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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Get Away & Do Some Good - The Easy Way

Ecotourism aims to saturate holiday spots with a renewed beauty that's more than skin deep. The challenge is to match holiday makers like you that care enough to make a difference with tour companies that can deliver on their promises.

Well one potential match I've had my beady eye on for some time now is The Adventure Company. Set up in August 2006 to support small, local projects in the countries they tour, every adventurer booking with them is invited to donate £1 which is then matched by The Adventure Company. 100% of the money raised helps in-country projects every year. Contributions made across 137 tours help to support 18 further wildlife and community projects around the world.

Now I'm delighted to report that The Adventure Company has reached a fresh milestone of raising over £100,000. Contributions made by the small group adventure travel specialist and its customers over the last six years have helped a range of locally run grass root projects. The worldwide causes include the building of new wells in Borneo, reforestation in Peru, a Kenyan programme to stop wildlife being snared for meat and helping a homeless children’s charity in India buy medical supplies.

39% of the funds were raised through £1 passenger donations matched by The Adventure Company Foundation. The remaining 61% was raised through designated contributions made by  The Adventure Company across 137 of its tours.

Claire Wilson, MD of The Adventure Company, told me: “One of our most recent donations has gone towards supporting orphaned children in Uganda where our £2,611 donation has helped the Bwindi Watoto School build four new classrooms and a further £1,350 will go towards furniture and installing window shutters.

“In addition to our commitment to investing as much as possible on a local level by using locally-owned agents, transport and accommodation, we believe adventure travel is about opening your eyes to new cultures and ways of life. We created The Adventure Company Foundation as a way of maximising the positive effects tourism can bring to the destinations we visit. By encouraging our travellers to become involved in grass root initiatives we hope to make a genuine difference and bring long-term benefits to communities.”

Having pioneered the family adventure concept over 15 years ago, The Adventure Company remains the UK’s leading family adventure specialist with 113 dedicated family holidays. Family itineraries are tailored to suit children of all ages, from infants to teenagers, and cater for all levels of experience, from those new to adventure to seasoned travellers. Trips vary from multi-activity holidays and exotic animal encounters to Hands On Adventures interacting with local community and environmental projects, plus dedicated teen trips.

A range of over 250 adult and family small group adventures across the continents combine ‘must-see’ highlights with unforgettable cultural experiences. The collection allows holidaymakers to enjoy some of the world’s most iconic treks, spot wildlife on safari, get under the skin of local cultures, camp under the stars or try out new activities such as white-water rafting and dog-sledding, From Argentina to Zambia, all trips are led by local guides who provide an invaluable cultural insight. Last year they even introduced expert led family photography and family astronomy holidays. 

We've come along way since I first started pursuing the cause of eco-ventures for families. What held true back then still holds true today, best coined by my friend Tricia Barnett, of the campaigning organisation Tourism Concern. "It would be fabulous if all families could instill in their children the idea that when we're on holiday we are all guests in somebody else's home. While it is your holiday for just two weeks, it is someone else's home for a lifetime." 

To be part of a holiday that helps (wherever you happen to travel this summer) start by supporting the local economy by buying produce that has been made or grown nearby. And be sure to pay a fair price for the goods or services you buy. Haggling for the lowest possible price might save you pennies, but deprive the vendor of a day's salary. Use public transport, hire a bike, visit local restaurants and carnivals, find out where the locals go, and get off the well-trodden tourist route. That way, you will not only get under the skin of the island, but ensure that your money goes into the pockets of those who need it most.

There is no better way to experience the culture of a nation than through its people. Heavily patrolled, all-inclusive hotels only serve to heighten visitors' fears of life beyond the duty-free gift-shop and create a feeling among locals that tourists are there to be endured, not enjoyed. Abandon the lame hotel lounge, learn some local lingo and put the guidebook away for a while. Ask questions instead: you will find out more from the lady at the local grocery store than you will from any guidebook.

And, of course, when you're booking, try to seek out tour companies that mention environmental or conservation issues, and those that invest some of their profits back into local charities and initiatives. My heartfelt congratulations go out once again to The Adventure Company. This year alone they hope to raise over £24,000 towards local community and wildlife projects. An additional target of £19,000 has also been set to help offset customers’ carbon emissions. These funds will go towards the work currently carried out with the non-profit organisation Blue Ventures Carbon Offset - distributing solar and energy efficient stoves to communities in Madagascar. 

As a customer you even get your own say in where contributions go. This year's adventurers have selected The Esther Benjamin’s Trust to be the next project to benefit from their holiday donations. The trust works to rescue Nepalese children who have been trafficked or displaced into India and provide them with education and skills that enable them to become independent and reintegrated into society.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Fair Share

Helen's writing has been popping up on a number of prominent travel websites of late. 
You can sample her latest features at both Lonely Planet and at Ciaobambino

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Colombia is Back

Chances are you've skipped over it on a map countless times. But my Hottest Destination Tip for 2012 is the still relatively undiscovered South American country of Colombia.

Despite its troubled past, Colombia has made huge strides in reviving its tourism industry. Foreign airline passenger arrivals have doubled over the last decade reaching more than 2 million last year.

For intrepid travellers, Colombia offers a huge range of holidays, activities and landscapes. Its mountains, rivers, jungles and rainforests are a wildlife enthusiast's paradise, while its city's colonial architecture and booming coffee industry offer something truly unique for culture vultures. From modern cities with skyscrapers and nightclubs to Amazon safaris, mountain trekking and whalewatching, there's more adventure here than you can shake a stick at.

If you're just as keen to fly and flop, Colombia's idyllic coastline and islands boast some of the most pristine beaches this exotic continent has to offer.

And while in recent years Colombia has received plenty of press for the wrong reasons, the biggest rebel group (FARC) has recently announced an end to kidnappings and a desire to open up discussions aimed at ending the 48-year-old civil conflict. 

Two Trips Worth taking a look at...

Colombian Coffee Region Highlights

Aimed at coffee connoisseurs, DialAFlight is offering seven nights accommodation on a mixed-board basis in Colombia from £1549 ($2434) per person. Valid for selected departures until 24 May, the price includes flights to Bogota with Iberia (via Madrid), boutique accommodation, guided coffee tours, internal flights and transfers.

Beginning in Bogota, the vibrant Colombian capital, enjoy three nights in the arty Hotel Casa Deco and take advantage of a free tour of the city.  

Next, hop over to Manizales to begin a fascinating four-day coffee tour.  Staying in boutique haciendas each night, dine on local specialities surrounded by dramatic mountains, lush coffee and yucca plantations and soak up the rural atmosphere of the stunning countryside.  Take guided tours of coffee fields and factories, learning about everything from the planting and picking to the toasting and tasting of the beans which keep this country ticking.  

Colombia Islands

For white sand beaches surrounded by coconut plantations, dream-worthy diving around pristine coral reefs and laid-back Caribbean days sipping coconut water in the shade, hit the rustic Colombian Caribbean islands. DialAFlight is offering the ultimate beach break in Colombia on a bed and breakfast basis from £1599 ($2512) per person. Valid until 31 May, the price includes five nights at Hotel Sirius on Providencia, two nights at Hotel San Luis Village on San Andres, flights to Bogota with Iberia (via Madrid), internal flights and transfers.


A world away from the bustle of Colombia's main cities, life on the coast is relaxed.  On this trip spend two nights on San Andres admiring the bright wooden houses before hopping by plane to the mountainous islands of Providencia, packed with dramatic waterfalls ramshackle towns and excellent diving opportunities.
For more information on where to go and what to do, visit http://www.colombia.travelen/