Travel Sustainably at The Ranch in Nicaragua

Did you know that The Republic of Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America? The beautiful country is sandwiched between Honduras and Costa Rica. Unfortunately, political unrests and negative press impacted tourism in Nicaragua for several years. But if you do go there, you will find that the reality is very different. Nicaragua is actually a very safe country for tourists where you can travel sustainably. The people are polite and welcoming. The scenery is stunning! And best of all, it is an affordable travel destination.

Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Getting There

Fly into Managua, the capital and drive up north to be in the coffee plantations and cooler mountains, or west to get to Pacific Beaches and east to the Atlantic. You can also fly to Liberia airport in Costa Rica and be at the border within minutes. Whichever direction you choose to go, on your drive expect to see lots of banana plantations, cattle ranches, wooded forests and open fields. Keep an eye for towering cone shaped volcanoes against the skyline. There are 17 volcanoes in Nicaragua, though none are active.

pink beach Rancho Santana Nicaragua

San Juan Del Sur

Lately, Nicaragua has become a popular beach resort destination among immigrants and vacationers from USA and Canada. The town of San Juan Del Sur is a quintessential example of this. You will see lots of high risers and surf shops. I would suggest going there for a day, if you must, but head north to one of my favorite spots in the country.

private beach Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Private Resort in Tola

When you arrive at Rancho Santana in Tola, it may appear like an upscale resort in Southern California. Picture terra cotta roofs and beige stucco against the blue ocean and white sand in the background. “The Ranch,” is a sprawling, sustainable private resort and residential community located on 2,700 acres of Nicaragua’s pristine Emerald Coast. It is must visit if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle and be in a peaceful, undisturbed atmosphere. The Ranch is so spread out that you may feel you are one of the handful guests here, but that is by design. I stayed at The Inn, a charming boutique hotel that is the focal point of The Ranch.

surfing Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Make Your Own Retreat

While surfing is the main reason to come to this part of Nicaragua, there are tons of activities right at The Ranch. Start your day with guided morning yoga at the pavilion overlooking the coast. Spend a couple of hours at the 6,000-square-foot treetop retreat The Spa in El Bosque. In the afternoon, take a swim and relax at resort’s five beaches (there’s a pink one too!) or three pools.

horseback riding Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Guided Activities

The Ranch has a very knowledgeable staff with tour guides who offer everything from sandboarding down coastal dunes, hiking in the pristine woods, birdwatching and monkey spotting too. You can take a nature tour or horseback ride along the beach without ever having to leave Rancho Santana. 

Eat Local

Farm to table is not a concept but the norm at this resort in Nicaragua. The Ranch grows about 2,500 pounds of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs each month. Take a tour of the farm just outside the Inn and you’ll spot greens, cherry tomatoes, colorful peppers, sweet corn, a variety of succulent citrus, and habanero chilis (a favorite). All of the ingredients are used at the property’s four restaurants and the tienda (farm store). If you are staying longer at one of the condos, you can pick up fresh produce, breads, meat and cook your own food.

If you are looking to eat healthy and organic during your vacation, you will like the options at Rancho Santana. I enjoyed a bowl of fresh fruit, homemade granola and yogurt each morning. There were plenty of vegetarian options too, my favorite being the veggie bowl with falafel, sweet plantains, greens, cashew curry, avocado and radish at La Finca y el Mar-Bar. All of the menus have a Nicaraguan flair helmed by local chefs. From fresh catch fish burgers to coffee rubbed pork chops with sweet plantains, everything is farm sourced and offers authentic flavors.

cooking class Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Make sure to also take a cooking class with Chef Carmen and learn to make gallo pinto – the national dish of Nicaragua.

health clinic Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Give Back

By staying at Rancho Santana, you also help uplift the community around. Take the new Conectando Corazones tour to learn about all the charitable programs that Rancho Santana supports in the area. Many of the guests and residents created the nonprofits using their own skills and resources. Some of these you can visit include Fun Lemon (where the gym is also located), a vocational school and after school program for learning English, computer skills, plumbing and housekeeping. Many of the graduates are hired to work at The Ranch.

Roberto Clemente is a fully functional health clinic where you can also volunteer your medical, nursing or dental abilities. Besides providing a lab and pharmacy, they also do workshops to educate people on how to eat healthy, grow their own food and ward off diseases.

The Blue Water program purifies the undrinkable well water and sells it in jars to schools and households at 1/10th the cost of name brands.

Lastly, CREA is an educational resource center where kids can get help with homework, after-school lessons, reading and activities.

sustainable resort


One thing you will find distinct at Rancho Santana is that all of the staff is from Nicaragua. They are truly passionate about their culture and community, always eager to offer tips on where to go and which dishes to try.

The Ranch employs over 600 people from the neighboring villages and offers job training, security and healthcare. From farming, to woodworking and iron welding, everything is done on the property itself, creating a sustainable self-sufficient enterprise in this magical corner of Nicaragua.

~ All photos credit to Frederick Choi on behalf of Go Eat Give.

Tips For Planning Your Next Sustainable Trip

When I founded Go Eat Give in 2011, sustainable travel was a fairly new concept. Beyond gap years and volunteering abroad, there weren’t many options for vacationers to travel sustainably and meaningfully. But today, I feel we are more conscious about the impact we make when we travel. From protecting the environment, leaving lower carbon footprint, to ensuring our travel dollars sustain local businesses, there are many things in your control as a traveler. So be aware of them!

When I travel or consult others on where to go, I consider where I would stay, eat, shop and tour with that would be sustainable. It is often not straightforward to find these resources, but thats why you can rely on me or do additional research.

