You’ll marvel at dozens of bucket list-worthy vacations ideas found within National Geographic’s illustrated guide to “Epic Journeys: 245 Life-Changing Adventures.” Here are five ideas sure to tempt your family’s travelers:
Bike the Baltics
This compact region, comprised of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, is rich in scenic beauty, history and heritage. Given the largely flat terrain and cycle-centric culture, it’s possible to explore the area’s ancient ruins, fairy tale-like castles, Russian Empire and Soviet-era remnants as well as to sample the important cultural and folk traditions in one 10- or 12-day biking trip. You’ll also want to explore the medieval old towns of all three capital cities — Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn — during your two-wheeled adventure. Consider a visit to the Hill of Crosses, a fabled pilgrimage site covered with more than 100,000 metal and wooden crucifixes and other religious icons.
Sink into the Yucatan Cenotes, Mexico
Choose to dive, snorkel or swim in the gem-colored waters near Tulum on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. More than 6,000 natural limestone sinkholes, some with large pools, others, small and sheltered, once provided fresh water for the Mayan people and were considered portals to the gods. In fact, the word “cenote” means sacred well. Today, visitors can explore the craggy depths surrounded by colorful fish and turtles or swim on the surface, relishing the clear water that has been filtered by the earth. Some cenotes, such as the Gran Cenote of Tulum, are popular with tourists. Others are more remote and frequented by locals. Ask your hotel concierge or fellow travelers to find one that suits your style and interests.
Discover the wonders of Palau
This Pacific archipelago, made up of 500 islands, is one of the richest ecosystems on the planet, and home to more than 1,300 species of fish and 700 species of coral. During your visit to this aquatic wonderland you can paddle and snorkel amid the multicolored brain coral of the Rock Islands, which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. You can hike to waterfalls, swim among nonstinging jellyfish, dive amid sharks, giant manta rays, turtles and bright blue starfish, and kayak in caves, through mangroves and to hidden lagoons. History lovers will find the WWII heritage compelling.
One of the least populated countries in the world, Namibia begs to be explored. From the capital city of Windhoek to the stark Skeleton Coast, you’ll find a timeless landscape where desert-adapted wildlife — elephants, lions and the rare, black rhino — share the vast landscape with birds, antelopes and brown hyenas. Drive through barren moonscapes and search for small herds of Hartmann’s zebras or find pink flamingos and other migratory birds in a coastal wetland. Hike up Namibia’s ochre-colored sand dune and watch sunset before sliding down. Few people and sparse development translate into a magnificent display of stars. Don’t forget to look up.
Paddle near the orcas
One of the best places to see orcas in the wild is in the protected waters of the Johnstone Strait off Vancouver Island’s northeastern coast. There, paddlers glide past old-growth rainforests, empty stone beaches and remnants of ancient settlements as they make their way through the straight and around tiny islands. Adventurers might see an orca fin up close, pass curious dolphins or experience the waves resulting from an aerobatic humpback. Scout island beaches for other wildlife including black-tailed deer, river otters and sea lions as eagles and seabirds soar overhead.