in 9 countries to help support their fair trade work. All their products are handmade and the material locally sourced. Two items I can highly recommend are the Beautiful Mess Sterling Silver Necklace, which is made in Peru and won’t tarnish in the sun, as well as their Textured Triangle Earrings from Mexico made from hammered recycled brass! I love wearing these pieces knowing the artisans have been payed well and treated with dignity!



100% Pure

Beauty products from 100% Pure are the perfect gift for whoever in your life likes a little self-pampering. You can feel good giving your loved ones products that are free of nasty toxins and chemicals, as well organic and cruelty free! Personally, we’ve got our eye on the Multi-vitamin Facial Oil (great gift for any gender!) and the Fruit-pigmented Lengthening Mascara!



Purpose Jewelry

Jewelry is always a great gift (who doesn’t love a little bling?), but jewelry with a purpose is even better! At Purpose Jewelry every piece in their line is created by a survivor of human trafficking, providing them with a stable income. They also run a nonprofit which provides education, health care and counseling to these young women.


Ethical Homeware



Delilah Home 

We all know that we should be buying organic fruits and veggies, but have you thought about organic homeware? Conventional cotton used in sheets and towels has a devastating effect on the environment. You can make your home much more eco-friendly by switching to homeware made out of organic cotton, or even better, hemp! Delilah Home has a range of organic cotton and hemp towels, sheets and dog beds so everyone in your family can enjoy. You can rest easy at night knowing your family is having a positive impact on the environment, as well as staying safe from harmful toxins that can come off fabric and on to your skin. Check out their super soft and cozy hemp sheets and their durable and luxurious organic cotton towels.




Ethical Travel Gear


Patagonia is known as being a champion for protecting the environment that their customers love to explore. Less well known is their commitment to ethical manufacturing and employee activism. They walk the walk through all faces of their company.





Yoga lovers all know what a pain in the ass it is to lug a yoga mat around with you while you travel. Nomadix products are part towel, part yoga mat. As a towel they’re quick dry and absorbent. As a yoga mat, they’re slip resistant and lightweight. Plus, they’re made from recycled water bottles. Trust us, your travel-loving friends will adore it.




Easy Gifts Buys That Give Back

Just because you’re putting in the effort to find ethical gifts this holiday season doesn’t mean it needs to be hard! These gifts are all from incredible companies that have give back programs to support social and environmental cause.



Hydro Flask

These insulated water bottles are perfect for keeping drinks cold (or hot) while you travel. The company is all about protecting the great outdoors that they love, which is why they created the Parks For All campaign. Parks For All gives grants to non-profits that provide greater access to parks.





Travelers who like to get off the grid know how difficult it can be to find clean drinking water. Lifestraw has a variety of products that filter contaminated water so you’re good to drink it. They also do a ton of giving back by providing filtration systems to developing communities. With each Lifestraw purchased, you’re providing one school child with safe drinking water for an entire school year. What a rad gift!






Out of Print

Everyone’s got that nerd in their life that always has their nose in a book (hands up if it’s you! ?) But buying someone a book can be difficult because you’re never sure if they’ve already read it! That’s why Out of Print’s gifts are perfect for book lovers! They have shirts, bags, socks and even onesies with graphics from classic books. Jules and I both love these Harry Potter Socks (click to find out what they have on the bottom!) and our future baby is definitely getting this Goodnight Moon Onesie. The best part is that Out of Print is that for every product sold, they donate a book to communities in need. So far they’ve donated over 3 million books!




Ethical Travel Experiences

Travelers are notoriously hard to shop for, so giving an experience instead of a physical item is the perfect gift for travel-lovers. Check out some of our favorite ethical tour operators for all your sustainable adventures!




Intrepid is the OG of small group, small impact travels. They don’t bus you in and out of a million sites like Contiki (sorry Contiki lovers!), but instead allow you to dive deeper into their destinations to connect with locals. You can go all around the globe with Intrepid and part of their proceeds go to the Intrepid Foundation, their nonprofit fund that works with local grassroots projects around the world.




G Adventures

Similar to Intrepid in that they do small, low impact tours that give back to the local communities they visit. With G Adventures you can search for tours based on destination or categories like “active” “18 to thirty-somethings” or “local living.” It makes it super easy for your gift recipient to find a tour they’ll love!




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Charities that Give Back


A nonprofit that works to combat poverty worldwide. They have an array of donations you can give as gifts, including education for children, safe water for a village and solar energy for families. Check out their Oxfam Unwrapped page for more information.



Hefer International

If you’re an Oprah fan (uh, who isn’t?!) you’ve probably heard her mention this organization. Hefer International works to fix global hunger. You can actually give the gift of an animal in honor of your friend or family member. Gifting a poor family an animal provides them with a small business where they can sell wool, milk, eggs and more. These are the gifts that keep on giving because with the extra income they’re able to provide food, medicine and education for their family.




Kiva is a nonprofit that provides microfinance loans to business owners around the world. You can give someone a Kiva gift card and they can choose the individual they’d like to lend the loan to. You can search for individuals by category like “single parents,” “refugees,” or “agriculture.” You can also lend future businesses owners money to pay for tuition! The best part is that the lender will pay you back when they’re business is up and running, so you can use that repayment to support another borrower! The giving never ends!




Whether you’re buying a gift for yourself, or sharing the gift of giving during a birthday or holiday season, the Ethical Gift Guide has you covered! Not only will you be giving some truly awesome gifts, but you’ll be putting positive vibes back into the world and supporting some really awesome projects! You go Glen Coco!


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Best Responsible Tourism Destinations of 2023

With more and more destinations, tour operators and activities focussing their concentration on responsible tourism, it’s important to acknowledge the places that are doing it right. All over the world countries, cities and companies are putting huge amounts of effort into protecting the environment, the local communities and the animal population.

How you choose to spend your money while traveling has a huge impact on the future of travel and the people, places and animals that live there. So if you’re traveling in 2023 and want to have a positive impact on the world…. you’ve come to the right place.

We reached out to some of the top responsible tourism bloggers to ask them for their recommendations on the best sustainable travel destinations for 2023. From preserving the ancient cultures and traditions of countries in Bhutan, Peru and Chile, to protecting the environment in Indonesia, Palau and Germany. From animal conservation in Kenya, to environmental and cultural preservation in Costa Rica, this post covers it all.




Ian from Where Sidewalks End

Without a doubt, Bhutan’s tourism initiatives have put it amongst the top responsible and sustainable tourism destinations in the world. Predominantly isolated from the world, Bhutan has remained relatively unchanged as the rest of the world became more globalized. Something that makes Bhutan incredibly unique, is their strategy to help preserve their culture through tourism. 

Every guest to Bhutan pays a daily tariff while visiting the country. Depending on the season, this will be either $200 or $250 USD per day (about the same as a night in a hotel in New York). This tariff covers all hotels/home-stays, transportation, meals and guides during a visit. Only upgrades to hotels, or additional activities will come at an extra cost. From there, 30% of the tariff also goes back into environmental preservation, community development, such as free health care for all residents and visitors, as well as community based tourism projects setup for families to host guests during your stay.



This type of tariffed payment system ensures fair, livable wages to all those involved and keeps a high standard (3 star hotel and up) for all guests to the country. It also helps protect their natural environment, with little social impact and an emphasis on culture. This is what the best responsible tourism operators try to achieve in terms of sustainability, and yet it’s being regulated by the government! It’s also a nice bonus that the country is so rich in history, culture and natural beauty!! Definitely an innovator and role model for other countries to potentially follow suit in, Bhutan should be high on your list as a responsible tourism destination!


Alay Region, Kyrgyzstan

Audrey from Uncornered Market

A destination we recommend for responsible tourism experiences is the Alay Region in southern Kyrgyzstan, at the crossroads of Tajikistan, China and Uzbekistan. Located in the stunningly beautiful Pamir-Alay mountain range, including Lenin Peak at 7,134 meters/23,406 feet, the Alay region is great for travelers who are interested in trekking, horseback riding or other outdoor activities combined with traditional Kyrgyz nomadic culture along the way.

The region not only provides some unique travel experiences, but it also does so in a way so that local people in the regional communities benefit as well from tourism money. For examples, local families run the guest houses and yurt stays, food is locally sources and home cooked, and guides are local from the region.



Although beautiful, the Alay Region is not an easy place to live, however, as agriculture is difficult and there isn’t a lot of industry or other businesses that create jobs. Community Based Tourism (CBT) has been strong and active in that region, trying to involve villages and rural communities so that tourism development is inclusive and benefits local people in the region.

Last year, Visit Alay, the local CBT branch in Osh, worked on a project to mark and map new trails in the region. The goal: open up more trekking routes to travelers to spread them around the region more while inviting and training local families if they want to host travelers in home/yurt stays or offer home-cooked meals. In addition, the additional trekkers to the region provide more income generation opportunities for local trekking guides and other service providers (horse handlers, etc.).  Read more on why trekking in the Alay Region is such a fulfilling responsible tourism activity.


Sumatra, Indonesia

Luke from Wild Sumatra

Sumatra is easily the most exciting and diverse of Indonesia’s islands. From mighty volcanoes and virgin rainforests to hidden beaches and verdant rice paddies, to ancient temples and vibrant cultures, Sumatra really has it all.

Despite this abundance of riches, the island is rarely on people’s radar. Sadly, when it does make the news, it’s usually not for good reasons. Thanks to the world’s insatiable appetite for cheap commodities like palm oil and wood products, the rainforests of Sumatra have been under pressure for a long time, with the island losing 36% of its forest cover from 1990-2010. Combined with the misguided hunger for wildlife parts used for alternative medicine, the situation is dire.



But there is good news. Across the massive island, roughly the same size as the whole of Thailand, there are numerous passionate people working to stem the tides of destruction. And many are using ecotourism to do it; here are a few highlights:

Green Hill in Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra, was founded by Mbra and Andrea over 25 years ago. One of the few operators in the region who are truly committed to conservation. They have strict rules that need to be followed by both guides and guests, which includes absolutely no feeding of orangutans and other wildlife. They also run a Nature Club for kids in the community, as well as a more off the path community-based project in the village of Kuta Langis, which is a great alternative to the busyness of Bukit Lawang. 



