New frontiers, original itineraries and once-in-a-lifetime events – read on for our pick of the very best trips for the year ahead
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Rarely featured by UK-based tour operators, Papua New Guinea remains a thrillingly raw and colourful destination. Now you can be among the handful who have visited its remote villages, fascinating festivals and spectacular volcanoes on Explore’s brand new Papua New Guinea Revealed trip. Paddle dug-out canoes along the Sepik River, hike around the steaming craters of Rabaul and cruise into Simpson Harbour, before heading up to the highlands to take a ringside seat at the Mt Hagen Show, an annual riot of colour, courtship ceremonies, exuberant dancing and tribal traditions.
When: 29 Jul 2012
How long: 14 days
How much: £3,325 (excl flights)
Camel racing, fire dancing, folk music and even a moustache contest: all come to the fairytale desert city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan every February – and they form the centrepiece of On the Go Tours’ Jaisalmer’s Desert Festival trip. But that’s just day nine: either side, you’ll enjoy the full north Indian experience: the bustle of Delhi, the monumental Taj Mahal, the transcendent cities of Jaipur and Udaipur, and the towns of the semi-desert Shekhawati region.Who: On the Go Tours
There’s cause for celebration in North Korea in 2012 as the country marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Kim Il-Sung (still head honcho despite having passed away in 1994). Regent Holidays’ North Korea Kim Il Sung Centenary Tour visits the dramatic mountains at Kumgang, the port city of Wonsan, the chilling DMZ and the country’s second city of Hamhung – all places rarely seen by travellers – as well as joining in the epic birthday bash.Who: Regent Holidays
In late 2012, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will be destination of choice for amateur astronomers everywhere – it’s going to be one of the best places to watch the next total solar eclipse (14 Nov 2012). Bridge & Wickers’ Solar Eclipse Cruise sets sail from swish Port Douglas and spends four nights out amid the azure waters and tropical islands of the reef – an idyllic spot for sky-gazing.
Tag on a few days to explore Queensland, from its white- sand beaches to its lush interior.Who: Bridge & Wickers
Colonial Portuguese buildings crumble under the tropical heat on the island of Santiago, once the principal slaving port between Africa and the Americas – and now home each April to the Kriol Jazz Festival. Visiting musicians from Africa and Brazil mix with local stars, and lead revellers dancing through the streets. After the festival, Songlines Music Travel’s trip winds down in remote Tarrafal, with its two crescent bays, one black, one white.
Who: Songlines Music Travel
When: 10 April
How long: 7 nights
How much: £929 (excl flights)
Central Europe’s private hotel-on-wheels, the Danube Express, takes on a new route for 2012: from Poland to Hungary. The luxury train’s Polish Explorer itinerary wends from Warsaw to Budapest (or vice versa), stopping off at Slovak capital Bratislava, colourful Krakow, medieval Gdańsk and Malbork’s great gothic castle. Carriages are deluxe, and delicious regional cuisine and drinks are included, making this a thoroughly civilised way to travel from the Baltic to the Danube.Who: Danube Express
Undiscovered Destinations’ London to Tashkent by Rail trip is a truly epic undertaking, allowing you to take in two continents from a series of carriages. The group will depart from London St Pancras and head ever eastwards on regular scheduled trains, meeting the locals and watching the scenery slide by. There are also frequent stops: Warsaw, Brest, Minsk and Moscow and are all visited before you arrive in Uzbekistan. This is Silk Road central, and exploring a cluster of exquisite cities – including Tashkent, Bukhara and spectacular Samarkand – will make you feel like a real explorer.Who: Undiscovered Destinations
Stranded in the South Atlantic, more than 2,000km off the west coast of South Africa, isolated St Helena is perhaps best known as Napoleon’s last exile. One of the most fascinating ways to learn more about this British Overseas Territory is on Andrew Weir Shipping’s Hideaway Tour. Set sail from Cape Town aboard the RMS St Helena; after five fascinating nights at sea, accompanied by expert guides, the island will appear on the horizon. Disembark to meet the locals (and local wildlife), to walk around capital Jamestown and the rolling hills, to visit Boer graves and colonial relics, and to follow in Boney’s final footsteps.
