Amazon rainforest covers more than half of the country of Peru. “We have low jungles, high jungles, cloud forests, flooded forests, vast swamps, waterfalls, jungle ruins, creepy isolated mountain peaks, and even the world’s largest documented thermal river—the Boiling River of the Amazon,” says Peruvian geothermal scientist and National Geographic Explorer Andrés Ruzo. “One of my favourite things here is the blending of cuisines and cultures,” Ruzo says. “Chefs are exploring the wilds of the jungle for the next bold flavour.” Lima top chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino has teamed up with river cruise operator Aqua Expeditions to support sustainable fishing practices in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, where the Aria Amazon sails. Creating northeastern Peru’s roadless Yaguas National Park in 2018 spared millions of acres of Amazon wilderness from development; it should be ready for tourists soon.
HOW TO GO Walk through the treetops 98 feet above the ground on the Inkaterra Canopy Walkway, built in partnership with National Geographic and the World Bank. inkaterra.com/inkaterra/inkaterra-reserva-amazonica
The secret is out about Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, but head northwest to Durmitor National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for off-the-beaten-path excursions. In this remote and thickly forested park in the Dinaric Alps, inspiring outings include high-adventure canyoneering; leisurely hikes to sparkling lakes; challenging summit climbs to 8,278-foot-high Bobotov Kuk, the tallest of Durmitor Massif’s peaks; and mesmerising high-pasture views of grazing cattle and sheep. Durmitor’s biggest draw is Europe’s deepest gorge: the jaw-dropping 4,265-foot Tara River canyon. After conquering the mountains, head to coastal Budva for the Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE), May 27 to June 1. Montenegro is a first-time host of the biennial Olympics-style event, giving athletes from nine small nations—Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, San Marino, Malta, Monaco, Cyprus, and Montenegro—a better shot at going for gold.
HOW TO GO Whitewater raft, fish for trout, and mountain bike on Rafting Montenegro’s three-day “Paddle on Tara & Pedal to Trsa” guided tour. raftingmontenegro.com
One of Central America’s smallest countries (roughly the size of Meghalaya) is making big waves in marine conservation. In June 2018 the Belize Barrier Reef System, which Charles Darwin deemed “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies,” was removed from the UNESCO World Heritage Site danger list. The turnaround is due to extraordinary ocean protection and restoration measures, such as a moratorium on maritime oil exploration, tougher regulations to safeguard mangrove forests, and a planned government ban on single-use plastic-foam cups and plastic products by Earth Day 2019. One of the most biodiverse reefs on the planet, the Belize barrier reef is home to several rare and threatened species, such as the red-footed booby, West Indian manatee, and loggerhead turtle. Back on land, head to Belize’s largest known Maya site, Caracol, which is bigger than its famous neighbour, Tikal, in Guatemala—but with a fraction of its visitors. The Belizean government plans to pave the road to Caracol in 2019, making the archaeological site more accessible.
HOW TO GO Snorkel, dive, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard the waters of the Belize barrier reef on Nat Geo Expeditions’ nine-day “Reefs and Ruins: Belize to Tikal, Guatemala” trip. natgeoexpeditions.com/explore
Famously called “the place where Noah left his ark,” Gorongosa National Park once teemed with African buffalo, elephants, hippos, lions, wildebeests, and all sorts of wild things. But Mozambique’s vicious civil war (1976 to 1992) wiped out most of the animals. What remained was the beauty: a million acres at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley filled with vast savannas, rain forests, caves, gorges, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls. Now the beasts are back too. Large animals number nearly 80,000, thanks to the Gorongosa Restoration Project. The public-private partnership leads conservation efforts inside the park and invests in jobs, education, and health care for the people who live around it.
HOW TO GO Montebelo Gorongosa Lodge & Safari offers morning, midday, and afternoon game drive safaris April to December. montebelohotels.com/mz/montebelo-gorongosa-lodge-e-safari
With Florida’s coastal regions increasingly threatened by hurricanes and red tides, South Walton is taking a proactive approach to protecting its shores. This collection of 16 beach communities on northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast is building beach accessible artificial reef systems, creating habitat for a wide variety of marine life. Each of the four snorkel reefs is arranged in the shape of an indigenous marine animal: a cobia off Inlet Beach, a sea turtle off Grayton Beach, a seahorse off Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, and a dolphin off Miramar Beach. The newest dive site, opened in June at Grayton Beach State Park, is the nation’s first permanent Underwater Museum of Art. “Each sculpture already feels like a living thing,” says Walt Hartley, a local diver and South Walton Artificial Reef Association board member.
HOW TO GO Reasonably good swimming skills are all that’s required to explore the reefs on a tour with Snorkel 30A. snorkel-30a.com
Fanjingshan, China’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, is worth the climb. A sacred Buddhist site (48 temples once stood on the mountain), Fanjingshan rewards hikers with bizarre rock formations and above-the-clouds views of China’s Wuling mountain range. The steepest climb is to 7,664-foot Red Clouds Golden Summit, two temple-topped peaks linked by a bridge. You could skip the climb and ride the summit cable car, but hiking offers an up-close look at Fanjingshan’s rich biodiversity, which includes endemic and rare species, such as the grey snub-nosed monkey.
HOW TO GO Tongren, located in eastern Guizhou Province, is the gateway to Mount Fanjing, or Fanjingshan. Buses run to the mountain from the Tongren Airport, high-speed rail station, and train station.
The first thing you learn in French Polynesia is how little you need. A swimsuit is enough. Halfway between California and Australia, Tahiti and its sister islands aren’t a singular sensation but a mosaic of moods spread across 118 small islands and atolls (67 inhabited) and more than a thousand miles of ocean. It’s not a place of museums or hot spots, but rather, an elemental destination of earth, water, air, fire, and something else even more elusive—mana, a life force. “It is all around us,” says local Marurai Trafton, “in all the things we cannot see.” What you can see is a solar eclipse on July 2, 2019, that will pass directly over the Tuamotu Archipelago, completely darkening the sky for about three and a half minutes.