Daydreaming about your next vacation? Browse these NatGeo BEST TRIPS for 2017, grouped in categories “For Nature Lovers”, “For City Lovers”, and “For Culture Lovers”.

Then, make it happen: contact us to set up your next travel adventure. Live the dream!

FOR NATURE LOVERS

Kauai, United States

No-filter Kauai stole the show in the Jurassic movies and more than 60 other feature films. The island’s ubiquitous aerial tours do deliver jaw-dropping views of the towering Na Pali Coast sea cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and other blockbuster locations. But plunging deep into the Garden Island’s wild side requires hitting a trail. Marked hiking paths lead onto the floor of Waimea Canyon, through the shallow bogs of Alakai Swamp, and across unbelievably lush landscapes. One newer route, the five-mile Wai Koa Loop Trail, passes through North America’s largest mahogany forest. For off-the-beaten-path treks, go with a local, says Hike Kaua’i With Me owner Eric Rohlffs. “A guide can take you to less traveled spots while keeping you safe, and educating you on all things Hawaii, such as identifying instead of trampling plants found nowhere else.”

Picture of fluted cliffs at sunset on the Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Sunset strikes the dramatic fluted cliffs of the Na Pali Coast.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Ethan Welty, Tandem

Picture of Hinalele Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Hinalele Falls is one of the immense waterfalls visitors can see at the head of Wainiha Valley on Kauai.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Ethan Welty, Tandem

Picture of a woman hiking Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

The Kalalau Trail runs along the Na Pali Coast, offering stunning views of the landscape.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Christian Heeb, laif/Redux

Picture of fluted cliffs at sunset on the Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Sunset strikes the dramatic fluted cliffs of the Na Pali Coast.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Ethan Welty, Tandem

Picture of Hinalele Falls, Kauai, Hawaii

Hinalele Falls is one of the immense waterfalls visitors can see at the head of Wainiha Valley on Kauai.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Ethan Welty, Tandem

When to Go

April to November for hiking and beaches; December to May for whale-watching

Rainfall

Some coastal areas get as little as 18 inches of rain each year. Interior Mount Waialeale (elevation 5,125 feet), on the other hand, is the wettest spot in the United States with annual rainfall totals topping more than 450 inches.

Practical Tip

Kauai’s Kalalau Trail is no walk in the park. Watch the safety video before attempting even a day hike (two miles one-way from Ha’ena State Park to Hanakapi’ai Beach) along the rugged 11-mile one-way route.

Finland

Picture of two great spotted woodpeckers in Korouoma Nature Reserve, Finland

Two great spotted woodpeckers rest in Korouoma Nature Reserve.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wild Wonders of Europe/National Geographic

Picture of snow-covered trees in Riisitunturi National Park, Finland

Soft light falls over snow-encrusted evergreen trees in Riisitunturi National Park in Posio.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wild Wonders of Europe/National Geographic

Picture of a hiker at sunrise in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, Finland

Winter sunrise greets a hiker in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Dietmar Denger, laif/Redux

Picture of two great spotted woodpeckers in Korouoma Nature Reserve, Finland

Two great spotted woodpeckers rest in Korouoma Nature Reserve.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wild Wonders of Europe/National Geographic

If silence is golden, you’ll discover the mother lode in Finland’s state-owned protected areas. From near the Arctic Circle in Lapland (where the northern lights can be seen up to 200 nights a year), through the 20,000-island Finnish archipelago, and along the rocky beaches on the mainland’s southernmost tip, Finland’s 40 national parks, 12 wilderness areas, and six national hiking areas are sanctuaries for silence-seekers. It’s no wonder that Finns celebrate a hundred years of independence in 2017 with four (winter, spring, summer, and fall) nationwide Finnish Nature Days, and by designating Hossa Hiking Area as the country’s 40th national park. Join the party on a winter digital detox at WiFi-free Torassieppi, a rustic and remote reindeer farm. No phones or other electronic devices are allowed, freeing you to focus on more restorative pursuits, such as reindeer sledding or snowshoeing through unspoiled Lapland tundra, forests, and fells.  
When to Go

February to early May for the best skiing at Lapland’s “Big Four” resorts—Levi, Ylläs, Pyhä-Luosto, and Ruka; June to August for hiking, biking, kayaking, and virtual daylight 24 hours a day; September to March for the northern lights in northern Lapland

What to Buy

Iconic Finnish confections—such as black licorice and nougat-filled Tupla chocolate bars—make inexpensive and tasty gifts. The top treat to taste and share (if you dare) is salmiakki, a salty and pungent black licorice lozenge flavored with ammonium chloride.

Land o’ Lakes

Finland is the land of 188,000 lakes and 180,000 islands. The autonomous Åland region alone has 6,700 named islands among its total 20,000 islands and islets.

