A World of Good: Five Volunteering Destinations to Celebrate World Wildlife Day
March 3 is World Wildlife Day, a United Nations day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wildlife and animals – and what better way to mark it than to lend a helping hand to an environmental conservation project and take care of sick, injured or abandoned animals? With nearly half (49%) of travelers wanting to travel for purpose in 2023,* volunteering and ecotourism can offer a meaningful opportunity to give back to local communities. There are many wonderful non-profit organizations and programs around the world, so we have selected five incredible destinations where travelers can make a positive impact, along with sustainable stays which are all making efforts to protect the planet. From rehabilitating lions in South Africa to caring for injured birds in San Francisco, these rewarding wildlife trips will help make a difference.
Occupying South Africa’s northern reaches, Limpopo is a huge and diverse province characterized by vast open spaces and terrific wildlife watching. Within Limpopo, the wildlife charity Global Vision International (GVI) ensures the long-term survival of lions with a team dedicated to the ongoing research of these charismatic big cats. Situated on a private game reserve which is home to lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos and rhinos, travelers can volunteer to work and live alongside these extraordinary animals and assist in critical wildlife conservation work. Volunteers will help with all aspects of research and monitor the lion’s feeding behavior, movement, location and health. When not working directly with the king of the jungle, travelers will have the opportunity to get involved in other important conservation efforts, such as the removal of invasive vegetation. Since the program began, volunteers have supported the management and conservation of over three million hectares of protected areas in Limpopo.
Where to stay: Volunteers are offered accommodation as part of the program, but if they want to extend their stay in South Africa, they can rent a car and head down to Ukuthula Bush Lodge. Situated in the heart of a small, private reserve, guests can observe wild animals including zebras, giraffes and antelopes from the comfort of their private balconies. This African-style accommodation features an outdoor swimming pool, onsite restaurant serving traditional dishes and is in walking distance to Kruger National Park, one of South Africa’s largest game reserves. It’s also a Booking.com Travel Sustainable stay that contributes positively to its community, whilst also ensuring an environmentally friendly stay for guests.
The Galápagos Islands isolation from mainland Ecuador has allowed its animals to evolve according to their surroundings, a fact that was instrumental in helping Charles Darwin formulate his theories on evolution and natural selection. Today, the islands are supported by volunteers who dedicate their time to conserving this extraordinary ecosystem, and there’s a range of opportunities including saving endangered giant tortoises. Santa Cruz is an island in Ecuador’s Galápagos National Park and home to the town of Puerto Ayora, where the Charles Darwin Research Station has a breeding program for giant tortoises. Volunteers will spend time at the El Chato nature reserve, removing invasive plant species that are harmful and planting grasses for them to eat. Free from natural predators, the animal inhabitants of the island roam freely and without fear, so volunteers can expect plenty of opportunities to observe these unique species respectfully in their natural habitat, including not just the tortoises swimming near shore, but friendly sea lions and iguanas basking in the sun.
Where to stay: La Peregrina Galapagos B&B sits on Pelican Bay in Puerto Ayora and is a short drive to the tortoise nature reserve. This hideaway is a hive of activity with iguanas and sea lions on the doorstep, and the Charles Darwin Scientific Station just a short walk away. Vibrant green gardens surround each room where a wooden private balcony offers incredible views of the sun rising over the bay. This Booking.com Travel Sustainable stay provides guests with bike rental for those seeking an adventure around town, and provides enriching wildlife tours organized by local guides.
With so many endangered Asian elephants sold or born into the tourist industry, only to be mistreated and abused, volunteers are invited to Thailand’s Chiang Mai province to help protect this precious species. In this area, famous for its traditional elephant keeping communities, volunteers will assist community efforts to rehabilitate these gentle giants and help traditional elephant keepers and other locals to establish alternative livelihoods. As the elephant’s are reintegrated into the forests, volunteers will help monitor their behavior and spend time in the field learning about their history, biology and social interactions. Outside of volunteering, visitors can explore the unique culture of the local Karen community and the lush mountain forests of northern Thailand dotted with churning waterfalls. At night, venture out on a Private Night Tour of Chiang Mai to discover diverse historical temples, traditional night markets and hip hangout spots in the heart of the city.