On the other side of the island, in the province of West Sumatra, sits Rimba Ecolodge. Run by Reno and Nad, this is a perfect location to unplug and relax on an isolated beach – with amazing snorkeling just off shore, and a vibrant rainforest steps from the sand. The very basic bungalows are made from sustainable materials like bamboo, palm, and rattan, and the project supports education and waste management initiatives in the nearby villages. Their activities have also led to the creation of the Muaro Duo nature reserve in the bay where Rimba sits, preserving and protecting it from fishing and other harmful practices.

These initiatives and more (like ours at Wild Sumatra!), are working to provide viable economic alternatives to the siren call of deforestation. We believe that communities are healthier and more sustainable when nearby forests and seas remain intact and filled with life. Visiting Sumatra and choosing responsible tourism operators is one of the most effective ways you can say no to the continued destruction of the natural world, while having an adventure of a lifetime.



Steph from Worldly Adventurer

When you think of Chile, the sharp peaks of the Patagonian landscapes might well spring to mind. Thanks to the work and investment of billionaire philanthropist, the late Doug Tompkins, and the Chilean government, much of this wilderness is now safeguarded. 2018 saw the creation of the Route of the Parks: a squiggle of 2,800 kilometres of protected land made up of 17 national parks, stretching from Puerto Montt down to the very tip of the South American continent.

The finest and most accessible are those along the Carretera Austral – the only road through northern Chilean Patagonia. Here parks such as Pumalín and Patagonia are leading the responsible fray with outstanding day and multi-day hiking routes and infrastructure, plus initiatives to “rewild” the landscapes – including returning the puma and ñandu (a type of emu) to their natural habitats.



But responsibly tourism goes beyond the country’s approach to its treasured wildernesses; cultural tourism is also on the rise. The Mapuche, the ancient indigenous group that has long inhabited the south of Chile, are beginning to open their doors to tourism.

One of the communities doing just that is Llaguepulli. You can spend the night in a traditional ruka (a wooden dwelling covered with layers of waterproof Peruvian feathergrass), join the machi (shaman) around the hearth to learn about Mapuche spiritual beliefs and take cookery classes or study the properties of medicinal plants in the community’s organic garden. All of the money from your stay goes directly into the community, providing a much-needed, and sustainable source of income for the local families.

If you need an English-speaking guide, the excellent Chilean-based Travolution, who specialize in responsible tourism trips across the country, organize tours here and to other Mapuche communities in the region.



Abbie from Speck on the Globe

Palau may be a small island in the western part of the Pacific Ocean, but in terms of responsible tourism they are making major strides. The main achievement for Palau has been its attention towards marine conservation. The government of Palau created a sanctuary that contains nearly 80% of the country’s waters, protecting the eco system from commercial fishing expeditions. When first arriving into Palau, visitors to the islands need to pay a sustainability fee as part of their visa entrance. Tourists also need to sign the Palau Pledge, a commitment to being mindful about the environment.



Palau puts their environment first, and the needs of tourists second. One of the most popular activities is visiting Jellyfish Lake, a lake in the Rock Islands that had thousands of stingless jellyfish. In the past the jellyfish began to vanish and for several years the government closed the lake in order to research for the jellyfish population was in decline. After some time the jellyfish population began to stabilize and they have since reopened the lake for visitors to enjoy.

You can really tell the difference in the level of environmentally friendly initiatives in Micronesia compared to other islands in the Pacific. When you go snorkeling or diving, you immediately see clean waters void of debris and the beaches are free from trash. The goal of the Palau government is ultimately to have a “high yield, low impact” approach, which would entice a smaller group of high-spending, environmentally focused tourists.


Masai Mara Conservancies, Kenya

Bret and Mary from Green Global Travel 

Kenya is home to one of the planet’s greatest natural spectacles, Africa’s Great Migration. Every year millions of wildebeest, zebras, and various antelope species make their way from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Seeing this incredible migration is on the bucket list of many wildlife loving travelers. But the truth is, the government-protected reserve isn’t the only place to see it, nor is it necessarily the best. 

A study funded by World Wildlife Fund (conducted from 1989 to 2003) found that the Maasai Mara had seen a sharp decline of ungulates– the hoofed animals that lions, leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas rely on for food– due to decades of human encroachment and poaching. The reserve also saw a 67% to 80% decline in populations of impala, giraffes, and warthogs. 



Even worse, the indigenous Maasai lost the rights to graze on their ancestral lands, with around 40,000 people in Tanzania forced to relocate after their land was sold to foreign investors in 2009. Fortunately, private tour operators began working with community leaders to help the Maasai develop a more sustainable model for community-based conservation in the Maasai Mara. 

According to Gamewatchers Safaris & Porini Camps Managing Director Mohanjeet Brar, “60 to 70% of Kenya’s wildlife is found outside protected national parks and reserves.” Led by founder Jake Grieves-Cook, the former chairman of the Ecotourism Society of Kenya, the company has been a pioneer of the community conservancy concept in Kenya for more than two decades. 

Their low-impact Porini Mara and Porini Lion camps offer guests near-exclusive access to the 18,700-acre Ol Kinyei Conservancy, 33,000-acre Olare Motorogi Conservancy, and 50,000-acre Naboisho Conservancy. Each camp has a maximum of 12 tents, and each tent funds the protection of 700 acres of habitat. Approximately 95% of their staff is from local Maasai communities. The Maasai are received over $1.5 million from the conservancies in 2018, with more than 1,000 families receiving monthly payments.

What this means for guests is more wildlife (we saw tons of predators and huge herds of elephants, impala, hippos, zebra, wildebeest, etc.), fewer crowds, and an exclusive, eco-friendly option for seeing what is arguably the greatest show of natural beauty on Earth.

If you’re looking to travel to Kenya don’t forget your visa! While Kenya offers tourist, business and transit visas to most countries, you will need to apply and secure your visa before entering the country. In fact, most airlines won’t let you travel to Kenya unless you have your appropriate visa, so be sure to organize it in advance. Luckily the online application and requirements for a Kenya eVisa is pretty straight forward and once approved you have three months to enter the country. On both the tourist and business visa you’ll have three months within the country, while the transit visa only gives you 72 hours.


Berlin, Germany

Claudi from GreenMe Berlin

Berlin is a paradise for every greenie, dreamer and free spirit – liberal, unconventional and always up to challenge the status quo. And with one third of the city covered in green, nature is everywhere – but you don’t need to hug trees to dive into its thriving eco culture.

Roaming Berlin’s creative neighborhoods, you can explore permaculture gardens hidden in local backyards, relax in lush community gardens that let you pick your own tea, host beekeeping and participate in upcycling workshops. For the shoppers, you can visit package-free stores to stock up on zero waste travel gear, eat delicious dumplings made from rescued food or join a cooking classes with refugees communities. For the more active explorer you can rent a recycled bike and ride around Berlin’s abandoned Tempelhof Airport, which has been transformed into the city’s largest public green space. In short: you can have heaps of fun, while supporting good causes.



Berlin is special because it is the people who make change happen; genuine, passionate folks with a “just-do-it” mentality. There are lots of bottom-up initiatives and social startups and the community spirit is high. Being surrounded by this vibe makes you feel like you can actually make a difference, even if you’re only in town for a couple of days.

If you don’t want to explore alone, join one of the various green urban tours: from Green Fashion Tours, to Changemaker Tours focussing on social entrepreneurship, to Querstadtein where homeless people and refugees guide through “their” city, to our GreenMe Kiez Tours.

Change is happening on all levels; the tourist board supports Berlin’s sustainable scene by actively placing the topic in international travel media. They also built a “Going Local” app to counter overtourism and divert tourist streams, organize park clean-ups and the initiative Circular. Berlin also works on a series of workshops to educate tourism stakeholders on zero waste practices.


Lost City, Colombia

Becki Enright from Borders of Adventure

Trekking to the Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida) means being able to visit an ancient archaeological site nestled up in the Sierra Nevada mountain region of northern Colombia. It was built by the Tayrona people, and dating to approximately 800 AD (older than Machu Picchu), it is only accessible on foot.

Because of the long trek to get to the site, it’s not a destination that suffers from any form of over-tourism. However, the trek route passes through indigenous land, so it’s important to choose a Lost City tour operator that respects the wishes of the Wiwa and Kogi people, who live within this region. For instance, when choosing a guide, it’s possible to have a member of the Wiwa community as your guide.



Adding to the responsible tourism footprint in this region, I choose to trek with G Adventures who have a partnership with the Wiwa community for the Lost City Trek. Thrugh this arrangement, travelers embark on an exclusive extra fifth day of trekking through an area of the Sierra Nevada jungle that no other group gets to go on. This more remote exploration leads to a Wiwa community, where you have your final lunch as a group.

Your time here supports the community’s kitchen, where locals are trained in hospitality (since many of the men have become trekking guides) and where travelers get to understand the remote communities and the struggles they face when trying to balance tourism with the preservation of traditions.


Luang Prabang, Laos

Ketki from Explore With Ecokats

In the last few years Laos has seen a large increase in the amount of effort put towards responsible tourism. In the past, tubing was synonymous with Laos and the party scene, especially in Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng was a major party location for backpackers, who would rent tubes from locals and spend the day floating down the river, drinking at various shanty bars they passed along the way. Due to more than two dozen tourist deaths, regularization was finally passed to shut down these unauthorized shanty bars, that were providing alcohol, and at times drugs, to tourists.



Laos, since then, has completely changed its tourism scene and is focusing on more ethical and sustainable tourism. The focus is genuinely targeted not only for the tourists, but also for the eco development of the region and local communities. One of those ares to receive an increased focus is Luang Prabang, which is quickly becoming a top responsible tourism destination in Southeast Asia. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang has been able to implement policies and procedures to cater to the extra tourist numbers that visit the city.

Luang Prabang has taken serious initiatives towards reducing plastic waste. Every public toilet has cloth towels for wiping hands, instead of tissue papers. Most hotels use glass bottles for drinking water instead of plastic bottles and have replaced small plastic shampoo bottles with refillable ceramic ones. Many hotels and local shop owners are also promoting organic farming and even growing local food in their premises. The authorities have even installed water dispensers to encourage tourists to fill bottles instead of buying new ones, with all the plastic packaging material being recycled once used.



In order to make sure these initiatives are known to locals, educational seminars are conducted in the town and training workshops are conducted for hospitality staff. Clean up campaign involving tourists are also conducted in the town. For tourists visiting Luang Prabang, who want to immerse themselves in the art and culture of the city, they can learn about its history and spend a day with the local Laotian women who weave beautiful patterns in the fabric.