Baja California, Mexico

Picture of a diver near a giant school of fish in the Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

In the Sea of Cortez, an enormous school of jack fish swims near a diver.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Christian Vizl

Close encounters of the ginormous marine kind are common in the waters off Mexico’s 760-mile-long Baja California peninsula. The Gulf of California (called “the world’s aquarium” by the late French explorer Jacques Cousteau) borders fingerlike Baja to the east, with the Pacific Ocean to the west. Dive, kayak, or cruise into the deep to see behemoths of the sea, such as elephant seals, white sharks, and manta rays with colossal wingspans up to 23 feet wide. Twenty years ago these species were on the brink of extinction due to overfishing and pollution. Community-government conservation partnerships helped turn the tide with the creation of Cabo Pulmo, Guadalupe Island, Revillagigedos Archipelago, and San Ignacio Lagoon national marine parks. Today Cabo Pulmo—widely considered one of the world’s greatest ecological comeback stories—teems with marine life, its total fish biomass rebounding more than 400 percent since fishing was banned in 2000.

When to Go

November to July for live-aboard scuba diving trips among giant manta rays in the Revillagigedo Islands archipelago; mid-December to April for whale-watching in San Ignacio Lagoon

Practical Tip

Park activities are strictly regulated to protect marine life and habitat. It’s more convenient (and, sometimes, required) to be part of a guided tour.

Whales

San Ignacio Lagoon is one of the primary calving grounds for eastern Pacific gray whales, which when full grown are roughly the size of a public bus—45 to 46 feet long and 30 to 40 tons.

Banff, Canada

Free, finally, to roam, an empty nester writes her life’s next chapter in what may be Canada’s most beautiful national park. With its rugged peaks, meadowed valleys, and turquoise-blue lakes, Banff offers everything from mountain hikes and horseback excursions to hot spring soaks and luxury accommodations—making it an ideal destination for the 2017 celebration of our northern neighbor’s 150th anniversary of nationhood and the perfect place to escape to for answers to life’s questions.
Picture of a visitor resting in a hammock near Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Canada

A visitor rests in a hammock as the sun rises on Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks in Banff National Park.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Ackerman + Gruber

When to Go

May to October for biking, July to mid-September for hiking, and mid-November to mid-May for winter sports in Banff National Park

Biking Trails

There are more than 310 miles of biking trails in Banff National Park. Routes range from family-friendly paved paths to adrenaline-pumping technical trails designed for advanced riders.

Snowfall

Up to 35 feet of snow falls annually at Banff’s Sunshine Village mountain resort, which boasts the longest (November to May) non-glacial ski season in Canada.

Cloud Forests, Ecuador

Picture of tourists riding a sky bike in the Andean forest, Ecuador

Visitors glide through the Andean forest on a sky bike for an up-close view of wildlife.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Markus Kirchgessner, laif/Redux

Picture of clouds and mist over the cloud forest in Mindo, Ecuador

Mist settles over the cloud forest at dawn in Mindo, Ecuador.
PHOTOGRAPH BY James Christensen, Minden Pictures/National Geographic

Picture of a hummingbird feeding on a flower in the cloud forest, Ecuador

A booted racket-tail hummingbird feeds on a flower in the cloud forest.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Pete Oxford, Minden Pictures/National Geographic

Picture of tourists riding a sky bike in the Andean forest, Ecuador

Visitors glide through the Andean forest on a sky bike for an up-close view of wildlife.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Markus Kirchgessner, laif/Redux

Picture of clouds and mist over the cloud forest in Mindo, Ecuador

Mist settles over the cloud forest at dawn in Mindo, Ecuador.
PHOTOGRAPH BY James Christensen, Minden Pictures/National Geographic

Birders flock to Ecuadorian Chocó’s primeval cloud forests, considered some of the richest depositories of plant and animal life on the planet. Located north of Quito on the fog-shrouded Andean slopes, the biodiversity hot spot is home to hundreds of bird species, including the flashy Andean cock-of-the-rock and scores of buzzing, jewel-colored hummingbirds. “The cloud forest is an extremely important generator of water, the most essential natural resource,” says Richard Parsons, the conservationist co-founder of Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve and Lodge. At Bellavista and other private cloud forest reserves—including Mashpi, a National Geographic Unique Lodge —go on a guided night walk to see a profusion of epiphytes (air plants), hand-size moths, flickering fireflies, and, if you’re lucky, the teddy bear-faced olinguito, a raccoon cousin identified as the Western Hemisphere’s newest carnivore species in 2013. For bird’s-eye views of the glistening forest canopy, soar through the mist on Mashpi’s zip-line Sky Bike or Dragonfly open-air gondola. Travel with us to the Mashpi Lodge.
When to Go

Year-round since the daily weather forecast (95 percent humidity, average temperatures in the low 70s, and some rainfall) rarely varies; mid-June to early October is the drier season; expect daily rain February to April

Currency

Bring cash. Ecuador’s official currency is the U.S. dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city and the gateway city for cloud forest trips.

Speedy Birds

Hummingbirds are some of the fastest fliers in the cloud forests. Blink and you’ll miss these pixie-size pilots zipping from flower to flower at speeds approaching 60 miles an hour.

