We all know a good Caribbean tan can make you look good, but how about a trip to the tropics that also can make you feel good about yourself? Socially conscious travel has become increasingly popular among students and others who want to give some of their free time to helping others. Volunteer travel in the Caribbean provides an opportunity to help others while learning more about local culture than you would on a typical vacation. Companies like STA Travel and groups like i-to-i and the Earthwatch Institute can help arrange a trip that's both fun and fulfilling.
Volunteers who love the outdoors can work at the Asa Wright Nature Centre protecting the rainforests of North Trinidad. Located in the Arima Valley, the wildlife sanctuary is home to more than 170 species of birds, and volunteers can spend 2 to 12 weeks helping maintain the fruit trees and flowers the birds depend upon, restoring trails, working in the gardens, or even producing coffee that's sold to visitors. STA Travel can arrange visits.
The Earthwatch Institute sponsors one to two-week volunteer programs to help protect the Leatherback Sea Turtles that nest on Trinidad's Matura Beach. Volunteers work with the local Nature Seekers group to patrol the beach and tag, measure and weigh the turtles. Free afternoons can be spent visiting a nearby howler monkey preserve, hiking, birding, and more. Meals and accommodations are provided at a guesthouse next to the Nature Seekers headquarters in the Matura jungle.
Join the Bahamas Marine Mammal Organization for 10 days on sea and shore tracking whale and dolphin groups off Great Abaco Island. Volunteers stay at a research center on Sandy Point or have the option of camping on a beautiful Bahamas beach. Your work will help researchers learn more about where these marine mammals live, their population, and whether individual animals can be tracked based on their vocalizations.
Protect the Natural Beauty of Punta Cana
Punta Cana is one of the Dominican Republic's most popular tourist destinations, but the area also is home to a 1,500-acre ecological reserve maintained by the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation. Volunteers can work for 4-12 weeks helping to protect and restore the natural beauty of the Indian Eyes Reserve and helping to run the nature center and maintaining the preserve.
Immerse yourself in a 4 to 24-week program that involves teaching English at schools in Santo Domingo and Barahona in the Dominican Republic. Students range from nursery-school age to grade 5 and come from impoverished communities. Volunteers need to have a love of children and the ability to control a classroom. The program includes Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification; knowledge of Spanish helpful but not required.
Volunteers will work at the Gerace Research Center for up to two weeks as part of a long-term project to study the coral reefs off San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. Work includes snorkeling the reefs to survey hard corals and other reef animals and plants, measuring the reefs, and testing the water. Free time activities include scuba, caving, hiking, and more. Accommodations are at a former U.S. Navy base, with most meals in the cafeteria.