June 21 marks the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and vacation season is in full swing—with plenty of destinations to choose from, no matter your style or speed. To make decision time go as smooth as that beachside sangria, take a look at our list of 2018's best summer trips.
If you love pygmy elephants, glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, floating markets, secret gardens hidden in caves, and the rehabilitation of endangered orangutans—then Borneo is the summer trip for you. After a day of spelunking in Borneo’s Gunung Mulu National Park, visitors can stick around to observe the “Bat Exodus,” as over three million bats swoop into the fading sky from Deer Cave, the largest cave chamber on the planet. Borneo is also the place to spot Irrawaddy dolphins, proboscis monkeys, soft-shelled turtles, clouded leopards, the world’s longest insect, and 15,000 species of plants—including carnivorous pitcher plants; the famous corpse flower; and monster flowers, the largest known blossoms on the planet.
Iceland is so much more than a quirky layover or winter Northern Lights site. From May through June the midnight sun provides plenty of daylight hours for soaking in thermal pools, hiking on glaciers in Skaftafell National Park, and sidestepping tide-washed icebergs on black-sand Diamond Beach. In Iceland, mosquitoes don’t exist; the temperature hasn’t gone above 87°F since 1939; and the tap water, filtered underground through ancient lava fields, is some of the purest drinking water in the world. Spend the afternoon beside bubbling mudpots, the black basalt falls of Svartifoss,the magic mossy cascades of Skógafoss … and you’ll see exactly why most Icelanders still believe in elves.
Brazil’s Ilha Grande may only be a 15-minute boat ride from Jacareí (or a roughly hour-long ferry from Rio), but its 106 quiet beaches, musical rainforests, and car-free streets feel a world away. Most of the island is protected within Ilha Grande State Park, meaning the jungle hikes to Parnaioca and Lopes Mendes Beach offer sightings of many endangered tropical species, including maned sloths, brown howler monkeys, and the red-browed amazon parrot. Stay in a breezy pousada, drink passionfruit caipirinhas lagoon-side, or visit one of the island’s over 30 restaurants for a bowl of traditional shrimp moqueca—a bright stew of fresh seafood steeped in coconut milk and palm oil.
Strung between the islands of Sumatra and Timor-Leste, the Indonesian islands of Bali, Java, and Nusa Tenggara are ripe with coffee farms, Buddhist temple ruins, Komodo dragons, and coral reefs. Sway to the sounds of a bamboo instrument orchestra, learn the art forms of rattan weaving and batik in Java, or bike through lime-green rice terraces in Bali. Visit color changing lakes in the mountains of Nusa Tenggara. And when you need to catch your breath, head to the Bogor Botanical Garden, a world-renowned center for tropical botany with 13,983 different kinds of trees and plants, including 500 species of orchid.
The Spaniards argue that crème brûlée is just a French version of crema catalana. Welsh historians claim Arthur Guinness smuggled his famous stout recipe from a Welsh tavern to Dublin. And Lebanon … Lebanon wants their hummus back. Often overlooked as a culinary destination, Lebanon crafts the ideal summer mezze table in an equally ideal temperate climate. Stroll open air markets in Byblos, one of the world’s oldest cities. Cool off at the Baatara Gorge Waterfall. Then settle in beneath the cedars for a feast of local wine, tabbouleh, tiny rounds of hot sesame pita, baba ghanoush sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, and plates of herb-y cheese, all drizzled in bright swoops of local olive oil.
There are few African safari lands that get as up-close-and-personal as Masai Mara, an expansive and fenceless preserved savannah that stretches between Kenya and Tanzania. The region is home to a dream team of wildlife including lions, cheetahs, zebras, elephants, giraffes, gazelles, rhinos, leopards, and baboons. July through September is the best time to visit, when two million wildebeest bravely storm across crocodile-clogged rivers and grassy plains on their annual migration to the Serengeti. Witness the tension by safari car or on horseback, sail over hippos in a hot air balloon, visit a local Maasai community, then snorkel off that savannah sand in the coral reefs off of Kenya’s peaceful Diani Beach.
Medical anthropologist and National Geographic explorer, Carroll Dunham, and her family have spent sixteen blue-sky summers living among nomadic tribes in Mongolia—one of the least population-dense, and most hospitable, countries in the world. And while Dunham loves camping in a traditional ger, watching archery displays at local Naadam festivals, and horseback riding through wild poppies—she says the main reason her family returns is for the people. “No one can sing from the depths of their being and bellies like the Mongols,” she writes. Landlocked Mongolia is known for its 1,000-foot-high singing dunes, crystal clear rivers, cool summer nights, ancient dinosaur fossils, bad cell service, exquisite cashmere, Buddhist lamas, and golden mountains. One spirited horseback ride through these green steppes and we’re sure you’ll be throat singing too.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
May marks the end of the rainy season in Papua New Guinea, making summer the best, and least slippery, season for hiking the Kokoda Track—a historic 60-mile mountain trek along waterfalls, rope bridges, and vibrant villages. Further north, in Mount Hagen, more than 70 tribal groups gather every August for the Sing-Sing Festival, a joyful celebration of ancestral song and dance with lizard-skin drums, swishing grass skirts, conch-shell necklaces and stunning feather headdresses. A dream destination for snorkeling, diving, and birding, PNG claims over 600 islands, 800 native languages, and almost all 43 unbelievably colorful species of birds-of-paradise, including the stunning, neon-blue-feathered Vogelkop, just identified this year by ornithologist Edwin Scholes and National Geographic photographer Tim Laman.
Peru enjoys its dry season from May through October, meaning clear skies and sun are likely for Inti Raymi, one of the biggest festivals in South America. Every year, the climax of the festival falls on June 24: Hundreds of dancers in handwoven ponchos descend on Cusco to sing, burn fires, and call upon the Sun God in a stunning day-long ritual that has been performed since the early Incan empire. If crowds in the thousands-plus unnerve you, an August trip to similar, smaller festivals in Wiracochapamp and Huamachuco promise firework displays, fewer tourists, and equally colorful turco and campesino performances.
This year California’s Yosemite National Park will complete a four-year-long ecological restoration of the Mariposa Grove. On June 15, the magnificent stand of over 500 giant sequoias will reopen with restored hydrology, accessible shuttles and trails, and better-protected habitats for both the trees and their resident weasel-like Pacific fishers. Yosemite’s towering Sequoiadendron giganteumcan survive for thousands of years—thanks in part to their virtually fireproof bark and naturally insect-resistant tannins. The largest trees by volume on Earth, some sequoias measure up to 154 feet in diameter. After a day of tree-gawking, opt for a May Lake picnic at the base of Mount Hoffmann, or take a hike along Yosemite’s 11.5-mile Valley Loop Trail for gigantic views of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Cathedral Rocks. Yosemite is the perfect summer place to get outside and feel oh-so-gloriously small in the most delightful way.
Cait Etherton is a Virginia-based writer and frequent contributor to National Geographic Travel. Follow her journey on Twitter.