Whether you are looking to plan a trip on your own, or book with Go Eat Give, here are a few tips to help you make your next vacation more sustainable.

plan a sustainable trip
Chartered penguin flight to Antarctica.

Plan Your Transport

While it may not always be possible to avoid a commercial flight, there are ways to offset your carbon footprint by picking airlines that use alternative fuels, sustainable practices and invest in planting trees. When possible, I also opt for family-owned airlines, such as Point2Point Air that operated between Seattle, mainland Washington and the San Juan Islands.

If you are in the habit of printing tickets, itineraries and boarding passes, you can save a lot of trees by going digital. Download the airline’s app on your phone so you can not only see your booking, but get the latest flight updates.

Avoid unnecessary travel, combine trips and use public transportation when possible. Europe has a wonderful rail network which is often cheaper than flying. Plus you don’t have to worry about paying baggage and seat selection fees on the low cost carriers.

To organize my travel details, I use Evernote and Travefy apps. Both sync to my laptop and phone. I can easily share the details with my travel companions and send a copy to my family. Also, you can modify any changes, add directions and contact information on the app and not have to reprint your entire itinerary.

Hotel Miramare in Italy
Hotel Miramare near Portofino is independently owned luxury historic hotel

Book Sustainable Accommodations

The most important factor to consider when choosing your accommodation, especially in developing countries, is to make sure that the money stays within the country. This means picking locally-owned, boutique hotels, that will employ local staff and reinvest profits in the community. Some hotels also utilize environmental-friendly materials in its construction, source art and crafts from local artists and use biodegradable bath products. The Good Hotel in Antigua trains and employs unemployed and single women to work in hospitality and invests 100% of their profits in the community.

Another way to check if the hotel is sustainable is by seeing if they have been certified. Often, the hotel’s websites will list LEAD certified or similar accolades. Check out Jade Mountain in St Lucia, the first Caribbean resort to be certified LEED Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council, one of the highest levels in the green building rating system.

Of course, places such as Inns, AirBnb, and independently owned Bed and Breakfasts will empower locals to earn revenues directly. Plus, you will get to know the owners and have a more intimate experience. Aroha Luxury New Zealand Tours did a wonderful job of selecting luxurious B&B accommodations for me around the country. Not only was I able to stay at some of the most exclusive places, but also got a glimpse of the local lifestyle.

sustainable tourism stay
My B&B hosts in Hoteni dressed me up us a Romanian bride

Pick Local Experiences

A big reason to travel is to see new places and experience different cultures. But there are more sustainable ways to see the major tourist attractions without causing more stress to the places and to yourself.

For attractions, avoid peak hours, go off season, and book tickets in advance. Instead of a guided bus tour, opt for an e-bike or walking tour, where you will be able to discover more of the city and hear enriching stories. Black History Walks in London walks offers some of the most insightful walks, film exhibitions and talks around the city.

Look for experiences that are not heavily advertised in touristy areas. These may include salsa dance lesson at a Havana rooftop, Batik painting with an artist in Bali, or harvesting olives in Tuscany You can also enroll in an activity that gives back, such as diving to build coral nurseries or restoring sea turtle habits at the beach.

Book With a Tour Operator

The best way to book a sustainable trip is through local operators. You can also get better rates for a more personalized experience. I often work with women-owned independent tour operators around the world. Many of them don’t have the resources to advertise themselves internationally, but have good connections with the local communities. They are better able to serve the need in case of any situation, and will go and above and beyond to ensure that you have a pleasant experience.

sustainable tours in TCI
Make your own batik at Saba.

When I was in Romania, my guide Ramona Cazacu of MyRomania, picked me from the airport at Cluj and accompanied me to see my ‘Beato Goes To‘ book illustrators team. She even joined me for dinner at a friend’s place. Toward the end of our week-long tour, I had dinner with her girlfriends in the beautiful city of Brașov. That wouldn’t have been possible if didn’t have a direct connection with my tour operator/ owner.

I often find unique tours with locals through the Airbnb Experiences website. Some of these may be offered by local experts or even celebrities! You can go behind the scenes of a recording studio in Nashville or have a professional photographer take your shots around Berlin.

Remember, most major cities also have free walking tours. You can simply pay whatever you like and meet some interesting people who like to show their neighborhoods. I have found students, single moms and retirees make a decent income while having flexible hours doing walking tours.

eat local on food tour
Rum tasting during a food tour at Turks & Caicos.

Dine Sustainably

If you are like me, you probably search for where you are going to eat before you even get to your destination. Food is not just a source for nourishment, it helps us understand cultures and traditions. Avoid brand name restaurants and go to the ones that source their ingredients locally and sustainably.

The first thing I do in each country is take a food tour. This gives me local insight into the most popular dishes, their names in the foreign language and the best places to eat them at. The local tour guides will also point out locally-owned restaurants that serve authentic food where the locals (not the tourists) go to. If you are looking for something specific, such as vegetarian or vegan options, they will be your best source. Some of my favorite food tours have been in Bangkok, Istanbul and Krakow.

If you have more time at your festinate, take a cooking class and dive deeper into the cuisine. On my first trip to Tokyo, I learned to make miso soup, okonmayaki and sushi rolls. It was very insightful as I learned about the ingredients and cooking utensils (they cook with chopsticks not ladles). When I would dine at restaurants in Japan, I knew exactly what was in the dish and how to pronounce its name.

Breaking bread together will also help you meet other locals and learn more about the place and its culture. Plan your trip around food festivals, join a home hosted dinner, or a group celebration (white parties, fundraisers).

