From a horseback safari in Kenya to river rafting in West Virginia, here’s our ranked list of the top travel experiences right now.
This page is a portal. No, really, it is: Our annual Best of the World feature is a gateway to the streets of Paris, the snowy Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, the ancient rock art of Algeria. To help us engage with places more deeply and meaningfully, we drew on National Geographic’s global community of experts to create the following ranked list of 20 great adventures for 2024. Read on and you’ll discover that this page is also a celebration—of travel’s power to transform us and our connections with one another.
#1: Go on horseback safari in Kenya
A safari in Africa usually conjures an image of mud-spattered 4×4 vehicles bouncing through the bush. But there’s another way to travel: on horseback.
Although horse safaris originated in Kenya in the 1970s, they’re a perfect fit for today’s growing number of travelers looking for more engaging, sustainable wildlife encounters. At the 32,000-acre Borana Conservancy, two stables house thoroughbreds and ex-polo ponies for riders of all skill levels. Visitors can book half-day, full-day, or overnight rides. July through September is the prime time to go.
Photographer Nichole Sobecki goes on a horseback safari in Kenya’s Borana Conservancy. “Your horse is a translator,” she says. “Immersed in the wild, your calm, joy, surprise, and fear flow together.”
Since wildlife perceive equines as just another animal, exploring the landscape atop a horse makes for an intimate experience. “To journey on horseback is to break down the walls—meant to protect but also to separate—between oneself and the natural world,” says Nichole Sobecki, a photographer and equestrian who’s ridden in Borana. “Your horse is a translator, responding to the low growl of the lion, the soft scent of a herd of elephants.” A horse’s ears are an advance warning system, she says, helping knowledgeable guides navigate routes.
#2: Run an Olympic marathon in Paris
For the first time, members of the public will be able to run their own marathon during the 2024 Summer Olympics, in Paris, France, just one initiative aimed at creating a more inclusive Games.
Slated to be held the evening of August 10, between the men’s and women’s official races, the Marathon for All will allow 20,024 qualifying lottery winners on the 26.2-mile route that links Paris and Versailles, a loop beginning at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and passing through nine arrondissements before finishing at Les Invalides on the banks of the Seine. Before or after the big event, learn the route to follow in their tracks.
#3: Ski tour UNESCO sites in Georgia
A skier descends a peak above Ushguli, a UNESCO-listed community of villages nestled in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia.
Long a means of transportation, exploration, and hunting, skiing is still a way of life in the mountainous republic of Georgia. Now visitors can enjoy some of the nation’s best backcountry skiing in the Caucasus with the help of outfitters such as Svaneti Ski and Georgia Ski Touring. In Svaneti, excursions may lead skiers through panoramic Gvibari Pass or to medieval Ushguli villages, among the highest continuously inhabited in Europe. The best times to experience this are December to April.
#4: Bear watch in Katmai National Park
Alaska’s Katmai National Park is home to one of the highest concentrations of brown bears in the world. Far from the crowded viewing platforms of the Brooks Camp Visitor Center, a guided trip along the Katmai coast with outfitters like AK Adventures reveals a different side of the park.
Here, the bears feast on a diversity of foods: sedges, grasses, razor clams, salmon. “For me, seeing a single brown bear in the wild is meaningful because it is a sign that the landscape is healthy enough to support it,” says Alaska photographer Acacia Johnson, a frequent National Geographic contributor.
#5: Hear legendary live music in Kyoto
Guidebooks speak of Kyoto as frozen in time, with hushed temples and meditative gardens. But after hours, Japan’s former imperial capital reveals a live music scene that can be loud and irreverent. At venues like Jittoku and Field, rock, swing, and even Irish music echo into the night. Whatever you’re into, from jazz to punk, there’s a community to share your jam. “This is what happens in Japan when the mask comes off,” says Kyoto guide Van Milton.
#6: Cruise an epic river in Colombia
About 80 percent of Colombia’s population lives in the river basin of the Magdalena, which flows for nearly a thousand miles from the Andes to the Caribbean. AmaWaterways’ new cruises on the river—said to be the first by a major cruise operator—take seven-night trips from Cartagena via Mompós to Barranquilla. Stops at colonial towns, performances of vallenato and cumbia music, and visits to a stilt-house village highlight the region’s culture along this mighty waterway.
#7: Road trip Route 66 in New Mexico
For nearly a century, Route 66 has beckoned to travelers. A trip along the Mother Road through New Mexico hits timeless landmarks, such as quirky motels and curio shops in and around Tucumcari and symbolic etchings in Petroglyph National Monument. In Gallup—mentioned as one of the places to “get your kicks” in Nat King Cole’s 1946 hit song “Route 66”—you can take in performances featuring Zuni, Lakota, and Diné (Navajo) dancers.
Some 18 miles of the highway traverse Albuquerque, the longest urban interlude of the route in the United States. And it’s getting a half-million-dollar glow-up with the ongoing restoration of vintage neon signs along Central Avenue.
While cruising down the brightened strip, stop at the new West Central Route 66 Visitor Center, with its museum and outdoor amphitheater. The center will host events like lowrider car shows, drive-in movies, and artisan markets.
#8: Explore ancient art in Algeria
Algeria is home to Africa’s largest national park, which holds one of the world’s greatest concentrations of ancient rock art. Tassili n’Ajjer National Park is a geologic wonderland of sandstone towers, arches, and sculpted outcrops. But these rock forests are only half the story.
Neolithic herders and hunter-gatherers carved 15,000 petroglyphs here, including images of elephants, giraffes, and rhinos. These animals are more commonly associated with sub-Saharan Africa—a hint that this arid wilderness was once a grassland crisscrossed by waterways. Five- to seven-day guided tours with Fancy Yellow take in the most spectacular works of Tassili’s art, like the “Crying Cows,” engraved at the base of a stone pinnacle 7,000 years ago.
Travelers with more time might want to combine a trip to Tassili with a visit to the Algerian Sahara’s other great geologic marvel: the extraordinary mountain range of Ahaggar National Park.
#9: Dive with sharks in Western Australia
tretching almost 700 miles along the Indian Ocean north of Perth, Western Australia’s Coral Coast is studded with natural wonders. But Ningaloo Reef is the star. Here, you can dive with giants: Some 300 to 500 whale sharks, one of the largest congregations on Earth, gather along the reef each year between March and July. Ethical outfitters ensure divers give the sharks space and avoid feeding them or using flash photography.
Even more megafauna abound from July to October, when about 40,000 humpback whales migrate along the Coral Coast. You can also commune with more than 10,000 dugongs in Shark Bay or swim with manta rays at Coral Bay.
#10: Hike a volcano in Panama
La India Dormida hike is one of the most popular trails around Panama’s extinct El Valle de Antón volcano.
A sustainability leader, Panama recently launched its “1,000 Kilometers of Trails” project, which seeks to bring outdoor recreation and green tourism to rural communities and protected areas.
First out of the gate is the Ruta de la Caldera, a system of five trails around the extinct Valle de Antón volcano. The treks take in waterfall-speckled landscapes, according to photographer Rose Marie Cromwell, who hiked sections of the Ruta de la Caldera over five days.
“There were some spectacular views on top of the volcanic crater—interesting land formations covered in so much green,” she says.
#11: Catch the eclipse at Niagara Falls
Directly in the path of totality, Niagara Falls will offer views of a total solar eclipse, which won’t occur again in the contiguous U.S. until 2044. For about three and a half minutes, beginning at approximately 3:18 p.m. on April 8, the sky will darken over the thunderous cataract as the moon crosses between Earth and the sun.
On the U.S. side of the falls, Terrapin Point, Prospect Point, and the Observation Tower will be prime viewing areas (if clouds stay away). From the Canadian side, an excellent vantage point is Table Rock. A side bonus: The sunny-day rainbow that hovers above the falls will become pink.
#12: Trek a glacier in Chile
Chile has the third largest continental ice extension, after only Antarctica and Greenland. Sustainable tourism outfitters can guide visitors on hikes to glaciers, such as Exploradores, in Laguna San Rafael National Park.
In Patagonian Chile’s Laguna San Rafael National Park, visitors can trek atop the Exploradores Glacier, taking in a panorama of pale blue ice massifs and glacial waterways. Some 17,300 glaciers still cover Patagonia’s ice fields, but rising temperatures are rapidly melting them. Climate scientists say sustainable tourism, such as hikes with outfitters like Turismo Valle Leones, supports local communities and inspires travelers to learn more about how to protect glaciers.
#13: Step back in time on Menorca
Spain’s Balearic Islands are best known for the jet-set beach destinations of Ibiza and Mallorca. But quiet, less developed Menorca has a unique mother lode: The archipelago’s greatest repository of ancient architecture.
In an area of just 270 square miles, Menorca has a total of 1,574 inventoried archaeological sites, ranging from the foundation blocks of small dwellings to well-preserved village centers that existed long before the Roman Empire. Most striking are the navetas, megalithic tombs dating back to 1600 B.C.; talayots, watchtowers built from mortarless blocks of limestone; andtaulas,shrines exclusive to Menorca that evoke Stonehenge pillars. These remnants of the Talayotic Menorcan culture, the first civilization to inhabit the island, have now been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The open-air monuments are easy to visit; the island’s Me-1 road passes by some of the best-preserved sites, including the settlements of Talatí de Dalt, Naveta des Tudons, and Taula de Torretrencada.
Reenter the 21st century at the new Hauser & Wirth gallery in the picturesque town of Mahón. Housed in repurposed 18th-century hospital buildings, the cultural venue presents contemporary art exhibits and has an outdoor sculpture trail with works by Louise Bourgeois and Joan Miró.
#14: Ride classic rails in Scotland
Exploring Scotland’s wild, scenic Highlands doesn’t have to mean roughing it. The Royal Scotsman train glides among the moody lochs and dramatic peaks in style. New suites debuting in May 2024 sport interiors that reflect the compelling landscapes through dark woods, wool tweeds, and richly patterned bespoke tartans crafted by Scottish brand Araminta Campbell. After a day spent hiking to waterfalls or playing rounds of golf (a sport inextricably tied to the nation), guests can wind down with a massage at the onboard spa.
Departing Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, the two- to seven-night rail journeys cross the heart of the Highlands, from Perthshire to Inverness to the rugged west coast. During stops guests can tour castles, stargaze in Cairngorms National Park, sample whisky at revered distilleries, and even take a dip in a loch.
#15: Find authentic flavor in Thailand
The Isaan region in northeastern Thailand is known for its distinctive cuisine that reflects influences from bordering Laos and Cambodia. “Isaan is a hidden gem of Thailand,” says Weerawat “Num” Triyasenawat, the chef at Samuay & Sons, a Michelin Guide-recommended restaurant in the Isaan city of Udon Thani.
One key ingredient of the region’s delicious food is pla ra, a fermented-fish seasoning that boosts umami flavor. Local dishes include laab (minced meat salad), traditionally served during celebrations.
#16: Wander tea trails in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is virtually synonymous with tea. The island nation is one of the world’s top producers of tea leaves. British colonists introduced the first bushes about 200 years ago. Now visitors can trace the footsteps of historic planters on the new, nearly 200-mile Pekoe Trail, the country’s first long-distance walking route.
Starting just outside Kandy, the trail follows the 19th-century tracks upon which workers and horse-drawn carts transported freshly plucked leaves. Hikers pass through hill towns and tea estates and can stop to take a cooking class or savor a cup of aromatic Ceylon tea.
#17: Gallery hop in São Paulo
São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, is an art lover’s paradise, home to numerous galleries, exhibitions, and street murals. The crowning jewel is the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), which is expanding to showcase more of its 11,000-plus artworks, from pre-Renaissance paintings to contemporary sculptures. Departing from the usual model of exhibiting works on walls, MASP hangs some pieces against clear panels, allowing visitors to view the art from all angles.
#18: Raft the rapids in West Virginia
Despite its name, West Virginia’s New River is actually one of the oldest on Earth, perhaps as old as 360 million years. The river falls 750 feet in only 50 miles between sandstone cliffs. It eventually merges with the Gauley River.Outfitters such as ACE Adventure Resort can arrange whitewater rafting trips here on Class III to V rapids through the longest and deepest river gorge in the Appalachians.
#19: Go antiquing in Hudson Valley
The bucolic Hudson Valley is booming, thanks to an influx of New York City residents during the pandemic. But it’s long been a mecca for creatives: Its landscapes inspired America’s first artistic fraternity, the Hudson River School. Antique collectors will be drawn to the hundreds of stores, boutiques, craft shops, and flea markets that sell everything from colonial furniture and rare books to mid-century modern decor. For vintage finds, head to the Antique Warehouse in Hudson, Sister Salvage in Catskill, and Opera House Co. in Athens.
“There’s a common denominator here—the charming historic villages,” says Sarah Gray Miller, owner of Coxsackie antique store UnQuiet. From Stuyvesant to Saugerties, these towns “share a strong commitment to preservation.”
#20: Sleep on the water in British Columbia
The newly reopened Tofino Wilderness Resort, owned by the Ahousaht First Nation, is an idyllic base from which to explore the western coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. In the heart of Clayoquot Sound, the luxury floating lodge was renovated with lumber cut from timber which fell on-site. Through guided whale-watching trips or visits to the Freedom Cove artists’ sanctuary, the Ahousaht share with guests their philosophy, hishuk ish tsawalk (“everything is one”), celebrating the interconnectedness of people and nature in a land they’ve occupied for thousands of years.