At the bottom of the world, Antarctica provides a stark but stunning backdrop for encounters with up to seven different breeds of penguins, including black-capped chinstraps and long-tailed gentoos. The best time to visit is mid-January, when adult penguins care for their fat, fluffy chicks in nests made of pebbles. Although you should stay at a safe distance from the penguins, many birds seem unfazed by company and waddle up close. The Antarctic Peninsula, the huge spit of land jutting north from the rest of the continent toward South America, is the focus of most cruises.
Hot Tip Learn how to photograph penguins and icebergs on Nat Geo Expeditions’ Journey to Antarctica. natgeoexpeditions.com/explore
From the dazzling Sea of Cortez in the Pacific to the lofty Sierra Madre, the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad (El Chepe for short) crosses 39 bridges and passes through 88 tunnels, surrounded by vertical rocks and copper-coloured walls. The railroad was built to ferry gold prospectors into the ore-rich Sierra Madre and took more than a century to complete. Nowadays the attraction is the route itself, through the largely unspoiled expanses of the mighty Copper Canyon.
Hot Tip In Chihuahua, visit the National Museum of the Revolution in the former home of movement leader Pancho Villa.
Despite coral bleaching caused by climate change, the Great Barrier Reef remains one of the globe’s natural wonders and an underwater paradise. Comprising nearly 3,000 separate reefs and more than 900 tropical islands, it stretches farther than the distance between Boston and Miami. Snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaks, or glass-bottom boats get you up close to more than 600 species of coral, vibrant clown fish, and timid reef sharks.
Hot Tip Several outfitters provide pickup at 4 a.m. to view sunrise over the reef and the Atherton Tablelands via hot-air balloon.
The Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad (top left) snakes through northern Mexico’s Copper Canyon; Like the spine of a dragon, the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall (right) stretches 10.5 hilly kilometres in China’s Hebei Province. Watchtowers punctuate its length; The granite peaks, serene meadows, and dramatic cataracts of Yosemite National Park (bottom left) have inspired generations of artists and photographers, including Ansel Adams. Photos by: Blaine Harrington III (railroad), Dmitry Moiseenko/www.AirPano.com (Great Wall)
Roman armies, biblical figures, and medieval crusaders all travelled this great Middle Eastern trade route, which ranges from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Drive Jordan’s section from Amman to Petra, and you’ll trace the dramatic, khaki-hued rock formations of the barren Rift Valley for some 370 winding kilometres, passing by derelict castles and temples plus Mount Nebo, where Moses is said to have seen the Promised Land.
Hot Tip The ancient city of Petra is best explored during three-times-a-week candlelit night tours.
Botswana’s Chobe National Park harbours more elephants than just about any other game park in Africa, along with massive herds of buffalo, zebra, and antelope. Watch them on hiking safaris or via traditional game-watching vehicles, or explore the golden grass-lined Okavango Delta by mokoro (dugout canoe). Bunk at the Zarafa Camp, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, in the Selinda Reserve, where you might hear lions roar outside your tent.
Hot Tip Ogle ancient rock paintings at Tsodilo Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage site at the northwestern edge of the Okavango.
Skip the megayacht-clogged ports of the French Riviera, and instead skirt the shoreline of Turkey’s idyllic Lycian peninsula in a two-masted gulet. Boats like these have plied the Mediterranean for centuries. Aboard the medium-size craft—typically 49 to 82 feet long—you’ll spot relics of civilisations spanning more than 4,000 years. Most gulets travel from Fethiye eastward along the coast to Kekova, calling at small ports and anchoring overnight in isolated coves.
Hot Tip Off the north coast of Kekova, you can spot sunken ruins of the Hellenistic city of Apollonia.
Clockwise from top left: The Garden Tomb at the ancient city of Petra, a highlight of the King’s Highway in Jordan; Boats lined up like crayons off the Mediterranean coast of southwestern Turkey; The village of Santa Maddalena, Italy, embraced by the jagged Dolomites; African elephants finding haven in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photos by: Yadid Levy (columns), den-belitsky/Getty Images (boats), Cory Richards/National Geographic Creative (elephants), Peter Svoboda (church)
Driving the Great Dolomite Road, you’ll curve and climb through a fantastical southern spur of the Alps. The nature of the dolomitic limestone gives the region its magic—over thousands of years, erosion has carved it into sawtooth ridges, pinnacles, and gorges that change color with the light.
Hot Tip Stop for a bite or the night at Cortina’s Rifugio Scoiattoli, a family-run inn with mountain vistas and house-made blueberry pasta.
Crossing more than 8,000 kilometres, the Trans-Siberian Railway is the world’s longest, boasting multiple routes around Russia and Asia. Its newest and most exciting line (finished in 1956) takes a week to travel between Moscow and Beijing. After looping around Siberia’s crystal clear Lake Baikal (the world’s deepest and oldest), you’ll glide through wooded mountains, past the ger-dotted plains of Mongolia, and across the flaming red sands of the Gobi. Choices in the dining car might switch from borscht and blini to duck as the train crosses borders.
Hot Tip Reserve a bunk in a communal car (platzkart) or more expensive sleeper cabin, or book a Nat Geo Expeditions trip aboard the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian.
Built more than 2,000 years ago to keep out invaders from the north, the Great Wall runs like a monumental backbone across China. For long stretches it sprawls in extravagant decay, battered by time and weather. The Jinshanling to Simatai section, northeast of Beijing—rocky underfoot and largely unchanged since the 16th century—offers a glorious trek above rolling forests. East of Simatai the wall is 200 years older and more dilapidated and dramatic, climbing steep ridges and plunging into valleys. The wall’s tallest point is Watching Beijing Tower, reached via the Sky Bridge.
Hot Tip Sleep in modern style at the Commune by the Great Wall, a collection of villas and suites designed by top Asian architects.
Become a modern-day Magellan and circumnavigate the easy way on National Geographic’s Around the World by Private Jet journeys. Expert photographers, writers, and cultural guides lead the way. (natgeoexpeditions.com/explore)
Hot Tip Region-specific private-jet journeys explore African safari lands, Pacific island chains, and Asia’s temples and towns.
Although the professional Kabuki stages in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka retain the tradition of all-male performers, amateur Kabuki theatres in towns throughout Japan rely on women and child players as well. These local actors (left) portray roles from warriors to maidens. Photos by: Hiroshi Watanabe (kabuki players)
Sword-wielding samurai, thwarted love affairs, and bloody betrayals make Japanese Kabuki performances as dramatic and compelling as Shakespearean plays or Spanish telenovelas. Its stars become household names, especially the onnagata, men who play the women’s roles. Racy, often historic tales are performed, sometimes punctuated with dance and the haunting, plangent notes of the shamisen, a three-string lute.
Hot Tip Look for shows at Osaka’s Shochikuza Kabuki Theatre, a converted 1923 movie palace. Pick up an English program or audio guide beforehand for interpretation.
Extending roughly 7,200 kilometres from Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego, the Andes are the world’s longest mountain range. Dirt paths skirting the mountains prove particularly suited to horseback trekking, with dozens of outfitters operating in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. One path crosses grasslands in the Ecuadorian highlands; another follows an old smugglers’ route from Chile through the Patagonian Andes into Argentina, passing mountain lakes along the way. If you’re lucky, you may spot llamas, cougars, chinchillas, or condors.
Hot Tip For a cosmic experience, stay at ElquiDomos, in Chile, which features astronomy tours, cabins with detachable roofs, and an outdoor deck with telescopes.
The sands of Egypt shift around ancient monuments that capture the imagination as few others do. The Great Pyramids of Giza, built circa 2550 B.C, never cease to amaze with their vastness and history. Descend 300 feet through a 3.5-foot-wide passage into the heart of the only surviving wonder of the ancient world.
Hot Tip Stay at the Mena House Oberoi, a 19th-century hunting lodge converted into a hotel with grand pyramid views.
Lush Malbec red wine provides a complex, berry-forward foil to Argentina’s trademark fire-grilled parrilla meats. Its richness comes from Mendoza’s mineral-laden soil, warm days, and cool nights. Taste its complexity and mystique at wineries south of this Old World city in western Argentina, where renowned bottles come from producers such as Achaval-Ferrer, Dominio del Plata, and Bodegas Salentein. Many wineries also run restaurants where you can wine and dine among the vines.
Hot Tip Maipú’sMuseo del Vino San Felipe displays antique winepresses and jumbo wooden barrels.
During the 40 years he lived in the Yosemite Valley, Ansel Adams hiked around the park with 50 kilos of photography gear. The epic black-and-white images of the American West he captured here are infused with the innate power of these landscapes. Though fires ravaged some of the park’s groves and grounds last year, you can still follow in his footsteps to explore the magnificence of places bearing evocative names such as Cathedral Spires and Unicorn Peak. You’ll want to snap some of your own images of Adams’s prize subject, El Capitan, the world’s largest individual granite rock.
Hot Tip The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley offers photography workshops and guided hikes.
Clockwise from top left: A shepherd in the Carpathian Mountains wearing a traditional sheepskin coat; Decorated eggs popular at Easter time in Bucovina; Sucevita, one of Bucovina’s famed painted monasteries, with the largest number of painted images; The fresco enlivening the interior dome at Sucevita. Photos by: Dennis Galante Photo Inc/Getty Images (shepherd), Tessa Bunney/Getty Images (eggs), Robert Dziewulski/Alamy Stock Photo (fresco), Dziewul (church)
Their walls alive with scenes of biblical and historical events, the painted monasteries of Bucovina in the Carpathian Mountains of northeastern Romania resemble the pages of jumbo illuminated manuscripts. There are some 15 monasteries in the region, but most people visit Voronet, Humor, Moldovita, and Sucevita, drawn by the exquisite frescoes on exterior and interior walls. These UNESCO World Heritage-listed treasures mostly date from the 16th century and were built partly to inspire the illiterate Orthodox Christian population as it faced conquest by the Ottoman Turks.
Hot Tip Get a glimpse of monastery life with Sucevita’s collection of ecclesiastical silverware, books, and illuminated manuscripts.
In a city where more than a third of all journeys are by bike, multiple companies give tours on two wheels. Using either traditional or electric cycles, visitors pedal past contemporary architecture to local design shops or hop on food-centric jaunts led by local guides. “Good urban planning, an underlying ‘Nordic trust,’ and a flat terrain make Copenhagen an ideal city to bike in,” says South Dakota transplant Sam SandvigHosman. “I recommend the Green Path, a relaxing ride through the upper neighbourhoods of the city.”
Hot Tip Built in 2014, Copenhagen’s Bicycle Snake Bridge crisscrosses the harbour and offers views of the city’s modern buildings.
It would take days of trekking to reach the distant peaks and glacial valleys of British Columbia’s Cariboo Range. But take a heli-hiking trip with outfitter CMH, and you’ll overnight in a comfy mountain lodge, then be zipped away by chopper to far-off-the-beaten-trail hiking. Guides, gear, and lunch are part of the experience, available early July through mid-September.
Hot Tip Take the path to Ghost Lake for huckleberry picking and vistas of the lake’s two waterfalls.
One of Europe’s most dramatic day hikes descends into Samariá Gorge, which slices through western Crete from a high plateau to a pebbled beach some 4,000 feet below. The vertiginous route takes five to seven hours, past sweet-scented pine and cypress forests, a ruined village, and finally through the Iron Gates, where the soaring walls of the ravine are a mere 11 feet apart.
Hot Tip At the end of the trek, have a dip in the clear, warm Libyan Sea at the village of Agía Rouméli.
Portuguese sailors, British potentates, and Indian populations all made their mark on the cuisine and culture of this tropical west coast haven. Diverse dishes include spicy prawn balchão (a pickled curry) and some of India’s only beef and pork dishes. Fish, coconut, and peppers also figure in the mix, and meals are often finished by bebinca, an eggy, layered crepe dessert with a twist of nutmeg.
Hot Tip In Old Goa, the former Portuguese capital in India, try a cocktail mixed with feni, a spirit distilled from coconuts or cashews.
At any of the state’s distilleries, the air is filled with the caramel and vanilla scents of ageing bourbon. Explore America’s “native spirit” on the Bourbon Trail, a self-guided distillery driving (or bicycling) tour in and around Louisville. Among the newest operations: Rabbit Hole, with its glass-walled tasting room and city views.
Hot Tip At Jason Cohen’s Louisville workshop, bourbon barrel staves get repurposed as rustic-chic bar carts, stools, and chandeliers.
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