This article was first published by our friends at Much Better Adventures, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their Grapevine blog.
No matter where you travel – the saying goes – there’s still no place like home. Luckily, for many travellers, it’s now possible to forgo run-of-the mill hotel stays in favour of a night (or more) spent with a local family. Commonly known as ‘homestays,’ such local travel opportunities offers win-win outcomes for both travellers and their hosts.
On the one hand, living as locals do, mindful visitors gain a first-hand glimpse into the heart of a culture by stepping into the lives of the people who live it, partaking in meals with their host families and participating in daily customs. On the other hand, by sharing their own cultures on their own terms, the host communities often reap many positive rewards through small-scale tourism endeavours that help preserve their heritage and keep their traditions alive. Homestays also provide them with an important source of income, a vital economic boost.
Considering sustainable alternatives to staying in a hotel? Here are five of our favourite cultural homestays that offer enriching travel experiences while also improving local livelihoods.
Experience the Nomadic Nation of Mongolia
For a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience desert life in the ancient empire of Mongolia, you need to journey by horse and camel.
Just a stone’s throw from the nation’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar, rural communities still live as they always have, herding livestock and pitching ‘ger’ tents in the desert. A multi-day journey between genuine nomadic camps is an ideal way to gain a true sense of the local culture and way of life. A trip of this length allows you ample time to experience the warmth of Mongolian hospitality and learn about cultural traditions that maintain a deep respect for nature. Along the way, you’ll enjoy homestyle Mongolian cuisine and bed down inside your own spacious ger.
Savour the Ancient Lifestyle of the Sahara in Morocco
For over 2,000 years, the nomadic Tuareg-Berber people of Morocco have travelled by caravan throughout the northern Sahara region. For visitors to the area, there is no better way to experience this ancient culture than through an extended stay right in the desert with a traditional Berber family.
Spending a few nights travelling by caravan, you have chance to unwind in typical Berber fashion – drinking mint tea, listening to the beat of the drums and cooking traditional delicacies like a delightful harira soup or a savoury tagine. At night, you are lulled to sleep under the starry skies at the edge of the dunes.
Learn about Local Village Life near Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The 12th-century temples of Angkor Wat are a must-see stop in Cambodia. For overnight stays close to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, the bustling city of Siem Reap offers many hotels and guesthouses. To truly experience the daily life of residents in the region, however, you’ll want to head out to the villages.
During a weeklong stay in the area, try to find enough time to visit the temples and also spend a night in a local home just a short boat ride away on Tonle Sap Lake in the bewitching floating village of Kampong Phluk. Staying overnight as a guest of the village you can leisurely observe wildlife on Cambodia’s great lake and learn about the daily activities of the local fisherman who call it home.
Get a Glimpse of Community Life in Colca Canyon, Peru
Approximately 100 miles northwest of the busy city of Arequipa, the incredible scenery of Peru’s Colca Canyon unfolds, punctuated by small Andean villages and colonial-era towns. All across the valley, subsistence farmers still cultivate crops on pre-Incan stepped terraces.
In order to help meet the needs of the roughly 150,000 yearly visitors heading to Colca Canyon, one group of local Collahua people now offers you a more authentic look into their lives. Located in the tiny town of Yanque, their Sumac Yanque Ayllu association arranges one-of-a-kind homestays in locals’ homes. As part of your experience, you are encouraged to pitch in with the daily activities such as planting (September to December), harvesting (February and March) or helping to care for the cattle.
Enjoy a Welcoming Stay in Wahiba Sands of Oman
Spanning central coastal Oman, the Wahiba Sands are a great side trip for anyone looking to gain an understanding of the region’s ancient tribal customs. Surrounded by landscapes of remarkable biodiversity, you can explore the boundless dunes and wadis by camel, quad bike or dune buggy. In the evening, you bed down in one of a handful of Bedouin-style camps to enjoy true local comfort and hospitality. Some camps even feature air-conditioning, but all promise traditional campfires and flavourful Omani fare.