By Nicole Melancon
Imagine walking alongside a Sami reindeer herder on their annual spring migration in the Arctic wilderness or learning the ancient craft of weaving with Quechua women high up in the Andes. If done right, these types of authentic travel experiences—known as community-based tourism—directly support rural communities. For travelers, these types of trips offer off-the-beaten path, authentic experiences that can be enjoyed without the guilt of negatively impacting destinations.
Here are six community-based tourism experiences—each on a different continent—that empower communities, while enriching the traveler’s experience.
The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness (Photo by Navajo Tours USA)
1. Explore ancient Chaco Canyon architecture with a Navajo guide
In remote northwestern New Mexico, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its ceremonial buildings carved into rock. For over 1,200 years, Chaco’s Ancestral Puebloan architecture has stood the test of time. Dozens of Great Houses—the term for this type of ancient structure—are mapped to celestial alignments, standing testament to the engineering skill of the Navajo peoples’ ancestors.
Indigenous communities still have a deep connection to Chaco through family, kinship, and ceremony. Through rich storytelling, Navajo guides share their Indigenous knowledge, culture, and history of their ancestral land with travelers during a five-hour interpretive tour.
Navajo Tours USA
Showing off their beautiful weaving work (Photo by Andeana Hats)
2. Experience traditional Andean life and heritage in Peru
High up in the Andes mountains, you’ll find a community of Quechua women who have been practicing the traditional art of weaving for centuries. Weaving is more than a craft—it encompasses a sense of identity for Quechua women, with each community using different colors and techniques. Yet this cultural tradition is slowly disappearing as women move to urban areas to find more opportunities and income.
Travelers can help keep this cultural heritage alive and empower Quechua women with a visit to a traditional weaving community. Spend a day or an entire weekend with the women weavers to gain an intimate understanding of Quechua women, their culture, and their craft—or learn to do some weaving yourself.
A Sami reindeer herder (Photo by Sandra Zagolin)
3. Join the Sami on the spring reindeer migration in Norway
Every April, the Sami—who live throughout northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia—pack up their belongings and prepare for their long journey following the reindeer migration. But as the only Indigenous people living in the European Union, their fascinating way of life and culture are under threat due to climate change and governmental policies restricting grazing lands.
To help keep their traditions strong, Visit Natives has created a sustainable travel program that provides income opportunities for Sami herders. When you join the reindeer spring migration alongside a Sami family, you’ll get to travel on a sled pulled by a snowmobile in a place without roads, sleep in a traditional Sami lavvu tent, and embrace the raw beauty of the Arctic wilderness.
Community conservation work in Uganda (Photo by James Nadiope)
4. Visit the mountain gorillas of Uganda and the communities that protect them
While most travelers visit southern Uganda to see mountain gorillas—one of the world’s most endangered species—Justice Tourism Foundation’s tours put people first. Witness the beauty of these apes in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest while also learning about community conservation projects on the ground. Venture beyond animal encounters to experience Uganda village life, meet locals, and taste traditional dishes, while helping fund local conservation projects.
Justice Tourism Foundation
A community hike (Photo by Community Homestay)
5. Join a community hike from Sanga to Panauti, Nepal
Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas roughly 20 miles southeast of Kathmandu lies Panauti, a historic Newari town. On the edge of the Kathmandu valley, hike through a unique route where you’ll encounter nature, local life, and culture. An English-speaking Nepali guide will take you from the Brahmin community of Sanga, through rolling farmland and Tamang villages with stunning alpine views. After your hike, enjoy a hearty home-cooked meal at the Panauti community homestay to end your day.
A mudcrab talk in the Daintree (Photo by Juan Walker)
6. Discover Kuku Yalanji culture and land in Australia’s Daintree Rainforest
As the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, the Daintree is home to some of the most diverse species of flora and fauna in Australia. The Kulu Yalanji people have lived off this land for centuries, sharing a spiritual connection with the rainforest that remains unbroken to this day.
On the Ngana Julaymba Dungy (“We are all going to Daintree”) tour, visitors can soak up generations-old knowledge from the land’s traditional custodians, the Kuku Yalanji. Discover the Kuku Yalanji people's environment, learn about different foods and medicines from the forest, and try traditional Aboriginal hunting practices.
Nicole Melancon is a freelance travel writer based in Minneapolis, MN. Nicole has over a decade of experience writing travel stories with a focus on sustainable, adventure, and off-the-beaten-path destinations. Her work can be found at thirdeyemom.com and in other publications.