The boom in tourism has impacted the earth, and our society, with unprecedented harm. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the truth sometimes—if not always—hurts. When the breathtaking photos have garnered likes on Instagram and our short-lived adrenaline rush from traveling has run its course, we need to face the fact that a lot of travelers don't leave the place better than when they arrived. Many of us have found ourselves guilty and try to travel more ethically moving forward, while a great deal remains oblivious to the negative impacts of travel. These include patronizing activities with illegal or unethical practices, overpromoting a destination that isn’t ready to face heavy commercialization, and disrespecting a location’s people and environment.
It’s not just the communities involved that are harmed, but ourselves, too—some have been dragged along the endless cycle of “travel envy” and #FOMO, while others have started seeking popularity and affirmation for their travels. But what is it all for? If you travel at the expense of those who are vulnerable, or merely for the sake of the ‘gram, it’s safe to say that you are being irresponsible. With the wealth of information online, it is not just our choice but our duty to be more intentional with our actions, including all aspects of the way we travel.
If you’d like to travel more responsibly and pay it forward at the same time, there are several ways you can give back to the Philippines. We’ve scoured sustainable travel tours that not only minimize the negative impacts of travel but benefit their natural and cultural environs as well. In these experiences, you can volunteer where your talent is needed and foster deep connections with like-minded people who fight for the same causes you care about.
1. Reforest the Land and Preserve the Culture of Yangil’s Aeta Tribe
Journey to Sitio Yangil in Zambales, a remote village that was greatly affected by Mt. Pinatubo’s infamous eruption in 1992. With MAD Travel’s Tribes & Treks Tour, you can help rebuild a 3,000-hectare forest in which the Aetas, the indigenous tribe of Yangil, heavily rely upon for their livelihood and culture. Trek through volcanic ash and cross reinvigorating rivers, and upon arriving at the village, discover the community’s native archery, food, and music. In partnership with the San Felipe LGU and the Circle Hostel, the tour has planted over 35,000 trees as of October 2018 and invested over ₱600,000 in community projects, like building a tree nursery and the construction of village infrastructures.
MAD Travel’s Tribes & Treks Tour in Zambales starts at ₱1,950 inclusive of meals and transfers within Zambales.
2. Plant Trees within the Ipo Watershed at Mt. Balagbag
For hikers and mountaineers, you can marvel at vast mountainscapes while helping out with reforestation. Join Eco Explorations’ tree planting sessions in Mt. Balagbag, a bi-monthly activity that aims to rehabilitate and enhance the Ipo watershed and its surrounding forests. Supplying over 98% of Metro Manila’s water, the Ipo Watershed is of immense importance and is a critical part of the Umiray-Angat-Ipo watershed system. Only less than 40% of the watershed’s forest cover remains, which is essential in oxygen production, recharging the groundwater, and preventing erosion.
Eco Explorations’ Ipo Watershed Reforestation Tour costs ₱2,000, inclusive of a roundtrip private van transfer, fees for Bantay Gubat Ranger guides, 5 native seedlings for tree planting, a snack, and a donation for Bantay Gubat needs.
3. Assist in Pawikan Conservation in Bataan
If you feel passionate about protecting our endangered sea turtles, Culture Shock PH schedules volunteer trips at the Pawikan Conservation Center located in Morong, Bataan a facility maintained by a group of reformed sea turtle poachers. Every nesting season, you can take part in a coastal night patrol for pawikan conservation, where you will be walking along the coast to wait for turtles to lay their eggs. The eggs will then be collected and transferred to the center’s makeshift hatchery to protect them from predators and exploitation from poachers. If you’re lucky, you may even take part in releasing the turtle hatchlings to sea in the morning. The conservation center is a community-based initiative formed by a joint effort by the local government and non-profit organization partners.
Culture Shock PH’s Bataan Pawikan (Sea Turtle) Conservation Trip costs ₱3,700 inclusive of transportation fees, meals, dorm-style accommodations (room upgrades may be requested with additional fees), travel insurance, tour guide fees, and environmental fees.
4. Discover the Magic of Farming at the GK Enchanted Farm
From the get-go, farming may just be synonymous with growing crops and raising livestock, but you’ll realize that there is so much more to it once you pay a visit to the GK (Gawad Kalinga) Enchanted Farm. Once a vast wasteland, the GK Enchanted Farm in Bulacan is now a thriving, sustainable farm that has been transforming lives by supporting farmers in the countryside and uplifting social entrepreneurs. Coined as a “Silicon Valley of Social Entrepreneurship”, the farm-village-university offers farm hope tours, social enterprise demos, and unique farming experiences that instill resourcefulness, appreciation towards nature, and above all, hope for the nation.
GK Enchanted Farm's Farm Day Tour starts at ₱395, while an overnight private room stay for two people costs ₱2,500. They offer set tour packages for groups of 5, while packages that include social enterprise demos are for groups with a minimum of 10 people.
5. Commune with Nature While Marveling at Masungi Georeserve’s Conservation Efforts
A day of adventure awaits at the Masungi Georeserve, the ideal place to head to if you need to unplug, be one with nature, and learn a thing or two about the Philippines’ biodiversity. The Masungi Georeserve in Rizal has been protecting 60-million-year old limestones for over 20 years, and provides trail tours for guests to experience, which help in sustaining conservation efforts and raising awareness on its ecological and social importance. In this sanctuary, guests can marvel at wildlife and plant species, journey through bucolic pathways, and learn about its rich heritage in a 3-4 hour guided hike.
