Places We Love: Top Destinations for 2017
We at GeoEx are passionate about exploring the world and introducing others to the wonders we find. Every year the company sends virtually all of its staff to far-flung destinations around the globe with a two-fold mission: to field-test the places and activities we currently offer, and to discover amazing new places and activities for our trips. To kick off the year on an inspiring note, we asked 10 of our destination specialists to share the places to which they are especially excited about sending our travelers in 2017. Here are their picks.
“There has been an enthusiastic spike in travel to Japan, some people exploring the country for the first time and others rediscovering its mystique and complexity. Japan warmly welcomes Americans, yet still remains enigmatic, with its unique culture, dramatic history, and a language that cannot easily be acquired! One finds the urban and the rural juxtaposed, and seemingly secret historic districts hidden within sharply urban landscapes, offering endless interest and surprise. Travelers can experience a completely foreign environment while staying in comfortable hotels and ryokan—at least one stay in a traditional inn is essential to any visit to Japan—with varied cuisine, compelling arts, design, and architecture, both traditional and contemporary.
In addition to our popular Kyoto-Shikoku trip, I’m extremely excited about our new Tip to Toe journey. Led by travel writer and Japanophile Don George (truly the most affable man I have ever encountered), this unique itinerary gives a broader view of Japan beyond the traditional Tokyo-Hakone-Kyoto circuit. We’ll explore from Hokkaido in the far north all the way to Kyushu in the south, venturing along old pilgrims’ trails, delving into a variety of natural parks, soaking in the quintessential onsen (hot springs), all the while savoring several of the country’s most important spiritual and historic sites. Not to mention benefitting, tip to toe, from Japanese cuisine!” –Sara Barbieri
“We’re blown away by how much of Alaska is undiscovered territory, and we can’t wait to reveal the riches—natural and man-made—of this extraordinary place to GeoEx travelers. We’ve just returned from an extensive exploration of the state, and we’ve uncovered luxurious remote lodges—some reachable only by plane—that provide incredible access to untouched glaciers, peaks, rivers, and other wilderness areas. There’s exceptional hiking, kayaking, fishing, rafting, and bear-watching, not to mention learning about the famed Iditarod. We can also set up travelers with a “bear whisperer” for a remarkable ramble along the coast in search of coastal brown bears. And in counterpoint to these outdoor adventures, there’s also an exciting, new farm-to-table movement that’s transforming Alaskan cuisine; we sample some of its signature creations in unforgettable feasts.” –Jennine Cohen
“Mention South Africa, and most people think of wildlife, history, and wines. And it’s true that South Africa’s game reserves and parks house an abundance of lions, cheetahs, wildebeests, elephants, giraffes, and much more; that the Apartheid Museum and Robben Island are unforgettably moving places not to be missed; and that the Winelands produce some of the finest vintages on the planet. But there is much more to savor in this surprising country. South Africa’s food and wine scene rivals the best in the world in terms of quality and creativity (at one-third the price of other culinary capitals), and the contemporary art scene has gone international with many artists showing at Art Basel and other global venues. Jochen Zeist’s soon-to-open museum, in a refurbished silo complex on the waterfront in Cape Town, is a stunning showcase for contemporary art, and it’s the centerpiece of our new Art in Africa journey, which I have lovingly designed and about which I’m tremendously passionate.” –Starla Estrada
“Vietnam has renowned cuisine, poignant history, pristine landscapes, and fascinating ethnic villages, but I’m especially excited about it this year because for the first time we’ll be visiting the spectacular caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Discovered just 25 years ago, these are still pretty much off the tourist radar; no other company the caliber of GeoEx visits them. On our journey, we trek through dense jungle to reach jaw-dropping, untouched caverns—which we climb, crawl, squeeze, and swim through, our headlamps and sense of wonder guiding us. We also take an overnight train north to the green, rugged mountains of Sapa and hike among its rice paddies and ethnic villages where distinctive traditions still thrive; one highlight of our stay is overnighting at a hilltop-perched eco-lodge. In between these outdoor adventures, we return to Hanoi, where we zip by Vespa through the French Quarter, discover local cuisine alongside a star chef, and explore neighborhoods not found in guide books. All these experiences are unforgettable, but it’s hard to top floating though a dark cave toward a sliver of light that opens into a thriving, remote, tropical forest; that memory gives me a thrill even now.” –Errin Mixon
“Getting to experience the North Pole and the Arctic is a thrill that’s impossible to describe. This part of the planet has inspired explorers, scientists, and dreamers for ages—people intrigued by its drama of ice and light, its polar bears quietly roaming on drifting sea ice, its extreme remoteness, and its cache of natural resources. Reaching the North Pole itself is the definition of exhilaration, where, in the fitting words of photographer Galen Rowell, we ‘dance a circle through twenty-four time zones and drink toasts.’ On GeoEx North Pole icebreaker expeditions, our travelers get to celebrate this achievement, as well as search for walruses, migrating whales and birds, and other wildlife from Zodiacs and helicopters. They can even float over the top of the world in a hot-air balloon. Venturing here reveals not just the awesomeness of this icy wilderness, but also its fragility, imparting a subtle sense of urgency.” –Urs Hofmann
