For those looking to see the world and give back at the same time, consider these must-see destinations.
As Cathy and Don McCallum reached retirement in 2007 – she was a teacher, he was a banker – they began thinking about what they should do after they stopped working.
The North Bay, Ontario, couple knew they wanted to travel, but they didn’t just want to sit on a beach or do the usual sightseeing. They’ve always volunteered in their community and thought that maybe they could combine their passion for giving back with their desire to see the world. “I don’t think that the day you retire you can just go out and do a bunch of travelling,” says Don. “We wanted to do something that fit with our history and our desire to reach out.”
The couple wanted to visit a country where they could see incredible sights and give back in a way they couldn’t when they were working. In 2008, they joined Hope2Kenya, a local Kenyan organization that works on education, clean water and healthcare projects aimed at improving the lives of Kenyan children. Thanks to the extra time they now had, they were able to spend about four weeks in the country fundraising, doing public speaking, working on the ground and using their vocational skills to bring real change to communities in need, all while exploring the country at the same time. “It’s tremendously rewarding,” Cathy says. “We were off the beaten path in communities and had experiences that most people our age would never have.”
There are many others who, like the McCallums, want to travel in retirement but aren’t content with simply lounging on a beach or seeing the usual sites. However, it’s not always easy finding a place where you can see incredible things and help communities in need, which is why we’ve put together a list of five places any volunteering, travel-happy retiree must go.
Cruise the West Coast the Eco-Friendly Way
North America’s northwest coast – that’s the islands, fjords and inlets of B.C. and Alaska – is a setting that demands quiet contemplation and a deep appreciation for the region’s wildlife. So skip the big cruise ships and book a journey on a 28-metre schooner instead, where you’ll join just seven or eight other guests and four or five veteran crew to meet naturalists, chefs and First Nations communities on an exploration of the region’s flora and fauna. Activities include kayaking, fishing, discussions with top scientists, conversations with locals, even the chance to steer and help sail the ship.
As part of its ecotourism mandate, Maple Leaf Adventures runs immersive tours that keep money in local communities and are low-impact. For instance, head office prints only on 100-percent recycled paper, and food is locally caught or grown as much as possible. The company is also a member of 1% for the Planet, meaning it has committed to donating one percent of revenues to conservation initiatives such as the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, which works to protect B.C.’s coast and its wildlife.
Help Rare Birds in Hawke’s Bay
Situated about halfway between Auckland and Wellington, this region on the east coast of the North Island is known for its stellar food and wine. It’s also home to the city of Napier, which houses one of the world’s greatest concentrations of Art Deco architecture thanks to an intense rebuilding effort after a devastating earthquake in 1931.
About half an hour down the coast from Napier sits the Farm at Cape Kidnappers, a 6,000-acre peninsula encompassing picturesque working farmland, forested pathways, soaring cliffs and an award-winning golf course, all separated from the mainland by a 10.5-kilometre fence designed to keep out predators that threaten the endangered native birds that roam this residence. Species here include gannets, moreporks, red-billed gulls and kiwis, the elusive, nocturnal, flightless birds that most – even locals – only see indoors.
Visit the Farm and you’ll be contributing toward the maintenance of this wildlife sanctuary. It takes two full-time rangers to patrol the property and set and maintain the 2,500 bait stations and 1,000 trap boxes that keep dangerous cats, stoats, ferrets, weasels and rats at bay. To be more hands-on, sign up for a Kiwi Discovery Walk to join an experienced guide on a visit with one of the more than 40 resident North Island brown kiwis. Touch the bird’s hairlike feathers and know that your dollars are contributing directly to the survival of this national icon.
Visit Machu Picchu with Local Guides
Peru’s chief tourist destination is a major must-visit for good reason: Not only is the setting of the Inca ruin and UNESCO World Heritage Site awe-inspiring visually, it’s also a testament to the advanced engineering skills of those who built it. The stonework is designed to withstand earthquakes, and the flat space the city sits on was excavated out of the mountains.
But there’s more to this South American country than just ruins. Its burgeoning tourism industry is fuelled by both the ancient and modern worlds, encompassing both Spanish and indigenous historical sites, a natural landscape that goes from seashore to mountain and desert to rainforest, and a culinary scene that is among the best in the world.
To help travellers get the most out of their journey while helping locals too, San Francisco-based Llama Expeditions offers a range of tours that support community businesses and non-profits and pays fair wages to local guides and operators. Guests might visit a school for impoverished girls, have lunch at a restaurant that supports local social projects or tour a remote weaving community, getting an opportunity to buy textiles directly from the women who make them.
Race High-Elevation Trails in Kenya
A post-retirement trip to this African nation can take many different forms: There are plenty of luxury hotels and tour operators ready to cater to your every whim, whether you’re relaxing on the coast or trekking across the plains in search of big game. At the other end of the scale, organizations such as Me to We offer volunteer trips that let you build schools and get face to face with everyday life in rural communities.
A third option that will resonate with runners is the Rift Valley Marathon, an endeavour that lets travellers race a half-marathon, marathon or relay marathon each March along trails that have seen the footfalls of some of the country’s most accomplished distance runners. The pre-race dinner includes not just pasta but ugali, a local staple made from ground maize. Revellers at the post-race party will enjoy traditional singing and dancing from the Nandi tribe.
The package includes fully guided tours before and after, as well: a three-day exploration of the surrounding regions, including community projects, schools, tea plantations and waterfalls, and a three-day safari in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, home to lions, elephants, giraffes and other wildlife. The trip is organized by Run for Life, a Canadian non-profit that supports water, education and women’s small business projects in the area.
Plant a Tree in Jamaica
GoldenEye, a resort in Oracabessa Bay on Jamaica’s north coast, is famous for being founded by James Bond creator Ian Fleming and for hosting celebrity guests, from Katharine Hepburn and Sophia Loren to Sting and Kate Moss. Reopened in 2011 after extensive renovations, it welcomes guests to explore the property and surroundings through activities such as mountain biking, fishing, birdwatching and watersports on the ocean and lagoon.
Current owner and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell also started the Oracabessa Foundation, an organization through which GoldenEye supports community projects in the areas of health, education, sport and the environment. In autumn, for just a $10 donation, guests can observe sea turtle nesting and hatching on a nearby beach. A gift of $1,000 to the foundation lets you plant a tree on the same grounds where Hillary and Bill Clinton, Kate Moss and Richard Branson planted their trees.