Travelers have largely overlooked the Balkan region, which has long been shrouded by a troubled past. But its enigmatic nature may prove to be its most potent drawing card.

I spend a lot of time exploring big, dynamic cities. But these isolated islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador grew on me in such a way that when I left, I felt as though I was taking some of the characteristics of the landscape and animals—fearlessness, energy, equilibrium—home with me. Here are a few other things I learned about the Galápagos along the way.

Uninhabited Québec

I peer out of the lighthouse window, watching the wide, murky Saint Lawrence River easing past on its journey to the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of sea birds squawk and shriek on the rocks below. I think about the men who spent years cooped up alone on this little island in the remote wilds of Québec, illuminating the way for the weary mariners who sailed by in the darkness of night.

It is my first day in the tropical rain forests of northeast Colombia and, along with about a dozen other hikers, I am on the trail to La Ciudad Perdida, or the Lost City. The pre-Colombian city was built around 800 A.D., making it some 650 years older than its Inca Empire-counterpart, Machu Picchu, in Peru.

The peaks of Grand Teton National Park, regal and imposing as they stand nearly 7,000 feet above the valley floor, make one of the boldest geologic statements in the Rocky Mountains. Here’s an insider’s guide to this natural wonderland.

Notorious as the vicinity from which Amelia Earhart made her final distress calls, the equatorial Pacific between Hawaii and Fiji is becoming a little safer—at least for marine life.

I recently returned from the Nat Geo Expeditions journey “Inside Japan.” In my role as an expert, I was to prepare several lectures to deliver to my fellow travelers. The idea of encapsulating everything I know and love about Japan into discrete talks was daunting. But one day near the end of the trip, reality brought home just how important these kinds of discussions can be.

Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872, leading the British diplomat James Bryce to declare national parks “the best idea America ever had.” Indeed, it was, and is. But celebrations and plaudits aside, look at what we have done to our national treasures. As we prepare to celebrate the National Park Service centennial in 2016, here’s a birthday wish for the future.

In 1864, the French novelist Jules Verne published one of his most ambitious works—”Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Though Verne was widely regarded for the meticulous scientific research that informed his writing, what he posited in “Journey” has been rejected: namely, that volcanic tubes lead to the Earth’s core. This, of course, hasn’t stopped curious travelers from exploring the book’s geological protagonist: Iceland’s Snæfellsjökull.

This year marks a quarter century since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Berlin continues to boom amid the reminders of its extraordinary past—a complex, sometimes dark, history it is intent on neither forgetting nor denying.

Numbers add up—just ask the Inion Eleven. Backed by a bounty of votes, this fearless family of global nomads takes the top spot in our 2014 People’s Choice Traveler of the Year contest.

There are more ways than ever to make money writing about travel—from writing for third-party outlets (publications, websites) to working with travel-related companies such as luggage and clothing manufacturers, hotels, airlines, and tourism boards. The issue this ever-broadening spectrum has raised for me is a thorny one that has been around for a long time in one guise or another, but that seems even more central now. Namely: Who controls the content?

Colombia’s vibrant capital emerges from a sketchy past to paint a bold new future.

In the 1950s, Peru’s Cabo Blanco Fishing Club was a famous rod-and-reel outpost—the world record black marlin, weighing 1,560 pounds, was caught here. Ernest Hemingway visited, along with other celebs. Now the classic coastal village and some 2,500 square miles of ocean around it could become part of a new ecotourism project—or be turned over to more oil drilling platforms.

“Llama trekking seemed a perfect fit,” explains Stuart Wilde, who came to the New Mexico backcountry outside of Taos more than two decades ago. “As an outdoor educator and conservation advocate, they help me teach about minimal-impact backcountry ethics and sustainable tourism.”

Make no mistake: National Geographic lead geographer Juan José Valdés’s curiosity about “the world and all that’s in it” (a phrase Alexander Graham Bell, one of the Society’s founding members, used to describe the scope of the organization’s mission) isn’t purely cartographic or limited to his desk. Here’s a look at the planet through his unique lens.

A few weeks ago, I challenged myself to embrace a different kind of travel. Despite having spent two decades traversing more than 100 countries in all manner of ways, I had never been in an RV. And yet, hitting the road in one of these self-contained mobile domiciles is exactly how thousands of fellow travelers see the world. What was I missing?

It’s difficult to be entirely dispassionate about something that has been in my family for centuries. So, full disclosure: ​Throughout the do-we-go, do-we-stay debate on Scottish independence, I’ve been on the side of staying the course with the U.K. and I am relieved that Scottish pride and the knee-jerk, up-yours attitude that once resulted in moors sodden with ill-spent blood spilled by the English gave way to what the Scottish are born to—a calculating practicality that eventually wins the day.

The taxi driver hoisted my suitcase on his shoulder, stepped gingerly around the puddles and slopped through the mud on the earthen path to my homestay family’s stilt house. He had just driven me three and a half hours north of Siem Reap, into the bucolic rice-fields-and-palm-trees wilds of northern Cambodia, a half hour from the Thai border.

We are about five miles off the mainland of northern Ontario, camping on the rocky, forested islets that make up the Slate Islands archipelago on Lake Superior. Currently one of Ontario’s unmanaged provincial parks, there’s very little infrastructure on the islands other than remnants of mining and fishing activities, an old lighthouse, and a herd of endangered woodland caribou.

If you’re looking for an excuse to have a celebration when traveling through certain countries in Europe, make sure to time your visit with your name day.

A new coat of paint and a new lease on life for ramshackle buildings transformed into guesthouses in Old Bangkok…

In the 1980s, ecotourism—driven by a deep conservation and environmental ethic—focused on remote jungle lodges, nature treks, and the like. It was well-meaning and maybe appropriate to the time, but dwelled on the fringes of a largely uninterested mainstream travel industry. At Traveler we observed this and felt a broader approach, around sustainable tourism, would…

Like their American counterparts, the cowboys, France’s gardians cut a dashing figure and loom large in the culture of the southern France. Part of a brotherhood formed in the early 16th century, the gardians are the caretakers of the herds of beautiful gray horses and black bulls that roam the largely unfenced Camargue region.

Out of the Ashes: Valparaíso

Though just 70 miles south of Chile’s capital, Santiago, Valparaíso is a destination in its own right. The port city’s economy may not be what it was, but the vibrant culture you’ll find there remains, despite a flagging maritime trade and earthquakes that have shaken it to its core. As the city and its people rebuild and heal after a catastrophic fire claimed homes and lives, there has never been a better time to visit. Here’s why.