Whether you're fulfilling a lifelong dream, booking a family holiday or returning to a place which has already captured your heart, it's possible to travel to the world's most wonderful places without leaving footprints which are either too deep or too numerous.
As we’ve become more aware of our impact on the world, sustainable travel has become one of the fastest-growing areas of the tourism industry.
It’s not just about carbon offsetting your flight or supporting local, family-run restaurants — it’s also about using local guides, travelling carefully through untouched areas and connecting with local people. That’s not always the easiest things to arrange, but National Geographic Expeditions have long been running tours where a local expert is on hand to show you the things you’d otherwise miss. You might find yourself examining an Inca temple alongside an archaeologist, going on safari in Tanzania with a zoologist or exploring the Grand Canyon with a seasoned naturalist.
The company’s commitment doesn’t just end there, however: every year it donates a portion of its proceeds to the non-profit National Geographic Society, which funds researchers and explorers around the globe who are working to preserve species and ecosystems, protect cultures, and advance understanding of our planet and its inhabitants.
But where to go? The experts at National Geographic Expeditions have picked out seven of their favourite tours. If this article doesn’t give you itchy feet, nothing will.
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia
15 days touring Indochina will give you a chance to visit everything from the world-famous temples of Angkor Wat to the Save Vietnam’s Wildlife rescue centre, where orphaned and injured pangolins, civets and mongooses are rehabilitated before being released back into the wild.
The trip also takes in the rustic area south of Hanoi towards Ninh Binh, where biologist and photographer Le Khac Quyet will share updates on his latest research.
There are also visits to Cuc Phuong National Park and the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, as well as a chance to sit down for lunch with former Viet Cong soldiers in their homes, to hear their stories about the Vietnam War and life in the famed Cu Chi Tunnels.
As well as the chance to see Kenya’s iconic wildlife — the elephants, rhinos, big cats and more — National Geographic’s Kenya trip takes in an afternoon at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, home to the longest running study of wild elephants in the world.
You’ll also be able to visit the pioneering park that has gone three years without a single rhino being poached, meet researchers who work with local Maasai communities to conserve area wildlife by reducing human-animal conflict and see the world of the Rothschild’s giraffe breeding programme.
For those fascinated by elephants, you can also visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the world’s most successful elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre. Instead of just seeing these majestic beasts you can shadow the centre’s caretakers and get up close to the elephants during their afternoon feeding.
Costa Rica Family Journey
Costa Rica is famed as an ideal family-friendly location that’s long been associated with eco-tourism — and this trip is squarely aimed at travellers with children. It’s run by National Geographic Family Journeys in partnership with G Adventures, who design trips for travellers aged seven and up that combine photography and storytelling, wildlife, culture, history, and geography to encourage children and adults alike to connect with the world around them.
The itinerary takes in the sites such as Monteverde cloud forest when you’ll visit the Monteverde Institute — a research and educational organisation supported by National Geographic — to find out about reforestation and lend a hand at the tree nursery. There are also naturalist-guided walks to seek out the incredible wildlife that thrives in Costa Rica, and a visit a working farm and coffee cooperative where you can learn about the local cuisine before sitting down to an earth-to-table lunch.
Encounter fascinating endemic species with a wildlife biologist, including the wailing indri lemur, the dancing sifaka, and tiny chameleons. See the iconic baobab trees of Tsimanampetsotsa National Park, where blind fish swim in the pools and hundreds of species of birds flit overhead, including greater and dwarf flamingos and the Madagascar plover.
You’ll also track the indri, the largest lemur species, and meet the researchers looking into an extinct lemur species that was the size of a gorilla. There are also two full days exploring Ranomafana National Park, where primatologist Patricia Wright discovered a new lemur species: the golden bamboo lemur.
For something truly remote, this tour spends three days in the valley of the Danum River, known for its 169 square miles of virtually undisturbed primary rain forest, where rare species including the pygmy elephant, clouded leopard, Bornean gibbon and maroon langur roam.
During the rest of trip you can also visit the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve to see the Orangutan Rehabilitation centre, where orangutans rescued from captivity are reintroduced to the wild. There you’ll join scientists to observe the morning feeding, learn about onsite projects, and visit the nursery.
This journey to one of the most historic places on earth provides a chance to see everything from both sides with both Israeli and Palestinian guides. You’ll see the holy sites from all perspectives as you meet imams, rabbis and Christian pastors to learn about the significance of this sacred place.
After that there is a visit to meet both Israeli and Palestinian politicians, and also a Holocaust survivor who will give a personal glimpse into one of history’s darkest moments. You’ll also get a chance to wander the ancient ruins of Caesarea Maritima with geoarchaeologist and explorer Beverly Goodman.
Uganda and Rwanda
This remarkable trek will take you in search of chimpanzees, gorillas, and endangered golden monkeys, as well as visiting the chimpanzees at a sanctuary established in association with the Jane Goodall Institute.
It also includes time in the lodge at Kibale National Park to search for the black-and-white colobus, red-tailed, and blue monkeys and the rare L’Hoest’s monkey. And finally there’s the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Volcanoes National Park, home to most of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. This is where Dian Fossey spent 18 years studying these magnificent primates, and where you too will be able to sit among these gentle giants, observing one of the planet’s most endangered creatures up close.