Margherita from The Crowded Planet

Luxembourg is a very underrated destination, usually seen as a place where only businesspeople and politicians travel, when in fact, the country has a lot to offer to history, nature and adventure lovers! Luxembourg is also pioneering the way for European countries in its efforts to promote eco-travel and responsible tourism.

One of those eco-travel initiatives is an excellent public transport system that is free, making Luxembourg the first country in the world to offer free public transport. There’s also a good system of bike lanes throughout the entire country, meaning you can cut down on your carbon footprint when exploring Luxembourg.



Those who enjoy hiking might be surprised to find out that there’s a great long-distance hike in Luxembourg, the Mullerthal Trail. It traverses the region also known as Little Switzerland, with beautiful cliffs and rocks formations. The trail can be hiked in 7-10 days, depending on how many ‘add ons’ one chooses to do. It is also easy to break the hike in stages and get to the trailhead by public transport. Hiking is a great, low impact outdoor activity that doesn’t put any strain on the environment.


Costa Rica

While the number of sustainable tourism destinations is increasing around the world, one of the first places to embrace traveling responsibly was undoubtedly Costa Rica. Over 70 years ago, Costa Rica’s president abolished the country’s military, allowing military spending to be redistributed into conservation. Since then, Costa Rica has become a leader in environmental protection. The country is covered in a richly biodiverse rainforest, and the government restricts development on over 25% of its land through protected parks and wildlife reserves. Additionally, over 95% of the country’s electricity comes from green energy.

Costa Rica’s commitment to its environment has paid off, making it one of the top ecotourism destinations in the world. Their protected rainforests are perfect for outdoor adventure travel, including ziplining, white water rafting and incredible hiking in Costa Rica. Wildlife protection draws in tourists interested in bird watching and spotting endangered species like the quetzal, tapir and ocelot.



While the country has made incredible strives in environmental protection, not all its people have prospered. The indigenous communities within Costa Rica only won the right to vote in 1994, leaving them out of many important decisions regarding their land. To improve the situation of the local indigenous, several responsible tourism projects have popped up.

The Bribri women in the village of Yorkin, near Puerto Viejo, have established their own community tourism group. With this group they’ve created an opportunity to increase their income, allowing them to send their children to school and improve their family’s livelihood. Tourists can come into the community and see their craft making, observe local life and visit their rainforest. For more information on the Bribri indigenous artisan tours, visit the Stibrawpa Association.

Celebrate Giving Tuesday with LifeStraw’s Safe Water Fund 

This article was created in collaboration with LifeStraw, a company that we’ve always supported and purchased products from, years before we partnered with them. All opinions and thoughts are our own.

With the end of the year fast approaching (can you believe 2019 is almost over?!) it’s easy to get swept up in the consumerism of the holidays. But amidst the chaos of Black Friday, gift shopping and the drone of Christmas carols that seem to start earlier every year, there is one saving grace – Giving Tuesday. This international holiday that was started in 2012 is quite simply, a day that encourages people to do good. And if that isn’t the most genuinely heartwarming antidote to over-consumerism, then I don’t know what is! 

The concept is simple: every year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, people, organizations and companies find a way to give back. Whether through donations, volunteering, acts of kindness or buying from social businesses, there are myriad ways to give on Giving Tuesday. 

Real talk, though – it can get overwhelming. Just like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you’ll probably get bombarded with ads from a lot of different organizations, looking for your support. And just like finding a good volunteering abroad gig, you’ll want to do some research to make sure your dollars are having a long lasting positive impact. That’s why we’re going to make this easy for you, and tell you who and why we’re supporting this Giving Tuesday.



LifeStraw’s Safe Water Fund 

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you know that we’ve been singing the praises of LifeStraw products long before we partnered with them on their giving back program. LifeStraw not only produces super useful water filtration products that will keep you from getting sick abroad, but they are committed to their mission of providing safe drinking water to those in need. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this company walks the walk. They use innovative technology and design, paired with strategic planning and distribution to provide the developing world with every human’s most basic need, water.



Growing up in the Bay Area in California, I had the privilege of never having to think twice about where my drinking water would come from. Go to the kitchen, grab a glass, get water from the sink. It’s so easy that we forget that millions of people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. 844 million people to be more precise. That’s over twice the US population, all without regular access to water that won’t make them sick. 

What’s perhaps most frustrating about this issue is how preventable it is. Filtration devices like the LifeStraw products are proven to filter out bacteria, parasites and life-threatening illnesses. In fact, LifeStraw’s parent company, Vestergaard, is responsible for helping to reduce Guinea worm disease from 3 million cases in the 1980’s to only 25 in 2018 with the use of a simple pipe filter. In the next few years, this will be the first disease to ever be fully eradicated without a vaccine. The power of this technology is undeniable.



Where Your Donation Goes

So now that you know the impact of providing safe drinking water, what can we in the developed world do about it? Great question! This Giving Tuesday, LifeStraw is putting the call out for donations to their Safe Water Fund. This fund is a 501c3 that runs high-impact water programs, including providing safe drinking water to school children and disaster-impacted communities. 

We’ve been fortunate enough to tag along on one of these programs as journalists to document the efforts. Last year LifeStraw used funds from its give back program, and donations from the Safe Water Fund to visit Chiapas, Mexico, delivering community water filters to schools in vulnerable communities. We visited rural schools with large indigenous populations.

I’ll never forget a visit to our last school in the mountains. A flurry of children dressed in colorful Mayan clothing swarmed our team as we delivered the filters. After the LifeStraw presentation on the importance of washing your hands and drinking safe water, we were shown the school’s water source. One of the teachers compared a cup of unfiltered water vs. the LifeStraw filtered water. There was a stark difference. I should note, that just because water appears clean doesn’t mean it’s safe to drink, and by the same token, just because water is a bit murky doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to drink. But the drinking water that had not been filtered had visible organisms wiggling around. It was unsettling to think that this had been their only water source until the LifeStraw filters had arrived. 



This year LifeStraw went back to Mexico and used the Safe Water Fund to deliver filters in Mexican migrant centers near the US border. Working with the Department of Health, LifeStraw conducted visits to migrant centers in Juarez to assess needs on the ground. These centers are currently overfilled, many with migrants who arrived with the caravans that came north from Central America in February of 2019. These centers are mostly makeshift shelters created in churches, and are vastly under-equipped. 

One of the most dangerous cities in Mexico, Juarez is plagued with violence. Delivering equipment to these extremely vulnerable communities is no easy feat, but the team was able to bring 8 LifeStraw Community filters to 6 different locations. With them, they also brought much needed goods like diapers, clean sheets and other sanitary items to the centers, including one LGBTQ+ center. You can read more about LifeStraw’s experience in the migrant centers here.



How to Donate

After doing extensive research and visiting the programs firsthand, we have no doubt that the Safe Water Fund is a deserving recipient for Giving Tuesday. One of our favorite things about donating to the Safe Water Fund is that you get to choose where you want your funding to go. We know that everyone has a cause that’s close to their heart. You can choose between programs like donating to give a mom and her new baby access to safe drinking water, as well as malaria prevention. Or give safe water to victims of disaster relief. Or you can donate to give safe drinking water to school kids all over the world. Each project is meaningful and will have a long lasting impact on these vulnerable communities. 

Support the Safe Water Fund and choose the project that speaks to your heart by clicking here.

Let’s Help Lombok Rebuild Tourism


At Don’t Forget To Move we love when we’re able to combine our passion for travel with our love of giving back. On a recent trip to Lombok we had the opportunity to do exactly that; working to help promote an amazing organization that is helping rebuild schools, as well as helping promote Lombok tourism in the hopes of bringing back more tourists.

We got to explore the beautiful island of Lombok and we made sure to do it in a sustainable way. During this trip we engaged in responsible tourism activities like visiting traditional villages, touring a pottery cooperative and doing eco-friendly tours. We visited the stunning waterfalls of Lombok, soaked in the sun on the Lombok beaches and enjoyed everything there was to see and do.

Along with supporting responsible tourism we also partnered with an organization called Classroom of Hope, who are doing an amazing job building earthquake safe pop up schools in the region!



Why Does Lombok Need Help?

Last year, Lombok suffered a series of devastating earthquakes in July and August. It caused significant damage, with over 500 deaths, leaving people displaced and property destroyed. Amongst this damage was the destruction of over 400 schools. Even now, months after the earthquake, some students are left to get their education in tents or not attend school at all.

Coming from a non-profit background, we know that educating the youth is the key for a prosperous future. That’s why we’ve chosen Classroom of Hope as the beneficiary for this partnership campaign. They are doing an incredible job all over the world, building schools in developing countries, helping students return to a safe learning environment.

In Lombok, they are partnering with a local organization called the Pelita Foundation who are using local materials and the local workforce to get these pop up schools built. Classroom of Hope and Pelita Foundation are doing incredible work and we’re excited to be able to support them with your help!



What is a Responsible Tourist?

Not sure if you’re a responsible tourist? Even if you don’t feel like Captain Planet when you travel, you’re probably engaging in some responsible tourism activities without even knowing it! Here are some ways you may be a responsible traveler:

  • Shop at locally owned shops
  • Pick up trash on the beach
  • Visit an animal sanctuary/rescue center
  • Use a reusable water bottle
  • Eat at locally owned restaurants
  • Ride a bike or walked somewhere instead of using a taxi
  • Use public transportation
  • Bring reusable grocery bags
  • Stay at an eco-hotel or hotels that have green initiatives
  • Refuse to ride an elephant or do other activities that exploit animals
  • Ask permission before taking photos of locals
  • Volunteer at an organization
  • Travel locally to avoid taking a plane
  • Travel to eco-friendly destinations



Why Responsible Tourism?

Not only is responsible tourism our favorite way to travel, it’s an incredible way to help support destinations that have experienced disasters like Lombok. Before the earthquake, tourism was a significant part of the economy in Lombok. But when the earthquakes hit, tourists were nervous to continue visiting. Now, businesses in the tourism industry, including mom and pop restaurants, are missing a significant part of their income.