Facts About Saba You May Not Have Known

Let me introduce you to a Caribbean island that you probably never heard of before. Saba is a small dot on the map, stretching only 3 miles across, located in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. It is often referred to as “the unspoiled queen” because it is largely uncommercial and well preserved. You will not find any cruise ships, all-inclusive resorts or mass tourism on this Dutch-Caribbean island. But you will see gorgeous scenery, experience friendly hospitality and indulge in unique eco-friendly experiences. If you are planning a trip to Saba, or just wanting to learn more about it, here are some fun facts to know before you go…

Saba has the shortest runway

Shortest Runway in the World

Landing on Saba is an experience in itself! Smaller jumper planes touch down on the 400 meter long “world’s shortest runway” at the Juancho E. Yrauquin airport. You will be very close to the water and mountains at this tiny one-room airport. Arrivals and departures are also super easy as the airport is really small.

In less than 5 minutes after landing, you will be ready to go explore Saba.

The Island Has Funny Names

The names of locations on Saba are named appropriately to take the guesswork out! Sabans have a witty sense of humor it seems. The airport is located on Flat Point and the tallest peak on Saba is called Mount Scenery. The Road connects the four settlements – Windwardside (tourist center), The Bottom (Saba’s capital), Hell’s Gate and St. Johns. The first two are named because of their geographical locations.

Did you know Saba is European

Saba Has a European Feel

My first view of Saba reminded me of the scenery of Switzerland. First, it was a lot cooler in Saba than where I was coming from (the neighboring island of St Maarten). The morning mists rose above the lush green valleys, veiling a rising Mount Scenery towering over the entire island. Below it were uniformed red roofed, green shuttered, and white colored West Indian style cottages dotting around the villages. Cobblestone streets with little houses made up the charming hamlets. There were rabbits and chickens running around. It looked like European countryside.

Saba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the official language is Dutch. Besides the scenery, you can feel the European influence in the local culture and lifestyle.

Facts about Mt Scenery

Saba is For Outdoor Lovers

Saba does not have long stretches of beaches other Caribbean islands are known for. It is mostly green, mountainous, and has sea views from practically every spot on the island. Saba attracts those who like a peaceful and quiet atmosphere but also enjoy outdoor adventures. You can hike up 800 meters to the summit of the volcano, Mount Scenery. The Mt Scenery trail is a must-do even if you visit Saba for a day trip. You will need to climb 1064 steps among mahogany and palm trees, orchids, banana and hibiscus to see amazing views of Saba and its surrounding islands.

Alternately, you can take a guided hike to 15 other trails with Saba Conservation Foundation. Your guide will point out the ancient flora and fauna, in what feels like a tropical rainforest. My guide, known as “Crocodile” James Johnson, was born and raised on the island and told me he had only seen one bad hurricane in his entire life. We went on a relatively easier hike on Mas Cohones Trail and still enjoyed pristine views.

On the water, dive, snorkel or swim in the crystal clear waters around the coast and 1300 hectares of Saba National Marine Park. Interesting lava rock formations, clear visibility (over 90 meters), and abundance of professional diving schools, makes Saba show up as one of the top 10 diving destinations in the world. You won’t find any speedboats or jet skis here. The coral reefs and underwater world are protected to allow sustainable visitation.

The People are Very Friendly

With a population of little over 2,000 stuck on a small island, it is likely that everyone in Saba knows each other. The Bizzy B Bakery at Windwardside is a favorite gathering spot in the morning, where people get their cappuccinos and croissants and read their newspapers. You can start a conversation with anyone, no one is a rush to get anywhere. Sitting in the open-air terrace on a high elevation feels more like a European village, rather than a Caribbean beachfront.

Artists in Saba

The population is also very diverse and enterprising. You will find several artists and curators around the island, offering workshops and selling handmade products. Stroll through Kakona and the Five Square Art Gallery for locally made paintings, jewelry and gifts. Visit world-renowned quilter and dyer, Els Mommers studio in Troy Hill, and take an indigo dying workshop with Anna Keene at Windwardside where you can make your own souvenir t-shirt, scarf or napkins to take back home.

Take a workshop

Another thing you may not know about Saba is that it is home to Saba University School of Medicine, one of the most esteemed medical schools in the Caribbean. It attracts students from all over the world to study in an “undistracted” environment.

Saba is an Affordable Travel Destination

There are absolutely no name brands on Saba. Every restaurant, hotel and shop is locally owned. However, it is still affordable as a tourist destination. You can find low budget accommodations (under $100 a night) at Lollipop’s Inn, a rustic, woman-owned home with private rooms with shared baths and beautiful views. Even the more upscale cottage or suite at Juliana’s Hotel, a gorgeous boutique hotel perched on the top of the mountain, costs between $150-250 per night. The newest hotel on the island – Saba Arawak Hotel, is what comes closest to a resort. It has a swimming pool, restaurant, bar and 27 rooms and suites.

Though there are only about 15 restaurants and cafes on the island, they are reasonably priced and offer fresh quality food. Make sure to ask for the fresh catch of the day and lobster tanks!

Affordable dining in Saba

Tips for Visiting Saba

If you only have a few hours or a day, you can take a small plane from Sint Maarten (SXM) to Saba. The 28-mile flight on WinAir takes less than 12 minutes, but it is an international flight, so you will need to clear customs and immigration. An Airport and Harbor departure tax fee of $10 is payable when departing Saba. There are no ATMs at the airport and harbor so bring cash.

Scheduled ferry rides from St. Maarten operate throughout the week and offer a scenic 90-minute ride over to Saba.

Pack for cooler weather. Most people arriving from surrounding Caribbean islands don’t realize how different the climate on Saba can be. You can have spring-like mornings, afternoon showers, and warm evenings – all in one day! Make sure to pack a rain jacket, light sweater and good walking shoes.

streets in Saba

Saba is truly a hidden gem designed in a way that it is visited by very few tourists to sustain its nature and people. If you visit, you will be pleasantly surprised by how the small island has managed to be developed, environment friendly and constantly innovative.

And if you have more time, continue your island hop to nearby St Eustatius, St Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, St Barts, Anguilla, Saint Marten (French), Sint Maarten (Dutch) – all located within a few minutes from Saba.

Sustainable Glamping – Luxury Cabins Near Jackson Hole

If you want a luxurious and sustainable experience on your Midwest wilderness vacation, head to Jackson Hole. With the recent travel restrictions, it seems that everyone is returning toward a 60’s style travel format. Before, families use to do more road trips, visit the national parks, spend time outdoors, set up camps and rented cabins.

Now, I’m not much of a camper and I have never stayed in a camper van or RV either. I do like hiking, biking, kayaking, rafting, and being out in nature though. So, I opt for glamping – which is a hybrid between camping, a hotel suite, and a luxury cabin rental.

fireside resort
Fireside Resort is secluded in the woods, yet minutes away from Jackson Hole.

Luxurious Alternative to Camping

Recently, I stayed at a beautiful, comfortable and modern cabin near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. From the outside, my stand alone building looked like a rustic wood cabin. But inside, it was a sleek loft/ tiny home, equipped with a king size Tempur-Pedic bed, living area with fireplace and television, as well as a walk in bathroom with a spacious shower. There was even a kitchenette with stainless steel dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave, sink and a coffee maker.

Comfortable and Cozy

The layout of the cabin looks like the inside of a million dollar motorhome, where everything is well thought of. Hardwood floors, local art, craftsman style door knobs, elegant rugs – no architectural details are ignored.

wedge cabin
I stayed at the Wedge Cabin at Fireside Resort.

A private deck with picnic table and outdoor grill was perfect to roast marshmallows on a chilly star studded night. But mostly, I sat outside the cabin in the morning, drinking my first cup of coffee and breathing fresh clean mountain air. Fireside Resort felt like a boutique hotel in the atmosphere of a wooded campground. In fact, there is an RV campground at the back of the 25 cabins.

Jackson Hole square
There’s lots to do in downtown Jackson Hole.

Location, Location, Location!

Choices for accommodations near Jackson Hole include everything from boutique hotels to budget motels. In the summer, Jackson Hole downtown is bustling with people, markets, bars and restaurants. Additionally, most of the chain motels are located along the main roads. In winters, skiers and snowboarders prefer to stay at the chalet style hotels near the chairlifts at Teton Village.

Teton Village
Chalet style accommodations at Teton Village.

If you want to get a little bit away from the crowds and still be close to major attractions, Fireside Resort in Wilson, Wyoming is ideal. The resort is nestled in the Teton wilderness, and is less than 10 minutes drive from the ski slopes at Teton Village and 30 minutes from Jackson Hole airport.

Sustainable Stay

With sustainable built, LEED-certified cabins, Fireside Resort is one of only two such places to stay in Jackson Hole. The cabins are designed by Jackson Hole based – Wheelhaus, with a motto of “Living LARGE with Less.” For instance, they use less building materials, less square footage, less waste, high quality craftsmanship and materials, to build tiny homes and modular homes. Blending rustic and modern, Wheelhaus designs combine both the durability and quality craftsmanship of a log cabin with a modern focus on energy efficiency, innovative design, progressive space management, and top of the line building materials.

Interior of Fireside cabin
Fully functional and modern cabin.

Pet Friendly

Dogs are welcome at the Fireside Resort’s cabins and RV park. Therefore, be sure to inform the reception upon check in and pay a $35/per day per pet non refundable pet fee.

Outdoor Activities Near Jackson Hole

Winter Sports

The biggest reason to visit Jackson Hole is the beautiful landscapes, outdoor spaces and activities. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers 133 (named) trails and 12 lifts across more than 2,500 acres for skiing and snowboarding. Well-groomed Nordic skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing trails are also available and ideal for skiers of all levels. Additional slopes include Grand Targhee Resort and Snow King Mountain.

Grand Teton National Park
1800’s church at Grand Teton National Park.

Summer Fun

There is something for everyone in the family for outdoor fun during summer time in the Jackson Hole area. Golf, bike, hike, fish, horseback ride, whitewater raft – the possibilities during summer are endless.

Grand Tetons
Grand Tetons overlook the entire city of Jackson Hole.

Grand Tetons

Near Fireside Resort, are some of the most beautiful national parks in the USA. Grand Teton rises more than 7,000 feet (2,100 m) above Jackson Hole. The Grand Teton National Park has numerous lakes, including 15-mile-long (24 km) Jackson Lake as well as streams of varying length and the upper main stem of the Snake River. Some of the rocks in the park are the oldest found in any American national park and have been dated at nearly 2.7 billion years.

Bisons in Jackson Hole
Bisons roam around the surrounding areas.

You can easily spend a day or two hiking, and biking through The Grand Teton National Park near Jackson Hole. One of the best drives is the Moose-Wilson road, where you can see glaciers, wildflowers, lakes, wildlife and old scenic churches. Also, make sure to take a water shuttle on stunning Lake Jenny, and a short hike to see Hidden Falls.

Yellowstone national park
Grand prismatic at Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National Park

Grand Teton National Park is only 10 miles (16 km) south of Yellowstone National Park, the oldest national park in the US. It is also easily accessible from Jackson Hole.

Travel tip: Have a printed guide and map handy, as there won’t be WiFi inside most national parks.

