9 places to go native
Can a tourist's experience ever be truly authentic?
If you talk with the locals, share their cuisine, and, heaven forbid, even do a little work while you're traveling, you can get pretty close.
Many tour companies out there make an effort to submerge their guests in a local culture, sharing stories, sampling the food and practicing traditional customs.
Some of these programs also help to boost rural development and raise awareness of environmental sustainability.
1. Stay with an Amazon tribe, Ecuador
The Huaorani Ecolodge immerses visitors among one of world's most isolated ethnic groups in the Amazon.
Guests live in traditional palm-thatched cabins, go hunting, take nature hikes, embark on a two-day adventure on the Shiripuno River and visit local communities.
They also learn to use blowguns, set traps and start a fire without matches. Paddling a recreational kayak or dugout canoes, trips are made to see riversides birds and cascading waterfalls.
Other chances to interact with locals including smearing your face with red achiote, meeting a shaman and listening to stories of the tribe’s struggle against oil exploration.
Huaorani Ecolodge, +593 2 2408 741, www.huaorani.com
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2. Learn to farm, Vietnam
Phong Nha Farmstay, located near the world's longest river cave, gives travelers a chance to explore what is expected to become a major attraction in Vietnam.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is the world's second largest limestone region with huge caves and jungle scenery.
To promote the lives of local people and to protect the environment, the program offers eco-friendly activities such as plowing the land with buffalo, rice harvesting and hearing about the American War from old villagers while visiting memorial sites.
Or you can swim in the turquoise rivers in the jungle or chill out in a hammock by the pool.
Guests live with local families in French colonial style villas.
Phong Nha Farmstay, + 84 052 367 5135, phong-nha-cave.com
3. Turn Muslim for a month, Turkey
This spiritual development program, set up by a social enterprise, shows people what it's like to live as a Muslim.
Participants explore Islamic laws with a focus on Sufi traditions in 10- or 21-day programs.
Based in non-touristy part of Istanbul, the program includes homestays in 18th-century lodges, lessons on Sufism, workshops, communal prayer, a day of fasting and choral singing.
The highlight of the program is arguably the pilgrimage to Rumi’s tomb, when you get to see Whirling Dervishes.
Muslim for a Month, www.muslimforamonth.com
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4. Camp with nomads, Tibet
Difficult living conditions and altitude sickness are just part of the challenge when camping with Tibetans on the grasslands of Amdo and Kham, experiencing a nomadic life that is slowly disappearing.
This Tibetan culture tour provides an authentic experience of nomadic camping without modern conveniences. You'll sleep on animal skins, bunch around a yak-dung fire for warmth, drink salty milk tea and eat nothing but yak meat.
If milking yaks makes you wince, just look up and you'll be sure to be warmed by the amused, cheeky smile of a Tibetan child.
Tibet Culture Tour, +86 158 9714 1336, www.tibetculturetour.com
5. Volunteer in Java, Indonesia
Volunteer in Java is a homestay program in the Indonesian countryside for people who want to teach English.
Besides instructing keen students on the complexities of English syntax, you can also get busy paragliding over the lush green landscapes, witnessing fish farming at floating bamboo huts, mixing with rice farmers or visiting the desolated Gunung Padang Archaeological site.
Volunteers live with local families in the market town of Cianjur, possibly accompanying the host mother to market to learn about traditional Indonesian dishes.
Set up by five Sundanese teachers, the program encourages visitors to help out at local primary schools. As you play word-based games with students or accompany them on a field trip, you may also pick up some Javanese.
Volunteer in Java, +62 (0)856 230 2486, volunteerinjava.com
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6. Adopt Keralan culture, India
A family-run homestay on the palm-lined backwaters of Kerala provides visitors with not just a retreat from city life, but also the chance to celebrate harvest festivals, participate in the local "snake boat race," learn pottery-making skills and traditional Keralan food cooking, and visit the local toddy distillery -- a local drink made from coconut flower sap.
With a goal to offset carbon emissions, reduce waste and support conservation projects, the eco-tour encourages guests to take their own water on trips out, pick up litter along the trail and choose local clean transport.
Green Palm Homes, +91 9495 557 675, greenpalmhomes.com
7. Become a wine geek, California, United States
Like wine? You'll love Vin Ambassador.
Based at Napa Valley, this immersion wine tour comes in three flavors.
"Understanding Wine" puts visitors to work in fields with growers or winemakers, identify and appreciate wine with connoisseurs and hear critics’ opinions of various rating systems.
"Food & Wine" shows how regional wine creates a culinary culture, visiting the gardens, markets and vineyards of Napa Valley to taste and learn how different wines can bring out the subtle flavors in a food.
"Sites & Wine" reveals the most stunning aspects of the wine country: stunning golf courses, local art, little-known byways and iconic architecture.
Vin Ambassador, +1 415 385 6556, www.vinambassador.com
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8. Teach and learn, Ecuador
A group of well-traveled professionals set up El Nomad to help people practice Spanish in Ecuador.
Participants study at local universities, volunteer at orphanages and schools, farms and animal rehabilitation centers, or intern with social justice and human rights groups.
Standing at latitude 00°00’00’’, the world's most bio-diversified land provides varied adventure opportunities: excursions to Cajas National Park to examine the hairy flower spikes of high mountain plants, or to the Galapagos Islands to relax on white sand beaches with penguins, blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises.
The homestays are based at Cuenca, where guests can take part in family activities such as planting mangroves on the coast or bargaining at a street market.
El Nomad, +593 90 093 695, www.elnomad.com
9. Sample the outdoors, Wyoming, United States
Fitting for a horse-riding vacation and a family holiday, the historic UXU Ranch now runs three- to six-night package stays.
The ranch has the three key ingredients for a good riding experience: great horses, beautiful open spaces and good teachers.
Horses here are hand-picked for all levels and trail rides range from one hour to one day, from walking through a mountain meadow to cresting high ridges.
Anglers can fish in Shoshone River that flows through the ranch, especially during summer and early fall when average trout size in the best fishing spot reaches 40 centimeters.
Play areas and an adventure wonderland are available for older kids or young-at-heart adults. Childcare, family games, roping activities and baby horseback riding can be arranged.
Uxu Ranch, +1 307 587 2143, www.uxufamilyduderanch.com
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