Gold award: Tren Ecuador, Ecuador
Ecuador is a country that just makes us happy in the world of responsible tourism. First, because it has a Ministry of Happiness and Wellbeing in its government, second because it has more protected, biodiverse magnificence tucked into one small country than anywhere else we can think of and third, it has a luxury train journey that is as much about drinking in the culture of the communities along the railway line as it is about the champagne on board. You can take that wonderful journey between Guayaquil to Quito, but if you are hungry or want to tuck up for the night you have to get off the train and tuck into local fare or sleep at a local hotel. This happiness thing is working in Ecuador, because they have just created the ultimate in Fair Train tourism.
Tren Ecuador has, in fact, turned luxury train travel on its head, the usual model being to cocoon the rail travellers in a well oiled, well fed comfort zone as they make their way across dramatic landscapes giving no more than a wave to local communities, or sticking their heads out of the window from time to time to take a photo. With Tren Ecuador, a state enterprise with an inspirational inclusive vision, you still have a beautiful cocoon, with elegant carriages and superb service but, in addition, you spend the night at high end haciendas, eat at superb local restaurants, snack at one of 23 locally run station cafes, visit one of 14 artisan squares and take part in myriad cultural and natural activities. Get off the train and go hiking in the rainforest with a local guide? You got it. Take a few hours to explore a local Quichua community, Tren Ecuador has just the ticket.
In fact, the decision to turn this cocoon inside out, and spill out the benefits to everyone means that Tren Ecuador's luxury trips now sustain 5,000 livelihoods for people living in remote rural communities along the tracks. As well as that, all the associated enterprises are fully licensed and receive technical support, training and contracts based on fair-trade principles as suppliers. Because there is no such thing as tunnel vision in Ecuador. They prefer to see the light at the end of the tunnel instead, a vision that is keeping all of us, visitors, train lovers and local people, very happy.