Allow for at least two days to explore Yellowstone National Park, or longer if you plan to hike, fish, kayak or horseback ride. Mostly in Wyoming, the park spreads into parts of Montana and Idaho too. Yellowstone features dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs and gushing geysers, including its most famous, Old Faithful. It’s also home to hundreds of animal species, including bears, wolves, bison, elk and antelope.

Grand Teton National Park
Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park
Watch the Yellowstone National Park series on Amazon Video.

Traveling to Wyoming Responsibly

Because of the pandemic, wildfires and increment weather, exercise precautions while traveling to Wyoming. Adventure responsibly and enjoy the wide open spaces by frequent hand washing, wearing face covering and keeping social distancing.

Travel Wyoming safely
Follow the TravelWyoming safety guidelines.

Many restaurants in Jackson Hole and the surrounding parks are not open for dine-in, while others require advance reservations. At Fireside Resort, face covering is required to enter the reception area and housekeeping is offered for a fee. There’s also a hot tub on site, but it is closed due to COVID-19.

Where To Travel Sustainably in St Thomas USVI

The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) comprise of 3 main islands – St Thomas, St John and St Croix. I traveled to St Thomas and St John in July 2020 for an extended weekend getaway. The islands are hit hard from the pandemic, and from its economic impact. Many of the businesses I spoke to said that they survived the two hurricanes in 2017, but this is far worse worse than that, because there’s no end in sight. With no cruise ships coming to the island, and extended lockdowns, the heavily tourism depended locals, have absolutely no income, and sometimes not even enough to eat.

Whenever you travel to St Thomas in the future, choose your accommodations and activities to ensure that your tourism dollars go toward supporting the local economy. Here are some businesses that I saw doing a great job in sustaining tourism in USVI.

St Thomas airport
Fly into Cyril E. King Airport, St Thomas USVI

Visiting St Thomas in Summer 2020

Flying into St Thomas USVI is easy, with lots of commercial flights operating daily. The tiny airport is packed, though everyone is required to wear a mask. Car rentals from the airport are often sold out, so make sure to reserve in advance. Driving in St Thomas is on the left hand side (like in U.K.), while the cars are equipped with left side steering wheels (such as those in the US).

At home in the tropics B&B St Thomas
Location of my B&B in downtown St Thomas.

Much of St Thomas was closed when I traveled there, and streets in downtown were practically empty. High end retail stories that are usually bustling with tourists purchasing watches, jewelry and souvenirs, were boarded up and opened for limited hours on the weekends. Restaurants were open for dine-in, but with limited capacity, and served meals in disposable containers only.

In my opinion, this was a great time to travel to St Thomas, as it was quiet and peaceful. Not having crowds of tourists walking down the cobblestone streets, or facing lines of cars on the narrow curvy roads around the island, make it a little easier to explore at leisure.

view of St Thomas harbor
View from At Home in The Tropics B&B

Staying at a Family-Run B&B

One of the highlights of my trip were my accommodations – At Home in The Tropics. This 4-bedroom family-owned B&B is located in quiet neighborhood in downtown St Thomas, called Charlotte Amelie. Being in the center of the historic district, the home was once part of the Danish Governor’s mansion grounds. It overlooks the beautiful downtown and harbor. Right next door are the famous 99 Steps, the Three Queens Memorial, Blackbeards Castle. It’s also a short walking distance to shops and restaurants.

99 steps St Thomas landmark
The 99 Steps were originally built by the Danes to solve the problem of getting around the Charlotte Amalie’s hilly terrain.

Decorated in Caribbean style, each of the 4 bedrooms have their own entrance, a patio and private bath. From the window, you can see colorful flowers, the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, boats in the harbor, and the green hills beyond. It’s the perfect place to relax and chill!

The innkeepers serve a scrumptious homemade breakfast outdoors by the swimming pool. The menu changes daily. Jessica makes gluten-free banana pancakes, passion fruit, mango and coconut tart (using fruits from her garden), curried eggs Benedict with avocado, and local organic coffee. Her friendly husband, Mark, takes care of maintenance and the garden. The couple lives on the premise with their son and two dogs, and are always available to make recommendations for dining and sightseeing. They have even set up a QR code so guests need not touch maps or brochures.

St Thomas B&B
Innkeepers Mark & Jessica quit their jobs and moved from New Jersey to St Thomas.

Mark and Jessica are creating a sustainable lifestyle in St Thomas. They use solar panels to generate power, filter rain water, and grow herbs and vegetables on a vertical garden. Because the B&B is well spaced out and has capacity for up to 8 guests, you never feel crowded or run into other people.

Eat at My Brothers Bakery

If you want to taste some of the best rum cake on the island, head over to My Brother’s Workshop’s Café and Bakery in downtown Charlotte Amelie. My Brother’s Workshop (MBW) is a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring, counseling, job training, education, and job placement to at-risk young men and women on the island. Chef and pro boxer Julius Jackson, author of the cookbook ‘My Modern Caribbean Kitchen’ and a well known celebrity on St Thomas, manages the organization. 

Chef Julius Jackson
Chef & pro boxer Julius Jackson dining with us in St Thomas!

In the past few months of shutdown, MBW has cooked, served and delivered over 37,000 free meals to the vulnerable populations on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. MBW offers a grab-and-go take-out window offering pastries, sandwiches and daily Caribbean specials. By eating at MBW, you will taste some local delicacies, encourage the youth, and help sustain the economy.

Read my interview with Chef Jackson here
starfish in Caribbean
Discover sea creatures on a ecotour in St Thomas.

Explore with an Ecotour

On your next trip to USVI, discover the natural wonders of the island with a full day of hiking, kayaking and snorkeling with Virgin Islands Eco Tour. Kayak through the narrow waterways of mangrove trees, hike the deserted island of Cas Cay, and explore volcanic cliffs and a rare geological blowhole. Snorkel around a coral-fringed mangrove nursery in clear, protected waters.

soldier crabs
Lunch with soldier grabs organized by USVI Ecotour.

