8 of the Most Dazzling Nature Tours on Earth
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With a world so dependent on technology, eco-adventures and nature tours are growing in popularity. The planet is full of natural wonders, but some are overshadowed by tourist-friendly/accessible outposts like the Great Barrier Reef or the Grand Canyon. TPG Contributor Liana Lozada takes us into more uncharted territory, unveiling eight standout nature tours sure to add a few new destinations to your bucket list.
(As you read on, remember that tours like these are often categorized as travel purchases by the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard and the Citi Premier Card.)
1. The Namib Desert in Nambia
The ancient, relatively uninhabited Namib is one of the world’s largest deserts, running for more than 1,200 miles along the Atlantic coastline of three African countries — Angola, Namibia and South Africa. Along its coast in Namibia, temperatures hold steady between 50-60° Fahrenheit both day and night, while the interior reaches a far less forgiving 100+° Fahrenheit. Despite this heat, Namib’s epic dunes are home to lots of living creatures, including antelope, zebras, oryx, elephants, snakes and flamingos.
To see this fascinating landscape and its veritable zoo, join Viator’s 7-Day Southern Namibia Tour From Windhoek, which begins at $1,709 per person and includes a professional guide, some meals and three-star accommodations. If you want more luxury, book the upgraded version of Boundless Journey’s Best of Namibia, a week-long private tour from $5,595 per person; kids between 6-16 years old are given a $1,000 discount when sharing a family tent with two adults. More budget- or time-conscious? Opt for Viator‘s Quad Bike Tour of the Namib Desert, a three-hour guided ATV tour which departs from the coastal town of Walvis Bay and is priced around $76 per person.
For more on Nambia and the Namib Desert, see Eric Rosen’s Under-the Radar Safari: Namibia.
2. “Dueling Volcanoes” in Washington State
EverGreen Escape’s two-day Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helens “Dueling Volcanoes” tour showcases two of Washington State’s most iconic locales. On day one you’ll explore Mount Rainier, an active volcano and, at more than 14,000 feet, the state’s highest point. Rainier’s surrounding National Park harbors waterfalls, marshes, wildflower meadows, dense forest, rivers and snow-capped mountains; depending on the time of year, guests can snowshoe or hike its various trails while eying for deer, elk and black bears. The historically infamous Mount Saint Helens is day two’s highlight, as you embark on the Eruption Trail to view the lava dome, crater, pumice plain and landslide deposit. Rates for the private overnight trip range between $3,000-3,500 and vary based on the season and party size, and tours are available to kids ages 6 and up. EverGreen also offers more budget-friendly, single-day, small group trips to either locale that start at $225 per person.
3. Snorkeling and Kayaking Odyssey in Palau, Micronesia
Set in the western Pacific Ocean, Palau is comprised of more than 200 volcanic and coral islands, making up the far western portion of the Caroline Islands. These mini-oases are home to the world’s pioneering “shark sanctuary,” as it was the first nation in the world to outlaw commercial shark fishing. Thriving ecosystems are the the big draw in remote Palau, representing four times the diversity than that of Caribbean reef systems, and its waters are the star of Boundless Journeys’ Snorkeling & Kayaking Odyssey. On this 10-day excursion through the country’s untouched beaches and rainforests, you’ll encounter everything from non-stinging jellyfish to stingrays and turtles. The adventure departs multiple times throughout the year and costs $5,295 per person.
4. Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia
The world’s largest salt flat can be found in Uyuni in southwestern Bolivia. This amazing sand-less desert landscape is a magnet for photographers, thanks to its white salt expanses dotted by occasional “islands” of salt. Once a prehistoric lake, the flats now only pool during rainy season (December to March), causing breathtaking reflections but also limiting access to outsiders. Explore Uyuni on La Torre Tours‘ Tupiza to Uyuni Salt Flat trip, which begins in the city of Tupiza and takes you to various natural landmarks before hitting the flats on a 4×4 jeep ride. Keep an eye out for wild flamingos, llamas and foxes. This four-day tour begins at $420 per person for two people.
5. Snow Leopard Trek in Kumaon Himalaya, India
Hidden Places’ Snow Leopard Trek is the only conservation trek offered to the remote Kumaon Himalaya in Northern India. The 200-mile region extends from Sutlej River east to the Kali River and hits 25,646 feet feet at its highest point, and is home to about 10% of the endangered snow leopard population. On this tour, you’ll walk up to 12 miles a day with local guides along mountainous trails, learning about these cats and ways that humans and big cats can better coexist. If you choose to participate in this trek, you’ll be required to raise at least $500 to benefit conservation efforts. The next 17-day Snow Leopard Trek departs in September 2015, and costs $3,250 per person for large groups (7-10 participants) and $3,900 per person for small groups (4-6 participants).
6. Masca Valley in the Canary Islands, Spain
Though Tenerife is the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, its tiny village of Masca is home to only about 100 inhabitants. The cliff-dwelling town is best known for its challenging but stunning three-hour hike down to the Atlantic Ocean, which takes you through deep ravines that reveal lush landscapes, caves, water pools and boulder archways, ending on a black-sand and rock-strewn beach. Xplore Tenerife‘s Masca Hike, Snorkel + Boat Trip guides you on this hike and then plunks you into the water for snorkeling, followed by a boat ride — on which dolphin and whale sightings aren’t uncommon — back to the port at Los Gigantes. Xplore Tenerife’s single-day excursion costs €45 (about $50) per person.
For more on the Canary Islands, see Lori Zaino’s Spanish Summer Adventures: Asturias, Alicante & Gran Canaria and 10 Amazing European Islands That You May Not Know About.
7. Caving and Snorkeling in Iceland
Dubbed “The Land of Fire and Ice,” Iceland’s beauty is found in its contrasting landscapes; it’s home to active volcanos and centuries-old glaciers. Arctic Adventures’ Black & Blue tour combines two of Þingvellir National Park’s most breathtaking geological wonders. The “black” portion of the trip heads underground to explore Iceland’s famous lava caves, and the “blue” portion takes you snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of the Silfra fissure. Kids 14 years of age or older are welcome to participate, and prices begin at €197 (about $221) per person.
For more on Iceland, see Katie Hammel’s WOW Air $99-Fare to Iceland and Layover Lowdown: Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport, as well as TPG’s own Five Days in Iceland —Horseback Riding, Whale Watching and the Golden Circle.
8. Fraser Island, Australia
Set off Australia’s eastern Queensland coast about 120 miles north of Brisbane and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island (stretching for 75 miles) and harbors half of the world’s freshwater dune lakes, which are dotted amidst rainforest remnants. Despite the mass quantities of lakes here, the water’s acidity keeps the marine population low; the most popular wildlife sightings are native dingoes and more than 350 species of birds. To witness Fraser’s best natural sights, opt for Viator’s 2-Day Fraser Island Tour from Hervey Bay, which includes a drive along the seemingly endless beach to a shipwreck, lounging in the jacuzzi-like Champagne Pools and swimming in Lake McKenzie. There’s also a light hike to Indian Head, the island’s easternmost point, for coastal views that seem to go on forever. This two-day tour starts at approximately $252 per person with shared accommodations and about $283 for a private room.