Where to stay: Accommodation is covered during the volunteer term but if travelers want to extend their stay to explore Chiang Mai, Akyra Manor Chiang Mai SHA Extra Plus is located within walking distance of Nimmanhaemin Road, where guests will find artisanal shops, galleries, and popular restaurants and cafes. Thanks to its sustainability efforts in supporting the local community, this property holds a Booking.com Travel Sustainable badge, including serving locally sourced food at its restaurant and offering tours organized by local guides.
Famous for its Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is located in the northern part of California and home to around 450 different species of seabirds including the Canada goose and mallard. International Bird Rescue (IBR) provides critical care to seabirds who become sick or injured due to oil spills in California: since 1971 they have admitted over 125,000 birds but they can’t do it without the help of volunteers. The non-profit organization offers different levels of volunteering, so the more comfortable travelers become with the birds the more responsibilities they can take on, with the opportunity to help with all stages of care from rescue to rehabilitation and release. San Francisco is one of the most photographed places in the world from its incredible city vistas to its eclectic neighborhoods and abundance of wildlife. After a fulfilling day of caring for the birds, travelers can head out on a San Francisco Bay Sunset Cruise to take in this city’s iconic landmarks and picturesque views over San Francisco Bay, which many birds and wildlife species call home including harbor porpoises, whales and sea lions.
Where to stay: If travelers want to explore San Francisco outside of their volunteer work, the Argonaut Hotel, a Noble House Hotel is a short drive from the International Bird Rescue center and offers incredible views of the bay. This restored warehouse in Fisherman’s Wharf features rooms with nautical-inspired details, exposed brick walls and whirlpool tubs. The Booking.com Travel Sustainable stay has made strides to improve its sustainability efforts, including upping its recycling and offering local artists a platform to display their work. Guests can even hop on the hotel’s complimentary cruiser bikes and pedal their way across the nearby Golden Gate Bridge.
Since the 1950s, the jaguar population in the Americas has plummeted to an estimated 14,000. These dwindling numbers have resulted in an ongoing effort to create programs and policies that protect these elusive creatures. With the charity Global Vision International (GVI), volunteers have the opportunity to make a big difference in jaguar conservation by monitoring and researching their prey species, feeding behaviors and population numbers. Once collected, this information is used by the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment to develop well-rounded and consistent conservation policies. Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve is a species-rich and beautiful stretch of rainforest considered a global biological hotspot and home to several endangered wild jungle cats from the biggest jaguar to the smallest oncilla. Further up the coast is the village of Tortuguero, Costa Rica’s remote wildlife hotspot with fresh-water canals and tropical foliage sandwiched between a lagoon and the volcanic beaches along the Caribbean sea.
Where to stay: Volunteers are based in the GVI’s wildlife conservation research station, but if travelers want to extend their trip, they can bed down at the Tortuga Lodge & Gardens. Holding a Booking.com Travel Sustainable badge, this laidback lodge makes impactful sustainability efforts including reducing food waste and serving guests organic, locally sourced food at its riverside restaurant. Set along the Tortuguero river and surrounded by jungle, this hideaway – only accessible by boat – has a lagoon-style pool, its own private nature reserve and offers an array of activities from kayaking to guided nature walks.
*Travel Predictions 2023 research commissioned by Booking.com and conducted among a sample of adults who plan to travel for business or leisure in the next 12-24 months. In total 24,179 respondents across 32 countries and territories were polled (including 1014 from Argentina, 1006 from Australia, 505 from Austria, 504 from Belgium, 1009 from Brazil, 503 from Canada, 1009 from China, 1010 from Colombia, 505 from Croatia, 505 from Denmark, 1010 from France, 1001 from Germany, 500 from Hong Kong, 1005 from India, 504 from Ireland, 504 from Israel, 1008 from Italy, 1003 from Japan, 504 from Mexico, 502 from The Netherlands, 1007 from New Zealand, 1009 from Portugal, 507 from Singapore, 1008 from South Korea, 1001 from Spain, 505 from Sweden, 508 from Switzerland, 500 from Taiwan, 504 from Thailand, 1006 from the UK, 1009 from the US and 504 from Vietnam). Respondents completed an online survey in August 2022.