Summer’s winding down, and that means cooler weather and new possibilities for the perfect getaway. Here are our top 10 fall trips this year, inspired by our own National Geographic Expeditions and Lodges.
SEE SACRED BIRDS AND RITUAL DANCES: BHUTAN
Experience the best of this mountain kingdom.
Bhutan opened its doors to outsiders in the 1970s, but with more and more tourist visas being issued, we propose a trip sooner rather than later. There is much to learn about this Himalayan kingdom, including how Bhutan measures gross national happiness alongside traditional economic indicators. It’s also the only country to codify specific environmental obligations in its constitution: 60 percent of the country must remain under forest cover. Two annual festivals take place in the fall. The biggest, Thimphu Tshechu, runs for three days of dancing, blessings, and color in the capital. It honors Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the eighth century. The Black-Necked Crane Festival takes place on November 11, celebrating the yearly return of migrating black-necked cranes to the sacred Phobjikha Valley wetlands. Go with Nat Geo: Travel the Wonders of Bhutan or stay at Zhiwa-Ling Hotel.
HAVE A LAND AND SEA ADVENTURE: AUSTRALIA
Go up and go down in Cairns, Queensland, and the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s most extensive coral ecosystem, hosting 1,625 species of fish. With reports of coral bleaching and warming seas, we hope it stays that way. Visit during the Northern Hemisphere autumn for coral spawning, seabird breeding, and turtle nesting season, all springtime events in the Southern Hemisphere. If budget allows, stay on Lizard Island. Named by James Cook for its many monitor lizards, the island has world-famous dive sites like Cod Hole as well as 24 secluded beaches. Don’t skip Cairns, where you can ride the Kuranda Scenic Railway through tunnels and an ancient rain forest. Or opt for the 4.6-mile Skyrail Rainforest Cableway through the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Go with Nat Geo: Explore the stunning coral around Lizard Island.
SEEK COMFORT IN TREES AND PARKS: U.S. AND CANADA NATIONAL PARKS
Go west—and north—as the seasons change.
Autumn in North America brings pleasant temperatures and some eye-catching colors as leaves transform into bright reds and oranges before winter. What better time to explore national parks? With summer vacation over, the sprawling ocher landscapes of the western United States are a little less crowded. Gawk at Antelope Canyon’s slot sections, and stand humbled in the shadows of sequoia trees at Sequoia National Park. Up in Canada, 2017 means free national parks admission to commemorate the country’s 150th birthday. Visit the Maritime Provinces and explore Gros Morne’s unique tablelands. Or take in the foliage and fauna in western Canada, with an eye out for elk, bears, and so much more. Go with Nat Geo: Chase the changing leaves through U.S. National Parks.
GET ART, NATURE, AND HISTORY ALL IN ONE: CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
In between penguins and Table Mountain, visit a soon-to-open art museum.
Opening September 22 in Cape Town, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa will exhibit 21st-century art from Africa and its diaspora. At 100,000 square feet, the museum will be the biggest to open on the continent for more than a hundred years. While you’re in Cape Town, visit the District Six Museum, which educates visitors about apartheid. For outdoor exploration, catch a cable car or hike up Table Mountain to get great views of the city—you can even rappel down. Don’t miss Boulders Beach for penguin spotting. Though numbers dwindle in the fall due to feeding at sea, you can still get a selfie in with the remaining seabirds. Go with Nat Geo: Experience South Africa from Cape Town to Kruger.
EXPERIENCE THE DAY OF THE DEAD: OAXACA, MEXICO
Immerse yourself in this colorful, spiritual ancient holiday.
Late October is a fascinating, albeit crowded, time to feast and explore in Oaxaca as it gears up for Day of the Dead. The holiday originated thousands of years ago with Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people. During the holiday, the streets are lively with colorful costumes, fireworks, calenda processions, and music. At home, families prepare offerings to the dead; at cemeteries they gather to decorate their relatives’ graves with marigolds and candles—accompanied by a not insignificant number of marching bands. Mezcal abounds. Experience the holiday by learning about the many rituals and traditions that underpin the celebrations. This ensures a rewarding and culturally sensitive commemoration of love and loss. Go with Nat Geo: Discover Oaxaca through a local's perspective.
