The world awaits. Where will you go next? Our editors and explorers pick the planet’s 25 most exciting destinations for the year ahead. To create our annual Best Trips list we collaborated with the editorial teams of National Geographic Traveler’s 17 international editions and with our own globe-trotting experts to report on the essential and sustainable sites to see in 2020. Grab your bags and go!
A replica of the 16th-century Stari Most (Old Bridge) spans the Neretva River in Mostar, in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo by: Andrew Compton, Alamy Stock Photo
Why go now: Mark 25 years of peace
What to know: Partially destroyed during the Bosnian War (1992–1995), history-rich Mostar still bears scars of the past. Numerous buildings in the Old City, developed as a 15th-century Ottoman frontier town, have been rebuilt or restored in the 25 years since the Dayton Peace Accords established relative calm in the western Balkans. Wander around and you’ll pass newly renovated apartments next to buildings riddled with bullet holes. Local and international artists regularly decorate the abandoned structures with colorful murals. Mostar’s most tangible image of peace is the 16th-century Stari Most (Old Bridge), rebuilt in 2004. It connects the city’s predominantly Christian Croat west side with the mainly Muslim Bosniak east.
—Barbera Bosma, managing editor, Nat Geo Travel Netherlands
When to go: May
How to go: Visit Mostar as part of a 12-day Nat Geo Expeditions “Discover the Balkans” trip, offered in partnership with G Adventures.
Women of the Longhorn Miao tribe in Guizhou province, China, wear elaborate headdresses of linen and wool on special occasions. Photo by: Stefano Cestari
Why go now: Step into villages almost untouched by time
What to know: Historically one of China’s most isolated and undiscovered provinces, southwestern Guizhou is gaining global notice as a cloud computing and big-data centre. The mountainous region’s plentiful water and cool climate are draws for Apple, Huawei, and other tech powerhouses that have established or are building facilities in the provincial capital, Guiyang. This buzz around bytes has improved access to the entire province, including the traditional villages of ethnic minority groups, such as the Bouyei, Dong, and Miao. In eastern Guizhou’s indigenous villages, in particular, days unfold at a slow pace and people continue farming and textile traditions—such as spinning, embroidery, and batik—practiced since the sixth century.
—Lu Yi, managing editor, Nat Geo Travel China
When to go: April–May
How to go: The Guiyang–Guangzhou High-Speed Railway connects the megacity of Guangzhou (northwest of Hong Kong) with Guizhou province, including station stops in ethnic regions.
Ice-covered trees, known as snow monsters, transform southern Tohoku’s Zao ski resort into a Japanese winter wonderland.Photo by: THE ASAHI SHIMBUN/ Getty Images
Why go now: Escape the Olympic crowds naturally
What to know: Less than three hours by train from Tokyo, home of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, Tohoku should get a gold medal for best unknown travel wonderland. Comprising the six northernmost prefectures on Japan’s main island of Honshu, this region features pristine forests, gorges and crater lakes, thousand-year-old temples and shrines, and venerable local festivals—yet less than 2 per cent of international travellers come here. Walk the Michinoku Coastal Trail, which runs for 100 kilometres from Aomori to Fukushima. The latter was devastated by the 2011 tsunami, and the newly opened trail is a stirring symbol of the area’s rebirth. For skiers, Tohoku regularly records some of the planet’s heaviest snowfalls, and resorts such as Appi Kogen are exhilaratingly uncrowded.
When to go: Year-round
How to go: Base yourself at Koganezaki Furofushi Onsen, in Aomori, which offers 70 rooms and an open-air hot spring with views over the Sea of Japan.
In the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hollókő, Hungary, locals mark Easter with Mass, a procession, and folk dances with girls wearing brightly colored traditional costumes. Photo by: Martin Zwick/ Getty Images
Why go now: Take a hike on a lesser known European path
What to know: Despite its lack of soaring peaks (the highest is 3,327-foot Mount Kékes), Hungary is a dream hiking destination thanks to the country’s National Blue Trail. Meandering about 1,125 kilometres from Irottko Mountain, on the western border with Austria, to the northeastern village of Hollóháza near Slovakia, the Blue Trail (Kéktúra in Hungarian) is a wonderfully diverse web of paths labelled with white-and-blue-striped waymarkers. Originating in 1938 and recognized as Europe’s first long-distance trail, it’s part of the nearly 10,460-kilometre European long-distance walking route E4, which begins in Spain and ends (with ferry connections) in Cyprus. So, while you could use the Blue Trail as a launchpad for an epic, cross-Europe trek, Hungary’s historic route is best experienced as a singular destination.
—Tamás Vitray, editor in chief, Nat Geo Travel Hungary
When to go: August–September
How to go: Get a Blue Trail passport to earn stamps at checkpoints along the route. Collect all 147 stamps and receive a coveted Blue Trail Badge, or complete one of the three stretches awarding section-hike badges.
In Czechia, Telč’s main square is lined with pastel-hued Renaissance and baroque houses. Photo by: Kaprik/ Alamy Stock Photo
Why go now: Be charmed by a fairytale setting
What to know: With resplendent Italian Renaissance architecture, it’s no wonder the southern Czechia (Czech Republic) town of Telč is sometimes called the Czech Florence. Positioned midway between Prague to the north and Vienna to the south, the storybook town got its official start in the 14th century as a crossroads on the well-trodden trading routes among Bohemia, Moravia, and Austria. Stone walls and a system of man-made fish ponds helped protect Telč’s historic town centre, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The triangular marketplace is bordered by a rainbow of pastel-hued burgher houses, originally constructed from wood and rebuilt with stone after fire decimated the town in 1530. From the square, walk to the Telč Chateau. The former Gothic castle was transformed into a Renaissance jewel by nobleman Zachariáš of Hradec and his wife, Kateřina, whose Italianate taste inspired Telč’s ornate style.
—Tomáš Tureček, editor in chief, Nat Geo Travel Czechia
When to go: May–September
How to go: Tour the Telč castle to see the sumptuous stucco chapel, built about 1580, as the final resting place of Zachariáš and Kateřina.
Harp seal pups are born on the ice and need a stable platform to survive. Sea ice coverage in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is getting less predictable every year. Photo by: Jennifer Hayes, National Geographic
Why go now: See a beautiful but diminishing world of ice—and the harp seals that depend on it
What to know: When you walk on sea ice, it’s easy to forget that there’s an ocean below you. This frozen world is stripped down to essentials: impossibly blue sky, bright sun bouncing off a blanket of fresh snow, wind that vibrates like a cello, whiteness all around. Welcome to the harp seal nursery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off the Magdalen Islands, Quebec, one of three Northwest Atlantic harp seal pupping grounds. Adult seals migrate here from the Arctic, the pregnant females searching for suitable ice to birth on, and males follow, eager to mate. Harp seals are an ice-obligate species; they require a stable sea platform of ice for pups to survive. The pups are born on the ice in late February and early March. The young seals are one of the most captivating creatures on the planet, with obsidian eyes, charcoal nose, and cloud-soft fur.
When to go: February–March How to go: Liveaboard boat expeditions offer the luxury of time with the harp seals above and below the sea ice; Hotel Madelinot runs small-group excursions via helicopter.
The Twr Mawr Lighthouse in Anglesey is a scenic stop along the United Kingdom’s new North Wales Way. Photo by: BY Alan Novelli/ Alamy Stock Photo
Why go now: Follow far-reaching routes that get the blood pumping
What to know: Three new, fully mapped national touring routes, collectively called the Wales Way, showcase the best of this legend-filled land. At 300 kilometres, the Cambrian Way is the longest of the three roads, snaking north to south along the backbone of Wales. Sandwiched between mountains and sea, the Coastal Way is a sweeping 290-kilometre journey around Cardigan Bay on the country’s west coast. The castle-rich North Wales Way follows a centuries-old trading route 120 kilometres from northeastern Queensferry to the Isle of Anglesey. Each driving itinerary is a gateway to wider outdoor adventures. Hike in Edmund Hillary’s footsteps on Mount Snowdon; inland surf at Adventure Parc Snowdonia; or go coasteering (a new adventure sport that combines rock climbing, cliff jumping, snorkelling, and more) on the Pembrokeshire coast.
—Zane Henry, project editor, Nat Geo Travel U.K.
When to go: May–June
How to go: Dragon Tours offers private and group itineraries tailored to participants’ interests. Owner/guide Mike Davies holds a graduate degree in medieval Welsh history and can help trace clients’ Welsh ancestors.
Colossal statues of Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II guard the entrance to Abu Simbel’s main temple. Photo by: Dan Breckwoldt/ Shutterstock
Why go now: Enjoy a private audience with Ramses II
What to know: Tourism to Egypt is rebounding from its steep decline in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring revolution. However, the feeling of having a destination to yourself still can be found at Abu Simbel, deep in the south of Egypt near its border with Sudan. Originally cut into a rock cliff by the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II (ca. 1303–ca. 1213 b.c.), the temples at Abu Simbel are at once archaeological treasures and marvels of modern engineering. Buried by sand for millennia, the towering landmarks were unearthed by archaeologists in 1813 and saved from the rising waters of Lake Nassar—the gigantic reservoir created by the damming of the mighty Nile at Aswan—by a monumental five-year relocation effort launched by the Egyptian government and UNESCO in 1960. Wander from one dimly lit chamber to another through the 98-foot-tall Great Temple, guarded by four gigantic figures of Ramses II. Stand awestruck in front of images of the pharaoh and Nefertari, his beloved queen, engraved on the walls more than 3,000 years ago. Take your time: Chances are few people will be jostling for your view.
—Daphne Raz, editor in chief, Nat Geo Travel Israel
When to go: February–March
How to go: A good way to experience Abu Simbel is as part of a Nile cruise. Outfitters cruising the river include National Geographic Expeditions, Oberoi, and Abercrombie & Kent.
Visitors view the installation “Messages from the Atlantic Passage,” by South African artist Sue Williamson, at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, in Kochi, India, December 2018. The biennale is South Asia’s biggest art show. Photo by: Atul Loke, Redux
Why go now: Track artful trends in creative Kerala
What to know: The oldest European settlement in India is gaining notice as a buzzing new arts hub. Seaside Kochi, located in Kerala state on the southwestern Malabar Coast, was founded in 1500 by Portugal, first in a parade of colonial powers (Holland and England followed) to rule the tropical port city. This multilayered colonial past is most present in historic Fort Kochi, the waterfront district where several Dutch- and British-era properties house galleries and cafés. The four-month-long Kochi-Muziris Biennale is the largest event of its kind in South Asia. Launched in 2012, the biennale showcases contemporary international, Indian, and cross-cultural visual art and experiences, such as Singaporean-Indian artist and writer Shubibi Rao’s 2018 “The Pelagic Tracts,“ a multifaceted deep dive into a world where books are the most prized commodity. Rao is curator of the fifth biennale, set to run from December 12, 2020, to April 10, 2021.
—Lakshmi Sankaran, editor in chief, Nat Geo Traveller India
When to go: December–April
How to go: Visit galleries and attend a performance of Kathakali, the classical dance drama of Kerala, on National Geographic’s seven-day “South India: Explore Kerala” trip.
A herd of several hundred elephants heads toward a watering hole in Chad’s Zakouma National Park. Photo By: Brent Stirton/National Geographic
Why go now: Support an African elephant haven
What to know: Home to a rapidly growing African elephant population—some 559 in 2019 and a thousand expected by 2024—Zakouma National Park is an under-the-radar African safari destination. The park’s location, in southeastern Chad, one of the world’s least visited countries, makes Zakouma a best-kept secret—one worth sharing to help ensure its continued success. Poaching previously had rendered the park nearly a war zone, with 90 per cent of the wild elephants killed. Funding from the European Union and the 2010 decision to transfer park management to the public-private conservation organization African Parks has brought back life to the region. In addition to its profusion of pachyderms, Zakouma is a playground for more than 10,000 buffalo and about 1,000 Kordofan giraffes. Among other wild things at home here are nearly 400 species of birds, as well as cheetahs, leopards, and servals.
—Marina Conti, editor in chief, Nat Geo Travel Italy
When to go: March–April
How to go: Stay at the eight-tent Camp Nomade, open mid-December to mid-April, or the more affordable Tinga Camp, a 20-rondavel (round hut) camp open mid-November to May.
Opened in 2014, Spruce Street Harbor Park is a successful emblem of the revitalization of Philadelphia’s Delaware riverfront, once a series of dilapidated piers. Photo By: Dina Litovsky/National Geographic
Why go now: Rediscover an American classic
What to know: There’s a lot of glimmer in Philadelphia: vibrant murals and glinting metalworks, multihued mosaics and kaleidoscopic light installations, art collectives in garages, and a traditionally Italian neighbourhood famous for cheesesteaks now sprouting vegan-punk-metal coffeehouses. Think of Detroit, Cleveland, and Cincinnati: resurgent, post-industrial American cities that are channelling creative forces to reinvent themselves for a new generation. Philly is like this but better. It’s a scrappy underdog with a heart of gold and—who can resist the Rocky reference?—the eye of the tiger. Slowly but steadily Philly has changed from a city of industrial might in the first half of the past century to a city of ingenious makers. The evidence is everywhere, from buzzing BOK—a South Philly collective of small businesses and art spaces—to Bela Shehu’s chic and cutting-edge fashion line NinoBrand, in Rittenhouse Square.
How to go: Base yourself at the Rittenhouse for old-school Philadelphia glamour or the new Notary Hotel, then head out to quirky culture spots the Mütter Museum and the Edgar Allan Poe House.
In Mexico, Puebla’s 17th-century Chapel of the Rosary is covered in 23-karat gold leaf. Photo by: Anton Ivanov, Alamy Stock Photo
Why go now: Because baroque is back!
What to know: Built by the Spanish in 1531, Mexico’s fourth-largest city is a bastion of baroque architecture. Puebla’s 100-block city centre, a UNESCO World Heritage site, teems with ornate 17th- and 18th-century buildings. Many are adorned with Talavera tiles: brightly painted clay mini-masterpieces blending Puebla’s indigenous and European colonial influences. Few match the opulence of the Church of Santo Domingo’s Capilla del Rosario, which is bathed in 23-karat gold leaf. With the goal of celebrating this art movement, the International Museum of the Baroque opened in 2016. The following year a 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook the building but didn’t deter it from its mission. The post-quake period has seen infrastructure upgrades and new hotels throughout the city. Yet Puebla remains rooted in tradition. “Puebla is not an international tourist destination,” says Antonio Prado, director of the Spanish Institute of Puebla. “So you actually get to experience an authentic Mexican city.”
How to go: Begin an individual Spanish-language immersion program (1 to 16 weeks) any Monday of the year at the Spanish Institute of Puebla.
Why go now: Count the stars in one of the darkest spots on the planet
What to know: One of only a few International Dark Sky Sanctuaries, the vast 120,000-acre !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park is among the world’s darkest places. Distances in this remote border region between South Africa and Botswana are measured in dunes. Year-round stable temperatures, extremely low humidity, virtually zero light- or sound-pollution, and lack of cloud cover make the park—which scored an almost perfect 21.9 on the SQM (sky quality meter) scale of darkness—one of the planet’s best stargazing destinations. Stay inside the park at the 12-chalet! Xaus Lodge, staffed and co-owned by the ‡Khomani San and Mier communities. Use the telescope on the open deck to observe the Southern Cross and other night-sky sights unique to the Southern Hemisphere.
—Ana Hogas, Nat Geo Travel Romania
How to go: Spend two nights at !Xaus Lodge on Imagine Africa’s 14-night “Off the Beaten Track South Africa” trip.
The view from Lipan Point is worth the short detour off the main drive along the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by: Adam Schallau
Why go now: See a geological wonderland eons in the making
What to know: “The grandeur of the canyon confers dignity on every form of life that touches it,” wrote famed environmentalist Edward Abbey in the inaugural issue of Traveler, in 1984. Since its designation as a national park—the Grand Canyon celebrated its centennial in 2019—this natural wonder in northwest Arizona has dazzled visitors with its immense scale (450 kilometres long, up to 30 kilometres wide, and two kilometres deep) and breathtakingly stratified geology that dates back to 1.8 billion years ago. The explorer John Wesley Powell, one of National Geographic’s founders, called the canyon “the most sublime spectacle on Earth.” Experienced hikers love the Nankoweap Trail, a dramatic North Rim-to-river route. But all views are unforgettable, from both rims down to the Colorado River.
When to go: September–October
How to go: All flights between Mumbai/Delhi and Flagstaff, the nearest airport to the South Rim, require at least one or more layovers in gateway cities like London and Newark. The South Rim is a 128 km/ 1.5 hr drive from Flagstaff. Daily shuttle services are available between Flagtsaff and Grand Canyon Village. (www.nps.gov/grca.)