Who: Andrew Weir Shipping
When: 7 May 2012
How long: 18 nights
How much: £2,765 (excl flights)
Keep the kids occupied (and educated) in the next summer holidays with Discover the World’s Spitsbergen Family Adventure Cruise – the first dedicated polar cruise for families with children aged ten and above. This voyage has been specially designed for kids and parents to get the most out of their Arctic experience together, combining fun activities with hands-on learning about the far north: getting up close to polar bears, taking teacher-wowing photos and – that old favourite – identifying animal poo.
Who: Discover the World
When: 2 Aug 2012
How long: 7 nights
How much: from £2,990 (excl flights)
Combine wild isles, remote landscapes, abundant birdlife – and, perhaps, some quirky sport – on Wilderness Scotland’s new Scottish Sea Kayak Trail: South trip. Following part of Europe’s only long-distance sea kayaking route (some kayaking experience is recommended), you’ll paddle the coast between the port of Oban and the gorgeous island of Gigha, with nights spent relaxing in cosy, seaside hotels. Travel in September to include the World Stone Skimming Champs – watch, or try to beat the record: an impressive 60m.Who: Wilderness Scotland
The lush rainforest of Borneo is the setting for this remarkable trip with Kevin Albin, recent winner of the Bronze Award at the Wanderlust World Guide Awards. Starting in Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, the trip kicks off with three days of jungle skills training at a nearby eco-camp. Then you’ll transfer to one of Borneo’s most exciting new conservation projects, the sun bear sanctuary at Sepilok, and get a chance to care for its small, endangered residents. Finally you’ll cross into the neighbouring state of Sarawak to visit the highland Kelabit people, walking in the rainforest and visiting little-known ancestral sites in a truly magical and remote setting.Who: Let Loose with Adventure
Taking the train through the Rhône is a great way to view the vineyards, and relax after hitting the plonk – no driving necessary! Grape Escapes' new Rhône by Rail tour visits plenty of the region's vineyards, including the famed Chateauneuf-du-Pape area, as well as the historic towns of Vienne and Avignon (don’t miss the charming market).Who: Grape Escapes
For most, Mongolia is still a land of mystery: distant, curious and challenging to explore. A perfect spot for overlanding, then – as Dragoman’s Heart of the Gobi expedition sets out to prove. Board a hardy truck in the capital, Ulaanbataar, and spend three weeks traversing the desert, watching for rare wildlife, rolling dunes, dinosaur fossils and ice canyons. You’ll also meet nomadic families,and opportunities for hiking, horse riding, rafting and camel-trekking abound.Who: Dragoman
Lush national parks, ancient cities and varied wildlife abound on the Exotic Vietnam tour from Bamboo Travel, voted your top tour operator this year. The trip starts in the ancient Vietnamese port of Hoi An, and finishes on the remote island of Con Dao, the perfect place to kick back by the sea. But in between, it’s time to get wild. North of Ho Chi Minh city, Cat Tien National Park is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve that offers the opportunity to observe endangered primates, Siamese crocodiles and fascinating birds. The on-site Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre, inspired by the Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre in the UK, shows the conservation of gibbons, lorises and other primates in action.Who: Bamboo Travel
The Hongsa region of northern Laos is lush, forested and little visited. It’s also the ideal terrain for a quite unique adventure. Selective Asia’s Way of the Mahout trip spends four days in this jungle, during which you’ll be assigned your own elephant caravan; as well as exploring this spectacular area on elephant-back, you’ll learn how to groom, feed, bathe and control your charge. You’ll also get to meet the local people, often staying in local homes, as well as experiencing some of Laos’ highlights: a boat trip on the Mekong, jungle trekking around Muang La and a stay in temple-dotted Luang Prabang.Who: Selective Asia
Join Steppes Discovery’s Ethiopia – Wolf Trek for a rare opportunity to look for endangered Ethiopian wolves in a remote corner of this fascinating country. Travelling by foot and on horseback into the Ethiopian highlands, you will track the canids alongside experts from the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, who will explain the animals’ behaviour, answer your questions and give you the best chances of an encounter. Even without the addition of wolves, the trek is a true adventure, climbing up to 4,200m and offering sweeping views of the Afro-Alpine Web Valley.Who: Steppes Discovery
The French Alps, with their dusted peaks, fertile valleys and scurrying wildlife, provide the ultimate laboratory for Earthwatch’s Of Mountains & Marmots: Climate Change in the French Alps expedition. The aim is to study and analyse local marmot populations in order to determine how they respond to changes in the environment. You’ll get the chance to catch and release the little critters, and monitor their behaviour. This is the ideal opportunity for wildlife-lovers and keen conservationists to help out while soaking up the mountain air and making some furry French friends.Who: Earthwatch
Large portions of private reserves in Cambodia are off limits to the public – or they were, until now. Cambodia specialist ABOUTAsia Travel has teamed up with the Sam Veasna Center (a sustainable tourism NGO) to run the Cambodia Super Tour special-access wildlife trip. Visiting several private reserves, and accompanied by local villagers who have been trained as guides, you’ll have the chance to spot a multitude of birds plus deer, jackals, river dolphins and more. A rare opportunity to experience Cambodia’s wild side while supporting local projects.