As tourists we have so much opportunity to do good, just by visiting a place. Where and how we choose to spend our money overseas plays a huge part in the prosperity of a country. By visiting Lombok and using our money for responsible tourism activities, we’re supporting livelihoods and supporting a sustainable economic development of this beautiful place. By eating at locally owned restaurants and shopping at local shops we’re giving our money directly to the people of Lombok so they have the chance to rebuild.

This gorgeous region of Indonesia has so much to offer. We hope you’ll help us give back to Lombok and visit this beautiful island!

JetBlue For Good: Volunteering in the Dominican Republic

Thanks to JetBlue for inviting us on this trip and having us document this incredible program! As always, all opinions are our own and we would never recommend or promote something that we didn’t fully support and believe in. This article may also contain affiliate links. If you book through our links you help keep this site running to absolutely no extra cost to you!

What happens when you tell nearly 100 volunteers to pack their bags for a trip to a mystery destination to do some good? So. Much. Fun!  And that’s exactly what happened in our recent partnership with JetBlue on their Check In For Good campaign!

Last year, the company sent volunteers to three locations (Houston, Jamaica and Bahamas) to work on some incredible giving back projects. This year JetBlue knocked it out of the park again, by sending nearly 100 volunteers to “Destination Good” for a four-day trip.



JetBlue Contest

To win a spot at Destination Good, the trip was opened up as a contest to the public. To enter, each person had to answer questions about what it means to them to be a volunteer. Nearly 50 winners were selected (out of 45,000!) and each winner was allowed to bring along one guest.

The catch? They had no idea where they were going! All they knew was that they’d be joining the other winners in New York to fly to “Destination Good,” a secret location where they would engage in volunteer activities. The only hints they got for the location were:

  1. Bring a passport
  2. It’ll be somewhere warm
  3. JetBlue flies there (obviously!)

Of course, we were working with JetBlue, so we knew where Destination Good was, but it was really hard not to tell our family and friends where we were going! We were sworn to secrecy and didn’t want to risk spoiling the surprise for the winners!



When the volunteers arrived at the airport, they each received a blue envelope revealing where they were headed. And the secret’s out now – it was the Dominican Republic! Cheers were heard echoing throughout the airport, as each guest found out they were about to board a plane to this gorgeous tropical destination!

The second surprise happened at the gate when JetBlue revealed their beautiful new JetBlue For Good plane! We would all be traveling to the Dominican Republic on its maiden voyage, full of the volunteers, JetBlue staff and crew. Everyone was super excited that we were heading to the Dominican Republic and the plane was buzzing with excitement from the moment we took off, to the moment we touched down in Punta Cana!



Watch the summary video below


JetBlue For Good Program

JetBlue For Good focuses on three core pillars to give back: community, youth & education, and the environment. During our time in the Dominican Republic we would be working on giving back projects that helped address the need in these three areas.

The large group of enthusiastic volunteers was split into two, Team Blue and Team Orange. Over the next three days we worked on two amazing school projects, as well as a vital program to help protect marine life.



Day 1: Partnering with The Dream Project

On the first day we visited a school that works in partnership with The Dream Project, a local organization helping over 7,500 youth throughout the country receive a better education. We went to the Padre Cavalotto Special Education School, a special education school catering to children with disabilities and special needs, and began our day getting to know the school’s 175 students. We all formed a large circle and played games. Pretty soon, the volunteers were getting hugs from students and everyone was running around laughing.

The positive effect of playing with children can be greatly underestimated. It may seem like all we’re doing is playing silly games, but the organizers of The Dream Project actually identified play time as a need that JetBlue could fulfill. They let us know that these kids don’t generally get many visitors or much attention aside from their teachers, so having this genuine human interaction is very meaningful.



And the positive impact doesn’t end when the volunteers go home. A lot of work actually came before the volunteers even arrived. JetBlue financed the repair of the school’s broken roof. The roof leaked whenever it rained (and if you’ve ever been to the DR, you know it can rain). This led to disrupted classes when the students had to be moved out of the rooms. Having a brand new roof will help the teachers and students focus on what matters most – their education. To further support them with their educational goals, JetBlue also donated 500 books to the school.

With a new roof finished, the volunteers were able to come in and give a fresh coat of paint to six classrooms and one library. When we first arrived, the paint was chipping and construction from the roof had caused corrosion and stains. The fresh paint not only covered these imperfections, but the shade of color was chosen because it has a calming effect on the students. From the first project, the attention paid to these little details showed us just how committed JetBlue is to doing good.



Day 2: Painting at a Local School

Our second day of volunteering was focused on community, as well as youth & education. We went to another school that already had a relationship with our hotel, Paradisus Palma Real. A few weeks before we arrived, JetBlue had worked with the hotel and local contractors to build the school an entirely new basketball court. Before, the court was in disrepair, with cracked concrete making it difficult for the kids to play basketball. It was also closed to the youth of the wider community because no one was able to supervise the court.

Now, with the funding and support from JetBlue and the Paradisus Palma Real, the court has been completely redone. They’ve also been able to coordinate with the neighborhood to have designated community members be responsible for opening the court up to kids after school hours. In addition to the students of the school, more than 900 kids will be able to use this basketball court. This provides young adults from the five surrounding neighborhoods a safe place to play and get exercise.



Our role as volunteers was to revamp and beautify the space for the students. The other group of volunteers spent their first day at this school starting a beautiful mural on the outside wall surrounding the court. On our day, we finished the mural and added recycled plastic water bottles that were cut up and painted to make the wall into a 3D art piece!

At the end of the day we brought the kids out to show them the finished wall and gift them with basketballs and other play equipment. The rest of the afternoon, the court was full of kids running around, shooting baskets and asking about different parts of the painting. The kids were beyond excited to have a brand new court that looked beautiful and was safer to play on!



Day 3: Helping Marine Conservation

On our final day, we focused on the third category of giving back – the environment. For this project JetBlue partnered with local marine conservation group, Fundemar. Fundemar runs a coral reef restoration program, including coral nurseries, rescue centers and transplant zones, which serves to help protect the coral against climate change.



In the Paradisus Palma Real auditorium all of the volunteers gathered together to construct ocean buoys. The staff of Fundemar led us in a workshop and each pair built and spray painted their own plastic buoy. Like many other coastal countries around the world, coral reefs in the Dominican Republic are under threat by climate change and marine pollution. These buoys help signify to boats which areas have fragile coral reefs, so they can avoid dropping anchor. We ended up creating 60 buoys that will be placed into the ocean to protect the local coral reef beds.


Project Summary

Overall, we were really impressed with how JetBlue for Good approaches its social impact initiatives. During the trip there was a real focus on partnering with local organizations and working on projects that will continue to do good long after the volunteers had gone home. The local partners were groups that JetBlue had previously established a relationship with. The special education school, for example, was a project that local JetBlue crewmembers in Punta Cana identified and had already been working with.

Collaborating with local groups also helped JetBlue address what needs they could meet in the community. We spoke with Icema Gibbs, the head of Corporate Social Responsibility at JetBlue, who emphasized that these initiatives weren’t created by a bunch of execs sitting in a New York office and assuming what the needs of the communities are. Crewmembers are a part of their communities in all JetBlue cities, and the local crewmembers in Punta Canta played an active role in guiding the #CheckInForGood trip.

We worked with local crew members in the Dominican Republic make those local connections and to ensure we were having the biggest possible impact. These partnerships also ensure the sustainability of these projects and allow JetBlue to continue to support the education and environmental initiatives.



Other JetBlue for Good Projects

JetBlue’s mission to do good isn’t just isolated to the JetBlue for Good month of November. They’re doing good around the world, all year long. Last year 22,000 JetBlue crewmembers volunteered over 180,000 hours of their time.

For example, JetBlue runs volunteer activities for Martin Luther King Day of Service, as well as provides “GreenUp Grants” to organizations in the cities they serve for Earth Month! They also run a summer reading program called Soar with Reading, encouraging kids to read by giving out books through book vending machines!

With all of these incredible initiatives, it’s obvious how committed JetBlue is to doing good. Throughout the #CheckInForGood trip, we were continuously impressed with the attention to detail and the effort put in to each project. From the painting of the first classroom on day 1, to the making of the last buoy, we have no doubt that every volunteer walked away feeling ignited to do more good. And most importantly, we know that the communities JetBlue serves in the Dominican Republic will continue to thrive with their support.



Giving Back in Mexico: LifeStraw Community Water Filter Program

This trip and article was in collaboration with LifeStraw, a company that we’ve always supported and purchased products from, years before we worked with them. All opinions and thoughts are our own.

Growing up in the United States, where getting clean water was as easy as going to the kitchen, I didn’t think a lot about the issue of safe water. Water came from the tap, into a glass and then into my mouth. It wasn’t until I started traveling that I realized how privileged I was, just for the simple fact that I had access to safe water. Around the world, people struggle with access to this most basic human need. I didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of this issue until I started reading some pretty scary statistics.



Let me throw some numbers at you:

  • 844 million people around the world don’t have access to safe drinking water
  • 31% of schools around the world don’t have access to safe water
  • 443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related diseases

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 1 out of every 5 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease. That last statistic is especially heartbreaking considering how preventable a lot of these diseases are, if only the child had access to safe drinking water.


LifeStraw Partnership

It’s pretty apparent that safe drinking water is crucial for the health and education of children around the world. That’s why we’re SO excited to partner with LifeStraw, a water filtration company that is working to give developing communities access to safe water.



For every product sold, they provide one child with safe drinking water for an entire school year. Through their Doing Good program they’ve installed their LifeStraw Community filters in schools in Kenya and are currently expanding their program. With a handful of other bloggers and photographers, we were lucky enough to be invited to document their inaugural school visits in Chiapas, Mexico! The plan was to spend the first half of our trip visiting schools and the second half putting the personal filters to the test while traveling around the region.

We started the week in San Cristobal de las Casas, a city that Jules and I know pretty well. We stayed there for 2 months in 2013, posting up in a one room apartment near the historic city center. At that point our blog was just a baby, and visiting the city again on such a dream work trip really cemented for us just how far we’ve come. After all, our partnership with LifeStraw fit Don’t Forget To Move to a T; perfect mixture of adventure travel and responsible tourism.



LifeStraw in Mexico

Our first day in San Cristobal was spent learning about the filters, their function and how to set them up. Although we were eager to start the school visits, this introduction was very insightful and showed us that LifeStraw takes this process very seriously. The small conference room was filled with the local and international LifeStraw team, members of Chiapas Department of Health, filter distributors and a small group of us bloggers, photographers and videographers.



