Voluntourism is Big and Getting Bigger

Have you ever considered combining your vacation with volunteering?  It has crossed my mind, but wasn’t sure what I’d like to do.  A lot of these volunteer projects involve a lot of hard work, so I’d want to go somewhere where I could spend a week or so volunteering, then at least a few days relaxing, so the destination would have to interest me beyond the project.

I recently read an article about Wildlife Volunteer Vacations and some of these really appeal to me.  You will work if you volunteer for one of these organizations, but the chance to really immerse yourself in a culture, learn something new and work hands-on with exotic animals would really be worth the effort.  There are programs around the world for these types of opportunities, but here are a few that I found interesting.

Costa Rica – Sea Turtles.  Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge relies on volunteers to help protect the endangered leatherneck turtle nests, patrolling the beaches at night to keep poachers away and ensure that the hatchlings reach the sea.  This is very hands-on work involving close contact with the turtles.  You will often be working at night when the turtles lay their eggs, as well as during the day when the temperatures soar.  I think watching hundreds of baby turtles make their way to the ocean could be a life changing experience.  Lodging and board is either at the research station or through local home stays.  The program is $310 for one week, or $930 for 4 weeks, July – December. 

Thailand – Elephants.  The Elephant Nature Park is located in northern Thailand near Chiang Mai.  This is one of the few places in the country where elephants can live free.  Volunteers feed, bathe and nurse distressed or wounded elephants.  When they are healed, they are transferred to Elephant Haven, a 2,000 acre retirement home for elephants.  One of the highlights is the weekly overnight hike through the jungle with the gentle giants to the mountain-top retreat.  Volunteers camp beneath the stars, while the elephants enjoy their night of freedom.  Volunteers will also travel around the countryside by a variety of modes, experiencing the local lifestyles and culture and local Thai hospitality.  A weeks stay in rustic huts with hot showers, 3 vegetarian meals a day and transfers is $370. 

Kenya – Black Rhino.  Earthwatch has a 2 week program at the Sweetwaters Research Centre where volunteers measure the condition of the plants that the black rhino and other herbivores in the area depend on for sustenance.  The center is set in the savannah of the 113,000 acre Ol Pejeta Conservancy between Mount Kenya and the Aberdare mountains.  Volunteers also observe the behavior of captive rhino and have the opportunity to spot other wildlife such as lions, zebras, impala, baboons and hippos.  It is somewhat like being on safari, but much more intense.  This program is available to only 3 volunteers at a time, January to October, priced around $2850 including accommodations in traditional thatched huts and meals. 

There are other programs as well working with seabirds in Greece, big cats and monkeys in Bolivia, Giant Pandas in China, Iguanas in Honduras and more.  If you prefer to stay closer to home you can work with wild horses right here in the USA.  Return to Freedom is a 300 acre ranch in northern Santa Barbara County.  It is a private sanctuary where horses can roam freely together, forming natural families.  Most volunteer work-study projects are for 2 weeks, but can be extended for up to a month.  Volunteers groom, medicate and clean the 200 wild horses and burros living on the ranch.  It is hard, dirty work, but there is the rich reward of nurturing these beautiful animals.  Return to Freedom offers free lodging for up to 3 volunteers at a time.  Meals are not included, but there are cooking facilities on-site. 

There are tons of other voluntourism programs available as well, with opportunities to work with children, conservation, community development, even teaching English as a Foreign Language. 

If you decide to join one of these types of projects, I would suggest looking into travel insurance, make sure that you plan far enough in advance to get any inoculations and visas that you might need.  You might want to consult your travel agent for help with details that fall outside of the actual project.

Should You Take A Cruise??

Almost everyone I talk with who has taken a cruise has absolutely loved it! In fact, cruise vacations have the highest satisfaction rate of any type of vacation!  Once in awhile though, I come across someone who says “I guess we just aren’t cruise people.” Generally after asking them a few questions about why they feel that way, the reality is that they were on the wrong cruise for them. So, how do you know that YOU are on the RIGHT cruise?

  • Destination – there are literally hundreds of ports of call for cruise ships around the world. Most people think of the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, Hawaii and the Mediterranean. Within these destinations there are probably 100 or more ports of call. There are cruises to Asia, Australia, South America and the South Pacific. What about River Cruises – in Europe, China, Russia and the US. Picking the right Itinerary with the right Ports of Call is very important.
  • Cruise Line – Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has 23 cruise lines as members. I know of several others, such as Cruise West, which offer wonderful experiences and itineraries even though they are not members of CLIA. Does the cruise line you choose really make a difference? If you crave quiet spaces where you can relax with your book and end up on a cruise line with non stop action all over the ship, or vice versa – the answer is YES, the line you choose can have a big impact on your vacation experience.
  • Ship – OK, you’ve found the destination you would like to visit, you’ve chosen the cruise line – does the ship really make any difference? In some cases you won’t have a choice – if you want to go to Aruba on Royal Caribbean there may only be one ship that goes there. But if you want to go to the Eastern Caribbean on Royal Caribbean, and you don’t really care which islands you visit, you may be able to choose between a ship that carries 1900 passengers and one that carries 3400. Or, you may only want to sail on small ships with around 500 passengers (or fewer). In this case you may choose your destination after researching which cruise lines offer smaller ships.  
  • Cabin Selection – you say your cabin selection doesn’t really matter because you won’t be in there that much? Well, you may not spend a lot of time in there, but while you’re waiting for your spouse to shower and dress for dinner would you rather be sitting on your bed in an inside cabin with no window or sitting on a lounge chair on your balcony sipping a glass of wine and watching the sunset?  Besides the decision of whether to get an Interior, Oceanview, Verandah or Suite – should you be in the front of the ship, the back, the middle?
  • Timing – the time of year you go can impact your enjoyment of the trip quite a lot as well. If you really want to go to Alaska, but hate the cold, you probably don’t want to go at the beginning of May. If your cruise is a once in a lifetime vacation and you have a specific Caribbean island you don’t want to miss, you don’t want to go during Hurricane season when your itinerary could be changed due to storm activity. Number of nights is important as well – as a first time cruiser a shorter cruise may be best to be sure you are “a cruise person”.

These are all important things to take into account when planning your cruise vacation. There are many more, such as what is the occasion for the cruise? Is it a family reunion with a large age range of passengers; your Honeymoon; a girlfriend getaway; an affinity club? Where is the ship sailing from? How much time do you have for your vacation? Do you want a themed cruise? Do you want a lot of cultural activities that tie into the destination?

These are all decisions that a qualified travel agent can help you make.

And now is a great time to book your cruise vacation!  There are lots of specials going on – lowered deposits, special amenities, special pricing and more.  This makes for a wonderful family or group vacation.  And the best thing is that there is no risk!  I know the economy is a little scary right now.  With a cruise vacation your deposit is fully refundable up until the time you make your final payment (usually 60 days prior to cruising).  You can protect yourself even more by taking out travel insurance – some policies cover you for job loss or allow you to cancel for any reason almost up until the day you sail!

Bon Voyage!

Iberostar Amazon Cruises??

I’m a travel consultant and I knew that Iberostar had hotels across Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America.  But I just learned this week that they also offer Amazon River Cruises.  The Iberostar Grand Amazon is just 270’, has 72 cabins and 2 suites.  There are also 2 pools and one Jacuzzi, 2 restaurants, a fitness center, conference room for up to 148 persons, a ballroom and even Internet service.


This luxury cruise offers daily excursions such as hiking in the rain forest, swimming with pink dolphins, nighttime boat trips, and more.  The excursions are led by locals from the Manaus area and are grouped by language.  At least 2 guides accompany each group and are appropriate for most fitness levels as you will stop frequently for the guides to point our local flora and fauna.

These all inclusive trips range from 3 – 7 days, staterooms are a roomy 240 sq. ft., all have verandahs and are decorated with Brazilian hardwoods, art and crafts.  They are very reasonably priced, but will probably go up soon.  If you’re planning a trip to South America and want to explore the Amazon or Negro rivers, this would make a great addition to your trip.


For more information contact Perfect Paradise Vacations at 877-762-1446.