Via Dinarica, Western Balkans

The Western Balkans, adventure travelers’ under-the-radar playground, just got more accessible. In 2017, for the first time after years of expansion, the 1,000-mile Via Dinarica trail will be completely mapped with stage information compiled from a growing community of hikers. The trek—which stitches together ancient trading and military routes—traverses the Dinaric Alps, linking the peninsula from Postojna, Slovenia, south through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Trekkers sleep in remote mountain shelters along the Adriatic Sea, atop the region’s highest peaks, and above the continent’s deepest gorge. But the path is also a cultural corridor, where thru-hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, paddlers, and day-trippers find themselves lost in old-world traditions uncovered after five decades of communism. During homestay layovers in nomadic shepherd settlements and isolated villages—along the popular three-day stretch from Albania’s Thethi National Park to the Kosovo border, for instance—you might find yourself drinking coffee cooked in a copper pot on an iron stove, with a hospitable farmer with work-worn fingers and a sun-creased face. What was once a contentious region has become the planet’s most exciting cross-border destination. “The Via Dinarica has replaced politics with nature,” says Thierry Joubert, the owner of Green Visions, a Bosnia and Herzegovina-based tour operator. “What could be more beautiful?”  
When to Go

January to mid-March for ski touring and snowshoeing; May to September for hiking and biking

Practical Tip

Use interactive trail maps and get attraction and accommodation listings, current weather conditions, and other helpful travel resources at the Via Dinarica information portal. To find adventure tourism operators offering guided tours and other services along the route, visit Via Dinarica Alliance.

Highs and Lows

Hiking routes in the Bosnia and Herzegovina section of the Via Dinarica start at elevations as low as 650 feet and climb to karst peaks well over 7,200 feet.

Tiger National Parks, Central India

Picture of a tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park, India

A two-year-old Bengal tiger is seen in Bandhavgarh National Park in the Madhya Pradesh region of India.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Richard Packwood, Getty Images

Why watch the Jungle Book when you can live it? In the heart of India, the regal Bengal tigers immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s classic series (and subsequent Disney films) are making a roaring comeback. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s growing wild tiger population (up from as few as 3,200 in 2010 to 3,890 in 2015) resides in India. For wildlife-watchers eager to catch a glimpse of the world’s biggest cats, nothing—including Dolby Vision 3D on an IMAX screen—beats watching the majestic creatures prowl their home turf. Thanks to wildlife and habitat preservation initiatives, Central India’s Madhya Pradesh national parks are wild tiger havens. Hop aboard Indian Railways’ new Tiger Express tourist train to go on safari in Bandhavgarh and Kanha, two other tiger-rich parks.

Travel with us to India.

When to Go

October 15 to March is peak tourist season. To encounter fewer people and more tigers, visit during the sizzling summer (April to June) when temperatures regularly top the century mark. Most parks are closed during monsoon season (July to mid-October).

Practical Tip

Book a private tour to boost your chances of spotting wildlife. The Responsible Travel Tiger Watching Vacation (for two to 10 people) includes overnights in sleeper trains and safari lodges, most meals, airport transfers, and 10 safaris led by local naturalist guides.

Big Cats

Adult Bengal tigers can tip the scales at more than 500 pounds and measure about 10 feet long from nose to tail.

FOR CITY LOVERS

Marrakech, Morocco

French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent plucked some of his most audacious color combinations—think saffron orange with violet purple—from the gardens, skies, and mazelike souks (markets) of Marrakech, Morocco. As Saint Laurent’s partner, Pierre Bergé, told BBC in April, “He [Saint Laurent] said, before Marrakech he saw only in black and white.” The couple first bought a home here in 1966, and the city’s kaleidoscope of brilliant colors permeated Saint Laurent’s collections for much of his 40-year career.Following the designer’s death in 2008, his ashes were scattered in Jardin Majorelle, the Marrakech garden compound cultivated by landscape painter Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s, and given to the public by Bergé and Saint Laurent in 1980. Next door is the couple’s most recent Marrakech home, the cobalt blue Villa Oasis. Nearby, the newly built Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech is one of two YSL museums (the other is in Paris) set to debut in fall 2017 with a trove of garments, sketches, and photos. Travel with us to Marrakech.
When to Go

March to May and October to November for comfortable temps and lighter crowds; early December for the Marrakech International Film Festival

Cultural Tip

Haggle with souk (marketplace) merchants and taxi drivers. In general, the first price quoted is about double the fair price. And unless you’re prepared to pay mightily to pose for a pic, steer clear of the assertive snake charmers in Jemaa el Fna, the main square.

Currency

Cash is king, and the Moroccan currency is the dirham (dh). One U.S. dollar is worth about 9 or 10 dh. When exchanging dollars, request dirham in coins (1, 2, 5, and 10 dh) and small denomination bills (10 and 20 dh).