During the trip, you’ll also get a picnic lunch which you can enjoy surrounded by millions of soldier crabs. It is amazing to see them walking around your feet, looking for crumbs!

St Thomas guided ecotour
Hike along the cliffs and blow hole with a guide.

Take a Day Trip to St John

St John is the smallest of the USVI, and many businesses still not reopened since the devastating hurricanes of 2017. The best way to explore St John is by car. Take your rental car on the ferry (departure is every 2 hours) from St Thomas to St John. Travel time is only 20 minutes.

Cruz Bay is the main downtown area in St John’s where you will find restaurants and shops. Head over to Mongoose Junction, an outdoor mall built like a Danish plantation. Here you can pick up lunch, ice cream, coffee or shop for souvenirs.

St Johns beach trip
Drive around to find a secluded beach in St John.

Next, walk along the white sand beaches, swim in the turquoise waters at Trunk Bay, and hike the Reef Bay Trail and Petroglyphs. Grab dinner at St John’s before traveling back on a ferry to St Thomas. You can also chose to stay overnight at one of the boutique hotels overlooking the bay.

USVI Covid-19 response
Check travel restrictions to USVI.

Plan Your Trip to USVI

St Thomas had reopened for travel in June 2020. Though on August 13, the Governor of the USVI announced that the territory was reverting back to “Stay at Home” orders. Check the USVI Department of Tourism’s website for latest updates before booking your sustainable travel to the island.

How G Adventures Gives Back to the Community

When you are planning a trip abroad with sustainability in mind, it can sometimes be complex and hard to execute. You may think of options like a  group trip, head to a particular destination you think is more sustainable, or look for ways to make a positive impact when you arrive. Thankfully, some travel organizations, like G Adventures, take the difficulty out of preplanning and allow you to focus on how you can truly be a positive, impactful traveler.

“Changing the world through travel” has been the organization’s motto since its creation in 1990. For over 20 years, G Adventures has curated numerous bookings for individuals to revel in sustainable vacations, the local community and volunteer services that provide an enriching experience. Furthermore, G Adventures works closely with its non-profit partner – Planeterra, which aims to empower people, protect the environment, and create a ripple effect of positive impact through tourism.

From all across the globe, there are numerous vacation projects for you to pick from. The organization just introduced five new projects to the public in 2020. Be sure to check them out below to gain some destination inspiration or learn more about how you can give back to communities while traveling.

1. Dqae Qare San Lodge – D’Kar, Botswana

g adventures
The Dqae Qare San Lodge is a unique experience as it is owned and run by the San people

D’kar is a village in the Ghanzi District of Botswana. A large number of the San of Southern Africa, a marginalized group of indigenous people, resides there. They are excluded from the economy and lack social services. Moreover, they are under constant threat of their language and history being demolished by infrastructure development and lack of cultural resources. 

In the D’kar village, the Dqae Qare San Lodge is a wildlife area, lodge and campsite. It also aids in the protection of the San of Botswana. It offers full-time employment and part-time work for those who offer cultural activities and other small jobs there. Over USD $38,000 is annually paid to upkeep development projects like freshwater infrastructure and resources for preschool. Such projects are invaluable to the community, which lives in extreme poverty.

Planeterra partners with Dqae Qare San Lodge to assist them with upgrades to their site and accommodation. Funds are used to improve facilities and connect the lodge with a steady stream of travelers from G Adventures. The tourism income ensures a regular revenue for the camping grounds.

2. Reef Ecologic – Whitsundays, Australia

g adventures
The Whitsundays is just right on the corner of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

The Whitsundays Islands is made up of 74 continental islands off the coast of Queensland, Australia. People from all over travel head here to see some of world’s finest white sands beaches and barrier reefs. However, a tropical cyclone swept through the Whitsundays region in 2017, decimating terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Along with the environmental and economic impacts, the ecosystem began to collapse because of damage done to the coral reefs. The lack of coral reefs affects marine life and leads to the disappearance of fish, sharks and sea turtles.

In a collaboration with Reef Ecologic, Planeterra integrated reef restoration programs into tourism experiences in the Whitsundays. With the sponsorship of a new coral garden, Reef Ecologic secured funding for monitoring efforts for the coral garden through tourism. When booking a trip to Whitsundays, Australia, travelers engage in various materials to learn about marine rehabilitation. They also physically help in reef recovery and integrate tourism with the community.

3. Soa Zara – Ranohira, Madagascar

g adventures
Approximately 22% of Madagascar is forest

Located off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar is the world’s fifth-largest island. It has some of the world’s largest coral reef systems and mangrove areas. In addition, it is home to an abundance of plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. However, Madagascar has lost 90% of its original forests because of destruction caused by humans. Deforestation is a major issue that has spurred from agriculture and fuel usage.

L’Association Soa Zara has planted over 10,000 trees, and Planeterra worked with them to create a tree planting activity for travelers staying at the ITC Lodge nearby.

Learn how trees sustain our planet in this book

Planeterra further supports the local organization’s efforts through community outreach programs. Soa Zara helps create washbasin stations and a water filtration system. As a result, they bridge the protection of the environment with economic development for the local people. Travelers stay at the nearby ITC Lodge and have hands-on experience with planting their own trees next to the Isalo National park. In addition, travelers learn about the reforestation project and discover ways their trip can support the renewal of habitats.

