An increasing number of savvy travelers are eschewing the postcard-perfect, could-be-anywhere beach resort for properties that offer authentic, local experiences as well as fun in the sun. Whether learning to cook native cuisine or practicing regional sports, those in the know are seeking hands-on access to homegrown culture. Lately we’ve noticed a crop of hotel itineraries that take this idea and one step further by offering participative activities and one-of-a-kind experiences with altruistic returns.
After surveying options around the world, we’ve found three trips unique for both their level of charitable involvement as well as the quality of the experience for guests. From preserving endangered species of sea turtles in the Maldives to rehabilitating natural habitats in Jamaica to fostering the study of a centuries-old tradition in Brazil, these trips give guests the chance to roll up their sleeves and give back to the communities that welcome them, while also providing vacationers with a deeper connection to the location and culture.
After all, escaping to a beautiful destination can be amazing, but helping to preserve what’s most special about the place is even better.
The Four Seasons Maldivian Sea Turtle Conservation Program
The gorgeous beaches of the Maldives are more than an idyllic setting for any vacationer looking to get away—they’re also home to five of the world’s seven sea turtle species, including the endangered green and hawksbill turtles. To help protect their reptilian neighbors, Four Seasons is inviting hotel guests to participate in their conservation efforts at the islands’ Maldivian Sea Turtle Conservation Program—a project that works to protect nesting areas and increase awareness of turtle preservation. As a hotel guest, for example, you can go along with a team of marine biologists during monitoring dives, helping to count and identify sea turtles using underwater cameras. So far, 800 have been identified using the team’s sophisticated software. One fun perk: if you pick out a new turtle, you’ll even get the chance to name it.
Capoeira Package at UXUA Casa Hotel & Spa, Bahia, Brazil
Argentines have their tango, Brazilians their capoeira—a native martial art that integrates dance, acrobatics and music. Since 2008, Bahia’s UXUA Casa Hotel & Spa has supported the continued study of the traditional art form by sponsoring a professor at the local capoeira academy—Capoeira Sul da Bahia de Trancoso—which has enabled the community’s children to study for free. Now, guests can contribute to the effort while getting a taste of the centuries-old practice by signing up for UXUA’s brand-new Capoeira Package, which donates 25 percent of the proceeds to Capoeira Sul da Bahia (from $3000). The three- or five-night program includes accommodations in one of UXUA’s 11 casas; 1-½-hours of daily capoeira classes, including physical training and musical instruction, held at Capoeira Sul da Bahia de Trancoso’s recently renovated polished concrete and local hardwood facilities and throughout the UXUA property (the beach, the spa’s outdoor platform, the dedicated gym); daily Bahian massage treatments at UXUA Almescar Spa; access to all public maculelê, jiu jitsu, art, gymnastics and dance classes at the local cultural center; entry to a traditional capoeira performance; and lunch at UXUA Beach Lounge. Or, pick up classes at your leisure held throughout the property, and know that 100 percent of the cost goes right to Capoeira Sul da Bahia de Trancoso’s programming.
Rooms start at $490; Quadrado, Trancoso, Bahia; 55-73/3668-2277; uxua.com.
The Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary at GoldenEye Resort, Jamaica
Once home to many thriving fishing villages, the waters that surround Jamaica are now some of the most depleted fish stocks in the world. In an attempt to reverse the ecological and economic damage experienced in Oracabessa—where fishing is one of the community’s most important industries—GoldenEye Resort founder Chris Blackwell and his 19-year-old Oracabessa Foundation partnered with St. Mary Fisherman's Cooperative to found the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary in 2010. In addition to establishing a no-fishing zone around the bay's most critical breeding habitats to encourage ecological balance, the initiative works to protect the health and longevity of the surrounding coral reef. With the opening of a brand-new Dive Shop on James Bond Beach—a project operated by the Sanctuary to keep the bay thriving—this winter marks the first season that guests can take part in the revitalization by donning their SCUBA or snorkel gear to help plant and clean the reef.
Rates start at $620; Oracabessa 00000; 800-688-7678; goldeneye.com.
Sea turtle image courtesy of Four Seasons Resorts. Capoeira image courtesy of UXUA Casa Hotel & Spa. Bridge image courtesy of Chris Horan.