Who: ABOUTAsia Travel
When: 10 Feb 2012
How long: 14 nights
How much: from £3,831 (excl flights)
The glorious wildernesses of Finland and Norway are the setting for Ramblers Worldwide Holidays’ Arctic Birding Adventure. On this new trip to Lapland and the Norwegian Varanger Peninsula you have the chance to spot several species not found in other areas of Europe: focus your bins on great grey owls, Siberian jays, hazel grouse, king elder or perhaps the rare gyrfalcon. It’s not just birds either – look for elk, Arctic hare or even brown bear nestled deep in the forests. Expert guides will be on hand
to help you spot the lot.
Who: Ramblers Worldwide Holidays
When: 5 Jun 2012
How long: 11 nights
How much: £3,399 (incl flights)
In 2012 it will be 30 years since the British-Argentine conflict over the Falklands. And visiting this seriously remote Atlantic archipelago for the anniversary will be an enlightening historical holiday. But Journey Latin America’s Falklands 30th Anniversary trip doesn’t just showcase the military campaign: instead, it introduces you to the incredible wildlife and landscapes of the islands. Not that you can miss it: the non-human inhabitants here (such as sheep and penguins) outnumber the human population by ten to one.
Head to Sea Lion Island to see (naturally) sea lions, killer whales and three species of penguin; walk along the pristine beaches of Pebble Island; get your binoculars out on Carcass Island, a haven for birders; and prepare for the cacophony of Volunteer Point, home to the largest, most accessible king penguin colony in the world.
Who: Journey Latin America
When: tailormade; 8 Nov – best departure date for anniversary celebrations
How long: 12 days
How much: £3,142 (incl flights)
The whole tribe can improve their snapping skills on The Adventure Company’s India Insights – Young Photographer trip. Professional photographer Andrew Newey will set fun tasks, so you and the kids improve your skills while seeing the sights: from fast-paced Delhi to the romantic Taj Mahal to the wilderness of Ranthambore National Park – with luck, you might snap a Bengal tiger.
Who: The Adventure Company
When: 8 Apr 2012
How long: 8 days
How much: £1,359/£1,269 adult/child (incl flights)
It doesn’t get more idyllic than learning to paint with one of India’s best-known watercolourists, Milind Mulick, in the rich Tuscan countryside, while sampling fine Italian cuisine – the prospect of wild boar casserole and homemade tiramisu is enough to get anyone’s creative juices flowing. The Watermill at Posara’s Watercolours With Milind Mulick course is based in a restored 17th-century mill; spend days nurturing your talents, and take excursions into the Tuscan countryside, or to Lucca and Cinque Terre beyond.
Who: The Watermill at Posara
When: 28 Jul 2012
How long: 7 nights
How much: from £1,149 (excl flights)
Size does matter on Tracks Safaris’ Land of Giants Photographic Safari trip to South Africa’s Limpopo Valley: learning how to snap huge birds of prey, herds of towering elephants, prides of big cats and the shade cast from enormous baobab trees will be the order of the day. You’ll have good help: professional photographer Neil Aldridge will be on hand to offer tips and advice, while the small group size (just six people) means you’ll get plenty of personal tuition. You’ll also be joined by carnivore expert Peter Neville – who knows the Limpopo intimately – so you can be sure you’ll be in the right place, near the right animals, for the right shot.
