The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission. 

Do the wild thing: 10 eco-friendly safaris

ou want to see nature in the raw, but how can you be sure that your holiday does not harm the environment and that it helps the local people? Francisca Kellet rounds up some of the favourite operators and packages of the campaign group Tourism Concern

Sunday 23 May 2004 00:00 BST

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


1 Gorillas in Uganda

Discovery Initiatives offers a range of small-group wildlife trips run in partnership with conservation organisations in destination countries. All of its holidays support wildlife conservation and community enterprises - a key aspect of its ethos is to use tourism to provide communities with economic incentives to preserve their environment and culture.

A recent addition to its Africa programme is a nine-day trip to the Bwindi forest in Uganda, where visitors spend four days tracking mountain gorillas. The tour is run in conjunction with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, which is working to familiarise an 11-strong gorilla family with tourists - visitors are among the first non-scientists to come face to face with the gorillas. A maximum of four people are allowed to visit the group for up to an hour a day, and are always under the supervision and guidance of an expert from the authority. Although time with the gorillas is limited, tracking them down through the jungle is a hard slog and a good degree of fitness is required for this trip.

Getting there: Discovery Initiatives (01285 643333; offers a nine-day gorilla safari for £2,325 per person, based on two sharing, including accommodation, flights, most meals, all transfers, services of guides and trackers and a contribution to a community charity. Next departure: 19 September.

2 Bushmen in Namibia

An excellent, tailor-made holiday in southern Africa, this 17-day tour of northern Namibia is run by Sunvil Africa, one of the more responsible mainstream operators. The company has long adhered to a policy of low-impact tourism, and has a strong track record of supporting community-based tourism initiatives.

The tour starts in Windhoek, then spends two nights at the Sossusvlie Wilderness Camp, with trips to the highest sand dunes in the world with knowledgeable guides pointing out antelopes, strange desert plants and insects.

From there, the tour moves to the oddly Bavarian town of Swakompmund, where you can kayak with dolphins in Walvis Bay. Next stop is a night at Damaraland - famous for its San (Bushman) rock art - followed by four nights in Etosha, an astounding salt pan covering 5,000sq km, with perhaps the best game viewing in southern Africa. From there, visitors move to Bushmanland, staying in a San-owned lodge and learning about the life, culture and survival skills of the !Kung. Finally, there is a two-night stay at Okonjima, home to the Africat Foundation, which studies and tracks big cats.

Getting there: Sunvil (020-8232 9777; offers its 17-night tour for £2,527 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, car hire, and accommodation with most meals.

3 The big five in South Africa

Rainbow Tours has a strong commitment to responsible tourism and offers reliable, low-impact holidays throughout southern Africa and the Indian Ocean. It began in South Africa where it offered holidays after the end of apartheid.

An eight-night safari holiday in the east of the country begins with a four-night stay at Djuma Bush Lodge in Sabi Sand Game Reserve. It shares unfenced boundaries with Kruger National Park, where you have a good chance of seeing Africa's big five - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. Djuma operates in tandem with the surrounding communities. It has set up a community-based recycling company, built two schools, and supports a further four.

From Djuma, you spend one night within Kruger Park, and a further three nights in Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge, one of the six South African establishments to be awarded the Fair Trade in Tourism kitemark. Shiluvari, near Elim in Limpopo, is set in the heart of Venda country, where some of the richest and most diverse wood carvers, clay potters and textile weavers are based.

Getting there: Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004; offers its eight-night safari for £1,245 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, fully inclusive car hire, park conservation fees, with full-board, game drives and activities at Djuma, room only accommodation in Kruger Park, and b&b at Shiluvari.

4 Rainforests of Madagascar

Aardvark Safaris organises responsible and reliable wildlife safari trips to 15 African countries, including Madagascar. Its ethos is one of small-scale, low-impact tourism with the aim of benefiting communities. Trips use locally owned and funded accommodation, and local, English-speaking guides.