Madrid, Spain

Picture of the interior lobby of the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, Spain

The striking Reina Sofia Museum primarily houses works by modern and contemporary Spanish artists.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Miquel Gonzalez, laif/Redux

Picture of a mural seen over the Invernadero bridge, Madrid, Spain

Murals by Daniel Canogar brighten the Invernadero bridge in Madrid’s Rio Park.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Lucas Vallecillos, VWPics/Redux

Picture of shop interior in the Malasaña neighborhood, Madrid, Spain

Casa Quiroga is one of many shops in the popular and art-influenced Malasaña neighborhood.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Suse Multhaupt, laif/Redux

Picture of the interior lobby of the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, Spain

The striking Reina Sofia Museum primarily houses works by modern and contemporary Spanish artists.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Miquel Gonzalez, laif/Redux

Picture of a mural seen over the Invernadero bridge, Madrid, Spain

Murals by Daniel Canogar brighten the Invernadero bridge in Madrid’s Rio Park.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Lucas Vallecillos, VWPics/Redux

Eighty years after Hemingway titled a Madrid-based short story “The Capital of the World,” the lofty billing still fits. Spain’s cosmopolitan capital city—which hosts World Pride Madrid 2017 (June 23 to July 2)—lays claim to more than 60 museums, a nightlife scene that runs into day, and manicured parks and gardens. Contemporary Madrileño street artists make their mark in neighborhoods such as bohemian Malasaña (birthplace of post-Franco Spain’s social and cultural renaissance, the movída) and multicultural Lavapiés. “The local urban art scene is slowly emerging as a new landmark,” says Chris Cung, founder of Madrid Urban Art Tours, which explores the city’s creative canvases. Travel with us to Moorish Spain.
When to Go

May to June and September to October for generally dry weather and mild temperatures; January 7 to February 28 and July 1 to August 31 for the rebajas (end-of-season sales periods) at clothing stores

Currency

Spain’s currency is the euro. Carry some cash for smaller transactions. ATMs are plentiful and there are currency exchange offices at the airport, main train stations, and transportation hubs. Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted.

Elevation

At 2,119 feet above sea level, Madrid is the highest capital city in the European Union. The title of loftiest capital city on the European continent goes to Andorra la Vella, perched high in the Pyrenees.

Anchorage, United States

Picture of a woman running in the Girdwood Valley, Alaska

A young woman jogs along the North Face Trail, leading to Mount Alyeska and a view of the Girdwood Valley and Chugach Mountains.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Design Pics Inc./National Geographic

Picture of a surfer near Turnagain Arm, Anchorage, Alaska

A surfer carries his board through the landscape near Turnagain Arm, the well-known bore tide found just outside of Anchorage.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Lucia Griggi, Vault Archives/Redux

Picture of skiers and snowboarders at Alyeska Resort, Alaska

Skiers and snowboarders carve through the terrain at Alyeska Resort.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Tara Todras-Whitehill, The New York Times/Redux

With Cook Inlet as a front porch, the Chugach Mountains out back, and five national parks nearby, Anchorage offers easy access to Alaskan-size adventures. Add nearly round-the-clock daylight in summer, and it’s possible to pack a weekend’s worth of activities into one day. Go fishing in the world’s largest urban fishery, hike to a glacier, surf the bore tide along Turnagain Arm, spot a brown bear from a floatplane, and land back at Bear Tooth Grill for a Polar Pale Ale. At the time of the Alaska Purchase (mocked then as Secretary of State “Seward’s Folly”), the region was known as the Last Frontier. Now it’s at the center of several issues of global importance. Learn about it at the expanded, interactive Anchorage Museum. Travel with us to Tutka Bay.
When to Go

November to April for skiing, dog sledding, and the northern lights; March 4 for the ceremonial start of the 2017 Iditarod; mid-June to mid-August for nearly 20 hours of daylight each day

Snowfall

The average snowfall in Anchorage is 75 inches, but only 38.3 inches of the white stuff fell last season (September to March). Nearby Alyeska Resort, on the other hand, hit the snow jackpot with 824 total inches.

Alaska Big

All the land (1,949 square miles) in the state of Delaware would fit inside the city limits of 1,961-square-mile Anchorage.

Seoul, South Korea

Picture of Changdeokgung Palace at night, Seoul, South Korea

Changdeokgung Palace shines bright during a “moonlight tour” in Seoul. The 15th-century palace is one of five remaining royal Joseon dynasty palaces.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Ed Jones, AFP/Getty Images

Picture of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza at night, Seoul, South Korea

Lights lead the way at night at the landmark Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Topic Images/Getty Images

Picture of food vendors serving meals, Seoul, South Korea

People crowd busy food vendors throughout Seoul to sample popular street food.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Antonino Savojardo, eyevine/Redux

Picture of Changdeokgung Palace at night, Seoul, South Korea

Changdeokgung Palace shines bright during a “moonlight tour” in Seoul. The 15th-century palace is one of five remaining royal Joseon dynasty palaces.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Ed Jones, AFP/Getty Images

Picture of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza at night, Seoul, South Korea

Lights lead the way at night at the landmark Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Topic Images/Getty Images

You too can ride the zeitgeist. All you need to do is turn your gaze to Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Greater Seoul, with its population of 25 million people, can make even the most hardened urbanite feel like a country bumpkin.Start in Gangnam, the flashy section of Seoul south of the Han River, which acts as a kind of border of its own, neatly bisecting the city, dividing the old Seoul of palaces, markets, and government ministries from the new Seoul of cloud-scraping high-rises, cutting-edge restaurants, and tottering fashionistas.Then rocket up an elevator to the observatory deck of N Seoul Tower—located on Mount Namsan, an idyllic 859-foot promontory—to behold the immensity of Seoul.Do you desire some old-school imperial Korea? Cruise on down—via cable car, regally—to Changdeokgung, the Palace of Illustrious Virtue, the home of Korea’s last emperor.Restore your humanity with a walk through the alleyways of Bukchon Hanok Village, where more than 900 traditional Korean homes and guesthouses have been carefully preserved. Then make your way to nearby Hyoja-dong, long a home for craftsmen, but increasingly known for its avant-garde art galleries.