LifeStraw explained why safe drinking water is such an important issue in this area. Unlike the north of Mexico, which is dry, the south of Mexico has plenty of water. Unfortunately more than 90% of that fresh water is contaminated. Back home it’s common for a small amount of chlorine to be put into drinking water to kill contaminants, but the local indigenous population here is against this because of their traditions. LifeStraw is a great solution for these communities, because most of the water contamination is microbiological (ie. from bacteria and viruses) as opposed to chemical, which is exactly what LifeStraw can filter out!



Coming from a non-profit background, Jules and I can be pretty critical of any type of giving back program. There’s a current trend for companies to add some sort of “giving back” angle to their business model. Whether their intention is to actually make a positive impact or just sell more product, it can be hard to tell. With LifeStraw, there’s absolutely no question, their first priority is to bring safe drinking water to communities around the world!

One of the things that solidified our trust in LifeStraw is the company’s history. To give you a bit of background, LifeStraw started from their parent company, Vestergaard. Vestergaard developed a technology to filter out Guinea worm larvae from water. From over 3 million cases in the 1980s, today, the LifeStraw filter has helped reduced cases of Guinea worm to only 25. In the next few years, this will be only the second disease eradicated in the world, and the first without a vaccine. That’s pretty darn impressive.



So to say that LifeStraw knows what they’re doing in regard to public health is an understatement. By partnering with the local government, LifeStraw also insures the longevity and sustainability of the program. With locals partners it means there are people on the ground for maintenance in case anything breaks. It also means that the local LifeStraw team can work directly with the Department of Health to install new filters around the region. No need for international staff to fly in, no need for voluntourists to come help out. It’s simply the community helping the community.

And that’s what we really loved about this trip. There was no BS. No one from LifeStraw inflating our egos or making us international bloggers feel like we were being flown in to save the day. Our role was simply to document and share with our audiences to spread the word. The real work was done by the local staff of LifeStraw, the government officials and the staff and volunteers at each school.


LifeStraw School Visits

Not that we didn’t stick out like sore thumbs as two fair skinned blondies. The moment we stepped out of the van we were swarmed by dozens of children, all dressed in traditional Mayan clothing. They climbed on Jules and examined my hair, asking me if it was “pintada” (painted). I think they were pretty disappointed when I told them yes, it’s dyed! Despite their enthusiastic and inquisitive questions we tried our best to redirect their attention to the LifeStraw presentation given by Rodrigo, Julio and Jorge – the local staff members of our group.



One of the teachers stepped in to translate from Spanish to the local Tzotzil language. The presenters did an incredible job teaching the kids about the importance of safe water and quizzing them with hygiene questions like “how long should you wash your hands for?” One kid shouted out “2 hours?!” I like your enthusiasm kid, but that’s a little overkill.

The children were trained on how the LifeStraw Community water filter works and two kids were chosen to be “Guardian Angels,” helpers to maintain the filter throughout the school year. Then they all lined up, not quite one by one (let’s be honest, it was a mad rush) to taste a glass of the safe, filtered water. The response was incredible. They were so excited to have water that tasted fresh.



And the great part is, LifeStraw doesn’t just drop off filters and hope for the best. The team on the ground schedules regular visits to the schools to ensure everything is working well and that the filters are being used correctly. Within 2 days, the 3 teams on the project reached 16 schools and provided over 2,500 school children with access to clean drinking water.



Reality of Impact

While those are some pretty incredible numbers, it can be hard to really understand the impact on the ground. It wasn’t until our visit to the last school that it really hit me. They had just finished the presentation and the kids were gathering their backpacks to head home for the day. One of the members of our team pulled us aside to show us something.

He held up a cup of unfiltered water from the tap, where the kids normally get their drinking water. Placing the clear cup on the table, we were able to look down and see two tiny squiggles moving around in the water. It took me a second to realize these were living organisms and not my eyes playing tricks on me. Julio explained that these were mosquito larvae and it wasn’t surprising to see them considering the water source was a stagnant underground container.



Although it’s unlikely those larvae wouldn’t cause harm if ingested, mosquito infested water can be a sign of far more harmful organisms like parasites. This shocking visual was a reminder that the project isn’t just some feel good service project, it’s a crucial program for public health.

And it doesn’t stop there. Better public health can lead to higher graduation, especially for girls who are often tasked with staying home from school to take care of sick siblings. Providing access to safe drinking water can have a snowball effect on the community. Better health means more school days for children and more work days for adults, which means a better educated and more economically prosperous community. Not to sound cheesy, but these filters do more than just give safe water, they give people a chance to live healthy, happy lives.



What Can We Do?

So now that you’ve seen what a HUGE impact LifeStraw is having in Mexico and around the world, I bet you want to know how you can help! If you’ve ever felt a calling to help out abroad, this is your chance! Here are some actionable things you can do to spread the word and support the mission:

o Purchase LifeStraw products, so you can help give one child, one school year of safe drinking water! Shop LifeStraw on Amazon or on their site directly.

o Follow LifeStraw social media or sign up for their email list at to stay up to date with their progress.

o Like, forward, share the posts to spread the message to friends and family.

o Donate to their 501-c3 Safe Water Fund.


Swimming with Whale Sharks Around the World: The Correct Way

Swimming with whale sharks is becoming an increasingly popular tourist activity around the world. As more and more travelers seek out this experience, the rise in tour agencies offering whale shark tours also increases to meet the demand. Unfortunately, with the sudden rise in popularity, this often mean sustainable and ethical practices are bypassed in order to make a quick tourist dollar.

Whale shark tours that involve feeding, touching or disturbing the natural environment of these majestic animals means that whale shark populations around the world are suffering at the hands of tourists wanting to interact with them.

Fortunately, for those looking at ethical whale shark experiences, you’re in luck! All around the world there are many great companies working to support sustainable whale shark excursions and interactions. We’ve put out a call to some of our favorite responsible travel blogger friends to fill us in about their first hand experiences around the world. All of these tours are strictly no touching, feeding or interacting with the whale sharks. So if you’re looking for an experience, look no further!

What is a Whale Shark

Before you consider swimming with whale sharks it might be good to know what one is. A whale shark, despite its name, it not actually a whale, it’s a shark! If you’ve seen a picture of whales sharks it might be hard to imagine you could swim with this scary looking shark. But don’t let the ‘shark’ name put you off, whale sharks pose no threat to humans and feed almost strictly on plankton. They are docile, shy animals that are safe to swim with.

Whale sharks range in size, with the average adult size being almost ten meters long and weighing around nine tonne! Their mouth, one of the most impressive features, can span almost 1.5m wide (5ft), containing up to 350 rows of teeth that work to filter plankton from the water.

Whale sharks are found closer to the equator, as they prefer warmer, tropical waters. With a lifespan of 70-100 years, these majestic creatures truly are some of the most amazing animals you could encounter in the water. Their protection, and the future survival of their species, relies heavily on how we decide to interact with them.



Whale Sharks in the Philippines

Swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines is an activity on the rise! As more and more tourists add the Philippines to their list of ‘must see countries’, whale shark tourism has quickly become a top activity on any Philippines travel itinerary.

As more people look to swim with whale sharks in the Philippines, the pressure is on local tour providers to ensure strict regulations are enforced. While there are many locations that offer this experience, Donsol is the best place to swim with whale sharks in the Philippines without compromising their natural habitat. Oslob, Cebu is also a spot that is popular amongst tourists, but we would encourage you to read on to hear about both experiences before organizing your Philippines trip.


Donsol Whale Shark

First hand experience submitted by Cherene of Wandering Redhead

Donsol Bay is a small village on the island of Luzon where whale shark ecotourism thrives. Fishermen who previously hunted whale sharks are now employed as spotters for tourists. Unlike other whale shark interactions, the whale sharks at Donsol are not fed. They naturally migrate here from the months of December to May. To protect the whale sharks only 30 boats are permitted on the bay at one time, with a maximum of 6 people per boat, not including the boat crew. The boat trips go out three times per day at 8:00am, 11:00am and 2:00pm.

During the interaction, the spotter sits on top of the boat looking for whale sharks.  As soon as they see one, the guide encourages guests to position themselves on the boat’s edge while getting snorkels and fins ready. Once the boat is in the ideal position, slightly up current from the shark, the guide yells for everyone to jump in. The current naturally takes swimmers into the shark’s path where they swim along with it for as long as possible. The other boats wait until one boat’s group is done before they try to obtain a good position. This routine is repeated during the 3-hour tour as many times as a whale shark is spotted.



I booked with Donsol Ecotours. They provided airport transfers and a choice of other activities in the region. During the Donsol whale shark tour I didn’t witness anyone disturbing the whale sharks, but I still think there should be fewer people around the shark at one time. Unless you are a strong swimmer, you have to compete with others to see the whale shark clearly beneath the bubbles and splashing caused by frantically kicking fins. Those who could stay with the shark longer had it all to themselves.

As well as the sustainable efforts being made at Donsol, the recent boom of whale shark tourism to Donsol Bay has given the community a welcome income and they now value the whale shark’s welfare more than ever.



Oslob Whale Shark

First hand experience and research by Don’t Forget To Move

If you’ve been following our blog, or if you came across the article separately, you’ll know that we wrote extensively about how unethical the Oslob whale shark experience was. After initially considering the activity while in the Philippines, we decided to do more research before booking. Unfortunately, after researching numerous articles, as well as speaking with marine biology experts in the Philippines, we discovered that this activity was not in the best interest of the whale sharks in Cebu. If you are considering this activity we encourage you to first read our article before booking. Click to read our Oslob whale shark experience article.


Whale Sharks Mexico

Just a few of hours flight from the United States, there are some great ethical opportunities to swim with whale sharks in Mexico. Ecotourism in Mexico has been on the rise, with more and more companies prioritizing animal welfare over profit. With the continued support of sustainable travelers looking for ethical whale shark encounters, as well as other animal interactions, this will continue to help push the trend into the future. Here are some top locations for swimming with whale sharks in Mexico.


Whale Sharks Cancun

First hand experience submitted by Ernest Shahbazian from Trip Astute

We participated in a whale shark tour in Cancun, Mexico, which was an incredible responsible tourism experience. Our day trip was run by EcoColors Tour, which has been operating whale shark tours in Mexico for over 18 years. They were one of the first tour operators to offer this excursion, and were well organized and staffed.

