The Eight Best Volunteer Vacations

Lion in grass at Kruger National Park, South Africa
Lion in grass at Kruger National Park, South Africa  (Jeremy Woodhouse/Digital Vision/Getty)
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We’ve made our thoroughly opinionated picks, but—as with most things—it really all comes down to personal taste. So check out the dozens of other volunteer vacations our partner site Adventure Finder ! And let us know what we missed in this article’s comments.
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If your resolutions this new year include both seeing the world and giving back a bit, then these top volunteer vacation trips just made keeping that promise easier than it’s ever been. Trips range from the far-flung reaches of the world to America’s first National Wildlife Refuge.

Waterfalls, Waves, and Service in East Maui, Hawaii
Hana, the most remote and tranquil part of Maui, is dubbed the island's "last Hawaiian place." Surrounded by coastline, waterfalls, and tropical rainforest, you’ll spend eight days engaging in a variety of planned and spontaneous service projects in the Kipahulu region. Free time will be spent hiking, swimming at the beach, and discovering the charms of this unforgettable destination.

Cachiccata Group Service Project with Machu Picchu, Peru
Join a group service project in the Cachiccata community, combined with visit to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu on this ten-day voluntourism package in the most famed regions of Peru. Participants will work on cleaning, repairing, and restoring homes; planting native trees; and visiting schools to support a healthy breakfast project. You'll bed down in the community campground each night to immerse yourself fully in village life.

Wildlife Conservation Expedition in South Africa
Play a hands-on role for 14 days in the long-term conservation of African wildlife on this GVI conservation expedition in South Africa. Enjoy first-class wildlife viewing and live on a game reserve in the heart of Southern Africa as part of a wildlife research team.  Learn how to radio track, and possibly get involved with the darting and fitting of radio tracking collars to lions and leopards. Experience spectacular mountain habitats at satellite camps, and help with conservation and biodiversity studies.

Costa Rica Leatherback Turtle Volunteer Vacation
Spend five nights working with giant leatherback sea turtles and local researchers at Estacion Las Tortugas. Patrol nesting beaches at night and relax and explore the rainforest during the day. An optional extension to the South Caribbean includes pristine beaches and indigenous reserves. This trip generates approximately $425 per person in benefits to sea turtle conservation, including fees, donations, and in-kind volunteer work.

National Park Kids and Rural Schools Project in Malawi
Spend 14 days working across a range of high-impact education projects with local kids and become integrated into the Liwonde community by getting closely involved with nursery, primary, and secondary schools, as well as clubs and out-of-school activities. Support teachers in the classroom, lead excursions, run events, develop educational materials, and help work toward a better learning environment for the younger generation.

Service Project at Florida’s Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Help restore wildlife habitat and remove exotic plants in the first U.S. wildlife refuge. You'll base camp for seven days and enjoy a day off to kayak, fish, and swim in the ocean.

Baja Camping and Turtle Research in Mexico
Join SEE Turtles and Baja Expeditions on an eight-day camping trip that includes first-hand participation to directly support community-based conservation of endangered green sea turtles while at the same time providing an alternative income to fishing and training local community members in ecotourism. Camp on remote islands in the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean, kayak rich mangroves, and participate in sea turtle research.

Children-Wellness Program Participation and Panda Research in China
This trip offers a heady mix of tourism and volunteer work. On the first few days of your 13-day itinerary, visit the historical city of Beijing, see the Forbidden City, home to emperors for more than 500 years, and tour the Hutongs by rickshaw before heading on to Xi'an to see the terracotta warriors and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Then head to the Children's Village to have lunch at the Shaanxi Provincial New Life Research Society, an independent and nonprofit charity dedicated to helping released people find jobs and start a new life. Spend the day in the company of the village children and take them to the city wall and dinner. Then it’s off to Chengdu and the Panda Research Center, where you offer another helping hand.

Published: 18 Dec 2012 | Last Updated: 19 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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