Who: Tracks Safaris
When: 19 Jun, 30 Jun 2012
How long: 6 nights
How much: £2,385 (excl flights); single supplement £375
The Aurora Zone’s Harriniva: Aurora Photography trip is
a must for anyone who has ever seen those ethereal photos of the northern lights and cried a little inside, thinking they’ll never be able match them.
An experienced Lappish photographer will give their top tips, and you’ll dedicate
your time to seeking the best locations to capture this natural phenomena. When you’re not photo-hunting, visit a snow village and whizz across the wilderness on a husky safari.
Who: The Aurora Zone
When: 15 Jan, 19 Feb, 18 Mar, 25 Mar 2012
How long: 4 nights
How much: £1,995 (incl flights)
Aspiring travel journalists and photographers listen up!
Fancy having your words or photos featured on these very pages? Every year Wanderlust leads a group of intrepid writers and photographers On Assignment with the aim of helping them hone their skills and discover how the pros tackle a working trip. Past trips have visited Dubrovnik, Jordan and Marrakech; 2012’s assignment is still being planned, but register your interest now at www.wanderlust-journeys.co.uk!
Who: Wanderlust Journeys
When/How long/How much: tbc
Wanderlust contributor and Rough Guide author David Abram has selected his favourite spots for TransIndus’s Journey Through the Deep South, a trip that visits places in Kerala and Tamil Nadu he thinks so special he’s never put in his books. Guided by David, stay in a spice plantation bungalow (where wild elephant roam outside), visit the opulent Meenakshi temple in Madurai and see a host of secret sights.
When: 9 Mar 2012
How long: 16 nights
How much: £2,245 (incl flights)
Offering a tourist-free insight into this bustling city, Andante’s Walking in Istanbul takes you down the back alleys and seldom-visited north-west quarter streets to let you peek in to the city’s hidden churches and mosques. Tour leader Terry Richardson also guides travellers along the Theodosian Walls, built in the 5th century to protect the city, while keeping a day free to explore the main sites too.
When: 15-21 October 2012
How long: 6 nights
How much: £,1550 (incl flights)
Central Asia is one of travel’s last frontiers – few make it to the region’s sweeping steppes and looming peaks. But those who do are richly rewarded – especially in Kyrgyzstan. This is a land of deep-green gorges, dusty red chasms and the icy-blue shimmer of Issyk-Kul, the second-largest mountain lake in the world. Cox & Kings’ Colours of Kyrgyzstan takes in this vast lake (via a magical boat ride), plus the snow-capped Tien Shan Mountains,
Ala-Archa Gorge and Djety-Oguz’s flaming cliffs, to reveal Kyrgyzstan’s true colours in
all their glory.
Who: Cox & Kings
When: 16 Jun, 7 Jul 2012
How long: 8 nights
How much: from £1,895 (incl flights)
Imagine visiting a place that has been shut off from the world for the past 35 years... Sri Lanka’s Mannar Peninsula was effectively isolated by fighting during the country’s civil war; now the war is over, Mannar is slowly gearing up for visitors again. Accommodation options are limited, so Experience Travel Group’s Mannar Peninsula trip uses local homestays, where you live with Tamil Christians, hear their stories and share their lives, as well as exploring the wider wonders of this regenerating region – including the largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world.
Who: Experience Travel Group
When: 1 Feb 2012
How long: 15 nights
How much: £1,996 (excl flights)
Greenland is home to the world’s biggest and least-visited protected park – just 500 people a year visit North East Greenland National Park. Be one of them on Hurtigruten’s new National Park Expedition cruise. Hike in the wilderness, explore by boat and visit Greenland’s most isolated town, Ittoqqortoormiit. The voyage starts in the glorious Spitsbergen archipelago and ends in Iceland, so you can fully immerse yourself in Arctic life.
When: 6 Sept 2012
How long: 13 nights
How much: from £4,535 (excl flights)
Guyana is perhaps one of South America’s best-kept secrets.