A 10-night, tailor-made trip to Madagascar includes three nights by the beach on Ile St Marie, followed by four nights in Andasibe (Perinet) and Mantadia National Parks. These primary rainforest reserves are famous for their vast range of indigenous wildlife, including the huge Parson's chameleon and the bright golden mantella frog. A network of trails in both reserves allows a good chance of seeing the highlight - the large indri lemur, which makes a sound like a baby crying. The remaining three nights are spent on the linked lakes of the Pangalanes Canal in the east of the country, again offering chances of seeing fascinating species, including lemurs, chameleons and birds.

Getting there: Aardvark Safaris (01980 849160; offers its 10-night tour for £3,145 per person, based on two sharing travelling in September, including return international and internal flights, accommodation, some meals, private vehicle and driver, English-speaking guide and park entrance fees.

5 Birdlife and Indians in Venezuela

A fascinating offer from Explore Worldwide combines wildlife watching with a trip to meet native Indian people on a 16-day escorted tour in Venezuela. Explore has an excellent range of long and short-haul adventure breaks, all with an emphasis on responsible tourism.

The trip begins with four days in the Orinoco Delta as guests of the Warao Indians in one of their stilt houses. The Delta is one of the foremost bird-watching sites in South America. Continuing south by motorised canoe, visitors pass through rainforest to the base of Angel Falls. The second half of the tour concentrates on wildlife in the breathtaking Los Llanos plains. Visitors stay on a working ranch, following trails by foot and on horseback to see anteaters, crocodiles, capibara, anaconda and lots of birds.

The tour is especially beneficial because Explore works in partnership with the Warao Indians and the ranchers in the Llanos, providing income to the hosts, and the visitors with a chance to gain an insight into the lives of the people there.

Getting there: Explore Worldwide (01252 760000; offers its 16-day tour for £1,575 per person, based on two sharing - plus a payment of $275 (£156) to the community - including return flights, transfers, local English-speaking guide, full board for eight nights, half-board one night, b&b five nights. Next departure: 31 July.

6 The Galapagos and Ecuador

Tribes has an excellent reputation for providing sustainable tours which benefit local economies, with a comprehensive collection of trips including cultural tours, trekking and wildlife safaris - either tailor-made or as small-group itineraries. Its main aim is to show visitors special parts of the world through the eyes of the people who live there.

Ecuador's Galapagos Islands are a naturalist's paradise, as are the mainland rainforests which Tribes offers as part of its Galapagos tour. The 15-day trip begins in Gran Sumaco National Park, at Yachana Lodge, which was set up by the Mondana community with Funedesin, a non-profit foundation. This is a stunning wilderness area, but also offers visitors a valuable insight into indigenous communities, with visits to traditional healers or community development projects available beside nature activities. The final week is a cruise around the Galapagos Islands viewing its weird and wonderful wildlife, such as blue-footed boobies, corpulent sea lions, giant tortoises and marine iguanas.

Getting there: Tribes (01728 685971; offers its 15-day trip for £1,875 per person, based on two people sharing, including all transfers, internal flights, 11 days' full board and three days' bed and breakfast, and the services of local guides. International flights cost extra but can be arranged through Tribes. Galapagos entry fees to be paid on arrival at the airport. Next departure: 22 July.

7 Tigers in India

Muir's Tours is a non-profit-making tour operator, set up by the Nepal Kingdom Foundation. Most of its tours are trekking trips and mountain-based adventure travel, with all profits going to development projects. Its tailor-made trips are organised in partnership with the communities, and help them to develop and maintain sustainable tourism.

An example of a tailor-made Indian safari is a 14-day tour taking in some of Rajasthan's major tourist sights (Jaipur, Agra etc) before moving to Ranthambore National Park, once the hunting ground of the Maharaja of Jaipur and today known for its tiger population.

Visitors stand a good chance of spotting tigers, and can also look out for leopard, striped hyena and sloth bear. Next stop is Kanha National Park, which has a savanna environment with large herds of deer and some predators - leopard, jackal and tigers. The last stop is at the wetlands of Keoladeo National Park, where visitors switch from four-wheel drive vehicle to elephant-back.

