Oh, the Places Nat Geo Goes

When you work at National Geographic, one of the first questions people ask is if you get to travel. The answer is often yes, but one of the best parts of the job is being surrounded by sharp, globe-trotting people, and getting to hear their stories.

That’s why we asked folks on the Nat Geo Travel team to share a story about the best trip they’ve taken in the past year with our readers.

So if you’re searching for inspiration for your next adventure, look no further:

Fiji:

“For a native East Coaster, Fiji once seemed an unattainable paradise on the other side of the world. But that all changed last month, when I ventured to the island nation in the middle of the South Pacific. Fiji is famous for its brightly colored coral reefs, but one of my favorite activities was night snorkeling at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort on Vanua Levu, the archipelago’s second largest isle. I plunged into complete darkness with the hotel’s on-site marine biologist, only able to see what I pointed my flashlight at. There’s a completely different sound to the ocean at night, and a unique variety of creepy crawlers that prefer the late shift.” —Hannah Sheinberg (on Twitter and Instagram @h_sheinberg ), departments editor, National Geographic Traveler 

Aveyron Valley (France):

“This summer, my wife and I shared a rented gîte (small cottage) with extended family near the town of Villefranche de Rouergue. There, in the Aveyron Valley, we found a hidden, timeless France: tiny medieval bastide villages perched on steep mountainsides; ancient churches strung out like pearls along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail; and town squares that are Grand Central Stations on market days, yet hotbeds of indolence the rest of the week. Forget Paris, every town in the valley is a movable feast: a bowl of bouillabaisse, basket of moules-frites, or plate of Bayonne ham with olives and cheese paired with, naturellement, the fine wines of Bordeaux, Bergerac, Cahors, and Burgundy. Bon appétit…C’est la vie Française!” —Justin Kavanagh, Traveler series editor, National Geographic Books

Portillo (Chile): 

“In August I escaped D.C.’s August humidity by flying south to Portillo, one of South America’s most celebrated ski resorts. When I arrived, it felt like the embodiment of all things skiing: the Austrian Men’s Alpine Team in training, sponsored snow-sport athletes engaged in photo shoots, a lively group of South American adaptive skiers learning to link their turns, cadres of intergenerational families enjoying their annual pilgrimage to the mountain, and old-money jet-setters in fur-collared coats slicing down the mountain alongside ski bums wearing gear held together by duct tape. Then there’s the views—gobsmacking, above-treeline panoramas from the base resort, which sits at 9,450 feet at the foot of the Andes on amoeba-shaped Laguna del Inca.” —Nathan Borchelt, senior product manager, National Geographic Travel and Adventure

Nepal:

“This summer I had the privilege of traveling to Nepal, with stops in Kathmandu, Pokhara, and the remote Mustang District. I passed through everything from the bustling streets of Kathmandu, Nepal’s largest metropolis, to the world’s tallest mountains and the jungles of Chitwan National Park, utilizing all types of transportation, from motor scooters, to small planes, to the backs of elephants. Though a grand view seemed to present itself at every turn, I found the high point of the trip in the storied Mustang village of Lo Manthang. My small group, who had made a two-day trek across mountain passes and along precarious cliffs to get there, happened to arrive on the day of the district’s annual Yartung festival, where men from across the region dress in traditional Tibetan garb and race horses though town.” —Tyler Metcalfe (on Instagram, @tylermetcalfe, associate digital photography producer, National Geographic Travel

  Las Vegas (Nevada, USA):

“Happily for me, all five of my children live in places I like to visit: Bermuda, New York, Los Angeles, Virginia’s Blue Ridge, and now Las Vegas. The highlight for me, besides holding my week-old granddaughter, was experiencing the other-worldly landscapes of “Happily for me, all five of my children live in places I like to visit: Bermuda, New York, Los Angeles, Virginia’s Blue Ridge, and now Las Vegas. The highlight for me, besides holding my week-old granddaughter, was experiencing the other-worldly landscapes of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, 17 miles and a 180 million or so years from the Strip. The massive stone cliffs, thousands of feet high and striped with brilliant orange, red, and gray, were sand dunes during the Jurassic era, and impart a sense of Earth’s timelessness—and man’s relative insignificance.” —Marilyn Terrell (on Twitter at @Marilyn_Res), chief researcher, National Geographic Traveler     

