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Best of the World: seven sustainable destinations for 2022 and beyond

Now is the time of year when many of us plan an adventure for the year ahead. And with countless trips put on hold in recent months, there’s plenty of pent-up desire to set out and explore again — but where to go?

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon/Washington, is the US’s largest National Scenic Area. 

Photograph by Getty Images
By National Geographic’s Global Travel Editors
Published 18 Nov 2021, 13:48 GMT, Updated 19 Nov 2021, 14:49 GMT

If you’re looking for inspiration, editors from National Geographic Traveller titles around the world have picked the planet’s 35 most exciting destinations for travel in 2022. Five categories — Adventure, Culture and History, Nature, Family and Sustainability — frame unforgettable experiences that reveal the beauty and diversity of the world around us. The pandemic may have changed when, where, and how we travel, but there’s no doubt that we’re excited to pack our bags and hit the road again.

1. Chimanimani National Park, Mozambique

Support conservation efforts in a biodiverse wonderland

“Chimanimani is a timeless place, where local rainmakers still climb peaks to summon rain,” says National Geographic Explorer and photojournalist Jen Guyton, discussing one of Mozambique’s newest national parks. Located on the country’s mountainous border with Zimbabwe, Chimanimani National Park, established in October 2020, is home to Mozambique’s highest peak, the 7,992ft Mount Binga. It was once flush with elephant and lions, whose images appear in ancient rock art created by the ancestral San people.

Decades of poaching and civil unrest decimated wildlife populations, but small numbers of elephants remain, as do at least 42 other species of mammals and a dazzling array of plant and avian life. In two recent biodiversity surveys alone that Jen has photographed, 475 plant species and 260 bird species were identified, along with 67 amphibian and reptile species, including one frog and one lizard thought to be new to science.

Sustainable tourism activities — such as birdwatching, hiking to forest waterfalls and overnighting at the Ndzou Camp, a small community eco-lodge — provide up-close views of a captivating wild place, which Guyton particularly enjoys experiencing at sunset. “With no roads for miles around, there’s total silence except for the birds,” she says. “You get a few moments of almost transcendental peace in that warm glow.”

From National Geographic Traveler US (Maryellen Kennedy Duckett)

2. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon/Washington

Mindfully wine and dine in the US’ largest National Scenic Area

The US’ largest National Scenic Area is probably not where you think it is: it straddles the Oregon-Washington border and comprises 293,000 acres of public and private lands along the Columbia River Gorge. With Mount Hood nearby, the area attracts more than two million visitors annually. To help reduce tourist impact on local nature and culture, a nonprofit alliance has kick-started a collaborative movement that has morphed into a best-practice model for building a sustainable tourism economy.

Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance initiatives include the visitor education programme Ready, Set, Gorge, and the East Gorge Food Trail, a network of farms, historic hotels, wineries and other homegrown experiences. Ali McLaughlin, owner of MountNbarreL, which offers wine-tasting bike tours and other car-free experiences, says partnering with other local organisations and educating visitors benefits everyone. “Having tourists who understand the importance of respecting the area they are travelling through has gone a long way towards mitigating concerns from local residents,” she explains.

From National Geographic Traveler US (Maryellen Kennedy Duckett)

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, Ruhr Valley, Germany.

Photograph by AWL Images

3. Ruhr Valley, Germany

Be surprised by art and nature in a former industrial zone

Mining and steel production once dominated the densely populated Ruhr Valley, in Germany’s western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Today, the region is repurposing former slag heaps and post-apocalyptic-looking industrial sites as parks and open-air cultural spaces. The most famous is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Zeche Zollverein (Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex), home to an outdoor swimming pool, ice rink and walking trails. “People visiting the Ruhr area are usually impressed by the abundance of green,” says Karola Geiss-Netthöfel, director of the Ruhr Regional Association.

Zollverein is part of the wider Emscher Landscape Park, an east-west system of green spaces and corridors covering nearly 175 square miles. Rent a bike in Essen for a car-free Ruhr Valley trip along cycling routes, many of which follow former railway tracks, or explore on foot via the 96-mile-long Hohe Mark Steig, a trekking trail opened in 2021. “The trail combines nature and industrial culture in a unique way as you pass by several industrial buildings,” says Karola. A top spot nearby? The 495ft-high Halde Hoheward, a mountainous slag heap made from 180 million tons of mine waste and topped with a giant sundial.

From National Geographic Traveler Germany (Franziska Haack)

The Canopy Walk, a 940ft-long, 94ft-high rigid walkway at Sacha Lodge in Yasuní National Park, Ecuador.

Photograph by AWL Images

4. Yasuní National Park, Ecuador

Learn what’s at stake in a threatened, biodiverse paradise

In recognition of the global importance of the Amazon, France is leading the fight against deforestation in eastern Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, which was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989. The 4,000sq-mile park — home to mahogany trees, sweet guabas, anthuriums, palms, and hypnotisingly green ferns — is the first of five pilot sites in the French-funded TerrAmaz programme. This four-year initiative, launched in late 2020, supports sustainable development and biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

Considered one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, Yasuní shelters an astonishing array of creatures, such as anteaters, capybaras, sloths, spider monkeys and about 600 species of bird. In the Napo and Curaray Rivers flanking the park, visitors can look out for the Amazon river dolphin, an enigmatic and endangered species.