Few tourists come here, but – as the BBC series Lost Land of the Jaguar showed – the place seems to have it all. Intrepid’s Guyana Nature Experience trip mixes the country’s towns, rainforests, waterfalls and beaches in an awesome overview. Start in cool, Caribbean Georgetown, then venture into Iwokrama Rainforest, head out on jaguar safari, marvel at Kaieteur Falls, and visit local villages. End on beautiful Annai Beach for a well-earned rest.
When: 7 Jan 2012 (then monthly departures)
How long: 13 nights
How much: £2,615 (excl flights)
Few travellers ventured to Haiti even before a massive earthquake rocked the nation in 2010; with the country in tatters afterwards, the beleaguered nation was completely off the tourist map. Now, Undiscovered Destinations is venturing there: its Haiti – Caribbean Treasure trip is a fascinating insight into this unusual Caribbean isle. There are no jam-packed resorts. Instead, visit the statuesque Citadelle, a stupendous fort perched atop a mountain; meet local villagers in the picturesque settlements around capital Port-au-Prince; stop off at the old coffee port of Jacmel; and investigate the island’s mysterious voodoo culture.
Who: Undiscovered Destinations
When: 24 Mar 2012, 5 Jan 2013, 7 Dec 2013
How long: 10 days
How much: £1,499 (excl flights)
Rising 4,095m, Mount Cameroon is the highest peak in West Africa, an active volcano ringed with forests and studded with steaming fumaroles. KE Adventure’s new offbeat hiking tour, Trekking the Craters of Cameroon, ascends into this diverse landscape, as well as exploring the ethereal crater lakes of the Manengouba Mountains and the remote Upper Nkam province, to meet the local Bamileke tribe. Throw in golden beaches, tropical forests, dusty savannahs and serious bragging rights, this is the perfect trip for those who want to see eclectic Africa.
Who: KE Adventure Travel
When: 17 Feb, 15 Jun, 13 Jul, 14 Dec 2012
How long: 9 days
How much: £1,095 (excl flights)
Combining minority villages, rice paddies, spectacular natural scenery, well-known sites and some offbeat treasures, Audley Travel’s Yunnan Discovered tailormade itinerary delves deep into rural China. Visit the town of Zhongdian, high on the Tibetan Plateau; dip into stunning Tiger Leaping Gorge; and meet the minority peoples of Dali. Add to the mix a night spent amid the bright lights and bustle of Hong Kong, and a stay at the newly opened Anantara Hotel, close to the Burmese border, and you have a trip that encompasses a whole range of Chinese experiences in one neat package.
Who: Audley Travel
How long: 14 days
How much: from £2,190 (incl flights)
About as pioneering as travel gets, Steppes Discovery’s Forest Elephant and Lowland Gorilla Trekking trip takes you into parts of Africa most travellers can’t place on a map. On this trip to the Congo Basin and Central African Republic, you will venture – on foot and by boat – into dense rainforest to meet remote peoples and the region’s abundant wildlife.
The highlight is undoubtedly the chance of an awesome encounter with lowland gorillas: under the expert guidance of members of the local Ba’Aka tribe and World Wildlife Fund researchers, you might get a unique face-to-face moment with the ‘relatives’.
Who: Steppes Discovery
When: 13 Aug, 3 Sept 2012
How long: 12 days
How much: £3,895 (excl flights)
There’s no shame in disliking camping or the privations of a multi-day walk. To cater for the canvas-averse, World Expeditions has split its Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu Walk trip into seven smaller day-hikes that offer a gentler (but no less spectacular) alternative to doing the Inca Trail. There’s still plenty to see – the walks take in intriguing ruins, colonial architecture and Indian markets, culminating with a ‘mini Inca Trail’, a day’s hike to the Sun Gate, to see Machu Picchu in all its majesty.
Who: World Expeditions
When: 3 May, 14 Jun, 19 Jul, 23 Aug, 20 Sept, 20 Dec 2012
How long: 12 nights
How much: £1,290 (excl flights)
In 2011, TV tramper Julia booted up for the BBC series German Wanderlust. Now you can copy: Walks Worldwide’s Saxony’s Sandstone Mountains self-guided walking trip takes Bradbury’s lead, wending across Germany’s south-east – a rocky land dotted with imposing fortresses and laced by the River Elbe. Hike through riverside villages, pass the Hohenstein Fortress, admire the magnificent Bastei rock formations, explore Saxon Switzerland National Park and rest your feet in the historic city of Dresden.