Georgia:

“A friend had told me Georgia was an amazing place to visit, so in June off I headed to discover the country, not the state. While there are numerous small towns and villages found along the isolated cow-inhabited back roads, one of the most memorable places was located high in the Caucasus Mountains, Ushguli—sometimes called Europe’s highest inhabited village. After touring the mountains and taking in the Gelati Monastery and the historical monuments of Mtskheta, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, I, of course, had to learn about the world’s oldest wine-making industry by taste-testing the product. And from there I went on to enjoy the unique khinkali and khachapuri staples of Georgian cuisine.” —Caroline Hickey, project editor, National Geographic Travel Books  

Cusco (Peru):

“When my American friend fell in love with her Machu Picchu tour guide last year, I knew it was only a matter of time until a Peruvian wedding would happen. It did, in September, and I traveled there with my husband and my parents to attend. We spent most of our time in Cusco, the groom’s hometown and a popular tourist stop. If you can handle its two-mile-high altitude, the Inca capital is a must-see. From there you can easily go to the Sacred Valley or catch a train through the Andes to the famous Inca citadel in the clouds. And the best part of the wedding celebration? Definitely la hora loca.” —Emily Shenk (on Instagram @emilyshenk), digital editor, National Geographic

Kauai (Hawaii, USA):

“My ten-day honeymoon on Kauai was by far the best trip I took all year (wedded bliss aside). Hawaii’s “Garden Isle” is the perfect escape for travelers who enjoy a mix of nature and culture—along with a heavy dose of unadulterated relaxation. The hiking is supreme (Canyon Trail in Waimea Canyon is a must), the locals are friendly, and the weather can’t be beat. Looking to eat your way across the island? Kick-start your day with a delicious breakfast at Kilauea Bakery, grab a fish burrito to go at Da Crack, and finish things off with a sunset meal at The Beach HouseTip: Make a dinner reservation here in advance to score a coveted window seat.” —Megan Heltzel Weiler (on Instagram and Twitter @meganheltzel), digital producer, National Geographic Travel

Koblenz and Cologne (Germany):

“Both of these river-straddling cities are full of history, culture, and family fun. In Koblenz, my nine-year-old daughter and I rode the cable car high across the Rhine and up to an old fortress, Ehrenbreitstein Castle, where we found a playful temporary exhibit about Playmobil, which was invented in Germany in the 1970s. In Cologne, I marveled over the city’s impressive gothic cathedral, drank rich hot chocolate at the Chocolate Museum, and, of course, bought some original Eau de Cologne. This trip was a reminder that sometimes a country’s lesser known cities have the biggest impact.” —Amy Alipio (on Twitter @amytravels and on Instagram @amyalipio), features editor, National Geographic Traveler

The Cologne Cathedral is simply spectacular. Took 632 years to build. @viking_cruises #natgeotravelstaff A photo posted by amyalipio (@amyalipio) on

Atacama Desert

“There is no place on Earth like the Atacama. It’s a landscape that will have you coining new superlatives—how do you say “beyond extraordinary”?—as it reframes your sense of space. Variously called the world’s driest, highest, and weirdest desert, the Atacama extends across a high plateau from southern Peru into northern Chile. Volcanoes, geysers, and salt flats dominate the near distance; beyond rise the snow-capped peaks of the mighty Andes. Must-sees: El Valle de la Luna, a narrow basin ringed with salt that NASA once used as a stand-in for the moon; Death Valley, with its high dunes and rugged escarpments; the Aguas Calientes (“Hot Waters”) saline lagoon, where I saw vicunas and both Andean and Chilean flamingos; and the centuries-old town of San Pedro de Atacama, now a busy tourism hub where adventure outfitters and a recent influx of restaurateurs have crowded out miners and laborers. Accommodations range from funky hostels to sleek resorts, but my pick for its location and sense of place: Alto Atacama. Borrow one of the lodge’s bikes and pedal 20 minutes along the San Pedro River to the rugged Catarpe gorge, a striking geological mashup that will have you taking photos around every bend.” —Jayne Wise, senior editor, National Geographic Traveler

Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado, USA):