While we were being transported to the harbor, the tour guides took the time to educate the group on the whale shark and explained what makes them so special. We were nervous as we loaded into the boats and headed toward open water, but we never questioned the integrity of the organization or our tour guide. They expressed great respect for the animals and made it clear that rules and limits were in place to ensure that future generations would have the opportunity to experience this adventure.



We were particularly impressed that the tour operators strictly adhered to conservation rules and standards, even when pressured by tourists in the group. The tour operators insisted that sunscreen was not allowed on the boat due to its contamination of the water and particularly plankton, the main food source for the whale sharks. They only allowed two people, plus one guide, in the water at a time. We were also told to keep our distance from the whale sharks and that touching and feeding the animals was prohibited.

The tour also managed our expectations well. They told us that there was a possibility that no whale sharks would be found since the sharks are not baited. If that occurred they said we would have the opportunity to snorkel at a nearby reef, though luckily, that was not the case on our tour.



Isla Mujeres Whale Shark

First hand encounter from Alexandra at Travel Fashion Girl

As a scuba diver and marine life lover, responsible ocean tourism is very important to me. I’d heard about the potentially unethical practices in the Philippines and refused to participate in these tours. However, I did have the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks in Mexico and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.

The whale shark season in southern Mexico is between the months of June-August. During this time whale sharks migrate off the coast of Cancun near an island called Isla Mujeres. It’s an incredible experience and the whale sharks naturally come together along with manta rays. During this time of year there are hundreds in the area.



I found the Isla Mujeres whale shark experience to be very responsible, with the animals being viewed in their natural state, not fed and not harmed. While there were a large number of boats that brought tourists to see the whale sharks, but the area is vast and there were at least three whale sharks per boat, so the area is not overcrowded.

I didn’t use a specific company, but I researched the most ethical options on TripAdvisor and found a local guy named Captain Tony. Not only was he the most cost effective option, but he also had great reviews about being respectful of the whale sharks, which was incredibly important to me. He was passionate about the Mexico whale sharks and shared local insight on the migration. He was also very entertaining! During the tour there is no scuba diving allowed, but you can enjoy some whale shark snorkeling.



First hand experience submitted by Elaine J Masters of Trip Well Gal

Once the call came in we sprang into action. A seaplane had spotted the whale sharks and gave our captain coordinates. We scooted away from dock quickly and within twenty minutes the small boat slowed. My first glimpse of a whale shark was that huge mouth swallowing gallons of water slowly, as it hung vertically in the water. Our boat stopped close and carefully and four of us slipped in at a time, paddling quickly closer and closer. Whale sharks feed in plankton rich water, which usually means a murky encounter. It was so cloudy that once I had to back-paddle quickly to avoid the large wide mouth approaching. What an amazing experience to be so close to that gentle and immense beauty.



Since that first encounter, I’ve returned and the next tour was smoother. Our group was small, including a family with an older couple who were happy to watch from the bow. They were prepared as the website cautioned those who couldn’t swim swiftly to stay on board and with a sustainable awareness, it also suggested wearing a bio-degradable, reef safe sunblock. The captain and guide were professional and respectful. They only let a handful of snorkelers get in at a time.

Whale Sharks Exmouth, Western Australia

For those looking to swim with whale sharks in Australia you can’t look past Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Located just outside of Exmouth, Ningaloo Reef offers an amazing opportunity to ethically interact with whale sharks. All companies have a high quality of respect for sustainable tourism at Ningaloo Reef, so you can feel confident that you’ll find an ethical company when doing your research.



First hand experience by Brittany at The Sweet Wanderlust

The Ningaloo Whaleshark-N-Dive tour begins in Exmouth, Western Australia on the Ningaloo Reef. Board the Ningaloo’s largest purpose built dive vessel, converted for luxury and take off on the turquoise waters of the Northwest Cape. Get your sea legs as you snorkel one of the world’s largest fringing reef systems, where you may see manta rays, dugongs or sea turtles. And that’s just the practice swim!

Once a spotter plane locates a whale shark, it’s full steam ahead, and the swimmers are briefed on how to behave in order to have the best and safest whale shark interaction. The Ningaloo is known for consistent whale shark interactions and on the day I swam, we swam with three different whale sharks. All interactions are done on the whale sharks’ terms though; tour operators never feed or entice them in any way. As a bonus, most tour operators in the area will give you a second chance on another day for free if you don’t get to swim with a whale shark.

After your swim, join a marine biologist to learn about whale shark conservation and leave with practical steps to make a difference in the research and conservation of sharks of all kinds and a newfound or rejuvenated love for the creatures of the sea.



First hand experience by Susan at By Susan Czyzo

It really felt like we’d been brought to experience a hidden gem. The year was 2011, and the water was as turquoise as you could ever imagine. On an organized tour of the country’s more remote coast, I found myself on the west coast of Australia. Near the town of Exmouth, at Australia’s “other” reef, Ningaloo Reef. As a backpacker at the time, I debated whether to dig deep into my shallow pockets to go swimming with whale sharks, an optional excursion on our tour. In the end, I was persuaded by the following: this being the only place in Australia to do so; it being the time of the year (June) that these gentle beasts visit the reef; and such affirmations as “a once in a lifetime experience”.

At the time, the word “sustainable” wasn’t part of my travel vocabulary. I was aware enough to recognize if a company was labelled as “eco-friendly” but didn’t know much past the sticker designating it so. As it turns out, I learned a great deal about sustainable tourism by participating in this excursion with Ningaloo Blue.



We swam alongside several Ningaloo whale sharks that warm June afternoon. Prior to every encounter, I remember thinking how procedural the staff were with their instructions for getting us into the water: breaking us up into 2 groups, lining us up in a straight line parallel to the path of the swimming shark and insisting on us keeping a minimum distance at all times. At the time I mostly attributed this behavior with keeping us safe. After the first swim, once the apprehension had eased, it was clear it wasn’t just about us. The staff of Ningaloo Blue clearly had the welfare of the animals in mind as well.

The captain was in constant contact with a pilot playing spotter overhead, giving us the best opportunity to see these magnificent creatures without impacting their chosen course, or using bait to attract them. Not only did we learn a lot about whale sharks from observing them in their natural habitat, but also from the knowledgeable staff on board the vessel. You could not deny their passion for the reef itself and the ocean in general, not to mention the local sea life. It was a pleasure listening to them.

After the first sighting, we embarked on a high that is hard to describe. We rode it through long past the time we docked, each one of us outwardly grateful we didn’t hold onto our money in hope of a better experience. Truly a “once in a lifetime” experience.

Whale Sharks in Honduras

If you’re looking at swimming with whale sharks in Central America then look no further than the small northern island of Utila in Honduras. Famous as a dive spot for travelers, Utila has a lot of options when it comes to dive schools and tour operators offering ethical whale shark interactions. For those looking to get their PADI open water training, or advances training, Utila offers some of the most well priced courses anywhere in the world. But don’t worry if you’re not a scuba diver, there are plenty of whale shark snorkeling trips that can be taken from Utila and the surrounding Bay Islands. Below are two first hand experiences of ethical whale encounters in Honduras.


First hand experience submitted by Sheri Doyle of So Off We Go.

In 2016 I lived in Utila for 6 months while volunteering. During my time I had several opportunities to snorkel with whale sharks. All of the dive centers in Utila are incredibly respectful of the whale sharks. They follow strict guidelines to protect not only the whale sharks, but also the reefs and ocean life surrounding their beautiful island.

Each morning, before heading out to dive, the boat captain at Utopia Village called local fishermen to ask for updates on whale shark spottings and tuna boils in the waters around Utila, Honduras. After the call comes in the captain heads out in that direction and the adventure begins. During the ride out they explain how the boat captain uses the tuna boils as clues to find the whale sharks. I knew there was no guarantee that I would see whale sharks when choosing a sustainable experience, but it was a risk I was willing to take in order to protect the whale sharks and their environment.



Utopia Village is dedicated to sustainable whale shark experiences by refusing to allow any feeding, touching or diving. At first I wrestled between my desire to interact more with the whale sharks and my deep belief  that I should leave the ocean without a trace of having been there. Lead by the dive masters and owners of Utopia Village my selfishness gave way to the sustainable vegetarian in me and I celebrated the opportunity to interact peacefully with the whale sharks.

Once the captain spotted a whale shark we were instructed to slide off the boat as gently and quietly as possible, so as to not disturb or frighten them. Ultimately I was able to make several trips with Utopia Village where we spotted whale sharks, each experience more incredible than the last.  I floated above or next to them quietly observing their natural way of life.  All of the divers agreed that the sustainable approach was rewarding. We felt as though we had a hand in finding and preserving these amazing creatures habitat, and protecting their way of life.



First hand experience by Florine, a dive travel blogger at World Adventure Divers

The primary purpose of my scuba diving trip to Utila, Honduras, was to spot a whale shark. After many unlucky scuba diving trips, it was in the waters of the Bay Islands that I finally got the chance to swim with three whale sharks. As part of my daily scuba diving trips with Utila Dive Center, the captain of our boat was always scanning the horizon searching for the signs of their potential presence. The scuba diving instructors and divemasters on board briefed us with the highest standards when it came to swimming with whale sharks. We were taught how to interact without scaring them off or chasing them. “No splashing when entering into the water, no chasing, no touching!” and again and again “remember, no touching!!!”.



It was on my final scuba diving day that I finally saw whale sharks. The captain signaled that they were in sight and everyone rushed to get ready in their snorkeling gear. We were all waiting in line silently to get the “go ahead” from the captain to slide underwater as gently as possible. While in the water we could all observe the whale sharks for a few seconds without chasing them before they naturally swam away. After the whale sharks disappeared out of view we went back on board, slowly caught up to them again and repeated the operation seven times. Being a small group made the experience a lot easier to respect the natural habitat of the whale sharks.

Whale Sharks Maldives at Dhigurah Island

Ethical experience submitted by Nuraini Arsad from Teja on the Horizon

My experience swimming with whale sharks was on Dhigurah Island, as a volunteer for the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme’s (MWSRP) data collection programme. When volunteering with MWSRP, you are trained on how to appropriately interact with the whale sharks in the Maldives. During my experience I was also able to learn important whale shark facts about their biology. I got a close-up look on how scientific research is carried out, which was the interaction I was looking for. Doing it this way means committing a solid two weeks, and fairly hard work – albeit in a gorgeous location.