The Maldives is home to one of the largest known populations of reef mantas in the world. Photo by: Lydia Thompson (21st Century Fox)
Why go now: Explore forward-thinking islands on the front lines of climate change
What to know: The first nation to champion the need to address climate change in the United Nations General Assembly, in 1987, the Maldives is an environmental protection trailblazer. For the idyllic, 1,200-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean, forward-thinking sustainability initiatives—such as the effort to be carbon neutral by 2020—are a matter of survival. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, much of the Maldives—which is the lowest-lying country on the planet (average elevation: five feet) and whose territory is about 99 per cent water—could disappear in decades due to rising sea levels caused by global warming. The 870-square-kilometre UNESCO Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve helps protect the Maldives’ fragile coral reefs, which support a high diversity of coral, fish, and bird species, as well as sea turtles, whale sharks, and other marine life.
—Marie-Amélie Carpio, senior editor, Nat Geo Travel France
How to go: Environmental protection practices are common at many of the Maldives’ resorts, including Soneva Fushi, which recycles 90 per cent of its waste; Soneva Jani, built entirely with sustainable materials; and St. Regis Maldives Vommuli which helps regenerate reefs.
The Bay of Fires, on Tasmania’s northeastern coast, got its name from the Aboriginal campfires spotted by British seafarers—but it could also apply to its orange lichen-covered boulders. Photo by: Lydia Thompson (21st Century Fox)
Why go now: Venture to an epic isle that’s wild and beautiful, faraway yet familiar
What to know: Once considered a backwater, Tasmania is now one of Australia’s fastest-growing tourism destinations. Key to the appeal of Australia’s southernmost state is its raw natural beauty, which it owes largely to a combination of its remoteness (airport expansion plans are under way, but international flights are still a few years off) and the enduring green spirit of its half million or so residents. Swathed in 2,000-year-old trees and home to real-life devils (and even “tigers,” if you believe the rumours that the officially extinct thylacine lives on), it’s the stuff outdoor adventures are made of. After making the trek here, visitors find that most of Tassie’s attractions are surprisingly accessible. It takes just four hours to drive the length of the state. No matter where you base yourself, opportunities to become immersed in nature are never far away—nearly half the state is designated national park, after all.
—Nat Geo Travel Korea
When to go: September–May
How to go: All flights between Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru to Hobart, Tasmania, require one or more layovers in gateway cities like Melbourne and Sydney.
Why go now: Relish an Iberian province capped with snowy summits and steeped in tradition
What to know: An autonomous region of Spain, Asturias lies along the Bay of Biscay, dense with trees that run up hillsides, dotted by wild marshland, and scalloped with tidy beaches. “Nowhere else in Spain can you find so many flavours, such incredible variety, in such a small area. It is like an entire country,” says José Antelo, an air traffic controller based in Barcelona. He comes to Asturias three or four times a year to enjoy the province’s celebrated cuisine, from Cabrales cheese to cider (poured from on high into a glass, a manoeuvre intended to create froth and open up flavours). The Asturian capital of Oviedo is a compact city of roughly 220,000 separated from the larger city of Gijón by rapidly encroaching suburbs. Oviedo has the better museums, Gijón has the beach. After the cities, head to the Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) National Park, with its spiky summits and herds of sheep. Up here, trees fall away, and the view opens to a wide sky of cotton ball clouds.
How to go: A network of trails covers the region, headlined by the Camino del Norte, the quieter northern branch of Spain’s famous Camino de Santiago.
Why go now: Feel your paradigms shift at the world’s oldest known temple complex
What to know: Built about 11,600 years ago, the monumental limestone pillars at Göbekli Tepe, or Potbelly Hill, have been hiding in plain sight for millennia. Excavation of the megaliths only began in the mid-1990s. The archaeological site is located in southeastern Turkey, at the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent region that nurtured early civilisations. What has been revealed—primarily circles and rectangles of massive stones decorated with bas-reliefs of boars, foxes, and gazelles—comprise the world’s oldest known temple complex. The extraordinary discoveries made here have rewritten the story of how the first civilisations began. Contrary to the long-held belief that the world’s earliest permanent settlements developed due to agriculture, Göbekli Tepe suggests that the impetus was a desire for a place of worship. Researchers theorise that it was built by hunter-gatherers as a regional meeting point and that agriculture was born out of the need to feed all the people involved in the unprecedented construction effort.
—Kemal Gözegir, assistant editor, Nat Geo Travel Turkey
When to go: March–May
How to go: Before visiting Göbekli Tepe, tour the nearby Şanlıurfa Archaeology and Mosaic Museum to see a replica of the temple and artifacts from the site.