“This year my sister and I surprised our mother with a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park to mark a milestone birthday: the 100th anniversary of the park’s founding. Visiting in early September allowed us to enjoy the gorgeous mountain views while hiking, riding horseback, and driving around in cooler weather and with fewer people to crowd the experience. Another plus? At around this time, the park’s bull elks begin their bugling and their characteristic mating calls became the strange but beautiful soundtrack to our family adventure.” —Becky Davis (on Twitter @beckylane123 and on Instagram @beckydavis1234), associate digital producer, National Geographic Travel

Morning views from Nymph Lake 👌

A photo posted by Becky Davis (@beckydavis1234) on

Tetiaroa (French Polynesia):

“On our honeymoon, my husband and I spent four days and three nights on Tetiaroa, a chain of coral islands in the South Pacific famously purchased by Marlon Brando—who first visited while filming Mutiny on the Bounty—in 1967. About 20 minutes north of Tahiti as the small prop plane flies, the private atoll includes a dozen islets (or motus), including Onetahi, home to The Brando, one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. After settling into our villa, we were soon dining on poisson cru at the resort’s beachside café, exploring the 193-acre island’s contours by bike, and paddleboarding into the sunset. Each morning we woke to a view of the white-sand shore dipping toward the jewel-toned waters of the Turtle Beach lagoon—enjoyed equally from bed or over breakfast beside our plunge pool. But what we found to be truly remarkable (and most romantic) about the serene luxury property was its stalwart stewardship of the atoll’s fragile ecosystem. Accompanied by naturalist guides, we toured several other islets, trekking to an isolated freshwater marsh and through a primitive forest, and gingerly picking our way around tiny Rimatu’u so as not to disturb the eggs of the thousands of seabirds nesting there.” —Korena Di Roma (on Instagram @kdrdc), digital editor, blogs and verticals, National Geographic

Belize:

“I tend to follow my ears when I travel. A few years back, I stumbled upon the Garifuna Collective at Tropicalia, a music venue in Washington, D.C. If ever there was a band who loved making music together, it was them. Their rhythmic drumming and sheer exuberance, not to mention their colorful ensembles, were irresistible—and stuck with me. This past fall I traveled to Hopkins, the cultural heartbeat of the Garifuna people of Belize, to learn more about this fascinating ethnic group (a blend of African, Arawak, and Carib ancestry) and how their culture—which includes a distinctive language as well as unique musical and culinary traditions—had evolved. Hopkins is no Ambergris Caye, with its luxury resorts and pampered tourists, but the people I met there invited me into their world in a way I’ve rarely experienced while traveling. I also spent time in San Ignacio, another place too few tourists venture to, in Belize’s Cayo District. Located near the Central American country’s western border with Guatemala, the verdant, mountainous jungles of “the Cayo” offer insight into another aspect of Belize’s richly diverse national tapestry: its Maya and Mestizo heritage. Tip: If you visit San Ignacio, make sure to make an appointment to tour Poustinia Land Art, a provocative sculpture park in the middle of the jungle.” —Leslie Trew Magraw (on Twitter and Instagram @leslietrew), editor/producer, Intelligent Travel

Istanbul (Turkey): 

“My husband and I took a short jaunt to Istanbul during peak tulip season. The Netherlands may be most closely associated with the flower in modern times, but the Dutch first imported this symbol of spring from the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century. We marveled at the the Hagia Sophia‘s architectural diversity, explored the Basilica Cistern‘s subterranean labyrinth, then observed the Friday evening call to prayer at the Blue Mosque in the tourist-filled Sultanahmet district. Follow our lead and snag a fresh fish sandwich with a side of pink pickles in the Eminönü neighborhood before hopping the ferry across the Bosphorus to the less-trafficked Asian side—my favorite side—of this continent-straddling city. Seek out a local market, keep hydrated with a cup of perfectly blended pomegranate and orange juice from a streetside vendor, and pay a visit to Haci Bekir—former bakers for the sultan—for a taste of some of the best lokum you can find in the Turkish capital.” —Christine Blau, associate digital producer, National Geographic Travel

Albuquerque (New Mexico, USA):

“This sprawling Southwestern city is a must for anyone who revels in the great outdoors. For a change of pace, go horseback riding in the high-altitude Sandia Mountains that flank Albuquerque to the east side. Drought and economic hardships have pushed many New Mexico ranchers and farmers to abandon their domesticated animals, horses in particular. To combat this sad epidemic, the Tamaya Resort & Spa in nearby Bernalillo has established a rehabilitation program to provide surrendered horses with shelter and care. Visit the on-site stables and book a guided trail ride tailored to match your skill level by head wrangler Connie Collis and her staff. Albuquerque, like much of the Southwest, is endowed with a rich and vibrant Native American heritage. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center presents a historical overview of the Pueblo world through its permanent exhibition “Our Land, Our Culture, Our Story” as well as contemporary crafts made by the 19 Pueblos of today. Tip: Don’t leave without trying the traditional handmade fry bread at the cafe.” —Jess Mandia (on Instagram @jessmandia), associate digital photography producer, National Geographic Travel

Riding Spot in the SW desert. Circa November 2015.

A photo posted by J. Mandia (@jessmandia) on

Botswana:

“Botswana is so rich with natural wonders that it hardly seems fair. The country is said to have the best wildlife viewing the continent over, and though this was my first trip to Africa, I can imagine that might be true. I’ll never forget being surrounded by 300 Cape buffalo standing six feet from our safari vehicle in the Moremi Game Reserve or riding on the roof of the car, staring at the star-laden sky as we plowed across the Kalahari Desert.” —Sarah Polger (on Instagram @sarahpolger, senior digital photography producer, National Geographic Travel

Ecuador:

“I was lucky to head to Ecuador this past year to climb not one but three of the country’s volcanoes—Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi—all located within driving distance of capital city Quito. Between summits, our accommodations ranged from Hacienda La Cienega, a 17th-century estate located in the wilds of Cotopaxi National Park, to award-winning ecotourism haven Chilcabamba Mountain Lodge. When we weren’t climbing, we made excursions to Old Town Quito and Otavalo’s famous Saturday market, where food, traditional artwork, and woolen textiles of every imaginable kind woven by indigenous Otavaleños are waiting. (Tip: Take cash—Ecuador uses U.S. currency—and be prepared to haggle.) A visit to the Equator and having a photo taken at Latitude 0 0’ 0’’ is also a must—along with trying to make an egg balance on end.” —Anne Farrar (on Instagram @afarrar and on Twitter @annefarrar), director of photography, National Geographic Traveler  

Dublin (Ireland):

“I visited the Irish capital in late November, when the entire city twinkles with holiday lights, colorful decorations glitter in the shops and pubs, and Christmas markets fill the squares. I recommend exploring Ireland during the winter season because that’s when the Emerald Isle is at its coziest (it’s also still very green due to its temperate climate) and the locals are at their friendliest, spreading good cheer to all, including visitors. Plus, Dublin’s seasonal markets are the perfect places to find handmade quintessentially Irish gifts for family and friends back home.” —Andrea Leitch (on Twitter and Instagram @andrealeitch), digital content director, National Geographic Travel
Go somewhere amazing in 2015? Tell us about the best trip you took this year in the Comments section for a chance to appear on the Intelligent Travel blog.

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Comments

  1. Julia White
    Portland, Maine
    December 31, 2015, 12:40 pm

    We traveled in new Zealand and Australia for six weeks this year. Every day we were surrounded by great natural beauty and some of the most fascinating creatures on the planet. On Kangaroo Island, we participated in a camera safari: into the bush to see kangaroos feeding and hopping by us; under the brush to observe shy wallabies; beneath eucalyptus trees cradling koalas; crossing paths with echidnas and goannas; and basking on beaches with seals and pelicans. Amazing days!

  2. kate
    Dublin, Ireland
    December 26, 2015, 9:30 am

    Travelled along the coast of France, amazing port town called Cassis just outside Marseille with unreal hikes, fantastic views, hidden beaches, beautiful food and welcoming locals

  3. Cathy Collins
    Sharon, Massachusetts
    December 23, 2015, 1:44 pm

    I had the opportunity to visit China for the first time through EF Tours/Primary Source. As the manager of our district’s Chinese Exchange Program, I was able to visit my own students as well as the staff and students of our sister school in Xi’an. It was an unforgettable adventure filled with beautiful people and beautiful places including not only the historically significant city of Xi’an but also Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou. I came back with a treasure chest of memories!

  4. Zodox
    India
    December 23, 2015, 6:28 am

    Wish I could travel all my life…