Photo by Clara Perez via Nuraini Arsad


Alternatively, for those looking for a less committed experience, there are many Maldives whale shark tours. Snorkeling with whale sharks in the Maldives offers many exciting opportunities for tourists around Dhigurah Island. The seas around Dhigurah are a congregation area for whale sharks and the probability of encountering a whale shark is quite high. Both the research boats and tour boats look for whale sharks using spotters on the top decks. Throughout the tour there is no attempt to influence the whale sharks’ natural behavior and the level of conservation awareness among tour operators in Dhigurah is fairly high. There are a set of whale shark tourism guidelines that the government of the Maldives has endorsed.

While researching whale shark tours in the Maldives you should look for tour operators and resorts who are members of the Big Fish Network, an online citizen-science platform for marine megafauna in the Maldives. The Big Fish Network means that information about the whale sharks and other megafauna you encounter on your holiday would be logged into the central database – and you could be part of that! And with the mobile app you can keep track of those same Maldives whale sharks you met on your trip, keeping Maldivian memories alive long after the holiday.


Photo by Clara Perez via Nuraini Arsad

Whale Sharks in Djibouti

Submitted by Jeremy Gorelick who participated in a Dolphin Excursions Djibouti tour

In October of 2014, I was lucky enough to have a free day as part of an overseas business trip to Djibouti.  I reviewed the different options for tour operators and, based on what I saw, I chose the one that was least impactful on the whale sharks in their natural habitat. Rather than chase the whale sharks the tour waited for them to come in closer to the spot where the boat stopped.

I am a patient traveler, who enjoys seeing animals in their natural habitat. I enjoy spending time observing them, rather than feeling like I need to “check an animal off of a list.”  I had a far better experience with a more sensible and sensitive operator than others with whom I swapped stories that night, and recommend that anyone trying to see the whale sharks in Djibouti budget sufficient time. It is already a distance to get to them out on the water, so allocating a little longer while waiting for them to approach your vicinity is time well-spent.

Sustainability at Holiday Inn Resort Maldives

If you’ve been following our blog for a while you’ll know that sustainable tourism and responsible travel are huge factors for us in choosing accommodation when we travel. As eco-friendly travel becomes more popular, it can be difficult to know whether a hotel is really committed to environmental protection, or just trying to cash in on a growing trend. Sometimes you have to visit a property in person to really understand the level of commitment to sustainability. Sometimes we have high hopes for a hotel or resort and then arrive to find their “eco”-ness is limited to a recycling bin and a yearly beach clean up.

Luckily, sometimes the exact opposite happens and we’re pleasantly surprised with how much a resort is going above and beyond to be sustainable. That was the case for Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives. Not only are they practicing what they preach in terms of environmental sustainability, but they’re also committed to wildlife protection and cultural preservation. The commitment to all three is what really knocks it out of the park for us. Here’s what the Holiday Inn Kandooma is doing to keep the Maldives an incredible place for locals and tourists.



Ethical Animal Tours in the Maldives

Snorkeling with Sea Turtles

We’re always weary when hotels and resorts offer animal tours to their guests. We understand that tourists are interested in interacting with exotic animals when on vacation, but too often these activities negatively impact the wildlife population. Before booking any excursions where animals are involved, we always run through a checklist to see if the activity includes touching, feeding, or otherwise impacting the natural behavior of the wildlife. We were very excited to see that the activities at Holiday Inn Maldives passed our checklist! All of their excursions limit interactions to simply observing the animals from a respectful distance.



Our first tour was the Turtle Point Reef snorkeling. We took a speed boat to Turtle Point, about 45 minutes from the resort. We donned our mask and flippers and jumped into the water. Just a few minutes after arriving, our guide Ushan had already spotted our first turtle! It’s pretty incredible to watch the turtles float lazily in the water, cruising with the currents and occasionally popping their heads up above the surface.

Sea turtles are incredible creatures. Some species can hold their breath for several hours, with some able to hibernate under water for months! Turtles are protected in the Maldives. Since 1995, it’s been illegal to catch, kill or collect them. All fishing in the Maldives is pole and line fishing, which cuts down on the number of sea life killed from discarded fishing nets. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for “ghost nets,” nets left or lost by fisherman in other countries, to make their way to the waters of the Maldives. Ushan told us that not long before our arrival a turtle was found tangled in a net. Luckily they were able to cut him free and put him back into the wild. During our snorkeling tour we saw about 6 turtles, each one magnificent and breathtaking. Excursions like these are so important because they educate guests on the fragility of the environment and how our actions at home can affect the environment around the world.



Dolphin Tours

We also took part in the Dolphin Cruise. On this excursion you observe the dolphins from the boat, as opposed to snorkeling with them. It’s not guaranteed to see dolphins, so we felt very fortunate that not long into the trip our boat was surrounded by dozens of them! Huge pods of dolphins were swimming within feet of the boat, their grey fins gliding above the water. Every once in a while a little baby would show off by jumping in the air and spinning around. They really put on a good show for us. Side note: If you don’t see any dolphins on your trip, don’t worry! The hotel will let you join the next Dolphin Cruise free of charge!



Swimming with Whale Sharks in the Maldives

One activity we wanted to go on, but unfortunately couldn’t due to the weather, was the whale shark snorkeling. If you’ve kept up with our blog, you may know that we are big advocates for ethical whale shark tours. One of our most popular articles is why we chose NOT to swim with the whale sharks in Cebu, Philippines. We were very excited to hear that the Holiday Inn Kandooma whale shark snorkeling tour does not include feeding of the animals.



“Chumming,” or the act of luring animals to your boat by throwing fish parts into the water, can affect the eating and migration patterns of sea life. Instead of attracting the whale sharks by chumming the water, the boat operators are always on the lookout for the animals and coordinate with each other via walkie talkie. The guides also educate the guests on keeping a safe distance from the animal, but not because they are dangerous. Whale sharks are actually not sharks, but rather the largest fish species in existence. They’re gentle giants and not at all harmful to humans. They can be quite shy though, so it’s natural for them to take off when they spot you. Because there is no feeding of the animals, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll see any whale sharks.

To get to the snorkeling location, you have to take a speed boat across the channel and depending on the weather this can take 1 and a half to 2 hours. The waves can get quite choppy in the channel, so it’s not recommended for those that get seasick. But even if you experience some seasickness, you may get lucky with a calm day. I can also recommend the motion sickness tablets Bonine, which don’t cause drowsiness like Dramamine. Unfortunately I completely forgot to bring some on this trip! Either way, if you’re able to take the whale shark tour, you’ll be amazed by the beauty and sheer mass of these incredible creatures.



Reefscaping Sustainability Project

One of the activities we were most excited about was the Reefscaping Project – and it did not disappoint! We always look for hotels that go above and beyond with sustainability initiatives. That’s what Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma has done with their Reefscaping Project. Unfortunately the Maldives have suffered through a series of coral bleaching. Coral bleaching happens when the water temperatures rise and the algae that lives in their tissues is expelled. This causes the coral to turn white and become more susceptible to dying.

There was a terrible coral bleaching in 1998 that killed about 90% of the coral in the Maldives. It began to regrow, but then another series of bleaching in 2010, 2012 and 2016 killed around 60-70% of the Maldives’ coral. Coral are incredibly important to the ecosystem of the ocean. Not only does coral provide shelter for small fish, it also plays a part in the ocean food chain, giving nutrients to other sea life. Bright, vibrant coral is also a huge draw for tourists wanting to snorkel in the Maldives coral reef.

Thankfully, the Holiday Inn Kandooma is doing its part to regrow the coral population. With their Reefscaping Project, they snap off pieces of live coral and use wire to tie them to a structure. The structure is then placed in the ocean. By cutting the coral, you’re actually stimulating new growth. It’s a similar process to cutting off the top of a pineapple and replanting it to grow a new fruit. Ushan, the resort’s marine biology expert, leads the Reefscaping project.

Guests can sponsor a structure and even have their name written on a tag to be placed on the structure. Guests who sponsor the project have the opportunity to sit down with Ushan and learn more about the importance of reefscaping. They can participate in creating the structure with coral pieces, as well as snorkeling out out to the location to ‘plant’ it in the ocean. Guests will also receive periodic updates on the project. So much cooler than bringing home a souvenir is knowing that you’ve contributed to reviving the coral reef!




Sustainability at the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma

Not only is the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma doing its part to protect the Maldivian ecosystem, they’re also doing their part to look inward and examine their own impact on the environment. Several sustainability initiatives have been adopted to reduce waste and lower their carbon footprint. One simple, but incredibly effective initiative is using reusable glass bottles of water in guest rooms. This may not seem like a huge undertaking, but it reduces the resort’s plastic use by approximately 650 bottles a day! They’ve been using the glass bottles for the past 8 years. Imagine how much plastic has been saved during that time. I’ll tell you, it’s almost 2 million bottles!



All of the water used at the resort is produced by the island itself. Their desalination plant produces on average 15,500 liters of drinking water per month. Rain water is harvested to be used for guest laundry, saving approximately 50 tons of water per month during the rainy season. The heat generated by the resort generators is used to heat the water in 22 staff rooms and in the desalination plant. This reduces energy consumption needed to heat showers, as well as reduces use of diesel.  The resort is planning to expand this project to heat the water in all staff rooms. They also have plans to install solar panels to produce energy from that hot Maldivian sun.

There are tons of small initiatives like these that all add up to reducing the resort’s carbon footprint. From using low wattage light bulbs, to re-using maintenance materials like gloves and paint brushes, it all adds up to help ease the impact on the environment.



Connection to Community

For us, traveling responsibly is much more than just being environmentally friendly. Sustainability ensures that destinations are protected and preserved for generations to come. That includes cultural traditions, animal welfare and supporting a thriving local community. Too often when tourists visit a resort, they’re unable to get a deeper insight into local life. They’re limited to just interacting with hotel staff. Which, don’t get me wrong, can be a great way to connect with locals. We had an incredible time connecting with the staff at the resort. The hospitality at the Holiday Inn Kandooma is incredible. But when the opportunity presents itself to dive deeper into the local culture, we take it. That’s why we were excited to see that the resort offered a 2 hour tour to the neighboring island.