And now you’re hungry, of course. What Seoul does really well is street food. Spicy rice cakes and Korean fried chicken are ubiquitous. Nearly every Korean, it seems, is passionate about food. And you soon understand why. Korean cuisine is not subtle. Every bite is a carnival of tastes.

Discover more about Seoul.

When to Go

March to May for flowering cherry trees, azaleas, chrysanthemums, and other spring blooms; September to November for comfortable temperatures, clear skies, and fall foliage in the gardens of Seoul’s royal palaces and in Bukhansan National Park

Practical Tip

In popular tourist areas look for the walking tour guides decked out in bright red uniforms. Guides speak English (as well as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) and are there to answer questions and provide directions (for free). The city also offers free Seoul City Walking Tours led by volunteers.

Sky High

Seoul’s new 1,820-foot Lotte World Tower (scheduled to be completed in late 2016) is the tallest building on the Korean peninsula, and its observation deck (floors 121 to 123) is one of the highest in the world.

Moscow, Russia

Like a matryoshka nesting doll, Russia’s splendid capital city reveals itself in layers. At Moscow’s heart, the imposing Kremlin complex (set to increase visitor access in 2017), Red Square, and the candy-striped domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral remain the most popular attractions. To explore the city’s less touristed outer rings, ride the Metro (famous for lavish architectural details such as stained glass panels and intricate mosaics). Browse galleries at Winzavod, a former wine-bottling factory turned contemporary art center. Meander around the newly redeveloped VDNKh, a nearly 700-acre Stalinist exhibition center once dubbed the “Soviet Versailles.” In Gorky Park, view the inaugural edition of the Garage Triennial of Contemporary Art (March 10-May 14), featuring works from Russia’s vast and culturally diverse artistic landscape. And, even though life back in the U.S.S.R. isn’t something modern Muscovites are likely to celebrate, the retro Communist propaganda poster collection is reason enough to visit the Russian Contemporary History Museum, formerly known as the Revolution Museum.

When to Go

May and October for lower rates and lighter crowds; June 17, 21, 22, 24, 25, 28, and 29, and July 2 for FIFA Confederations Cup Russia soccer matches; June to September is peak tourist season

Practical Tip

Plan ahead to visit the Kremlin Museums, closed on Thursdays. Admission is free for ages 16 and under, but tickets (available on day of visit only) are still required. Everyone else should buy tickets in advance.

Cartagena, Colombia

Picture of a mural in the Getsemaní neighborhood, Cartagena, Colombia

In recent years, the Getsemaní neighborhood has become a haven for arts and culture, decorated with vibrant murals, including “Maria Mulata” seen here.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Fetze Weerstra, VWPics/Redux

Picture of colonial buildings at sunset in old town Cartagena, Colombia

Colonial buildings line the streets of old town Cartagena, Colombia.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Jason Rothe, VWPics/Redux

Picture of people near the city walls at sunset, Cartagena, Colombia

The sun sets beyond the city walls of the historic quarter of Cartagena.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Christian Heeb, laif/Redux

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently earned the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end 52 years of war in the country. Untouched by the conflict, Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, has long inspired visitors and writers—in particular, novelist Gabriel García Márquez, who set his luminous Love in the Time of Cholera here. See what inspired him on a stroll through the walled Old City with its brightly painted colonial mansions, bougainvillea-draped balconies, and open-air courtyard cafés filled with the infectious rhythms of cumbia. Márquez told the Paris Review in 1981 that while he garners credit for his fiction, his work is entirely drawn from real life: “The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”  
When to Go

December to March for little chance of rain and lots of celebrations, such as the 57th annual Cartagena International Film Festival, March 1 to 6

Practical Tip

Wandering around without a guide is the best way to explore the old city UNESCO World Heritage site. You will, however, have to deal with pushy street vendors. Keep them at bay with a firm “No gracias” or “No quiero nada” (“I don’t want anything”).

Currency

The official currency is the Colombian peso (COP). One U.S. dollar is worth about 2,900 COP. To avoid skimmers, withdraw cash from ATMs at bank branches. Visa, Mastercard, and debit cards are widely accepted.