The Andes form a backdrop for grape vines in Mendoza’s Uco Valley, which produces award-winning Malbec. Photo by: David Noton Photography/ Alamy Stock Photo
Why go now: Drink a mighty Malbec and delve into the roots of its flavour
What to know: With bodegas (wine cellars) backed by the snowcapped Andes and the world’s best Malbec, Argentina’s Mendoza province is a spectacularly scenic place to tour vineyards and satisfy the palate. Copious sunshine, bone-dry climate, and a high altitude (nearing 4,000 feet at some vineyards) nourish Mendoza’s award-winning Malbec and other varietals, such as Torrontés, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The province’s three main wine regions—Maipú, Lujan de Cuyo, and Uco Valley—are strung along Argentina’s epic Ruta 40 (one of the longest highways in the world), within 120 kilometres of Mendoza’s eponymous capital city. The Spanish introduced grapes here in the 16th century, and some wineries are more than a century old. Yet it’s the locals’ warmth and their passion for winemaking that set Mendoza apart from other global wine capitals.
How to go: Visit wineries in two Mendoza regions on the day-long “Taste of Lujan and Maipú” small-group experience with Ampora Wine Tours.
Why go now: Jump through the Ring of Fire
What to know: No roads link the rest of Russia to the Kamchatka Peninsula, the vast, thumb-shaped tail of the Russian Far East. Extending into the sea between the Japanese and Aleutian archipelagoes, 1250-kilometre-long Kamchatka is part of the Ring of Fire, the chain of volcanoes and seismically active sites outlining the Pacific Ocean. Due to the incredible density and diversity of volcanoes, geothermal features, and wildlife found here, six separate areas of the peninsula are included within the Volcanoes of Kamchatka World Heritage site. Teeming with wildlife—including brown bears weighing up to 680 kilos or more—Kamchatka is an untamed, primordial place that, until recent years, was visited only by ardent adventurers. Now, thanks to an ongoing airport expansion project in the peninsula’s capital city and gateway, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, it’s somewhat easier to make the trek to Russia’s wild east. Getting around is more doable too with adventure outfitters, such as 56th Parallel and Explore Kamchatka, offering an increasing number of tours: volcano hikes, bear-viewing treks, heli-skiing, river rafting, and visits to tundra reindeer camps and the awe-inspiring Valley of the Geysers.
—Ivan Vasin, editor in chief, Nat Geo Travel Russia
How to go: Nat Geo Expeditions offers the “Across the Bering Sea: From Katmai to Kamchatka” cruise.
The Temple of the Great Jaguar towers over the main plaza of the ancient Maya city of Tikal, in Guatemala. Photo by: Simon Dannhauer/ Getty Images
Why go now: Meet the Maya—past and present
What to know: A treasure map created using revolutionary laser technology is leading to discoveries under the jungle canopy of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala. Armed with information gathered via the Pacunam Lidar Initiative, an 1290-square-kilometre aerial survey, archaeologists are finding long-hidden pyramids, watchtowers, and other ruins of an extensive pre-Columbian civilization considerably more complex than most Maya experts realized. While not yet accessible to the public, the latest discoveries confirm that Guatemala is the place to dive into Maya culture, then and now. Ancient roots run particularly deep in the northernmost Petén region, the jungle-cloaked heart of the Maya world. See the stone jewels of Central America’s pre-Hispanic past in Uaxactún, Yaxhá, El Mirador, and Tikal National Park. In modern, multicultural Guatemala, Maya descendants constitute more than half the population, making the country the only one in Central America with an indigenous cultural majority. Experience this culture in the Tz’utujil Maya villages around Lake Atitlán.
—Erick Pinedo, editorial coordinator, Nat Geo Travel Latin America
When to go: November–December
How to go: Tz’utujil Maya artisans lead tours, conduct workshops, and sell textiles, leather products, and yarns offered by Lake Atitlán-based Ethical Fashion Guatemala.