4. Libaran Island – Borneo, Malaysia

g adventures
At Libaran Island, the best time to watch turtles is between July and September

On the northeast coast of Sandakan in Malaysia, there is Libaran Island. There, you will find long beaches and crystal blue water. With its beautiful sunsets, it is also called the “Turtle Island”. Libaran Island has two species of turtles – Green Turtles and Hawksbill turtles. The remote island has little economic opportunity, but the importance of the island as an endangered sea turtle nesting site also ties into the local people having the ability to earn an income on their island. 

Help the environment by using 100% Compostable Paper Bowls Natural Disposable Bagasse, Eco-Friendly Biodegradable, Made of Sugar Cane Fibers.

The Planeterra Foundation provided a grant to fund the necessary training for Libaran villagers to make souvenirs from ocean plastic waste. Local plants are weaved and local snacks are cooked to create new tourism activities while having a new way to earn income. Travelers have more opportunities to learn about the community, observe traditional craftsmanship and enjoy the local cuisine. The project helps locals increase their capability to earn an income from sustainable tourism opportunities on the island.

5. Mesilou Home Stay – Borneo, Malaysia

At Mesilou Atamis Homestay, all travelers can engage in the daily traditions of the locals

The Mesilou Atamis Homestay is “The Highest & Coldest Homestay in Malaysia.” It lies at an altitude of about 1600m above the sea, and temperatures can reach 15 degrees celsius. The cold, highland area once showcased unique and traditional cultural activities to guests, but it had become a home rental service due to the demand from domestic tourism. The community’s goal to share their unique travel became difficult to do as many travelers saw the area only as a place to stay. Since then, a large disconnect between locals and travelers resulted.

From the former CEO of renowned travel guide publisher Lonely Planet, a look at how travel can transform not only the traveler, but also the world.

G Adventure’s Planeterra funds improvement to the homestay operation and created new tourism activities for tourists to enjoy real experiences. As a result, the project provides opportunities for young entrepreneurs returning to their home town and turning their family home into local accommodations. Also, the community can feel that they are able to shine again after years of not having the ability to share their culture with international guests. There, travelers can engage in fishing, farming and cooking with members of the community, while economically aiding through tourism.

~By Virtual Marketing & Communications Intern, Laura Vo. Laura’s a Public Relations Major at Kennesaw State University and has a passion for supporting great causes like Go Eat Give.

What You Need To Know to Travel Sustainably and Meaningfully

More than Just Memorable

Painting a Rural Community Church in Jamaica
Painting a Rural Community Church in Jamaica

The more I travel, the more I find myself seeking meaningful, not simply memorable, travel experiences. This desire has taken me down the path of researching how to travel sustainably, considering the footprint that I have left on past trips, and even partaking in immersion travels where the focus is on cultural awareness and international relations.

I know first hand that this kind of travel can take a lot of time and effort to plan out, so let’s talk about some of the easy ways you can start traveling sustainably today.

Keywords of Sustainable Travel

In recent years, many keywords have emerged in regard to sustainable travel. These words include – Green Travel, Social Responsibility, and Environmental Consciousness. 

While figuring out the nuances of each term can be a bit tricky, it is important to know that they all promote the same thing – that is traveling with footprints and impact in mind.

Decide What it All Means to You

Impact Travel Alliance Mission for Sustainable travel changes
Impact Travel Alliance’s Mission for Change

Kelly Campbell, co-founder and executive director of The Village Experience, an organization we partner with, says “Green/Sustainable travel is traveling in a manner that respects and takes into consideration the local community, wildlife, and the environment.” Her company organizes tours to Kenya, India, Guatemala and other countries, that also combines giving back to the local communities.

Meghan Aftosmis, SR PR and Media Network Lead at Impact Travel Alliance, states that green travel and sustainable travel are not interchangeable concepts. Green travel connotes that it’s solely focused on environmental conservation, whereas sustainable tourism has a much broader perspective and meaning. The keys to sustainable travel are that a destination’s local people, culture, economy, and environment – are all benefited by tourism in that place. Even beyond the travel industry, businesses often describe this as a triple-bottom-line: people, planet, profit.

With this in mind, think about your own travels and decide what sustainable traveling means to you. Ask yourself how you will integrate more best practices on your next trip?

Do Your Research and Choose What’s Right

Traveling sustainably with the Village Experience on a Kenyan Safari
Sunset on a Kenyan Safari with The Village Experience

With sustainable travel, as with any kind of travel, it is important that you do your homework before you go. Doing so will ensure that you not only choose the right destination, but that you also engage with the right kind of organizations and travel companies when you get there. To get an even better understanding of the destinations practicing sustainability, check out Go Eat Give’s recommended travel destinations and blog here.

One place to start your research is to look for travel companies that have direct partnerships with locally owned hotels, restaurants, excursion tours, and shops. Choosing entities like these, over large commercial tourism companies, helps to confirm that tourism dollars stay local. This also helps the community stay economically stable and that the culture of that destination stays intact.

Prepare For the Trip

Traveling Sustainably Starts with Packing Sustainably

If you are like me, you have a stash of basic travel products that you bring on every trip. In the past couple of years, I have personally added a reusable water bottle, snap and go snack containers, a cotton wrap sheet (to be used as a beach sheet, picnic blanket, or poolside cover-up), and a packable travel towel – to my ever-growing expanse of sustainable travel gear! Each item has saved me so much time and effort while I’m jetting off from place to place. It has also cut down on the waste that I have left behind.

These Hydro Cell Stainless Steel Water Bottles keep liquids hot or cold and come in a variety of fun colors. 

Take the time to purchase a few sustainable travel products that you can reuse on all your trips. Keeping these items on hand can go a long way in saving you money, while reducing the footprint you leave behind.

