Why Go Now: Applaud a conservation success story
Close encounters of the ginormous marine kind are common in the waters off Mexico’s finger-like Baja California peninsula. Baja is bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California), where behemoths of the sea—whales, great white sharks, and manta rays with wingspans up to 20 feet—and a variety of fish congregate. Twenty years ago many of these species were on the brink of extinction due to overfishing and pollution. Partnerships between local communities and the government helped turn the tide with the creation of Cabo Pulmo, Guadalupe Island, Revillagigedo Archipelago, and San Ignacio Lagoon marine reserves. Today, San Ignacio Lagoon is the primary calving ground for eastern Pacific gray whales. And Cabo Pulmo—widely considered one of the world’s greatest ecological comeback stories—teems with marine life, its total fish biomass rebounding more than 400 percent since fishing was banned in 2000. —Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
Why Go Now: Set off on the world’s newest long-distance trail
The Balkan Peninsula’s beautifully rugged wilderness areas just became more accessible. In 2017, for the first time after years of expansion, the 1,931-kilometre Via Dinarica trail will be completely mapped with stage information compiled from a growing community of hikers. The trek—which stitches together ancient trading and military routes—traverses the Dinaric Alps, linking the countries of the Balkan Peninsula from Slovenia, then south through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Trekkers sleep in mountain shelters along the Adriatic Sea, or atop the region’s highest peaks, or above one of the deepest gorges on the continent. But the path is also a cultural corridor, where thru-hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, paddlers, and day-trippers encounter old world traditions unchanged after five decades of communism. During homestay layovers—along the popular three-day stretch from Albania’s Theth National Park to the Kosovo border, for instance—you might find yourself drinking coffee cooked in a copper pot, with a work-worn but hospitable farmer.
What was a contentious region has become the planet’s most eye-opening cross-border destination. “The Via Dinarica has replaced politics with nature,” says Thierry Joubert, of Green Visions, a Bosnia and Herzegovina–based tour operator. “What could be more beautiful?” —Alex Crevar
Why Go Now: Spot wildlife in a hotbed of biodiversity
Birders flock to the primeval cloud forests of Ecuador’s Chocó region, considered some of the richest depositories of plant and animal life on Earth. Located north of Quito on the fog-shrouded Andean slopes, the biodiversity hotspot is home to hundreds of bird species, including the flashy Andean cock-of-the-rock and dazzling hummingbirds. Other wonders include a profusion of epiphytes and rare orchids. The teddy bear-faced olinguito was identified here in 2013 as the newest mammal species in the Americas. At Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve & Lodge go on a guided night walk to spot handsize moths and flickering fireflies (www.bellavistacloudforest.com; day trip from $92/₹6,240 per person depending on group size). At Mashpi, a National Geographic Unique Lodge, soar through the mist on a zip-line sky bike or an open-air gondola for heady views of the forest canopy (www.nationalgeographiclodges.com; doubles $1,098/₹75,235). —MKD
Why Go Now: Hike authentic Hawaii
Kauai needed no computer-generated special effects to steal the show in the Jurassic movies and more than 60 other feature films. The island’s aerial tours deliver cinematic views of the Na Pali coast sea cliffs. But plunging deep into the Garden Island’s wild side requires hitting a trail. Marked hiking paths lead into Waimea Canyon, through the shallow bogs of Alakai Swamp, and across lush landscapes. The eight-kilometre Wai Koa Loop Trail, passes through the U.S.’s largest mahogany forest. For the most meaningful treks, go with a local, says Hike Kauai With Me owner Eric Rohlffs (www.hikekauaiwithme.com; from $119/₹8,075 per person depending on group size). “A guide can take you to less travelled spots while keeping you safe and educating you on all things Hawaii.” —MKD
Why Go Now: Unplug in the Finnish countryside
If silence is golden, you’ll discover the mother lode in Finland’s state-owned protected areas. From near the Arctic Circle in Lapland (where the northern lights often brighten the 200 days of winter), through the 20,000-island Finnish archipelago, and along the rocky beaches on the mainland’s southernmost tip, Finland’s 40 national parks, 12 wilderness areas, and eight national hiking areas are sanctuaries for silence seekers.
In 2017, Finns celebrate a hundred years of independence from Russia with four (winter, spring, summer, and fall) nationwide Finnish Nature Days, featuring pop-up events that might include mushroom picking or family-friendly hikes. Finland also designated Hossa National Park as the country’s 40th national park. Join the unplugged party at Torassieppi, a rustic and remote reindeer farm. It offers a programme where guests voluntarily turn over their electronic devices, freeing them to focus on more self-restorative pursuits, such as reindeer sledding or snowshoeing through Lapland forests. —MKD
Go with Nat Geo
National Geographic Expeditions offers “Circumnavigating the Baltic Sea,” a 14-day small-ship cruise that includes Poland, Sweden, and Finland. (natgeoexpeditions.com/explore; from $14,840/₹10,16,860 per person, double occupancy.)
Appeared in the January 2017 issue as “Where to go in 2017: Nature”.