“While Nepal has made great strides in recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2015 and while the tourism infrastructure is sound, the flow of visitors is still a trickle. So we help the country and the people greatly by visiting, and we’re rewarded with exceptional experiences. Kathmandu is as vibrant as ever with many beautiful temples and stupas to be seen. The wildlife parks in Chitwan and Bardia offer uncrowded venues for seeing tigers and rhinos, and the new Taj Meghauli Serai safari lodge in Chitwan is spectacular. Of course, the mountain scenery can’t be beat and we can arrange both hiking and trekking trips. Everest can be seen on a trek or via a scenic flight from Kathmandu. The Annapurna region also offers serious treks, as well as beautiful day hikes. GeoEx’s roots in Nepal go back to the early 1980s, and we continue to work with many of the same people that we used back then. These deep connections mean that we can offer a range of deeply authentic, unusual experiences to our travelers, and that we know how to ensure the best trip. For example: We know that traveling by road in Nepal is arduous, time-consuming, and unpredictable, so we fly between towns instead of driving whenever possible.” –Edwin d’Haens (see his blog)
“I’ve been organizing travel to Myanmar since the mid-90s, and right now is a wild time to be there. New businesses are popping up among thriving age-old customs, and a spirit of freedom buzzes excitedly—and still a little cautiously—around remnants of the old regime. With our expertise and connections, we love taking travelers beyond the surface, opening doors to Myanmar to which most visitors don’t have access. From the streets of colonial Yangon to the minority villages of Kengtung, from rare river cruises and stops at little-visited craft and food markets, to private cooking lessons and meetings with monks, we arrange in-depth experiences that introduce our travelers to everyday Burmese life. We also like to spotlight some of the organizations working for positive change in Myanmar, such as handicraft cooperatives and temple restoration projects. At the Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp near Kalaw, for example, we gain insight into efforts to protect local ecology, traditions, and elephants, enjoying some one-on-one time with those extraordinary creatures. In a time of rapid change, we try to offer our travelers an immersive understanding of the past, present, and future of this dynamic country.” –Tina Liadis
“Ethiopia is a stunning destination, with striking geology, rare wildlife, and more than 80 ethnic groups. Now, with new helicopter options, our offerings here are more inspiring than ever. We have unprecedented access to the rare Ethiopian wolf in Bale Mountain National Park, the Mars-like terrain of Danakil Depression, and the thousands of mysterious cliff- and cave-carved churches in the utterly off-the-radar Gheralta region. We also join baboon researchers to study geladas in the Simien Mountains and visit with pastoral tribes in the still-undeveloped region of the Lower Omo Valley. And we delve into Lalibela, a pilgrimage site of 11 monolithic churches hewn out of living rock, and Axum, a major center of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. There’s so much richness to discover in Ethiopia, and we’re beyond excited to share it with our travelers!” –Starla Estrada
“Australia excites me because it offers such a rich range of attractions. There’s a spectrum of active adventures, from snorkeling and diving to hiking and climbing; there’s a phenomenal range of landscapes and seascapes, from the Outback to the dolerite peaks of Tasmania; and there’s an acclaimed culinary scene, with chefs in Melbourne and Adelaide garnering rave reviews from international critics. In fact, there are so many superlatives to choose from that Australia can be overwhelming. That’s where we come in, tailoring journeys to fit each traveler’s dreams. We can arrange helicopter visits to the ancient sandstones of the Kimberley; swimming with the dolphins of Baird Bay; hikes through the bush on Kangaroo Island; secluded picnics by the waterfalls of Daintree, the world’s oldest rain forest; gourmet food and wine tastings in the Barossa Valley; snorkeling from a private island in the Great Barrier Reef; horseback riding on a 500,000-acre cattle station; and getting to know Arnhem Land, where some 20,000 aboriginal people live and to which GeoEx has rare access. And that’s just a small sampling. Australia is a land of endless amazement: I’m passionate about working with you to realize your Down Under dream.” –Esther Hsu
“With an abundance of natural wonders and locals famous for their quirkiness, Iceland is one of the planet’s most popular travel destinations right now. That’s why we recently made a few extensive scouting trips there to find truly off-the-tourist-track attractions and activities for our travelers. And we’ve returned with some great ideas! We can take you to the most exclusive and hip restaurants in Reykjavik, then head out of town for exhilarating dips in hot springs, hikes amid serrated peaks and barren lava fields, multiday treks, ice climbing, glacier trekking, whale- and bird-watching, and even jaw-dropping helicopter rides. We also made connections with people who can introduce you to Iceland’s robust tradition of sheep farming and explain how the county’s Viking past has shaped its culture and folklore. Finally, for winter visitors, we found some special ways to present spectacular views of the Northern Lights.” –Natalie Crow
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To start planning your adventure to these destinations or any of GeoEx’s other far-flung locales, give us a call at 888-570-7108.