Who: Walks Worldwide
When: exclusive departures, Apr-Oct 2012
How long: 7 nights
How much: £575 (excl flights)
Lush rainforests, bulging banana plantations and smouldering volcanoes are just some of the landscapes you’ll pass on Discover Adventure’s Trans Central America Cycle trip, which utilises pedal power to traverse three countries.
Starting in Panama, you’ll hop across the Panama Canal then follow the Caribbean coast to wend amid the pineapple groves and rumbling peaks of Costa Rica, and glide by the lakes and colonial gems of Nicaragua, before finishing in capital Managua 11 days later. En route, keep your eyes peeled: Central America is home to 20% of the world’s biodiversity, and nights spent resting your limbs in jungle lodges might provide some very wild encounters indeed...
Who: Discover Adventure
When: 15 Mar, 17 Nov 2012
How long: 10 nights
How much: £399 fee plus £1,440 trip price (incl flights) or £399 fee plus a £3,600 fundraising target
Think of Japan, you probably don’t think diving. Well, think again. Submerged in the cerulean waters off Japan’s far-south sub-tropical islands are a range of underwater wonderlands. And on Dive Worldwide’s Discover Japan trip, divers get a chance to explore them. The highlight is the mysterious site off Yonaguni: the 18m-high stone monuments and rock formations here – circled by manta rays and hammerheads – are thought by some to be the remains of an ancient civilisation.
Who: Dive Worldwide
When: year round
How long: 12 nights
How much: from £3,995 (incl flights)
The Cycle Southern Iceland trip from Exodus combines the appeal of slow travel on two wheels with the otherworldly landscapes of this near-Arctic isle. Biking here is a dream: Iceland is sparsely populated and traffic levels are low – leaving you safe and free to enjoy the scenery. Bike by the menacing and troublesome Eyjafjallajökull volcano, take in the gushing waterfall of Skógafoss and Solheimajökull glacier, and marvel at dramatic peaks, rolling farmland and wild Atlantic coasts to get the complete Icelandic picture.
When: 23 Jun, 7 Jul, 11 Aug 2012
How long: 8 days
How much: from £1,999 (incl flights)
Trek a 1,000-year-old route amid the towering mountains, lush valleys and ancient towns of Yunnan province. Wild Frontiers’ Wild Walk in Old China trip follows an ancient path – a long way from the tourist trail – that once linked the country with India, via Tibet and Burma. En route, there’s the chance to meet the Naxi people, follow in the footsteps of Buddhist mystics and the army of Kublai Khan, and marvel at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain – one of China’s best views.
Who: Wild Frontiers
When: 6 Apr 2012
How long: 16 days
How much: £2,995 (excl flights)
2013 marks the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of Everest. Exodus’ epic Everest North Col Expedition is a unique, if tough, chance to follow in these mighty footsteps. Starting from the Tibetan monastery at Rongbuk, you’ll hike to Everest North Base Camp, then take the Mallory Highway – amid teetering pinnacles of ice – up to 6,400m. Pause here to acclimatise before making your final ascent – a fixed-rope climb to the North Col of Everest, at a mighty 7,066m. Simply breathtaking.
When: 20 Apr 2013
How long: 26 days
How much: £6,599 (incl flights)
The Way, the movie about a bereaved father undertaking Spain’s Camino de Santiago, brought pilgrimage to the big screen. But
the Camino can be crowded – so try a different holy hike. The Via Francigena, a medieval route ultimately running from Canterbury to Rome, is a lesser-known alternative to the Camino; on Headwater’s Via Francigena trip you can follow the last stages of this ancient path, walking from Orvieto to the Italian capital via a clutch of Italy’s most scenic hilltop towns. Magnificent views are the norm, and every night a characterful hotel awaits.
When: various dates between Apr and Oct
How long: 8 nights
How much: from £1,349 (incl flights)
Travelling the leafy backwaters on a graceful rice barge is a great way to witness the day-to-day life of Kerala’s traditional communities. Now, Village Ways’ South from Cochin trip lets you get even more involved: rather than just drifting by, you’ll stop at villages, meet the fishermen and farmers, chat to the local women and, each night, be served a mouth-watering meal on your exclusive floating home. Not only is it an eye-opening voyage, but you’re bringing vital economic support to some of Kerala’s least-visited areas.