Getting there: Muir's Tours (0118 950 2281; offers its 14-day tour for £1,376 per person, based on two sharing, including transfers, a local English-speaking guide, four-wheel-drive transport with a naturalist guide in the National Parks, and most meals. International flights cost extra but can be arranged through Muir's Tours.

8 Big cats and the Maasai

Nairobi-based Gamewatchers Safaris has a week-long tour, the Big Cats safari, which takes in a wide variety of habitats and allows visitors to tick off an extensive list of wildlife.

Accommodation is in small, exclusive, comfortable, safari camps in private wilderness conservancies, and three of Kenya's classic national parks: Amboseli, Lake Nakuru and Maasai Mara.

In terms of responsible travel, the first stop is the most interesting. Selenkay Conservation Area, just north of Amboseli National Park, is a 15,000-acre private game reserve within a vast tract of land owned by the Kisonko clan of the Masaai.

This community has set aside the area as a reserve for wildlife and in return is receiving an income from tourism, which is used to fund community projects such as schools and water supplies. Most of the staff in the camp are Masaai, and guests, limited to 12, are taken on game walks by Masaai trackers.

Getting there: Gamewatchers Safaris (00 254 20 522 504; offers its Big Cats safari for £920 per person, based on two sharing, including transport from Nairobi, game drives and activities, park fees and seven nights' full-board accommodation. International flights cost extra and must be arranged separately.

Departures are every Monday from Nairobi.

9 Wildlife in Tanzania

Simply Tanzania supports Tanzanian-owned and run businesses, using only locally owned hotels, restaurants, shops and safari companies. It encourages and incorporates cultural tourism in its itineraries, including this seven-night Tanzania Explorer tour, run by IntoAfrica.

The tour has a great mix of wildlife and village visits. The best of Tanzania's national parks are included: Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti and Lake Manyara. Wildlife-spotting is interspersed with visits to settlements, including seeing a market at Mto wa Mbu village, visiting community development projects and learning about medicinal plants from the Masaai. Visitors stay in spacious tents during the safari, and in a locally owned guesthouse in Arusha, which serves traditional African meals. All guides, drivers and cooks are Tanzanian, and fees are paid directly to villagers during visits. Other trips available include Kenyan explorer safaris, or treks up Mount Kilimanjaro.

Getting there: Simply Tanzania (020-8986 0615; offers its seven-night tour for £800 per person, based on two sharing, including five nights in a tent and two nights in a guesthouse in Arusha, all camping equipment except sleeping bags, all meals on safari, half-board in Arusha, local guides, cook and driver, park and camping fees and a donation to community projects. International flights cost extra but can be arranged through Simply Tanzania. Next departure: 6 June.

10 Birdwatching in The Gambia

The Gambia has some of the greatest birdwatching in west Africa, offering enormous diversity thanks to its range of habitats. Gambia-based Faces and Places markets tours with the Association of Small Scale Enterprises in Tourism, which works to increase the receipts to local businesses and to promote responsible tourism. In the past few years, Faces and Places has had a high success rate of creating and sustaining profitable projects.

Its 10-day, tailor-made, birdwatching safari visits a range of habitats, offering a chance of seeing anything from colourful bee-eaters to hooded vultures. The trip begins in Kartong village, with walking trails through the surrounding wetlands, moving on to the forests of the Tumani Tenda camp. From there, clients travel by boat to Tendaba Riverside Camp, with an evening boat trip though the Baobolong Wetland Reserve. Large game such as antelopes, monkeys and bush pigs can be spotted the next day at Kiang West National Park. The final days are at the Bird Safari Camp, run by young Gambians.

Getting there: Faces and Places (00 220 446 2057; email: offers its 10-day birdwatching safari for £700 per person, based on two sharing, including full-board accommodation, all transport, local guides and park entry fees. International flights extra.

Tourism Concern is a non-profitmaking organisation that campaigns for ethical and fairly traded tourism. Its members want to make holidays as good for those living at destinations as for tourists. It recently persuaded more than half UK trekking companies to agree to fairer working conditions for porters. For more information, or to join, call 020-7133 3330 or go to

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in