Giving the Gift of Travel: 10 Unforgettable Trips

Looking for the perfect trip to take with someone special? We've got the list for you.  

Clouds roll over the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center in this time lapse of the Manhattan skyline.
Video by Fraser Hall, Getty Images

The gift of travel lingers long after the holiday lights are packed away. The staff at National Geographic Expeditions selected some of their favorite trips around the globe, including visiting ancient cave dwellings in Italy and riding electric bikes through Japanese rice fields. Here are 10 experiences for every type of traveler that are sure to create unforgettable memories in the New Year.

1. For the would-be National Geographic photographer:
NEW YORK CITY

Highlights: Sharpen your photography skills with a National Geographic photographer, catch the sunset from the top of Rockefeller Center, and capture portraits in the lively neighborhoods of Little Italy and Chinatown.

Surprise Factor: Take in the vantage point during an afternoon photo session at the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.

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Visitors stand in the ruins of Peru's Machu Picchu, settled within the Andes Mountains.

2. For the hiker who appreciates comfort at the end of the climb: PERU

Highlights: Hike from one picturesque mountain inn to the next amid the snowcapped peaks of the Cordillera Vilcabamba. Pass lesser known Inca sites, coffee plantations, and traditional Andean villages as you make your way toward the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu.

Surprise Factor: Spot bird species like the golden-headed quetzal and the Andean cock-of-the-rock, plus 18 different hummingbirds, while walking the trails at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel with a naturalist. Return to your adobe casita, set in the cloud forest at the foot of Machu Picchu, and enjoy a cozy fire, a chance to relax in the eucalyptus sauna, and traditional Peruvian cuisine.

Penguins cuddle, hop, and shake their way through a snowstorm in Antarctica.
Video by BBC Motion Gallery Editorial/BBC News, Getty Images

 

3. For the continent collector: ANTARCTICA

Highlights: Magnificent mountains, incandescent icebergs, and icy landscapes scattered with penguins make Antarctica dramatic and spectacular. Kayak in protected waters around massive icebergs, watch whales from Zodiacs, and walk onshore amid thousands of frolicking penguins.

Surprise Factor: In Neko Harbor, climb high onto an ice field for a panoramic view of untouched peaks surrounding this idyllic bay.

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A sea turtle swims over the seaweed-covered ocean floor in Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize.

4. For the teenager aspiring to be a marine biologist: BELIZE

Highlights: With the planet’s second largest barrier reef just offshore, Belize is an ideal place for exploring ocean habitats—and ways to conserve them. Snorkel or scuba dive among colorful parrotfish, damselfish, and reef sharks. Spot manatees and sea turtles from a kayak or paddleboard in protected waters, all while honing your underwater photo and video techniques.

Surprise Factor: Students work alongside a Nat Geo expert and local researchers on a hands-on project focused on photography or marine biology.

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Hikers proceed from Chikatsuyu to Takahara along the Kumano Kodo, a religious pilgrimage trail on Japan's Kii Peninsula.

5. For the spiritual outdoorsperson: JAPAN

Highlights: Experience Japan of the past and future in Kyoto, Asuka, and Tokyo before setting off into the mountains of the Kii Peninsula to hike from shrine to shrine on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route—considered a twin pilgrimage to Spain's Camino de Santiago.

Surprise Factor: Ride electric bikes by terraced rice fields and the burial mounds of Japan’s first emperors in the ancient capital of Asuka.

Lion Learns the Hard Way Not to Hunt Cars A curious lion in Kruger National Park pops the tire of a car in the road.

6. For the big cat enthusiast:
SOUTHERN AFRICA

Highlights: Spot cheetahs, lions, and rhinos on safari with a researcher sponsored by National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative. Then head to spectacular Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Surprise Factor: In Cape Town, the behind-the-scenes tour at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (considered one of the top 10 gardens in the world by Traveler magazine) is led by a local botany expert. Don’t miss the garden of plants on the brink of extinction.

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Boats cruise along the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

7. For the foodie with a penchant for architecture: SOUTHERN ITALY

Highlights: Visit beehive-shaped trulli houses and stay in ancient cliffside cave dwellings. Walk through groves of wind-warped olive trees, and sample regional fare including homemade orecchiette pasta, hand-pulled mozzarella, and ciabatta dipped in local olive oil—all paired with delectable Italian wines.

Surprise Factor: You may have the glorious Greek and Roman temples of Paestum practically to yourself.

Sea lions swim playfully in Galápagos waters.
Video by Rob Stewart, Getty Images

8. For the family that plays together: GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS

Highlights: Watch as your kids fill with wonder while snorkeling amid backflipping sea lions, peering at giant tortoises, hiking alongside blue-footed boobies and flamingoes, and stargazing with new friends from the bow of the ship.

Surprise Factor: Get up close to spiky marine iguanas and listen to the yodeling mating call of the male frigate bird while it inflates its heart-shaped chest pouch to the size of a large red balloon.

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The sun sets on a street in Old Havana, Cuba.

9. For the culture and art aficianado: CUBA

Highlights: Connect with Cubans of all walks of life on a unique people-to-people trip, learning about their everyday lives as you explore music, dance, and artistic traditions as well as the forces that have shaped the island’s history. Stroll through the colonial arcades of Old Havana, Cienfuegos, and the cobbled streets of Trinidad, meeting historians, salsa dancers, and musicians along the way.

Surprise Factor: Visit Finca Vigía, the former Havana home of Ernest Hemingway, to hear about the author’s strong connection to the Cuban people.

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Visitors lounge between the pool and the ocean at the Tiamo Resort in the Bahamas.

10. For the beach lover:
SOUTH ANDROS ISLAND, THE BAHAMAS

Highlights: Known to locals as the Big Yard, Andros Island is the wild backcountry of the Bahamas—a place edged by white-sand beaches, blanketed by mangroves and thick primal forest, and intersected by a string of mysterious blue holes that have captivated National Geographic explorers like Sylvia Earle. Snorkel or dive in the oceanic blue holes, cast a line in the waters surrounding Andros Island—known as the bonefishing capital of the world—and paddle along the coast in a glass canoe.

Surprise Factor: The world’s third largest coral reef is a 10-minute boat ride from the shore.