Explorers looking to stray from the usual sightseeing routes or tropical destinations and go off the beaten path are in luck as high-end travel companies begin to offer more journeys that embrace wildlife and nature.
Enjoying 24 hours of daylight on a cruise through icy waters, standup paddle boarding in the vicinity of pink dolphins and trekking through a national park to appreciate the sight of tigers and elephants are just a few of the many exceptional offerings from luxury travel companies.
“Travelers are now more than ever looking for extraordinary moments filled with authenticity and personal value,” says Sarah Casewit, co-founder of curated experiential travel company Naya Traveler. “It’s no longer enough to check off the must-see list, or come home with a suitcase full of souvenirs. They’re seeking personalized experiences that go beyond the tourist sightseeing route, in favor of opportunities to engage with locals and their traditions.”
When it comes to the exact locations that allow for unique, nature-driven travel, destinations all over the globe have a lot to offer, but Casewit notes that a few particular locations are of high interest lately. “These destinations attract a similar traveler profile due to the adventurous nature of the experiences, complete with adrenaline-filled activities,” Casewit says, noting that clients usually look for rustic chic lodges and a high-end glamping experience that infuses unique cultural elements including music, art or cuisine to complement the journey.
According to luxury travel company Natural World Safaris, one such location is Norway — experience life under the midnight sun with 24 hours of daylight while cruising the icy waters of the Svalbard Archipelago. “Great for those seeking a niche experience with an interest in wildlife, polar regions and conservation efforts,” is NWS’ Polar Bear Explorer trip, starting at $9,305 for 11 days.
Set sail north from Longyearbyen aboard some of the smallest expedition ships to cruise these waters with just 12 passengers for a uniquely intimate voyage. “This small ship expedition isn’t possible to book yourself, plus NWS offers the expertise of specialist leaders including National Geographic photographers,” says Will Bolsover, NWS founder and managing director.
The Polar Bear Explorer journey includes walking and sailing through incredible landscapes, fjords and waterfalls, and searching for colonies of walrus, polar bears and other marine mammals. The small ships are perfect for exploring the icy waters, creating the opportunity to have unrivalled up-close encounters with Arctic wildlife.
For a warmer destination, adventurous families looking for a multi-activity break can venture to Costa Rica for NWS’ 10-day, tailor-made trip, starting at $3,520. The excursion can include activities such as whale-watching, observing turtle nesting on the beaches, learning more about the species found in Costa Rica at butterfly, frog and iguana farms and exploring tropical Tortuguero, home to tapirs, jaguars, monkeys, sloths and more.
The safari is full of adventure, with jungle walks, horseback riding and canoeing, as well as the chance to witness four species of primate in Manuel Antonio National Park. If Bolsover had to pick just one experience that every client or visitor must take advantage of in Costa Rica, he says: “It has to be zip lining through the jungle canopy.”
Marine wildlife and tropical birds abound in Peru, where Naya Traveler offers a three-night journey in Puerto Maldonado combined with three nights aboard River Cruise in Iquitos starting at $900 per person per day. The country has three distinct regions, one of which is the virgin rainforest, which covers about 60 percent of the country and is rich in a biodiversity that is native to the Amazon. Journeying from Iquitos, travelers can explore the rainforest from the river on an intimate cruise, or stay in a missionary-style hacienda on the banks of the river in Madre de Dios.
“Visitors can cruise along the Amazon River and witness the meeting of the waters, standup paddle with pink dolphins surrounding them, and fish for piranhas at night,” says Casewit. She recommends taking a “night safari” through the Amazon rainforest, where travelers can see the animals that come out at night.
Across the South Atlantic Ocean in South India, Naya Traveler’s six-night journey consists of trips to Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Coorg, starting at $600 per person per day. This journey can be curated to include trekking alongside a tribal villager through Periyar National Park, a wildlife sanctuary that is home to some of India’s most majestic creatures including tigers and elephants, riding a skiff through the backwaters of Kerala to see locals living in equilibrium with nature, or spending the night on a traditional houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala.
Cultural diversity and a rich heritage abound all throughout South India, including Kerala, where language, music, art, cuisine and architecture can vary from one state to the next. The region also boasts a varied topography, with rolling hills, winding backwaters and tropical valleys to explore during the trip.
The land throughout the Southernmost continent in the world is barely touched by humans, offering breathtaking scenery and wildlife. Travelers can ride among whales, pinnipeds, albatross and penguins, and take a flight over the Geographical South Pole on a journey through Antarctica with Naya Traveler’s ‘The White Desert by Cruise’ trip.
“Cruise through Drake Passage with Antarctica on the horizon, take a dinghy to walk on Earth’s White Continent, witnessing Emperor Penguins breeding,” Casewit says of the trip, consisting of 10 nights starting at $1,300 per person per day. The excursion can also be altered to travel from South Africa to Antarctica by private jet and stay in luxury pods for eight nights, starting at $80,000 per person.
If you’re looking to explore more than a single continent in one sweeping trip, Natural World Safaris’ 18-day multi-destination experience, starting at $37,391, takes travelers on a journey from the red African deserts to Antarctica’s white landscapes. This safari expedition includes activities such as quad biking across the deserts of the Makgadikgadi Pans, a hot air balloon flight over the sand dunes of Sossuvlei, and discovering the desert-adapted wildlife of the Kalahari.
Each day offers a unique experience, such as flying in by jet to land on an ice-runway in Antarctica, where you can spot penguins and trek on the tundra. Bolsover says, “This is a finely-tuned safari which is coordinated to maximize on time and uses the expertise of the team to ensure the best experiences in each destination.”