A master grader at Italy’s Parmigiano-Reggiano Consortium tests the quality of a wheel of Parma’s famed cheese. Photo by: Ainara Garcia/ Alamy Stock Photo
Why go now: Savor a multisensory feast
What to know: Parma’s gifts to the world include “king of cheeses” Parmigiano-Reggiano, the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, and the ”Assumption of the Virgin” masterwork by High Renaissance painter Correggio. The surrounding Emilia-Romagna region produces a bounty of DOP, or protected origin, foods, such as Parma ham, balsamic vinegar of Modena, and sparkling Lambrusco wines. So no one would be surprised to learn that this northern Italian city has been named Italian Capital of Culture 2020. Plans call for special programs in local venues, including the Labirinto della Masone, home to a bamboo maze billed as the world’s largest, and the sprawling Palazzo della Pilotta, an unfinished 16th-century complex which houses Parma’s premier art museum, Galleria Nazionale.
How to go: Learn how to prepare a full menu (including handmade pasta) based on local Emilia-Romagna ingredients on the four-day “Chef Mattia’s Kitchen in Parma” program with Cooking Vacations.
El Hierro, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, was once considered the westernmost point of land in the known world. Photo by: Inaki Relanzon, Nature Picture Library
Why go now: Reach an end of the world
What to know: Once considered the westernmost point of land in the known world, El Hierro is a world apart from the rest of Spain’s main Canary Islands, which are more often famed for sun-and-sand resorts. Smallest (170 square kilometres) and youngest in the Canary archipelago, El Hierro is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Global Geopark—and now the setting of an eponymous Spanish record-breaking hit television series. Dramatic thrills extend to the astounding diversity of ecosystems, from lush meadows to rugged coastal cliffs and lunar-like terrain. Walking trails crisscross the island, some leading to spectacular Atlantic Ocean viewpoints. On the southern slopes, palm vegetation, fig trees, and vines give way to endemic Canarian pine forests. In western El Sabinar, the open slope is dotted with centuries-old juniper trees, wind-twisted into bizarre shapes. Off El Hierro’s southern coast, the crystal-clear waters of the Marine Reserve of La Restinga-Mar de las Calmas, or Calm Sea, is considered one of Europe’s top diving destinations.
—Josan Ruiz, director, Nat Geo Travel Spain
How to go: From September to June, self-guided walking tour specialists Macs Adventure offers a seven-night “El Hierro: Edge of Europe” itinerary including lodging, luggage transfers, daily breakfasts, and route maps.
Białowieża Forest, which is partly in Belarus and partly in Poland, is home to Europe’s biggest land mammal, the European bison. Photo by: Fabrizio Moglia/ Getty Images
Why go now: Discover one of Europe’s last true wild places
What to know: Untamed Białowieża Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve, protects remnants of lowland Europe’s last remaining primeval forests. Spanning nearly 890 square kilometres, and encompassing all of Białowieża National Park in eastern Poland, the vast forest creates an oasis of wilderness in the middle of a crowded continent. Spot some of the more than 250 bird species and the most iconic of the forest’s 59 mammal species: the European bison, Europe’s biggest land mammal. Białowieża’s approximately 800 bison represent the largest free-roaming population of a species that rebounded in the forest after being hunted almost to extinction by 1920.
—Martyna Szczepanik, editorial coordinator, Nat Geo Travel Poland
How to go: See wild bison and take a guided hike through Białowieża’s strictly protected primeval forest area on a four-day bison safari from Warsaw with Wild Poland.
The Grossglockner High Alpine Road runs north to south through Austria and packs 36 hairpin curves into its 48-mile route. Photo by: Zoonar, JÜRGEN Vogt, Alamy Stock Photo
Why go now: Drive to views once accessible only to mountaineers
What to know: Designed to maximize scenic views, the serpentine Grossglockner High Alpine Road is a testament to the value of taking the long way home. Completed in 1935, the mountain-pass toll road packs 36 hairpin curves in its 50-kilometre route through Hohe Tauern National Park, one of central Europe’s largest protected natural areas. The touring route allows motorists to experience pristine high alpine settings previously accessible only to mountaineers. The road, named for Austria’s highest peak, 12,460-foot Grossglockner, runs north to south across the provinces of Salzburg, Tyrol, and Carintha, from Fusch to Heilgenblut. Intended for savouring, not speeding, the route features multiple scenic overlooks and trailheads. Enjoy a leisurely lunch accompanied by views of 37 peaks and 19 glaciers at the historic Edelweisshütte inn, built in 1935.
—Nat Geo Travel Germany
When to go: June–September
How to go: Get discounted toll fees and help protect the high-alpine environment by renting an electric car. The road has charging stations at the beginning and end, and boasts Austria’s highest e-charging station.
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