Masungi Georeserve’s Legacy Trail is for groups of 7-14 individuals with a conservation fee of ₱1,200 per guest on weekends and weekdays. It’s recommended to reserve slots in advance.
6. Explore Historical Sites Using Locally-Made Eco-Friendly Bikes
You don’t need to venture far from the metro for your next eco-friendly travel experience. Cycle around the historic neighborhood of Intramuros with Bambike Eco Tours on ingenious bamboo bikes made from fair-trade labor and sustainable building practices. Typically done in groups of 5-10 persons, the biking tour allows you to explore the Philippines in a fun, safe, educational, and not to mention, the least environmentally impactful way. Your expert “Bambassadors” will serve as your guides during the tour and will make sure you are well taken care of throughout.
Bambike Ecotours’ Intramuros Tour starts at ₱799 for a 1 hour and 30-minute Express Tour in Intramuros.
7. Bridge the Gap by Immersing in Muslim Culture
Traveling isn’t just about taking photos, visiting picturesque places, and scouring souvenirs. When done with purpose, it can also mean making deeper connections and hearing locals’ stories that are often unheard. This is precisely what Meaningful Travels PH does by providing cultural immersion tours that foster peace, love, and understanding between communities of different backgrounds. Join their Quiapo Muslim Town Tour, where you can learn about cultural narratives that you won’t even get to read in Philippine history books. They also provide immersive tours in Banaue and Batad, Poblacion, and other off-the-beaten-track destinations like Lake Sebu and Bukidnon.
Meaningful Travels PH’s Quiapo Muslim Town Tour costs ₱1,500 inclusive of lunch, snacks, and tour guide fees.
8. Help Preserve Davao’s Biodiversity at the Philippine Eagle Foundation
Give the endangered Philippine Eagle a chance to thrive by paying an educational visit to the Philippine Eagle Center, the only breeding and rehabilitation center for the species in the entire world. Nestled in the foothills of Mt. Apo, the verdant sanctuary also works towards preserving and caring for other wild birds and its surrounding biodiversity. For each tour you book through the organization, 100% of its revenue will be given back to the organization to help them continue their work in protecting the flora and fauna it serves.
Entrance to the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) is ₱150 per head for adults, ₱100 for kids aged 5-17 years old, and free for kids 4 years old and below.
9. Rediscover Palawan through Kawil Tours’ Culion-Coron Experience
The provincial town of Culion, a small town big in history, is an off-the-beaten-path destination located in Palawan. A former leper colony, it has gone a long way with the help of Kawil Tours, a social enterprise and advocate of responsible tourism that has boosted the town’s economy and continues to provide sustainable jobs for the residents of Culion. Because of Kawil Tours’ contribution to the overall welfare of the location, what once was a town riddled with shame now has its citizens beaming with pride. History buffs and sea creatures will love their Culion-Coron Tours, as some of the activities include museum visits, historical walks, island hopping, diving, and snorkeling, besides voluntourism activities. Expect no beach parties or frenetic tour groups—Kawil Tours makes sure to give guests an authentic experience that is responsibly organized and least intrusive to the area.
Kawil Tours' rates are based on the itinerary and the number of guests in a group. Kindly contact them directly for quotations.
10. Discover a Different Side to Siargao through Authentic and Ethical Tours
Explore Siargao without tarnishing its rich ecological system. Bathala Land Tours, a sustainable tour company, uses a customized, hand-painted jeepney to bring guests around General Luna, the undiscovered northern side of Siargao. Among a fun-filled and plastic-free day tour, enjoy an educational coffee-tasting workshop at MA+D Siargao and engage in a 3-hour weaving workshop where you can learn about the banig industry. A refreshing tour that allows you to see a different side of Siargao, one without herds of tourists, it's an opportunity to truly immerse, learn about the local industry, and be assured that you are traveling responsibly and sustainably, as workshop fees are directly given to the weaving ladies and 50% of all tour fees go to their partner NGOs and social enterprises. The travel company is also in close partnership with LOKAL Siargao, a platform for local artisans and producers that advocate against irresponsible tourism.
Bathala Land Tours' Day Trip costs ₱2,000 per person. Private trips are available daily.
Honorable Mention: Help Sustain BASECO’s Community Projects by Immersing in a Slum Tour
Although controversial, ‘slum tourism’, the practice by which travelers visit an impoverished area to learn more about the area’s conditions, is an option for those who want to go above and beyond. Since there are no standards for slum tour operators as of date, tourists themselves need to determine whether or not a tour company does it ethically and responsibly. Smokey Tours, for example, works with the PRRC (the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission), a government organization that aims to rehabilitate the Pasig River, which is connected to Manila Bay and subsequently, Baseco’s coastal town.
The organization’s Slum Tours invest 100% of their profit to the Aplaya Community in Baseco and strictly enforces a no-camera and no-shopping policy to prohibit exploitation from tourists. The tours, which rank high on TripAdvisor’s list of Manila tours, strictly enforce a maximum of 6 people per group to be as unobtrusive to the community as possible. If you’d like to educate yourself and take an authentic look at the Philippines’ most marginalized communities, Smokey Tours may be something to consider.
Smokey Tours’ Slum Tour costs €23.50 (more or less ₱1,350) per person.
Want to explore more of the Philippines? Check out our local Getaways collection here.
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