No matter what destination your wildlife-oriented journey brings you to, Casewit recommends taking advantage of a travel company to enrich the experience, noting “These trips are designed to provide a unique space for clients to discover a destination through the eyes and knowledge of those who know it best.”
White Desert itineraries are designed as a “choose-your-own-adventure” experience. Each day, field guides suggest excursions and activities for guests to choose from — whether relaxing, such as a gentle trek to view ice wave formations, or challenging, such as technical rock climbing. All photos courtesy White Desert.
For those wanting to explore Antarctica — and not just from a cruise ship — there is a way to do it without giving up creature comforts.
By Sarah Binder
Adventure and luxury do not always go hand in hand. In the farthest reaches of the Earth, you might expect to find only one or the other. However, a few times a year, a dozen in-the-know travelers find both — in the interior of Antarctica.
Founded and led by CEO Patrick Woodhead, who helmed the first ever east-to-west traverse of Antarctica in a total of 75 days, White Desert is the first and only luxury camp in the interior of Antarctica. While most travelers to the seventh continent arrive, eat, sleep, and depart on a cruise ship, White Desert flies its guests to a fully functional, eco-friendly luxury camp in the virtually untouched interior, where they experience awe-inspiring and adrenaline-pumping activities.
The idea for White Desert came to Woodhead organically, as he and three teammates waited out a multi-day storm in a small tent during a traverse of the continent. Realizing that travelers may be interested in the “real” Antarctica, Woodhead and his teammates envisioned an old world-style camp that would provide a high level of comfort to intimate groups.
Whichaway camp, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a complete overhaul, boasts six heated fiberglass sleeping pods that house two people each.
Whichaway Camp celebrated its 10th anniversary this year with a compete makeover, including in the old-world, Game of Thrones-style dining room, where guests savor homemade three-course meals.
“There are only 12 guests at one time, and there is a member of staff per client,” explains Richard Godden, White Desert’s client and media relations manager.
“The camp recently has been refurbished with luxury fabric headboards, Saarinen chairs, fur throws, and extended en suite bathrooms stocked with sustainable toiletries, created by our friend and fellow polar explorer David de Rothschild’s Lost Explorer brand,” says Godden. “It might be surprising to guests to have solar-powered hot water!”
In the cozy communal dining room, guests refuel by savoring three-course meals every night, prepared with ingredients from Cape Town by Chef Justine Lindsay, who studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, South Africa. A library and lounge offer the opportunity to recharge electronic devices and relax with a book after a physically demanding ice climb.
“People often have a fascination and curiosity about Antarctica from their school days. It is such a wondrous ‘white desert’ landscape that is in total contrast to what we are familiar with,” explains Marcel Knobil, founder of VeryFirstTo, a website that enables its members to be the first to learn of and indulge in newly launching luxury products and experiences.
“While Antarctica traditionally has been associated with harsh conditions and uncomfortable travel, White Desert’s Emperors & South Pole oozes with indulgent comforts and smooth, luxurious travel,” he says. VeryFirstTo, which also creates its own bespoke travel experiences, connects its interested members to White Desert, as well as offers advice on how to maximize enjoyment of their experience.
White Desert’s expeditions begin in Cape Town, South Africa, arriving at Whichaway Camp via a five-and-a-half-hour direct flight. The Emperors & South Pole itinerary lasts eight nights, at 64,000 euros, all-inclusive, per person. This year, White Desert was offering four of the excursions, all during November and December, the brief window of time suitable for travel to Antarctica’s interior. As of October, two of the four journeys were sold out.
“Clients staying at our camp are the only people who can visit the 6,000-strong emperor penguin colony and their young chicks at Atka Bay, ” explains Godden.
Viewing remote wildlife is just the tip of the iceberg. Each day, clients can select from a number of excursions and activities guided by genuine polar explorers, from exploring iridescent blue ice caves and tunnels to ice and rock climbing, kite-skiing, traversing lakes, and more. The most ambitious guests can take a trip to the South Pole, which entails a six-hour flight from camp, including a fuel stop, in order to reach the lowest place on Earth. There they are treated to a tour of the Amundsen-Scott America research station.
White Desert’s itineraries have sold out for the past five seasons, says Godden, and the company has guided hundreds of travelers, including household names Prince Harry and Bear Grylls, to Antarctica’s interior. The team ensures all of its clients are well-equipped, assisting with last-minute preparations in Cape Town.
“We provide each client with a recommended kit list for their journey; they can either bring existing gear or order our recommendations via our clothing supplier in Cape Town,” says Godden. The team also meets clients and hosts a safety briefing the day before departure.
White Desert not only is cognizant of its guests’ comfort and safety; it also goes to great lengths to protect the continent itself. Going beyond the environmental tourism guidelines outlined in the Antarctic Treaty, White Desert operates under a self-imposed zero-impact policy.
“All human waste is transported out on regular flights and disposed of responsibly in South Africa. A significant portion of the camps is powered by renewable energy, using photovoltaic solar panels for electrical supply and solar water heaters for the shower system,” Godden says. “In addition, White Desert is an accredited CarbonNeutral® company. We offset all emissions through a portfolio of carbon projects for our flights to Antarctica and the associated logisitics once there.”
Providing a high-end experience that leaves a sensistive wilderness intact is no small feat. “The main challenge for providing a luxurious experience and also with the completion of the renovation was the coordination of logistics — to get all of the items to the flight and then bring them in specialized vehicles to the camp,” Godden explains. “The cost per kilogram for cargo is around 14 euros, which means that is very expensive to make it all happen.”
With just six brand-new state-of-the-art sleeping pods at Whichaway Camp, each White Desert adventure is comprised of a small group of 12 travelers. At 20-plus feet in diameter, the sleeping pods also offer a private wash area and toilet.