Best of the World: six intrepid adventures for 2021 and beyond

This year brings exciting new tours to Turkey, Greenland and Argentina, and with a total solar eclipse in Antarctica, an unforgettable adventure is on the cards.

By National Geographic's global travel editors
Published 17 Nov 2020, 12:34 GMT, Updated 17 Nov 2020, 21:49 GMT
The medieval stone towers of Ushguli, Georgia, which doubled as both dwellings and defence posts.

The medieval stone towers of Ushguli, Georgia, which doubled as both dwellings and defence posts.

Photograph by Alamy

New terrain for serious adventurers

For many of us, the year ahead will be about seeking out a very particular sort of escapism, to places where the views unravel to eternity and the stress of you-know-what seems far away. Step forward Greenland. The world’s largest island remains one of the most remote corners on the planet: an iceberg-fringed, high-latitude realm of glaciers, fjords and mountains.

New for 2021, Quark Expeditions’ Greenland Adventure: Explore by Sea, Land & Air voyage is a first for polar travel: the expedition itinerary has been put together in conjunction with the island’s community. Local and national partners have helped to create a trip that uses rigid-inflatable landing craft and twin-engine helicopters, resulting in a range of seriously adventurous off-ship activities based in and around the southeast fjords. The nine-day July voyage takes place on Ultramarine, the newest ship in the Quark fleet.

For an alternative Greenland experience, meanwhile, Norwegian operator Fifty Degrees North has introduced a six-day small group tour to the island’s west coast. Centred on the coastal town of Ilulissat, around 185 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the itinerary includes kayaking, whale-spotting and an overnight stay on the wonderfully named Disko Island.

For travellers looking to move more slowly across the map, the 103-mile Arctic Circle Trail is one of the world’s greatest summer long-distance walks. Stretching between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut, in the west of Greenland, the trail can be done self-supported (there are 10 huts en route), although specialist operators such as Monkey Mountaineering and Snowdonia Climbing are offering guided packages for 2021.

For Brits, reaching Greenland by air has traditionally been a rather convoluted process, with travellers needing to arrive via either Iceland or Denmark. Options may increase, however, with the news that two of its airports (Ilulissat in the north west and Nuuk in the south west) are being renovated to attract more international flights.

From National Geographic Traveller UK

2. Antarctica

All eyes on a southerly solar eclipse

Here’s a prediction you can be quite confident about: the morning of Friday 4 December 2021 won’t be easily forgotten in Antarctica. Not because of the iceberg-laden bays, the silent, white mountains or the edge-of-the-earth penguin colonies — although all the above will be on hand to keep travellers’ mouths agape — but because of something else entirely. A total solar eclipse will be visible here for just the second time in human history: the ice fields of Antarctica caught in the Moon’s shadow.

To make the prospect even more enticing, the eclipse will be viewable from the part of the continent that’s the easiest to visit and at a time of year that falls within the expedition cruising season. If you’re fortunate enough to be on or around the Antarctic Peninsula (the usual destination for ships departing the port of Ushuaia in Argentina) just after 7.30am on the morning in question, you’ll be treated to a full eclipse a short distance above the horizon. The fact that Antarctica enjoys around 22 hours of daylight a day at this time of year is only likely to make the experience even more dreamlike.

Unsurprisingly, expedition cruise operators are making the most of the occasion by laying on dedicated eclipse sailings. Hurtigruten has two separate cruises taking place and will have a professional astronomer on board, as well as distributing special solar-filter sunglasses. One of these cruises will take place on the hybrid-powered MS Roald Amundsen, which was inaugurated in 2019. Other options include Silversea, which has multiple eclipse cruises of its own, and wildlife specialists Naturetrek, which is chartering a 116-berth ship for the event. All cruises will also offer the chance to appreciate the precious beauty and extraordinary wildlife of a part of the world unlike any other.

From National Geographic Traveller UK

Waterfall in the Dominican countryside.

Photograph by Getty Images

The Caribbean island bouncing back

The weathered mountains running down the spine of Dominica formed a natural shield, largely protecting the eastern Caribbean island, called Waitukubuli (‘tall is her body’) by the Indigenous Kalinago, from colonial intrusions and overdevelopment.

What Dominica’s formidable volcanic terrain couldn’t block is global climate change, which is worsening the effects of hurricanes. Warmer ocean temperatures supercharged Hurricane Maria, whose direct hit on the island in September 2017 caused catastrophic landslides and critically damaged nearly every man-made structure.

Post hurricane, nature rebounded, residents rebuilt and the government resolved to make Dominica the world’s first climate-resilient nation. The Citizenship by Investment programme granting foreigners legal citizenship for contributions starting at $100,000 (£76,260) is funding transformative projects such as hurricane-proof homes and a geothermal power plant. Adventure tourism plays a huge role in the climate resiliency push by creating jobs and an economic incentive to restore and protect Dominica’s greatest natural resource — its wild side.

From National Geographic Traveler US

4. The Carian Trail, Turkey

Follow ancient roads where mountain meets Mediterranean

Lace up your walking boots and escape the crowds: Turkey’s longest hiking trail offers a window into the country’s lesser-visited southwest shores and hinterlands. The 530-mile route reveals pristine pine forests, tumbling cliffs, remote communities and ancient sites. And if taking on the whole route seems a little too daunting, chose just one of its five sections to tackle instead: the Bozburun Peninsula, the Datca Peninsula, the Gulf of Gökova, the Latmos Mountains or the Mugla Environs — each with its own geological and historical charms.

Completed in 2013, the route has its origins in much earlier civilisations — way markers lead hikers along trails forged by generations of olive farmers, and some stone paths are said to have been laid by Alexander the Great’s men over 2,000 years ago. The ruins of ancient settlements are visible — Amos, Loryma, Knidos and Hydas, to name a few — and isolated coves (perfect for cooling dips) come with legends attached. For example, stop off at the island of Sedir, in the Gulk of Gökova section, and you’ll be bathing in the same waters as Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

“What makes the Carian Trail stand out among other hiking trails is the way it combines incredible nature with a wide range of ruins stretching as far back as 6000 BC,” says Altay Özcan, one of the guides who established the route. “And the traditional culture of Turkey’s Aegean region is a perfect background.”

In an exciting addition to the trail, a new project aims to develop and promote one of the route’s most underrated attractions: the Latmos rock paintings. Nearly 180 Neolithic paintings adorn the Latmos Mountains, many of which have been interpreted as symbols of peace and brotherhood, which further elevate the historic importance of the Carian Trail as an ancient trading thoroughfare.

From National Geographic Traveler Turkey

The Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina.

Photograph by Getty Images

Hike in a kingdom of ice

Along the turquoise shores of Lake Argentino, the town of El Calafate gets its name from the thorny plant whose berries infuse cocktails and regional beers. However, its proximity to Los Glaciares National Park has placed the town on the tourist map as the gateway to the kingdom of ice in southern Argentine Patagonia.

There, near the border with Chile, the 1,722-square-mile park encompasses subantarctic forests that preserve habitats for species such as the guemal, puma, rhea, condor, guanaco and the calafate plant. But the park’s main draws are the nearly 300 glaciers that cover almost half of the park surface. The most popular and accessible, three-mile-wide Perito Moreno Glacier, stands almost 200 feet above the surface of Lake Argentino. Huge masses of ice spectacularly calve from its face with thunderous roars. It’s possible to hike with crampons on the glacier to find swaths of electric-blue colour among waterfalls, crevices, ice caves, underground rivers and extravagant ice formations.

This frozen desert is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest expanse of continental ice in the world, after Antarctica and Greenland. After exploring the frigid ends of the Earth, visitors return to a boat waiting on the lake to celebrate their adventures with a shot of whiskey and chips of glacial ice.

From National Geographic Traveler Latin America

6. Svaneti Region, Georgia

A land of warm welcomes

Located in the shadows of 15,000-foot peaks, the Svaneti region in northwest Georgia’s Caucasus mountains may seem forbiddingly inaccessible. The rugged landscape bristles with medieval stone towers that doubled as dwellings and defence posts. These fortresses attest to a time when Svan families fought fiercely to hold possession of their lands in small villages and lofty settlements such as Ushguli. Protected as the Upper Svaneti World Heritage Site, Ushguli is one of Europe’s highest inhabited communities.

Due to its remoteness, Svan culture evolved over the centuries in isolation from the rest of Georgian lands, developing a unique oral-only language and traditions such as ritual beard cutting and blood feuds. Once infamous for lawlessness, the region is recognised today for its welcoming spirit. “Georgia is famous for its hospitality, but Svaneti is Georgian hospitality times 10. Parties, toasts and alcohol are the order of the day,” says Michał Głombiowski, a travel writer and photographer from Poland who frequently visits Georgia.

While still far off any beaten path, Svaneti is accessible to intrepid adventurers via the Upper Svaneti section of the Transcaucasian Trail, an ambitious long-distance trail network project ultimately aiming to connect Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Trekkers with enough lung capacity to tackle a four-day, high-altitude hike from Mestia, the regional capital, to Ushguli are treated to cool vistas of serrated peaks by day and warm receptions in Svan guesthouses at night.

From National Geographic Traveler Poland

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