Hamburg, Germany

Picture of the Water Castle at night in the Warehouse district, Hamburg, Germany

The Water Castle sparkles at night in Hamburg’s Warehouse district.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Oliver Kuehl

Berlin may rock, but Hamburg floats. Water, water is everywhere in this former Hanseatic League city, Germany’s “gateway to the world” for more than 800 years. Located on the Elbe River near the North Sea, Hamburg is Europe’s second busiest seaport (after Rotterdam) and is laced with more canals than Amsterdam and Venice combined. When the tide cooperates, you can cruise the canals crisscrossing Speicherstadt, one of the world’s largest historic port warehouse complexes. This 74-acre city-within-a-city and adjacent Kontorhaus (business district) comprise Hamburg’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, designated in 2015. HafenCity, the new district developing on the banks of the Elbe, also preserves elements of Hamburg’s maritime past while reinventing its once grungy Old Port with stunners such as the Herzog and de Meuron–designed Elbphilarmonie, opening here in January.

When to Go

May to September for mild temperatures and outdoor festivals, including the annual Hamburg Port Birthday celebration (May 5-7, 2017); December for Christmas markets

Practical Tip

Save time and money getting around by purchasing a Hamburg Card before you arrive. In addition to unlimited travel (for a single day or up to five days) by public bus, train, and harbor ferry, cardholders get discounts at many museums, restaurants, and other attractions.

Bridges

Hamburg boasts about 2,500 bridges, more than Venice, Amsterdam, and London combined. The city’s longest bridge is the Köhlbrandbrücke, stretching nearly two and a half miles across the port.

FOR CULTURE LOVERS

Malta

Eager for its turn on the world stage, this tiny island nation in the Mediterranean Sea is embracing a reboot while holding fast to a formidable heritage. Storied land of the Knights of Malta, home to three World Heritage sites—including the capital, Valletta—and a recent headline-grabber as a setting for the television phenomenon Game of ThronesMalta pivoted toward the future with the 2015 inauguration of architect Renzo Piano’s reimagining of Valletta’s old City Gate, Parliament building, and Opera House. “I like the idea of joining past and future, history and modernity,” Piano noted. So do the visitors drawn to this storied republic as it embarks on a new era.
Picture of young men playing guitar above the Grand Harbour, Malta

Young men relax above Malta’s Grand Harbour.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Alex Webb, Magnum Photos

When to Go

February for Carnival week; April to May and September to October for comfortable temperatures and fewer tourists; late May to September (high season) for traditional village festas, three-day weekends celebrating feast days of various saints; June for the annual Isle of MTV free outdoor mega-concert in Il-Fosos Square, and Malta Music Week

Currency

The euro is the official currency in Malta. Banks, ATMs, and currency exchange offices are located throughout the islands.

Practical Tip

Malta is surrounded by water but doesn’t have a drop to drink. There are no permanent lakes or rivers, so the public supply is desalinated seawater and groundwater. Reduce your risk of digestive distress by drinking and using (for cooking and brushing teeth) only bottled water.

Papua New Guinea

Picture of tribesman with traditional makeup, Papua New Guinea

Traditionally adorned tribesman participate in a ceremony in Papua New Guinea.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Tom Parker

Time forgot much of Papua New Guinea, or PNG, an isolated and incredibly rugged Garden of Eden. Located in the South Pacific north of Australia, PNG includes the eastern half of the world’s second biggest island, New Guinea, and about 600 small islands. For indigenous cultures in secluded villages, life pretty much goes on as it has for centuries. Recent homegrown tourism initiatives, such as the villagehuts.com lodging and travel website, are making it a bit easier for adventurers to visit PNG’s untamed rain forests—home to threatened tree kangaroos and Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, the largest butterfly in the world—volcanic fjords, and vibrant coral reefs. At Tufi Resort, new sea kayaking expeditions make it possible to paddle between out-of-the-way villages and stay overnight in local guesthouses. And Walindi Resort’s 2017 programs include live-aboard dive trips to the outlying Witu Islands and Father’s Reef, both packed with whirling schools of brightly colored big fish.

Picture of fisherman in a boat in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea

Native fishermen float on the surface in search of their daily catch in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea.
PHOTOGRAPH BY David Doubilet, National Geographic

When to Go

May to October for hiking and the best weather; June to early November for top cultural events such as the Goroka Show, PNG’s biggest sing-sing (tribal folklore fest); December to March (wet season) for surfing

Practical Tip

Getting around PNG isn’t easy. Cut costs and travel time by focusing on only one of PNG’s four regions. Before you go, book domestic flights online with PNG Air and Air Niugini.

Coast to Coast

PNG has about 600 islands and 3,200 miles of coastline.

Chengdu, China

Picture of people dining at a local restaurant, Chengdu, China

Bustling restaurants fill with locals and visitors looking to eat Sichuanese cooking in this UNESCO-designated City of Gastronomy.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Adam Dean, The New York Times/Redux

Chengdu is hardly a fabled destination of the “exotic Orient”—even though this fog-bound river town of 10 million is the only city in China known by the same name for more than two millennia. But if you’ve been to a Sichuan restaurant anywhere on Earth, you can attest to the region’s legendary culinary specialties: kung pao chicken, twice-cooked pork, tea-smoked duck, ma po tofu, hotpot, and more. It’s no wonder that UNESCO designated Chengdu only its second “City of Gastronomy,” citing it as “the cradle and center of Sichuan cuisine.” At street stalls, markets, and food courts, a panoply of dishes—from dumplings to duck tongues—is bathed in bright red heat, provided by the famed Sichuan peppercorns. Temper the surfeit of spice at one of Chengdu’s numerous teahouses, among China’s most authentically unspoiled.