The local tour is a great way to gain some insight into local culture. The Maldives are made up over hundreds of islands. At the moment there are 365 resort islands established for tourism (yep, one for every day of the year!). And there are over 200 local islands, some of which have guest houses, inhabited by local residents. There is a local island a stone’s throw away from Kandooma (literally, if you have a good arm). You can’t swim there because there is a deep channel separating the two. But you can hire a boat from the hotel or take the local island tour.

The tour is only about two hours and you’ll be connected with a local guide. Our guide, Mohammed, gave us a great tour of the town and was happy to answer all our questions about Maldivian life. The Maldives are 100% muslim and the religion has a strong influence over the island. There are 3 mosques on the island (two for men, one for women) and all of the local women wear a burqa or hijab. Every island in the Maldives must have a mosque if there are any people living on it. Even if its a plantation island with only two farmers living there, it still must have a mosque. Visiting local islands is a great way to get a different perspective of the country. You can also add a few extra days to your trip with a stay on the local islands, which is a great way to extend your trip f you’re traveling to the Maldives on a budget.



If you’re hesitant to do a tour that exploits the local people and puts them on show for tourists, this is far from it. Locals just went about their daily lives as we strolled through the town. Mohammed showed us interesting things, like how high the water level went to when they suffered through a terrible tsunami in 2004. Toward the end of the tour, the guide will take you to a shop to purchase souvenirs. They alternate which shop they take visitors to, giving each shopkeeper a chance to sell their wares. We’re not really souvenir people, but we do like to support local economies so we bought a couple of small items. There is also a mini-mart in town, which is a good place to pick up some affordable snacks (and yes, they take credit cards). At the end of our tour, Mohammed dropped us back off at the boat and the call to prayer began over a loudspeaker. Mohammed wished us farewell and joined the groups of men making their way to the mosque.

The local island tour may not be a high priority on your Maldives bucket list, but we encourage you taking a couple hours out of your sunbaking to see how Maldivians live. Supporting locals in this way ensures that community’s will profit from tourist. Spread the wealth, spread the love!



Overall, the sustainability initiatives at the Holiday Inn Maldives exceeded our expectations. From the Reefscaping Project to the eco-initiatives, it’s clear that the resort is committed to protecting the gorgeous environment that draws so many people to this stunning destination. Beyond the environmentally conscious efforts, the resort is focused on protecting the wildlife population and the local culture. It’s the combination of these efforts that make the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives such an outstanding place to stay.

Thanks to the Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives and InterContinental Hotels Group for hosting us in the Maldives. As always, all opinions and thoughts are our own and we’d never recommend a destination or hotel we didn’t fully support.

Responsible Travel Guide to Nepal

The following Responsible Travel Guide to Kathmandu is a guest post from Bianca at The Altruistic Traveler. For more wonderful travel stories and responsible tourism tips be sure to check out her blog!

In Nepal they greet each other using the word Namaste, meaning an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. Namaste represents the energy that you feel when you visit this part of the world. Nepal is a paradise. The atmosphere, the landscape, the people – all that encompasses this great land was, for me, magical.

I met many a traveller who resonated with me on the idea that Nepal was truly a magical place. Their experiences unforgettable. Stories of conquering mountains, connecting with locals and indulging in hearty Dal Bhat, the staple cuisine with its roots in the Nepalese countryside.

Although this magical place has experienced its fair share of hardship over the past few years, the resilience of the people and the land is inspiring. From earthquakes to floods, sanctions and drought, Nepal stands strong, full of hope, opportunity and the kindness ingrained in it’s people.



When we see hardship, like that which Nepal has gone through, we often wonder how we can help, how we can make a difference. Luckily, we can help by doing what we love most: travel! Sustainable tourism can play a large role in our aid to Nepal, and in this article I’ll offer some guidance on social enterprises and endeavors which you can use to plan your responsible travel in adventure, should you ever plan to journey to the land of the Himalayas.


Sustainable Tourism in Nepal

Choosing an experience where you know your money is being invested back into the local community can make a huge impact on the lives of others. Whether it’s community-based tourism or ecotourism, many companies offer far more ethical alternatives than others.

Welcome to my Yard The Welcome To My Yard tour is a walking day-tour of Kathmandu, with profits going to support the work of the organization. The social enterprise provides community-based support, practical education, training and savings schemes for at-risk youth and families in the community. Take a half day or full day tour through the backstreets of Kathmandu, finding hidden locations and local tips and insights from a Kathmandu resident.



Seven Women Seven Women is an organization empowering women through education, skills training and income generation. Participate in a cooking class and tour of the Seven Women headquarters, where you’ll learn traditional Nepali dishes and fund training for women in hospitality at the same time! The organization also offers craft lessons and language skills training, each supporting the project’s mission. If you’re interested in joining them you can book a tour via their website.

Social Tours – is an award-winning social enterprise at the forefront of responsible travel in Nepal. They help facilitate impactful travel experiences with a focus on community-based tourism and an aim to create career opportunities within the local community. From adventurous treks in the Himalayas to local culinary experiences learning to cook Nepali food, Social Tours can coordinate responsible travel in Nepal for you

I Like LocalAn online platform where you can connect with local guides or meet locals for unique travel experiences and activities. The website acts as a free platform to help locals offer their experiences to tourists. You can find all sorts of rare experiences on here, including trekking with a local, staying on a tea farm or making your own Nepalese souvenir with a women’s fair trade organization.



Ethical Eateries

Nepal has a number of restaurants that operate as social enterprises, giving visitors the chance to support local community projects while they dine. Here are a few of the best sustainable travel restaurants in Kathmandu.

Sarangi This vegan and vegetarian restaurant provides job opportunities to the Gandharba people, one of the lowest ranking castes of Nepal. The profits from the restaurant are invested back into community projects helping to empower the Gandharba and support sustainable development in their villages.

The Cafe With No Name This cafe tucked quietly in a small laneway in central Thamel supports the NGO Our Sansar, working to alleviate poverty and empower communities. Their project in Nepal focuses particularly on relieving the plight of street children through educational and skills training programs.



The Village Cafe Located in Lalitpur, this cafe supports women’s empowerment by providing training opportunities to marginalized women in the community. The ingredients of the cuisines are grown and prepared by the women home-based workers of the nearby villages.

ROKPA Bakery – The ROPKA Bakery is located nearby the famous Boudhanath Stupa and works as a social enterprise funding ROKPA’s community projects, including child welfare, poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment.


Sustainable Shopping in Nepal

There are many places throughout Nepal that sell products that are likely to be derived from some sort of unethical labour. Choosing to shop fair trade in Nepal means that you are contributing to a future of fair wages and human rights for all. 

Local Women’s Handicrafts – A fair trade textile and handicraft collective in Kathmandu, focused on empowering and educating disadvantaged women using sustainable methods. The shop, located in Kathmandu, offers a variety of products from clothes to bags and jewelry, all produced by women here in Nepal with profits invested back into local women’s community projects.



Timro Concept Store – Think one-stop-shop for all your fair trade needs. As many local producers do not have the funds or resources to have a shop in town, the Timro Concept Store is giving these producers a place to shine. Located in Jhamsikhel, the store showcases over 30 fair trade producers, with products that range from handicrafts, to apparel, and food based goods.

Kolpa Store – An environmentally conscious social enterprise in Jhamsikhel that sells locally made everyday household and personal goods. The store promotes handmade products and the three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle, with profits from the store supporting the empowerment of women and the differently abled.

DhukutiA store located in Lalitpur, which sells hand crafted products from all over Nepal. The products are produced by the Association for Craft Producers under certified fair trade standards. The shop is perfect for finding gifts to bring home as they stock a range of products including cotton textiles, copper, carpentry, ceramics and more.

For more information on being a sustainable shopper, check out our Ethical Gift Guide! Full of amazing companies that help give back!

Eco-friendly Accommodation in Nepal

The environmental impact of the hospitality and hotel industry is quite astounding, so choosing a hotel or guesthouse that are eco-conscious can help reduce the impact you are making. Alternatively, choosing accommodation that has a social impact can also help to make your travels more responsible.

ROKPA Guesthouse – The ROKPA Guest House is located just a few minutes from the Bodhanath Stupa and is a hotel with a social impact arm. The profits from your stay at ROKPA will help to contribute to some of it’s major projects in Kathmandu, including health and education programs. The hotel trains and employs marginalized youth in the community, providing job opportunities in the area of hospitality. – Community Homestay runs homestay programs all over Nepal as a way to generate income for marginalized families in remote communities. The social enterprise trains families in the area of hospitality, many of them run entirely by women. The homestays help to provide sustainable development, both economically and socially, to these communities with the aim to expand into more areas of Nepal.

Annapurna Eco Village – A family run mountain resort providing a traditional Nepali cultural experience with the comfort of modern day western style amenities. The Eco Village is working hard to reduce waste and provide alternative waste management systems in a region that is lacking in these types of resources. Read more about their environmental initiatives here.

Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge – An award winning lodge, renowned for their responsible tourism efforts that include sourcing local, organic food, supporting community groups and conservation efforts, and reducing their environmental impact. The lodge is also a member of Pack for a Purpose, a platform that promotes the concept of travel philanthropy.



How to Find a Volunteer Organization in Nepal

When traveling to Nepal you will generally meet two types of travelers, those who are trekking and those who are volunteering.

There is estimated to be upwards of 15,000* NGOs operating in Nepal alone, hence the number of volunteers entering the country to support development endeavors. While some volunteer opportunities are warranted there is much to learn about volunteering in Nepal before you decide to embark on a mission to “change the world”.

In recent years the concept of voluntourism has received a lot of negative connotation, especially in the area of orphanage tourism. According to Next Generation Nepal, an NGO working to prevent child trafficking, there are over 16,000 children living in “orphanages” in Nepal, yet at least two thirds of these children are not orphans. Traffickers are exploiting marginalized families in order to feed what has now, for some, become a lucrative business.

As a volunteer it is important to research before you consider volunteering in Nepal, and determine whether your time will in fact, be worth more than your money. Perhaps investing into local community projects, community-based tourism or supporting a reputable charity will make more of a positive impact than volunteering with vulnerable children.

Below are some resources to help you make your volunteer experience an ethical one :

Next Generation Nepal

Child Safe Movement

GivingWay Ethical Volunteering

If you have any more advice on responsible travel or volunteering in Nepal please drop us a comment in the section below.

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