BE ONE WITH NATURE: ZAMBIA
Go wild with fruit-seeking elephants and millions (and millions) of bats.
Zambian wildlife congregates around rivers and waterholes from May to November, making autumn an excellent time to safari. Vacationing in November? Head to Mfuwe Lodge for an up-close, unusual animal sighting: a small elephant herd that traipses through the lodge on its way to feast on mango. A day’s drive away, some 10 million migrating African fruit bats descend on a corner of Kasanka National Park from October through December. And don’t miss World Heritage site Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls), where you can swim in pools at the edge of the abyss only during these dry months. Go with Nat Geo: Don't miss the march of the elephants through Mfuwe Lodge.
RELAX IN WINE COUNTRY: FRANCE
Opt for harvest season in Burgundy or a grape-filled festival in Paris.
With temperatures swelling in France this summer, we propose saving vacation time and visiting in autumn instead. Happily, fall is harvest season in wine country, and we have our sights set on Burgundy. While local prefectures set the start date of the grape-picking period, vineyards in Burgundy traditionally harvest beginning mid-September. Fortunately, this timing also affords a visit during France’s Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days), where 17,000 historical sites across the country open their doors to the public. Visiting in October? Celebrate wine in the capital with the Fête des Vendanges Montmartre, which pays homage to the only working vineyard in Paris. This year’s event includes lectures, wine tasting, music, workshops, and concluding fireworks at Sacré-Coeur. Go with Nat Geo: Have a grape vacation in Paris and Normandy.
GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY: GREECE
Reap your own reward during the olive harvest.
If wine doesn’t pique your interest, opt for harvesting of a different sort. Some Greek agrotourism enterprises welcome tourists to participate in the olive harvest themselves, picking the fruit, pressing them to extract oil, and sharing meals in the countryside. Don’t want to be put to work? We’d still encourage a trip to Greece this autumn. The 23rd annual International Film Festival begins in Athens on September 20 and runs through early October. Climb Mount Lycabettus, visit the National Archeological Museum, and wander through ancient ruins. Water lovers can day-trip to Aegina by ferry and swim in the Saronic Gulf from one of the island’s many beautiful beaches. Go with Nat Geo: Take an 11-day Expedition or have a stay at Aristi Mountain Resort and Kapari Natural Resort.
GET SWEPT AWAY IN THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHT: JAIPUR, INDIA
Experience a uniquely Indian celebration.
Fall marks the annual holiday of Diwali in India, a time to push away darkness in favor of light. The name comes from the row (avali) of clay lamps (diya or deepa) that Indians light outside their homes. Today, the lights include not only candles dotting homes and shops, but also LED lights draped on monuments and temples. And let’s not forget the fireworks! Diwali observers seek the blessings of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. While the holiday is celebrated nationwide, we suggest Jaipur. Visit Nahargarh Fort to see the glittering city below, and gawk at Jal Mahal, a half-submerged water palace in Man Sagar Lake awash in lights. Book in advance, as the country is in a frenzy of celebration during the holiday. Go with Nat Geo: Let India light up your fall vacation.
EXPLORE THROUGH YOUR TASTE BUDS: VIETNAM
Eat your way from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
Heading to Vietnam? Bring your appetite. In Hanoi, start with pho soups and bun cha, grilled pork with rice vermicelli. In the former imperial capital of Hue, don’t miss spicy bun bo Hue soup, steamed banh beo rice disks, and com hen, a masterful bowl of tiny clams with rice noodles, fresh herbs, and more. In Hoi An, home in on che me den, a warm black sesame dessert, as well as the region’s famed cao lau soup. And in Ho Chi Minh City, give hu tieu noodles a try, as well as crispy banh xeo crepes. Indulge in ca phe trung, Vietnamese coffee, to keep you awake for all those meals. Go with Nat Geo: From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, see it all.