10 Vacations Where You Can Help Animals

Have fun while helping animals at these responsible destinations and tours where guests can lend a helping hand while experiencing animal and cultural interactions that aren’t on most travel itineraries.

By: Steve Larese

Photo By: CCat82

Photo By: Rick Poley

Photo By: Stuart Westmorland

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Thailand

This Asian elephant sanctuary in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai cares for orphaned, injured, and rescued elephants that cannot live in the wild. Guests can stay at the sanctuary for a night in a local family’s home. Then during the day they can bathe, feed, swim and interact with these intelligent animals (riding elephants is not allowed here). At the nearby Elephant Nature Park, visit for the day or spend the night in a traditional hut. Here you can also feed, bathe and interact with elephants. Want to help from home? Order Elephant Nature Park coffee and other items, the proceeds helping to fund the organization.

Walk With Donkeys Sanctuary, Greece

Glamp in the Greek countryside at Crete’s Walk with Donkeys Sanctuary. Help previously unwanted and abused donkeys by brushing, feeding and just hanging out with these sociable animals. Other volunteer duties include construction of stalls, cleaning, donkey walking and training, greeting visitors and helping with the olive harvest. Accommodations are in pet-friendly luxury tents with private bathrooms, and vegetarian meals are served. Longer volunteer stays are welcome in this remote area near the village of Ierapetra.

Surfing Turtle Lodge, Nicaragua

Enjoy laid-back island life while helping hatching olive ridley, leatherback and hawkbill turtles. The solar-powered Surfing Turtle Lodge relocates turtle nests to their newly expanded hatchery to protect against predators and poachers. When the babies are ready to be released, gloved guests can help them on their way. Beach tents and cabins are available, with a lounge and restaurant on site and WiFi in the common area. More volunteer opportunities, such as looking for fresh nests, are available; contact the lodge to discuss their needs and your skills.

Pacific Whale Foundation, Hawaii

Help keep Hawaii beautiful at Haleakala National Park and the typically off-limits areas in the Honokowai Valley. Pull invasive plants, clear ocean trails, restore sand dunes, clean up beaches, work on an organic farm and help restore wetlands with the Pacific Whale Foundation based in Wailuku. Transportation is provided for volunteers to projects of their choice, and points can be earned toward items in the gift shop. Afterward, take a whale-watching cruise or go snorkeling with a naturalist to learn about Hawaii’s humpback and other whale species, with proceeds going back to conservation group. Other volunteer opportunities include getting involved with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Sanctuaries volunteer programs throughout the country.

Animal Experience International, Worldwide

Animal Experience International is a Canadian B Corporation that matches guests with volunteer animal experiences around the world. Helping rehabilitate wildlife in Malawi, caring for rescued elephants in Thailand and participating in bat studies in Cuba are just a few of the animal-helping, cultural-emersion experiences available.

Wilderness Travel, Worldwide

Help collar giraffes with field biologists from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation or collect desert lion data with researchers in Namibia and track tigers and snow leopards with the Snow Leopard Conservancy of India with Wilderness Travel. Since 1978, this organization has been matching ecologically and culturally minded travelers with researchers around the globe. This partnership creates one-of-a-kind itineraries while helping to fund a variety of conservation studies and programs.

Four Seasons Resort at Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

Combine the luxury of a Four Seasons Resort with conservation at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, where guests can work with scientists and conservationists to help rebuild the coral reef offshore. Participate in manta ray and whale shark research at the Marine Discovery Centre, watch for nesting sea turtles and other projects that benefit the Baa Atoll UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Visit.org, Worldwide

Visit.org connects travelers with local cultural and environmental experiences around the world, bringing revenue to local animal care organizations such as Sierra Leone’s Rainforest Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Cambodia’s Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre and Peru’s Pilpintuwasi wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center that’s dedicated to the care and conservation of endangered animal species of the Amazon (pictured). By including these excursions on their itinerary, travelers help fund local conservation programs while enjoying cultural and off-the-beaten-path experiences.

Hilton Los Cabos, Mexico

Trained staff at Hilton Los Cabos patrols 10-miles of beach daily during olive ridley sea turtle nesting season and relocates nests to their protected corral that holds 300 nests. From July through November, guests can watch almost daily as hatchlings are released into the ocean. With certification from the Semarnat and Profepa Mexican environmental agencies, Hilton Los Cabos increases the hatchlings’ odds from 1/1,000 chance of surviving to adulthood to 1/100. Guest revenue funds the 20-year-old program.

Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, California

Guests staying at California’s Ojai Valley Inn and Spa can visit the Discover Ojai Center and get a 90-minute educational and interactive tour with several turtle species, including a Galapagos tortoise. A portion of each booking made at Ojai Valley Inn and Spa goes to The Turtle Conservancy, an organization created by businessman Eric Goode that helps protects turtles and their ecosystems worldwide through land acquisition, captive assurance colonies, illegal trade suppression, increased public awareness and research.

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