Visit a baby sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica

It’s been a long week, take a few minutes to enjoy some cuteness. Sloths may not typically come to mind as a cute animal, but I’m sure after you watch this video, you’ll come around. I first saw a sloth at the New York Times Travel Show (part of a Busch Gardens exhibition) and immediately fell in love with their cuddly, sleepy, smiley oddness. This video was taken at the Aviarios Del Caribe sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica, home to over 100 sloths and managed by sloth “whisperer” Judy Arroyo, who probably never complains about a long day at the office.

Visit the sloths up close in Costa Rica near San Jose; the $25 tour includes a canoe ride through the Estrella River Delta and optional jungle walks. There’s even a hotel on site if you want to sleep with the sloths (you’d think with all the sleeping sloths do, there’d be a pillow menu)! If you want to help support the sloth cause further, there’s an adoption and volunteer program.

Need more animals to get you through Friday? Enjoy Lonely Planet editor and Gadling favorite Robert Reid’s take on animals who travel; I’ll nominate the sloth for “slow travel.”

Sierra Club Outings offer envrionmentally responsible adventures

The Sierra Club is an outdoor institution in the United States. Founded in 1892, the club has grown to include more than 1.3 members, and has evolved into the environmental grassroots organization that is the model for all others to follow. Each year, the club organizes events and works with legislators on a national, state, and local level to safe guard wild places and promote environmental important environmental causes.

But what most people don’t know is that each year the club organizes a number of outstanding wilderness adventures known as Sierra Club Outings. These outings take place all around the globe, offering activities for just about everyone, including individuals, families, beginners, seniors, women, and more. On these adventurous trips you’ll find yourself backpacking, kayaking, and biking your way through some of the most outstanding wildernesses in the U.S., Canada, and beyond.

Each year over 4000 people elect to travel with the Sierra Club, and with more than 350 itineraries in their catalog, there are plenty of adventures to choose from. Options include excursions to 34 states and more than 27 countries around the globe. Better still, these adventures are easy on the pocketbook too, with more than half of them priced at under $1000.

Some of the exciting options to choose from include backpacking through Escalante National Park in Utah, rafting the Owyhee River in Oregon, or catching the Summer Solstice in the Brooks Range of Alaska. And for those looking to add a new stamp to their passport, there are a host of international adventures as well, such as cruising the Galapagos Islands or spending a month trekking through the Upper Dolpo region of Nepal. Additionally, the Sierra Club volunteer vacations give travelers a chance to enjoy the great outdoors, while giving a little something back in the process.
While the Sierra Club Outings are amongst the best outdoor adventures around, the organization has some other great options available as well. For instance, each year the club sends more than 14,000 urban youth and adults out into natural environments as part of their Inner City Outings program. They also have a number of great lodges and huts, including the famous Clair Trappaan Lodge, located in the Sierra Nevada, available for members to use. And for those who can’t get away for one of the bigger adventures, check out your local chapter for outings in your own backyard.

For 109 years the Sierra Club has led the way in the area of promoting outdoor activities and environmental responsibility. Their outings uphold that same agenda, offering affordable adventures that are safe, sustainable in nature, and fun for the entire family.

Celebrate Earth Day with a volunteer vacation!

2010 will mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of Earth Day. Originally conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson, the event was meant to remind us to stop and think about the amazing, yet fragile, planet on which we live, and possibly consider the ways that we can work to protect the environment around us. Today, that message is as important and relevant as ever, and Earth Day is celebrated across the globe in a number of cultures and countries.

This year, Earth Day falls on Thursday, April 22nd, and to celebrate Lake Quinault Lodge and Kalaloch Lodge, both located on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, are offering environmentally conscious travelers a chance to do their part to protect the environment while on a volunteer vacation. Visitors can join the Washington CoastSavers on Saturday, April 17th, as they work to clean up the beaches at Kalaloch, and then celebrate with a barbeque afterwards. A week later, on Saturday April 24th, volunteers have the opportunity to join the park service in restoring Kestner Homestead, a family cabin that was built back in 1862 and is now part of Olympic National Park.
To show their appreciation for the efforts of the volunteers, the two lodges are offering an online only discount for those who choose to stay with them. These Earth Day Volunteer Vacation deals allow guests who particpate in the beach clean up to stay in a Seacrest room at Kalaloch Lodge for just $99 or a log cabin for $109. The special rate is available for a single day between April 15-18, and includes entry to the CoastSavers barbeque as well. Volunteers who elect to stay at the Lake Quinault Lodge can get a one night stay on April 23, in either a Lakeside or Main Lodge room beginning at just $109. That rate includes two box lunches to take to Olympic National Park the following day.

This is the third year that the resorts have offered these volunteer vacation deals, and to further show their commitment to the environment, they’ll throw in a $15 gift certificate for anyone that arrives in or on a “green” vehicle. The gift certificates are redeemable in the lodges’ stores, restaurants, and giftshops, and is another reward for guests looking to further reduce their carbon footprint.

To take advantage of one of these deals simply book online at or

Giving back feels good: 600,000 signed up for Disney volunteer days

Maybe it’s a sign of the times or maybe it’s a sign of things to come, but either way it feels good to give back — just ask the 600,000 people who have already signed up for Disney’s volunteer days.

Disney Parks kicked off 2010 with a new promotion: volunteer and get one-day free admission to Walt Disney World. During a press conference today in Orlando, Disney announced that just six weeks into the promotion it already had 600,000 volunteers signed up to give back. Disney is aiming for 1 million volunteers and at this rate, it’s possible their dream just might come true.

The concept is simple:

  • Sign-up for an approved, one-day community program at the HandsOn Network via the Disney Parks homepage
  • Once you’ve completed your day of volunteering, you’ll get a voucher for a free day at Disney

Disney started this campaign after a revenue decline of 2% last quarter. Looking for a way to bring more families back to the Magic Kingdom, Disney cooked up this promotion, which benefits both the park and those less fortunate. It’s no secret the parks are pricey, so offering free admission to Main Street USA is a draw for any family looking to save a few dollars.


South by Southeast: The hill tribes of Southeast Asia

Welcome back to Gadling’s series on backpacking Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. Southeast Asia is modernizing rapidly. These days, malls line the streets of Thailand and WiFi signals and cell phones blanket the cafes of Vietnam. But that doesn’t mean the ways of the “Asia of old” have vanished – in fact, in the mountainous northern regions of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, a patchwork of hill tribe minorities survive by largely traditional means, subsisting on farming in remote villages. Southeast Asian visitors have a unique chance to learn and help these people through numerous activities, ranging from multi-day hikes to volunteering their time or simply acquiring locally-produced one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

Whether you’re trekking through the pastoral landscapes of Myanmar, helping school kids with their daily English lesson in Laos or shopping for handmade textiles in Thailand, getting in touch with Southeast Asia’s ethnic minority tribes has never been easier or more enjoyable. And though the exploitation of indigenous groups remains a problem, there are increasing signs that tourism offers a great way to help these groups survive and prosper in the years ahead.

Ever wanted to sleep in a traditional village under a blanket of shooting stars? Help a child learn to read English? Drink moonshine with a tribal chief? Keep reading below for our South by Southeast guide to the hill tribes of Southeast Asia.

What is a “Hill Tribe?”
Southeast Asia is home to numerous ethnic minority groups, including tribes like the Hmong, Pa-O, Akha and Montagnards among many others. Though each of these groups encompasses a unique set of customs, beliefs and habits, typically the groups inhabit high-altitude mountain regions too difficult for traditional agriculture. The history of relations between the governments of Southeast Asia and these tribes has not always been pleasant, ranging from outright conflict to racism and deportation. There is, however, a silver lining, as a thriving tourism industry has provided these groups with a new means of economic improvement and sustainability.

Top Hill Tribe Experiences

  • Trekking – the range and quality of trekking opportunities in Southeast Asia is exploding. Typically a “trek” will provide visitors with a multi-day hike through wilderness, a stop at a traditional village and sometimes a homestay. Though there are hundreds of trekking hotspots across the region, some of our favorites are Kalaw in Myanmar, Luang Nam Tha in Laos and Sapa in Vietnam.
  • Volunteering offering your time and talents in a hill tribe village can be a particularly rewarding experience and a great way to move beyond “just visiting.” Check out organizations like Big Brother Mouse in Laos and Starfish Ventures in Thailand.
  • Night Markets – another great way to explore the hill tribe cultures of Southeast Asia is by buying their affordable handmade products. From wildly colorful textiles to elaborate carvings, hill tribe crafts are unparalleled in their quality and detail. Check out the night markets in cities like Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang, where sellers offer all manner of fantastic finds.

Doing It Right
Everywhere you look in Southeast Asia, someone is trying to offer you a tour to visit authentic local cultures. But not all visits are created equal. In some cases, the tours are organized without the tribes’ permission. Even worse, in more popular areas literally hundreds of visitors pass through a village in a given day. The tours feel less like an authentic cultural experience and more like an opportunity to stare at “those strange tribe people.” It’s important if you’re going to experience a hill tribe you do so in a sustainable way and with an organization that ensures the tribes benefit from your visit. Check out companies like Green Discovery in Laos and Akha Hill House in Thailand for good examples.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.