Picture of food served at a local restaurant, Chengdu, China

Plates of traditional Sichuan dishes overflow at Tian Yuan Yin Xiang, a restaurant in Chengdu, China.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Adam Dean, The New York Times/Redux

As the hub of booming western China, more than three hours’ flight from coastal Shanghai, Chengdu has seen its white-painted back streets largely overtaken by glass-walled office towers. Yet there are plenty of picturesque between-meals stops, and five World Heritage sites. The thatched cottage of acclaimed Tang dynasty poet Du Fu exudes tranquility, while the Wide and Narrow Alley district brims with restaurants, bars, and shops selling handicrafts. And Chengdu’s other leading claim to fame is as the gateway to panda country—just a hundred miles from the Wolong National Natural Reserve, which houses a panda breeding center and a zoo featuring the rare red panda.

In Chengdu, antidote to an increasingly bland China, everything seems cast in a passionate crimson.  
When to Go

September to late October or early November for fall foliage, particularly the golden gingko trees; avoid National Day vacation week, or Golden Week, (October 1 to 7), China’s peak period for domestic tourism

What to Buy

Bring an extra piece of checked luggage to pack the heat—mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, fiery chili peppers, oil, chili bean paste, and only-in-Sichuan ingredients like Yibin yacai (fermented mustard green stems).

World’s Tallest Buddha

At 233 feet tall, the Leshan Giant Buddha is the tallest Buddha sculpture in the world and part of the Mount Emei Scenic Area, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Canton Uri, Switzerland

Picture of a curving road along the Saint Gotthard Pass, Canton Uri, Switzerland

Drivers looking for a thrill can hug the dramatic, curving roads that wind along the St. Gotthard Pass.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Martin Lehmann, Alamy

Picture of hikers crossing the Göscheneralp Salbitbrücke suspension bridge, Canton Uri, Switzerland

A group hikes across the Göscheneralp Salbitbrücke suspension bridge, which sits 90 meters high along the Salbitbrücke Hiking Trail.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Sonderegger Christof, Prisma/Alamy

Picture of a dock at dusk on Lake Lucerne, Canton Uri, Switzerland

Dusk falls over Lake Lucerne and a local village in Switzerland’s Canton Uri region.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Stefan Kurzi, Aurora Open/Alamy

Picture of a curving road along the Saint Gotthard Pass, Canton Uri, Switzerland

Drivers looking for a thrill can hug the dramatic, curving roads that wind along the St. Gotthard Pass.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Martin Lehmann, Alamy

Picture of hikers crossing the Göscheneralp Salbitbrücke suspension bridge, Canton Uri, Switzerland

A group hikes across the Göscheneralp Salbitbrücke suspension bridge, which sits 90 meters high along the Salbitbrücke Hiking Trail.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Sonderegger Christof, Prisma/Alamy

Canton Uri is the Swiss Army knife of quintessential Alpine travel experiences. Craving clanking cowbells and traditional cheesemaker huts? Check and check. How about snowcapped peaks and wildflower meadows? Uri’s got you covered. Dream of soaring over glacial lakes in a gondola? That’s Uri, too. Then there’s Gotthard Pass (elevation 6,909 feet), a magnet for James Bond wannabes jonesing to drive ridiculous hairpin turns. Their route of choice—an old cobbled road over the Alps—is the adrenaline-pumping way to travel from German-speaking Uri to Italian-speaking Canton Ticino. But it’s the slow lane compared to the new Gotthard Base Tunnel. The 35-mile-long train tunnel (longest of its kind in the world) took 17 years to build, yet takes only 17 minutes to zip through via high-speed train.

When to Go

Year-round for hiking, festivals, and scenic train trips; May to August for biking, lake sports, and hiking to Alpine farms; December to April for skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and winter fat-bike riding in Andermatt and other alpine resort areas

Practical Tip

Before you go, buy a Swiss Travel Pass for unlimited travel (for 3, 4, 8, or 15 days) by train, bus, and boat; half-price tickets on most mountain railways; free admission to about 500 museums; and other discounts.

Elevation Changes

The lowest point in Canton Uri is Lake Lucerne, elevation 1,424 feet. The highest point is the Dammastock (highest mountain in the Urner Alps), elevation 11,909 feet.