Yasuní also provides refuge for the Tagaeri and Taromenane people, Waorani indigenous groups that live in voluntary isolation and use handcrafted canoes to travel between waterways. Tour operators such as Napo Wildlife Center offer excursions and lodging based on a sustainable ecotourism model that benefits the resident tribes.

From National Geographic Traveler Latin America (Karen Alfaro)

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Łódź, Poland.

Photograph by Getty Images

5. Łódź, Poland

Focus on a factory town turned sustainable-living leader

Named a UNESCO City of Film in 2017 for its rich cinematic culture, Łódź, a city with a population of around 700,000 in central Poland, was a major textile manufacturing hub in the 19th and 20th centuries. Now Poland’s Hollywood is flipping the script on its industrial past to create a greener future.

Łódź is a leader in sustainable living, embracing innovative ecological solutions, such as using pre-RDF (refuse-derived fuel) and biomass energy to heat homes. In 2021, the city partnered with the European e-commerce delivery platform InPost to significantly reduce CO₂ emissions and traffic in the city centre by installing 70 parcel locker locations and electric car-charging stations.

Nearly a third of Łódź is green space, ranging from new parks to the 2,977-acre Łagiewnicki Forest. In the city’s former industrial areas, abandoned factories are being reborn as parks, cultural centers, residences, and retail spaces. The trendiest spot on the cultural map is OFF Piotrkowska, a buzzing art, design, dining, and club district housed in a former cotton mill. Another massive factory, built by the I K Poznański Cotton Products Company, which employed 7,000 people in its 1913 heyday, was reimagined as Manufaktura, an arts centre, shopping mall, and leisure complex spread across 13 historic buildings. Manufaktura’s Muzeum Fabryki explores the Poznański family’s ‘cotton empire’ and the lives of the factory workers.

From National Geographic Traveler Poland (Martyna Szczepanik)

The Palm House, a Victorian greenhouse imported from Germany in 1875 and renovated in 1992 at Adelaide Botanic Garden, Adelaide, Australia.

Photograph by AWL Images

6. Adelaide, Australia

On track to become the world’s next National Park City

With the UN predicting that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, sowing the seeds for greener, healthier urban areas now is vital. That’s the idea behind the National Park City movement, a global drive to make urban life better for people and nature by applying national park principles to entire cities. Following the lead of London, which became the world’s first National Park City in 2019, metropolitan Adelaide, Australia is vying to become the second.

Already named the third-most-livable city on the planet in The Global Livability Index 2021, South Australia’s cosmopolitan, coastal capital is working to become cooler, greener, wilder and more climate-resilient through rewilding projects, such as creating more butterfly-friendly habitat (the city has some 30 threatened butterfly species), studying the possibility of bringing the platypus back to the River Torrens after a 140-year hiatus, and awarding community grants to plant tens of thousands of trees across South Australia. Green Adelaide is also spearheading the Adelaide National Park City effort, which, among other goals, challenges individuals, communities, businesses, and organisations to live and work more sustainably, connect regularly with nature, and honour the rich heritage of the Kaurna, the original people of Adelaide and the Adelaide Plains.

From National Geographic Travel US (Maryellen Kennedy Duckett)

7. Grenoble, France

Green Capital of Europe for 2022

With two rivers running through it and magnificent mountain ranges on the doorstep, Grenoble — Europe’s Green Capital for 2022 — is a big draw for eco-conscious, all-action, outdoorsy types. If canyoning and paragliding are your thing, you’ll fit right in. But the Capital of the Alps has cultural depth as well, embodied in the Museum of Grenoble, stuffed with works by masters such as Monet, Canaletto and Klee, as well as a dynamic contemporary art scene.

Thanks to its university — the third-largest in France, with a reputation for excellence in microelectronics, nuclear physics and political studies — Grenoble nurtures clear-thinking problem-solvers. Crammed into a valley, the city would suffer from overcrowding and pollution were it not for its sustainable urban plan, combining cycle lanes, pedestrian streets, speed limits and efficient public transport. In France’s 2020 municipal elections, this was the only city to elect a Green Party mayor for the second time in a row: Éric Piolle, a personable, 40-something politician with an engineering background and presidential ambitions.

Locals say that the city centre has changed a great deal since Piolle first took office in 2014. As well as conspicuous projects such as traffic calming schemes, a ban on advertising hoardings and a tree-planting drive (15,000 new trees by 2030 is the target, and they’re already one-third of the way there), there have been subtler changes. Biodiversity-friendly public planting, for example, and organic ingredients in school lunches, and in the course of 2022, Grenoble’s household energy supply will become 100% renewable.

Although surrounded by mountains, Grenoble is flat, making it easy to explore on foot, by bike or by tram. Passionate volunteer guides called ‘greeters’ lead small-group walking tours and are glad to offer a local’s perspective, customised to your interests — whether that’s people-watching, gallery-hopping or simply taking the cable-car up to La Bastille for inspiring views of the River Isère.

From National Geographic Traveller UK (Emma Gregg)

Travel with Nat Geo: Discover these unique destinations and many more travelling with Nat Geo Expeditions. Check all our itineraries.

Read more from Best of the World: 35 incredible trips for 2022 and beyond

Published in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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