Who: Village Ways
When: Nov 2011-May 2012
How long: 7 nights
How much: from £632 (excl flights)
Mausoleums, gardens and pagodas are the order of the day on TransIndus’s Shanghai & the Garden Cities trip, which crams in both traditional and contemporary culture. After leaving vibrant Shanghai, you’ll move on to the glorious gardens at Suzhou and Hangzhou (the latter was recently added to Unesco’s World Heritage stable). Next, relax in a traditional teahouse at the lush Longjing Plantations before arriving in lovely Nanjing to visit the tomb of the founder of the Ming Dynasty – yet another Unesco-listed treasure.
How long: 12 days
How much: £1,998 (incl flights)
Ancient traditions meet even older landscapes in offbeat Oaxaca. Travel The Unknown’s Zapotecan Village Trek visits the Sierra Norte Mountains, home to the indigenous Zapotec people; as you hike though the forest-cloaked valleys, hear their stories and gain an insight into their world. Even better, money from the trip is fed back to the indigenous peoples to help preserve their way of life and their biodiverse land, which, at 20 million years, is one of the oldest eco-systems on earth.
Who: Travel the Unknown
When: 11 Feb 2012
How long: 8 days
How much: £995 (excl flights)
Pack a whole lot of culture into one neat package: Wendy Wu’s Indochina Delights trip covers plenty of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam’s most awe-inspiring sites in a manageable 18 days – perfect for travellers short on time. Start in the bustling streets of Saigon, then head up to Hoi An’s Unesco-listed old town – an ideal place to soak up the sites and relax. Next, hop over the border to Laos, to explore caves and waterfalls, meet orange-robed monks and witness a traditional ‘Takbat’ ceremony in Luang Prabang.
A cruise along the Mekong River is a great way to absorb bankside life, before heading over to Cambodia. Here, the awe-inspiring temples of Angkor – some atmospherically encroached by jungle, some reflected in tranquil ponds – provide the ultimate finale.
Who: Wendy Wu Tours
When: 14 Apr, 5 May, 18 Aug, 15 Sept, 13 Oct
How long: 18 days
How much: £2,990 (incl flights)
The lucky six travellers on ATI Holidays’ Hayden Turner Namibia trip will be in safe hands. The adventure will be guided by Hayden Turner, a former senior zookeeper turned National Geographic TV show presenter who knows his stuff when it comes to Namibia’s culture and wildlife. Spend time with cheetahs and leopards at the AfriCat Foundation before heading out to the remote fringes of the Kalahari to spend time with the San Bushman. The San still use many traditional hunter-gatherer methods, and time here offers a glimpse into an almost forgotten way of life. Finish with a visit to Namibia’s barren and beautiful Skeleton Coast.
Who: ATI Holidays
When: 3 Mar 2012
How long: 14 nights
How much: ZAR 47,999 (approx £3,800, excl flights)
Get a real taste of the mouthwatering subcontinent on Trip Feast’s Delicacies of North India journey. Travelling through Dharamsala, Delhi, Amritsar and Jaipur, you’ll shop for goodies in the bustling bazaars, learn to cook regional specialities with experienced chefs, and sit down to eat with local families. There’s fun outside the kitchen, too: marvel at Amritsar’s Golden Temple, take an elephant-back ride and just enjoy gazing at the world’s highest mountains.
Who: Trip Feast
When: 4 Feb, 10 Nov 2012
How long: 15 days
How much: £1,995 (excl flights)
Rainbow Tours’ epic Ecuador Explorer trip has mainland Ecuador covered, from Andean train rides to Amazon wildlife, rumbling peaks and indigenous communities. Start in historic Quito, before flying to the Napo Wildlife Centre, to make forays on foot and by canoe into the chirping, buzzing Amazon.
Next, pick up some handicrafts at Otavalo’s lively market, then head south down the looming Avenue of the Volcanoes (a ride on the hair-raising Devil’s Nose train is a must). Colonial Cuenca and the bustling port of Guayaquil complete the picture. Who needs the Galápagos?
Who: Rainbow Tours
How long: 12 nights
How much: from £3,150 (incl flights)