Get back to your grass roots

On World Environment Day, Sue Wheat suggests some options for the green tourist

So you fancy a round-the-world trip? Who doesn't? But increasingly, many of us also have a hankering to something useful at the same time - whether in an active way, or just by staying at the type of place where tourism is doing less harm and more good.

Let's start in Spain. It may be invaded by lager louts and hotels so ugly the authorities are blowing them up, but at Almeria, in the thirsty south, you'll find things are very different. I was lured to the Sunseed Conservation project through a tiny advertisement promoting "green holidays in Spain". Images of serious environmental know-alls sending me out to plant trees in miles of harsh desert haunted me as soon as I sent my booking form in, but what I found there was a group of people of all ages having one of the best summers of their lives.

The houses in the ancient village of Los Molinos, where the project is based, were deserted in the Spanish civil war, so there's plenty of accommodation for the 30 volunteers and full-time workers. We worked for four hours every morning, and while some tasks were physically demanding, such as digging 12-inch holes in rocky hillsides for tree-planting, there were also more leisurely jobs like working in the germination lab or making simple solar ovens, which have been so successful they are to be used in Tanzania. Afternoons were spent lazing in the nearby rock pools. For anyone already counting their travellers cheques, Los Molinos is also hard to beat - pounds 96 per week (two weeks minimum).

With a few conservation techniques under your belt and a few extra muscles, you can move on to Cyprus, and a more leisurely pace. In the virtually untouched Akamas Peninsula of the north-west, the slow pace of traditional rural life seems a world away from the brash coastal resorts.

Yet picturesque though the villages here look, they are struggling to survive now that their youth have flocked to the resorts for work. The Laona Project, conceived by Friends of the Earth (Cyprus) as "a green alternative to mass tourism", has breathed new life into the region by funding the renovation of traditional houses (which sleep two to seven people). They are proving that tourism can take place in a fragile environment without trashing it, while also boosting the local economy.

Next stop, Africa. The Gambia, like Cyprus, is awash with big resort developments, but if you want to benefit the locals, go to a Gambian-owned hotel such the Kololi Inn, Tavern and Art Gallery (pounds 10 per night bed and breakfast), which is just outside the main tourist strip. In contrast to the big hotels, Kololi Inn welcomes visitors into village life, will organise special itineraries and cultural workshops on cooking, tie-dye and batik, drumming and dancing, pottery and hair-weaving.

In the Himalayas, Nepal beckons most globetrotters. In fact, it has beckoned so many that the route to Mount Everest has long been dubbed "the Andrex trail". If you venture, instead, into the Annapurna region, you'll again find yourself in company: 40,000 or so trekkers visit the area every year. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project in Ghandruk acts as a sort of safety valve, working with villages on health, education, reforestation, agriculture, tourism management and environmental education. Trekkers are encouraged to stay in guest houses that use kerosene or fuel-efficient wood stoves, to remove any litter they come across and burn or bury their own, not to use detergents in streams and to choose ablutions bushes at least 30 metres away from water sources.

In terms of community involvement in tourism, Hawaii is home to another success story - and it's also a great place to finish your world tour. On the "garden island" of Kauai,native Hawaiian culture is being re- established. The people of this hauntingly beautiful island (dramatic gorges, mountains, stunning coastlines) are holding crass commercialisation of their culture at bay, and are coming together to re-learn traditional crafts, Hawaiian history and the Hawaiian language. Hui Hookipa, a grass- roots native Hawaiian organisation, will put you in touch with true native life: traditional hula being performed at sacred sites in the open air, kapunas (elders) "talking story" in the moonlight and more.

Who to contact:

Spain: Sunseed Trust, 97 Divinity Road, Oxford OX4 1LN (01480 411784).

Cyprus: Laona Project houses can be booked through Sunvil Holidays, Sunvil House, Upper Square, Old Isleworth, TW7 7BJ (0181-568 4499). Exalt Travel, PO Box 337 Paphos, Cyprus (00357 6 243803).

Gambia: Charles Jarra, Afrikan Heritage, 60B Rowley Way, Abbey Road, London NW8 0SJ (0171-328 4376).

Nepal: Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) Headquarters, Ghandruk Village, Ghandruk Village Committee, Kaski District, Nepal. Specialist environmental tours can be booked through: High Places, Globe Works, Penistone Road, Sheffield S6 3AE (0114 275 7500).

Hawaii: Hui Hookipa, PO Box 88, Kapaa, 94746, Kauai, Hawaii (01 808 246 6000).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-Qualified Accountant) - Manchester

    £23000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor