Top 28: exploration and adventure destinations

We just announced our picks for the most intriguing destinations for the upcoming year in travel. The list—which we’ve divided into 4 segments—includes something for every travel style. From urban destinations to cultural and foodie hotspots, and from destinations ripe for exploration and adventure to others that are probably new on your radar. You’ll find the complete list here.

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First, we focused on seven thriving urban destinations then to seven destinations for cultural and foodie experiences. Now we’re looking at destinations for exploration and adventure. We’ve chosen Tanzania, Congo, Hokkaido-Sapporo, Reykjavik, San Pedro de Atacama, Xi’an, and Uluru. See why these fascinating destinations made the list.


Nowhere in the world does the circle of life play out quite the way it does in Tanzania. On the Serengeti, millions of wildebeest and zebras roam the expansive plains in the great migration—crossing the Mara River in the Northern Serengeti despite the dangers that await. Gazelles, impalas, Tope antelope, leopards, cheetah, warthogs, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, and lions: They’re all here along with countless species of birds including the ever-watchful vultures.

On any safari you’ll bear witness to new life as baby giraffes find their balance on wobbly newborn legs and the smallest elephants stay close to Mom waiting for nourishment. And you’ll also bear witness to the end of life as a cheetah stalks its prey and wins in a cloud of dust.

The Ngorongoro Crater is simply stunning, a massive cauldron formed from the violent eruption of a volcano three million years ago. It’s home to more than 25,000 large animals including black rhinoceros, lions, elephants, buffalo, hippos, and giraffes. The Sopa Lodge sits on the crater’s rim offering spectacular views and unforgettable sunsets. Be sure to keep the door to your room closed or the resident monkeys will be rummaging through your suitcase when you get back.


In the Republic of Congo, the world’s second largest rainforest is still thriving. At its heart, the Odzala National Park occupies 5,000 square miles for exploration and discovery. Rare flora and fauna, more than 400 species of birds, and 22,000 lowland gorillas reside here amid giant mahogany trees.

With the recent addition of weekly private charter flights from the capital city of Brazzaville, you’re just two hours away from unforgettable encounters. Each region within the park offers varied experiences. Get in touch with your inner Tarzan as you track elephants, wade across the savanna, or set out on foot to track gorillas. Odzala Discover Camps tailor your experiences to the offerings of each region. You might find yourself face-to-face with a gorilla—well, within 20 feet. That’s probably close enough.

Hokkaido-Sapporo, Japan

Every February the capital of the mountainous Japanese island of Hokkaido transforms into a winter wonderland for the Sapporo Snow Festival. Hundreds of enormous snow sculptures depicting monuments, cartoon characters, celebrities, and temples are on display to the delight of more than two million visitors. What started in 1950 as an activity for schoolchildren’s has grown substantially since Sapporo hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics. It now includes concerts, art exhibitions, food stalls, ice skating, snow tubing, and snowmobiling. Remnants of the Olympic games are still there with ski hills and jumps scattered around the city.  And, if the thought of being with two million others brings on a little phobia, then visit a few weeks before when you can watch the sculptures being created.

In the late 1860s, beer was introduced to Japan from Germany at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration. German-trained Japanese brewer, Seibei Nakagawa, first brewed Sapporo Beer in 1876. A shopping complex now stands on the original brewery site, but nearby, the Sapporo Beer Museum offers free guided tours covering the history and brewing of beer in Hokkaido. The museum has an adjoining beer garden where you can quench your thirst after the tour.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland’s capital has long been a jumping off place for exploring the dramatic landscapes of this spectacularly beautiful country. But don’t just land and leave. Reykjavik is known for its high-quality restaurants serving local as well as international dishes. The finest restaurants in the Nordics are listed in the White Guide and Reykjavik has 14 on the list. Head downtown to check out DILL, Iceland’s first restaurant to be awarded a Michelin Star.

Reykjavik is also home to a lively bar scene with many bars serving up a theme along with the drinks. There are those that are Euro-themed — Danish pubs, English pubs, Dubliners—and there are hipster kitschy throwback cafes.

Just outside the city, the famed Blue Lagoon is expanding. The project includes a redesign and enlargement of the main lagoon. A retreat encompassing an underground spa, 62 elegant guest suites and a restaurant will also be part of the expansion. Completion date is scheduled for the first half of 2018.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Set on a high plateau in the Andes Mountains of northeastern Chile, San Pedro de Atacama beckons adventure seekers. Diversity is the theme running throughout the dramatic surrounding landscapes that includes desert, salt flats, volcanoes, geysers, turquoise lagoons, green riverbeds and hot springs. Added in the mix is the Valle de la Luna in the nearby Los Flamencos National Reserve where you’ll find pink-streaked mountains, massive sand dunes and a lunarlike depression with unusual rock formations.

Explore on foot, horseback or bike with one of the more than 40 exploration outfitters. And at night, the stars are the focus for spectacular astronomical sessions.

Xi’an, China

Located in central-northwest China, Xi’an is one of the birthplaces of the ancient Chinese civilization in the Yellow River Basin area. With more than 3,000 years of history including 1,100 as the capital city of ancient dynasties, it has a rich cultural heritage that begs for discovery.

Walk or bicycle through history along the city’s imposing old walls. Built in 1370, the fortification is one of the oldest and best preserved in China and is surrounded by a dry moat. Xi’an’s premier sight, the Terracotta Army is one of the most famous archaeological finds in the world. This subterranean life-sized army of thousands of hand-molded figures stands guard over the burial site of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.

Xi’an is the eastern terminus of the famed Silk Road and a melting pot of cultures. In the Muslim Quarter you’ll find a seemingly unending line of food stalls. One of the most famous dishes of Xi’an is the Roujiamo — marinated beef or lamb stuffed inside a freshly baked bun. The city is also known for its cold noodles and you’ll find dozens of noodle stalls in the area. And there are soups with all types of meat—even soups with sheep’s blood for adventurous eaters.

Uluru, Australia

Put Uluru at the top of your 2018 travel list to catch the Field of Light at Ayers Rock before the lights go out. British artist, Bruce Munro flew in 50,000 solar-powered bulbs from his studio in Wiltshire, England, and planted them over an area equivalent to the size of seven football fields. As night falls, the lights transform into a sparkling meadow of purple, orange, red, blue and yellow. The display will disappear after March 2018, but the ancient site will remain a place for exploration.

Take in the magical views of this UNESCO Heritage site from the deck of the Dune Pavilion—the newest suite at the luxe Longitude 131 lodge. You’ll want to take a break from your adventures and explorations long enough to experience the lodge’s new spa treatments focused on Anangu traditions.

This article first appeared on Travel Squire. 


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