Engage With The Local Community

Immersion Trip to a Guatemalan Elementary School
Immersion Trip to Guatemalan Elementary School

In addition, it is important to continue giving back to the destination you visit every time you travel. By partnering with local charities and social enterprises that have sustainable visions and missions, you’ll leave a positive footprint behind. There are many easy ways to integrate this into your next trip, no matter where you choose to go. When you travel again, consider shopping at fair trade stores, taking eco tours, joining cooking classes led by locals, and eating at locally-owned restaurants

Another way to take this a step further is by donating your time. Many local organizations offer opportunities to volunteer for a few hours to a few weeks, bring much-needed supplies, or donate any special skills you may have. It is best to find out from the local organization what assistance they need. Go only with reputable nonprofits that ensure that no one is taken advantage of in the process.

Also, some of the activities Go Eat Give volunteers have done in the past include teaching English to businessmen and women in Spain, farming on a cooperative farm in Cuba, giving lessons on health and sanitation in Indonesia, and organizing life skills classes for women in India. Anything that involves touching wildlife is typically a No Go!

Start the Connection at Home

Even when you are not traveling, you can continue to learn about sustainable and meaningful travel while at home. Doing so will ensure that you have the right mindset before you take off on your next adventure.

The nonprofit travel organization, Impact Travel Alliance offers a series of virtual events that introduce travelers to a sustainable mindset. These are educational, offering facts and perspective from travel industry members from around the world. All events are free, but donations directly support their travel partners.

If you are ready to start planning your vacation, with sustainability in mind, of course, The Village Experience is offering $100 off any 2021 trip listed on their website. Make sure to mention this post when you book!

~By Jordan Dunn, Marketing and Communications Intern at Go Eat Give. Jordan is a Public Relations and Communications Marketing Major at Siena College in Upstate NY. She has a passion for writing, traveling, and advocacy. Follow her on Facebook and Blog about her personal travels.

Cinnamon Hotels – Integrating Travel With Culture

One of the things I am mindful of when traveling is picking accommodations that are sustainable. Even if I’m staying at resorts or chain hotels, I do some research to check what kind of programs they have in place to support the local community, culture and the environment. I’ll also check hotels that rent by the month to see what type of tourists/ residents it’s attracting. For example, in the UK, various hotels accommodate the community by offering weddings at their accommodation, bringing everyone together in affordable but classy ceremony. For example, wedding venues high wycombe offers just that, with an ideal setting and hotel chefs creating the menu. This is what I mean, accommodation that can offer so much more than just a bed to sleep on. So when Sri Lanka based Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts invited me to experience some of their hotels around the country, I was excited to see how they integrate the local culture and cuisine into their luxurious hotels.

Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts offered a diverse range of accommodations from beach front to rustic jungle lodges. Here are some cultural activities you can do at each of the hotels:

Cinnamon Grand Colombo

Located in the heart of the capital city of Colombo, Cinnamon Grand is a luxury hotel with 13 eateries, spa and shopping center. From here, you can also walk to the beach and Spa Ceylon next door. I watched traditional masked dances here and ate at a mile long buffet of authentic local dishes served in clay pots, including hoppers, crab curry, beet root curry, tempered banana flowers, fish ambulthiyal, coconut roti, homemade pickles, and fresh cut mangoes. The dinner experience created in one of their gardens felt as if I was attending a Sri Lankan wedding!

Cinnamon Bey Beruwala

The South West Coast of Sri Lanka is home to the first Muslim settlement on the island, established by Arab traders. This also gives inspiration to the Moorish decor of Cinnamon Bey, with bright spacious rooms overlooking the Indian Ocean created by Channa Daswatte, one of the island’s most talented architects and creative minds.

I was mesmerized by the men wearing white blouses and loose pants twirling at lightening speeds as they welcomed us with the traditional southern dance. Then, the chef took me to the Beruwala fish harbor, a local fish market to pick the fresh catch where you can see fisherman coming into the beach at sunset, and served it for dinner at the Rock Salt restaurant. I visited a mask museum and watched craftsman make wood masks, a few hundred year old tradition. In season, you can visit the nearby Kosgoda turtle hatchery.

Cinnamon Wild Yala

Bordering Yala National Park, the rustic cottages at Cinnamon Wild Yala are a great place to see wildlife. I could see buffalos and monkeys right outside my room, and even heard elephants at the watering hole at night. You can walk to the tiny fishing village and hike on the sand dunes. There are also bird watching and night safari tours you can do in the area.

During the day, I went on a jeep safari into the national park, which is said to have one of the highest densities of leopards in the world. Because of the constant tug between wild leopards attacking farm animals and farmers encroaching on forests, Cinnamon Wild built protective fences and cages for domestic animals. This has helped the leopard population thrive.

Cinnamon Citadel Kandy

The resort is ideally located away from the bustling city of Kandy, on a green hill by Mahaveli River, the longest river in the country. It has an open lobby, an expansive pool, and restaurant with great views of the tropics. Nearby, visit the famous Temple of the Tooth Relic, visited by Buddhists from all over the world.

Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon

This was my favorite property because of its artsy style with colorful murals at the reception and sweeping views of the ocean. The white beach dotted with coconut trees is perfect for snorkeling, surfing or just relaxing. I used Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon as a base to explore the UNESCO town of Galle with its Dutch colonial buildings, boutique shops and trendy restaurants. Also, I saw my first blue whale at a whale watching experience from nearby Mirissa.

Nature Trails, the wildlife and nature based tourism arm of Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts creates experiences for nature and adventure loving travelers, taking them into the natural world of Sri Lanka, celebrating the endless wilderness, admiring the natural heritage and showcasing the true essence of Sri Lanka’s rural beauty, its people and places while treading lightly off the beaten tracks of this magical island.