Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe: Gorillas and Birds
Rich in natural resources, the Republic of the Congo is banking on sustainable tourism to keep its vast swaths of forest—prime habitat for western lowland gorillas—from being exploited. Lodgings in the three-million-acre Odzala-Kokoua National Park are solar-powered tents on platforms nine feet off the ground to allow wildlife to roam. Keep your eyes peeled for forest elephants, elusive antelopes, and 13 primate species. The trip tops off with a jaunt to the Portuguese-speaking São Tomé and Príncipe for beach time, scuba diving, and a chance to look at rare birds, like the world’s smallest ibis. Cox & Kings: “Primates & Birding,” 12 days; $11,235 (including internal airfare).
Madagascar: The Eighth Continent
Lemurs, found nowhere else in the wild, are the star attraction. But the 1,000-mile-long island off southeast Africa teems with Dr. Seussian flora and fauna—80 percent of its species are endemic, leading some to dub it the eighth continent—and is host to idyllic beaches and hospitable Madagascans. This itinerary guides you from Sakatia Island, where guests snorkel or take it mora, mora (slowly, slowly), to the markets of Antananarivo. You’ll scout for those irresistible primates in the forests of Andasibe National Park. Mango Safaris: “Contrasts of Madagascar,” 11 days; $2,925 (lunches and several dinners not included).
Morocco: Cross-Country Ramble
From the world’s tallest minaret in Casablanca to the medieval medina of Marrakech, explore imperial cities and wild landscapes, including a three-day camel trek through the Sahara and a hike in the cedar forest of the Atlas Mountains. (Disclosure: The outfitter is part of the National Geographic family.) National Geographic Adventures: “Morocco Camel Trek and Hiking Adventure,” 13 days; $4,495.
Mozambique: Castaway Island
Live out Robinson Crusoe fantasies on a nameless, remote island: Kayak the coastline on the lookout for humpback whales, the manatee-like dugong, and storks roosting in mangrove branches. Dinner is freshly caught fish cooked over an open fire. Afterward, you’ll retire to a tent on the beach. Back on the mainland, explore unspoiled coral reefs from the Guludo Beach Lodge. The lodge is a primary supporter of the Nema Foundation, which works to protect the environment and relieve poverty in the country through projects such as building primary schools and providing daily meals for schoolchildren. Extraordinary Journeys: “Island and People of Mozambique,” 10 days; $4,000.
Namibia: Dynamic Dunes
Towering ochre dunescapes have long been this southern African country’s calling card; this epic adventure brings you there—a trekking safari takes you through NamibRand Nature Reserve, where you’ll sleep on “dune cots.” In addition, track leopards and cheetahs with Africat Foundation researchers at Okonjima; scout rhinos in Etosha National Park’s newly opened western reaches; hike amid the prehistoric rock art of Twyfelfontein, a World Heritage site; visit a remote Himba village; and kayak among seals and dolphins in Walvis Bay. Wilderness Travel: “Namibia Expedition,” 15 days; $6,995.
Zambia: Animal Planet
The outfitter has paired three master safari guides with three wildly divergent ecosystems in a country where it’s easy to see the Big Five—and there are fewer jeeps competing for a gander at them. These top trackers take you on walking safaris in the woodlands and along the rivers of South Luangwa National Park; on game drives in the plains and wetlands of Kafue National Park; and canoeing past elephants in Mana Pools National Park. Wild Planet Adventures: “Zambia Ultimate Wildlife Safari: An Ensemble of Master Guides,” 18 days; $13,998.
Botswana: Plane and Simple
This classic Okavango Delta safari is the culmination of the 40-plus years of experience of founder Dave Herbert, who helped put Botswana on the radar of Americans a generation ago. Guests fly via bush plane to their choice of three vastly different luxurious tented camps, including two that specialize in wetland species, such as crocs and hippos, and land camps geared to viewing big game. Great Safaris: “The Great Wing Safari,” 10 days; from $4,350.
Uganda: Comeback Country
Uganda celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain this year and its return to stability after years of turbulence. The wildlife, decimated under the regime of brutal dictator Idi Amin, has recently made a dramatic comeback too; the country is now poised for an influx of tourism. This itinerary pioneers the vast potential for game-viewing, from Murchison Falls National Park, host to elephants, giraffes, hartebeests, lions, leopards, and hippos, to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and its resident gorillas. Deeper Africa: “Deeper Uganda,” 13 days; from $6,999.
Ghana: On the Radar
This West African country grabbed headlines in 2009 when President Obama and his family visited the capital, Accra, and the Cape Coast Castle, headquarters of the British slave trade in Africa in the 18th century. But its rich potential as a travel destination remains largely off the radar for most Americans, which is why veteran traveler Archana Shah and three friends decided to use an outfitter for their trip there. Aside from an “eye-opening” tour of the slave fortress, they tracked rare jungle elephants in Mole National Park. Immersion Journeys: “Ghana, Culture, Wildlife & Heritage,” 10 days; $2,895.
South Africa: Pint-Size Safari
From learning how to do Shangaan beadwork at Kirkman’s Camp to being a Bushman for the day and studying the constellations of the southern sky in Bushmans Kloof Game Reserve, this is South Africa reimagined for kids. &Beyond: “Leopards, Winelands, and Rock Paintings,” 10 days; $7,400.
Tunisia: Springing Back
The birthplace of the Arab Spring was also the first to reopen for business after a peaceful election last fall. This wide-ranging trip shows off the country’s landscape and heritage, from the Roman coliseums and the theaters of Carthage to the Saharan oasis of Tozeur, with its hundreds of thousands of palm trees, to the seaside resort of Sousse. Kensington Tours: “Signature Tunisia,” 12 days; from $3,920.
These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler's 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2012 for the outfitters' commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection.