These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler's 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2010 for the outfitters' commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection.
Ethiopia: Beginnings of Time
With the mysterious stone-carved churches of Lalibela, fairy-tale castles of Gondar, and UNESCO World Heritage site of Axum—thought by some to house the Ark of the Covenant—northern Ethiopia has developed a nascent tourism infrastructure. Travel in the south, however, is more challenging but worth it to rub shoulders with tribal groups that have maintained many of their traditions. This custom trip takes in both regions, with an emphasis on sustainable actions that could stem the country’s deforestation. Africa Adventure Consultants: “Ethiopian Epic—Northern Ethiopia & the Lower Omo,” 12 days, $2,998 (plus internal airfare of $548 per person).
CULTURE • VALUE
Tunisia: Sahara Adventure
Who knew Tunisia was a veritable wonderland for kids? Wander the troglodyte caves of Matmâta—used as a backdrop for the first Star Wars movie—and float in the Chott El Djerid Salt Lake. Ride camels and dune buggies in the Sahara and spend a night camping in the desert. Special departures are available for families with teenagers. Exodus: “Tunisia Desert Explorer—Family Holiday,” 8 days, $1,040.
VALUE • FAMILY
South Africa: Bike the Vineyards
With its rolling farmland, coastal vistas, and soaring mountains, South Africa’s Western Cape is choice cycling country. On this loop from Cape Town through wine country you’ll pedal some 20 miles a day, stopping to sample the region’s much-lauded Semillon and Pinotage. Recover each night at elegant lodgings such as Le Quartier Français in the Franschoek Valley, where one of the country’s top chefs, Margot Janse, presides over the kitchen. In the township of Zwelitshe, local students (to whom the outfitter lends bikes to use and maintain) will lead you on an insider tour to meet residents of this poor but vibrant area. Butterfield & Robinson: “South Africa Biking,” 8 days, $6,995.
Rwanda & Uganda: Track Mountain Gorillas
View some of the remaining 700 mountain gorillas on this safari to three different parks: Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Mgahinga and Bwindi in Uganda. The outfitter worked closely with governments here to develop responsible tourism in the aftermath of regional conflicts, including training locals to become guides. Volcanoes Safaris: “Gorillas in the Virungas and Bwindi—Rwanda and Uganda,” 8 days, $4,926.
Botswana: On a Horse, of Course
When longtime Botswana residents PJ and Barney Bestelink brought horses to the Okavango Delta for safaris more than 20 years ago, few believed their business plan would succeed. Today, equestrians from far and wide come to the world’s largest inland delta to ride Arabians and thoroughbreds through grassy floodplains and primeval mopane forests and to canter alongside zebras, giraffes, and wildebeest. Riders must have the basics down and be able to “gallop out of trouble,” should the need arise. Okavango Horse Safaris: “Ten-Night Itinerary,” 11 days, from $6,400.
ACTIVE • WILDLIFE
Kenya: Insider Tour
Meet Kenyans who are making a difference in wildlife conservation in this behind-the-scenes custom safari from Nairobi to the Laikipia region. Catch feeding time at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where the legendary Dame Daphne Sheldrick discusses her efforts to rescue and rear abandoned baby elephants. Chat with Maasai elder Rakita Ole Nkere about how his culture is adapting to modern life. And meet the team at the Ol Pejeta Research Centre, which is pioneering methods for locals and wildlife to coexist peacefully. Opportunities to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo) abound, including an overnight in a blind to view the nocturnal visitors of a popular watering hole through night-vision goggles. Micato Safaris: “Kenya Conservation Safari,” 9 days, from $5,995.
WILDLIFE • CULTURE
Southern Africa: Winging It
The stylish way to cover five nations (South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia), 11 ecosystems, and 3,200 miles in three weeks is on a retrofitted DC-3. The access is unbeatable, though pricey. Fly directly between UNESCO World Heritage sites, remote safari camps, and secluded lodges while enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the continent’s most spectacular scenery, including Table Mountain, the wild coast of Transkei, and Victoria Falls. On the ground you’ll meet locals from all walks of life, including a South African ostrich farmer and the king of the Zulu. Travcoa: “Once in a Lifetime Africa,” 20 days, $34,900.
Mozambique: Africa's Secret
After years of civil war and neglect, Gorongosa National Park—once home to a denser population of game than the Serengeti Plains—is making a comeback thanks to a public-private partnership. Get a behind-the-scenes look at this ongoing restoration project, as well as the now-thriving wildlife, including the famed Gorongosa lions and endemic green-headed oriole. You’ll take in the capital, Maputo; seaside Tofo, for a marine safari and chance to snorkel with whale sharks; and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ilha de Moçambique. Reefs to Rockies: “Mozambique—By Land and By Sea,” 11 days, from $5,500.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Tanzania: Gonzo Philanthropy
In his fresh take on voluntourism, company founder Paul von Zielbauer (a former New York Times war correspondent) pairs rugged adventure with good works. Itineraries are intentionally flexible, and participants, aka “roadmonkeys,” raise money from their own social networks to fund the projects. The next expedition leaves for Tanzania this summer. You’ll climb Mount Kilimanjaro via the Lemosho route—the least traveled—and lend a hand building a fishpond at a school in Babati, Tanzania. Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy: “Tanzania/Kilimanjaro Expedition,” 15 days, $4,595.
ADVENTURE • VOLUNTEER
Egypt: Into the Western Desert
You’ve seen the Pyramids and cruised the Nile; now check out the other Egypt on this overland expedition into the Western Desert. Led by veteran desert guide Diaa Shawki Michail, you’ll camp in mobile tents, exploring the striking scenery of this harsh environment, such as rock carvings that are thousands of years old and Daliesque white chalk formations that rise out of the desert sand like huge mushrooms. Abercrombie & Kent: “Egypt—Traces of Lost Civilizations,” 11 days, $5,975.