Guadeloupe Islands

Picture of visitors walking along Grande Anse beach at sunset, Guadeloupe Islands

Visitors stroll along Grande Anse beach at sunset.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Guenter Standl/laif/Redux

Picture of people relaxing at Sugarloaf Cove, les Saintes, Guadeloupe Islands

Beachgoers relax at Sugarloaf Cove on Terre-de-Haut Island, one of the eight islands to make up Les Saintes.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Richard Soberka, hemis.fr/Alamy

Picture of the view from Fort Napoleon on Terre-de-Haut Island, Guadeloupe Islands

Blue waters and sweeping views can be seen from Fort Napoleon on Terre-de-Haut Island.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Jon Arnold Images/Alamy

Picture of visitors walking along Grande Anse beach at sunset, Guadeloupe Islands

Visitors stroll along Grande Anse beach at sunset.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Guenter Standl/laif/Redux

Picture of people relaxing at Sugarloaf Cove, les Saintes, Guadeloupe Islands

Beachgoers relax at Sugarloaf Cove on Terre-de-Haut Island, one of the eight islands to make up Les Saintes.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Richard Soberka, hemis.fr/Alamy

Guadeloupe, or “Gwada,” has one foot in France, one in the Caribbean and a rich culture all its own. Located between Dominica and Antigua, the five-island archipelago moves to the beat of Gwo-Ka, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage art form combining Guadeloupean Creole lyrics, African call-and-response singing, traditional Ka drum rhythms, and dancing. The sound (along with the food, art, and most things Gwada) fuses the islands’ Afro-Indian, Afro-French, and Afro-Caribbean roots. Learn how the African slave trade shaped Guadeloupe’s distinctive culture at Mémorial ACTe, opened in 2015 and part of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. The museum, built on the site of a former sugar factory, uses location-based beacon technology to track your movements and trigger powerful audio-visual displays, such as actor portrayals of slaves, slave owners, and abolitionists.  
When to Go

December to May for the best beach weather—blue skies and high temperatures in the mid-80s; January to March for Carnival; July for two of the islands’ top music events—Gwoka Festival and the All Day in Music Festival

Currency

Since Guadeloupe is an overseas department of France, the official currency is the euro.

Practical Tip

Driving is the most convenient way to get around. Rent a car in advance (particularly if you want an automatic). Use ferries to visit the three outer islands: Marie-Galante, Les Saintes, and La Désirade.

Georgia, United States

Picture of Otis Redding III performing in Macon, Georgia

Otis Redding III of the band the Reddings performs at the Otis Redding 75th Birthday Celebration Concert at Macon City Auditorium in Macon, Georgia.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Chris McKay, Getty Images

Old sweet songs aren’t the only tunes keeping Georgia on music lovers’ minds. The Peach State’s current homegrown performers—including Young Jeezy and Luke Bryan—are building on the lyrical legacy of legends such as James Brown and Ray Charles. Hear live music or join a jam session in cozy confines such as the Historic Holly Theater in Dahlonega or Atlanta’s Apache Café. Discover the roots of the Georgia sound in Macon, where Jessica Walden and her husband Jamie Weatherford operate Rock Candy Tours. “It’s no coincidence that Little Richard, Otis Redding, and the Allman Brothers all tapped into the city’s [Macon’s] soul, found their voice, and created a sound from it,” says Walden, whose Rock n’ Roll Stroll passes “the hippie crash pad” of the Allman Brothers. Rock on throughout 2017 at one of Georgia’s 75 music festivals, such as June’s AthFest in Athens, home of the B-52’s and R.E.M.

When to Go

Year-round for live music; March to October for outdoor music festivals; July to December for the monthly Songwriter Series concerts, scheduled to return in 2017

What to Buy

Master luthier Randy Wood helped craft guitars for the likes of Elvis and Johnny Cash. Fortunately, no musical talent is required to buy a new or used banjo, guitar, mandolin, or other fretted instrument from Wood’s workshop/store near Savannah.

Center Stage

Georgia is home to more than a thousand live music venues, seating anywhere from 100 to 20,000 people per performance.

Cradle of Humankind, South Africa

Picture of people at the Cradle of Humankind Visitor Center, Africa

The Cradle of Humankind Visitor Center stands as a unique entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage site.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RosaIreneBetancourt 6/Alamy

It turns out you can go home again. Rewind any family story way, way back some two to three million years and you’ll arrive at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site. Located under the rolling Highveld grassland an hour northwest of Johannesburg, the sprawling 180-square-mile boneyard provides a subterranean window into human evolutionary history. Within the Cradle’s limestone caves and dolomite sinkholes, scientists have discovered one of the world’s greatest sources of hominid fossils—including Little Foot, a nearly complete ancient hominid skeleton. Get an overview of the discoveries at Maropeng (Setswana for “returning to the place of origin”), the Cradle of Humankind’s burial mound-shaped visitors center. Dig deeper on a guided tour of world-famous Sterkfontein Caves, site of the world’s longest running (five days a week since 1966) archaeological excavation. Palaeo Tours offers expert-led excursions to watch digs in progress in Sterkfontein and at the private Drimolen fossil site.

When to Go

June to September (winter) for clear skies and comfortable temps (averaging between 39 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit); October to March (summer) typically is wetter and warmer

Practical Tip

The Maropeng Visitor Center (closed Mondays) is a good starting point, but it’s only one location within the 180-square-mile World Heritage site. To get the most out of your visit, consider booking a private tour.

Caves

Hidden beneath the surface of the Cradle of Humankind site are more than 200 caves.

Jump to the original National Geographic post for more videos and 360° views.
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