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Responsible travel: Culture and community experiences

National Geographic Traveller (UK) is a media partner at the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 sponsored by Belize, which take place at World Travel Market in Excel London on 8 November — World Responsible Tourism Day. Here’s our pick of the travel companies from the Awards' longlist and shortlist offering responsible culture tours

Responsible travel: Culture and community experiences
Indigenous market, Guamote, Ecuador. Image: Tren Crucero

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Best for: Luxury culture
Taking in the spectacular, prehistoric landscape of volcanoes, cloud forests and canyons — from the sumptuous comfort of a luxury train — is only part of the journey with Tren Ecuador. Passengers will be able to immerse themselves in the traditions of historical regions, with an itinerary that includes visits to local communities. Through talking to craftspeople, visiting museums, and learning about folklore, travellers have a unique opportunity to embark on a train ride with a difference. What’s more, ticket sales will help to support the small enterprises that make the journey so special. You’ll meet people such as Baltazar Ushca, the last ice vendor of Chimborazo — while freezers have largely done for his trade, he still heads to the mountains to hack off fresh ice to sell, every day.

Best for: Off-the-beaten-track culture
For a truly intimate take on Italy, look no further than the many cultures, religions and people that have shaped its cities. Led by immigrants in immigrant-populated areas, guides uncover the less obvious facets to some of Italy’s most fascinating cities — it’s a journey into cultures from across the world.

Best for: Homestays and hands-on culture
Sustainable education is at the heart of local entrepreneur Shu Tan’s tour operator, Sapa O’Chau — the first ethical travel company of its kind in Vietnam. With guided treks through Vietnam’s breathtaking Sapa region, Tan’s business aims to give girls, from the minority Hmong community, the chance to receive a secondary education with a tourism-funded boarding house. Hikers can also enjoy homemade food at local homestays and artisan workshops, knowing that the money they spend will be used to help empower girls.

Best for: Remote culture
Situated in quiet corner of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa’s Kalahari desert, !Xaus Lodge is a luxurious African retreat, with the lure of pure isolation perhaps its biggest draw. The Lodge is jointly shared by the once-feuding Khomani San and Mier communities, and offers visitors the chance to visit Bushmen crafters at work. There is much to learn about the area and its traditional way of life — from local medicine to the incredibly rich wildlife — before admiring the endless starry night skies.

Best for: Foodie culture
Belizean cuisine might not be the world’s most famous, but Taste Belize offers a tantalising insight into the country’s rich gastronomic heritage. Located in the dazzlingly tropical Placencia Peninsula, foodies will relish tucking into local food, meeting producers, and even cooking traditional Garifuna dishes. These will reveal the many influences woven into Belize’s cuisine. A particular highlight is visits to a traditional cacao farm to explore the country’s chocolate-dipped history, and crafting your own organic bar of the stuff.

The winners of the World Responsible Tourism Awards sponsored by Belize will be announced on 8 November at World Travel Market London and on natgeotraveller.co.uk