Here are a few gift ideas you may not have considered this holiday season: a cooking lesson in an Italian castle. A wildlife safari in Tanzania. A stay in an 18th-century Brazilian farmhouse surrounded by pristine tropical forests and quartzite canyons. The gift of travel is like no other: it draws together exploration, exhilaration, and inspiration, and resonates for a whole lifetime. Check out these diverse experiences picked by the staff at National Geographic Expeditions for your holiday gift list.
For the art-addicted foodie: Italy
Highlights: If you’re looking for great art and great food, Italy is a natural choice, but this trip gets you closer to the source: Gaze at Titians and Tintorettos while visiting famous museums after hours, tour Florence’s Uffizi with an art historian, and roll up your sleeves for a cooking lesson in a Tuscan castle.
FOR THE TEEN ASPIRING TO BE A NAT GEO PHOTOGRAPHER: YOSEMITE AND SAN FRANCISCO
Highlights: What better place to learn how to take beautiful photographs than a national park immortalized by Ansel Adams? High school students get their pick of subjects during a workshop that starts in San Francisco with photo shoots at Alcatraz and Chinatown before heading for the granite domes of Yosemite. They’ll work on their artistic vision and technique alongside a National Geographic photographer, and then show their best images at a gallery opening in San Francisco.
Surprise Factor: Students capture the spirit of the Old West on a photo shoot in a ghost town, where empty saloons and crooked houses recall the fleeting gold rush—and make for great photography.
FOR THE EUROPEAN HISTORY BUFF: THE DANUBE
Highlights: To sail the Danube is to glide through centuries of European history, encountering Baroque palaces, Gothic cathedrals, medieval castles, and Roman ruins. Aboard the Scenic Amber, ports of call include Budapest, Vienna, Regensburg, Bratislava, and the UNESCO-listed Wachau Valley—and you can choose from a whole host of excursions at every stop. Over the holidays, a special Christmas market cruise celebrates the traditions of the season in five different countries.
Surprise Factor: A National Geographic expert and a National Geographic photographer are on every departure to give engaging talks on board and offer their insights as you explore each day.
Trip: Gems of the Danube
FOR THE NATURE LOVER WITH AN INDEPENDENT STREAK: COSTA RICA
Highlights: Howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, iridescent morpho butterflies, and sloths are just a few of the species you’re bound to encounter while ensconced in three pristine Costa Rican rain forests. On a trip for just you and the companions you choose, raft the Pacuare River, follow naturalists through the Osa Peninsula, and cross the hanging bridges beneath Arenal Volcano.
Surprise Factor: Stay in two National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World—Pacuare Lodge and Lapa Rios Lodge—and get treated to exclusive experiences like a private catered lunch in the jungle canopy.
FOR THE ADVENTURE SEEKER: AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND
Highlights: This 22-day trip takes a big bite out of your Down Under travel list, combining the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru and the outback, wine tasting in Melbourne, and a cruise in Sydney Harbor. And that’s just in Australia. Head to New Zealand where glacier treks, glowworm caves, Maori villages, and gorgeous fjords await.
Surprise Factor: In Cairns, get a scientist’s perspective on the creatures of the Great Barrier Reef during a behind-the-scenes tour of the James Cook University research aquarium, founded by a National Geographic grantee.
FOR THE FAMILY LOOKING TO MAKE LASTING MEMORIES: FRANCE
Highlights: It is possible to steer clear of the beaten path on a family vacation in France. This adventure will have you and your loved ones kayaking under the Pont du Gard, baking pastries with a Parisian chef, picnicking among lavender fields at a private farm in Provence, and peering into the studio of artist Paul Cézanne.
Surprise Factor: It’s a little-known fact that there’s a World War I bunker beneath the Eiffel Tower. Venture into it for an exclusive tour and then check out the engine room where the tower’s hydraulic elevators are controlled.
Trip: France Family Expedition
For the wild at heart: Tanzania
Highlights: Whether you’re in search of lions or lovebirds, wildebeests or warthogs, Tanzania’s national parks offer up amazing wildlife everywhere you look. Go on safari in three legendary wilderness areas, get to know Maasai culture, and stay in a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World set on the wildebeest migration path.
Surprise Factor: At Olduvai Gorge, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Louise Leakey or site director Fidelis Masao will give you an inside perspective on the site’s National Geographic-funded fossil finds.
FOR THOSE HAPPIEST IN A WETSUIT AND FINS: POLYNESIA
Highlights: Flung across the Pacific just to the west of the international date line, the southern Line Islands are surrounded by some of the healthiest reefs in the world. From Tahiti, hop your way from atoll to island to turquoise lagoon aboard the National Geographic Orion, snorkeling or diving amid dazzling corals along the way.
Surprise Factor: In Moorea, delve into ancient Polynesian culture with an archaeologist while exploring sacred sites.
For the soul-searching trekker: Spain
Highlights: Hike in the footsteps of pilgrims and solace-seekers on the ancient Camino de Santiago, stopping to visit UNESCO-listed cathedrals and Gaudí masterpieces, staying in historic paradors, and tasting Spanish wines at a local bodega.
Surprise Factor: Sleep in a Pamplona hotel that was once the haunt of Ernest Hemingway, who would watch the annual running of the bulls from the balcony of his favorite room.
FOR THE EQUESTRIAN IN SEARCH OF A HIDDEN GEM: BRAZIL
Highlights: A few hours north of the Rio de Janeiro, there’s a place where the rich ecosystem of the Atlantic Forest meets a wild landscape of deep canyons, copper-colored natural pools, and mountaintop beaches made of crushed quartz. Stay in a centuries-old farmhouse set among organic gardens and striking art installations, and go hiking and horseback riding to secluded spots within this rare wilderness.
Surprise Factor: Make it back by mealtime—the chef’s wood-fired cooking is a highlight, featuring produce from the garden and homemade bread and cheese. You can also arrange for dinner beside a waterfall or on a mountaintop with a view.
Trip: Reserva do Ibitipoca, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World