Profiling inspiring places, communities and experiences around the world, the new list of “Best of the World 2022” travel destinations from National Geographic celebrates the new, the different and the influential as the pandemic transforms how travelers see the world and what they value most.
For its 2022 list, National Geographic’s editorial teams around the world have selected 25 top destinations that are divided among five categories: Nature, Adventure, Sustainability, Culture and History, and Family. They include a number of World Heritage sites in honor of UNESCO’s 50 years, national parks and wildlife, outdoor activities, green travel and multi-generational adventures and journeys.
From the ‘next great safari destination’ in Caprivi, Namibia, and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to the ancient tea mountains and traditions of Yunnan, China, and the new Seine River bike trail in France, this year’s list explores inspiring locations.
“While the pandemic stalled many of our travel plans for nearly two years, our appetite for new and impactful journeys has only grown,” said George Stone, executive editor of National Geographic Travel. “In many ways, the pandemic provided a moment for travelers and communities around the world to reflect and regroup on how we explore the world.”
These are National Geographic’s 25 ‘must-see’ destinations for 2022, with partial descriptions. For more information, visit NatGeo.com/BestoftheWorld.
Best Of Nature
The Caprivi Strip in Namibia: A narrow finger of land that juts toward the east in the extreme north of the country, is a green, wildlife-rich territory. The presence of the Okavango, Kwando, Chobe and Zambezi Rivers creates an ideal habitat for numerous animal species.
Lake Baikal, Russia: Baikal is so vast and deep that many locals call it a sea. Covering some 12,200 square miles, the massive lake is a natural wonder.
But it’s also in serious trouble. Although deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site, it suffers ongoing pollution, the recent weakening of government protections and new threats such as large-scale tourism development.
Visitors can help safeguard the lake and its varied landscapes — including tundra, steppe, boreal forest and virgin beaches — by volunteering with Great Baikal Trail Association, a nonprofit environmental group creating a hiking route around the lake.
Northern Minnesota: Turn off the lights and multiple thousands of stars sparkle in the night sky of this remote region bordering the Canadian province of Ontario. It has has little to no light pollution and residents are determined to keep it that way.
The Heart of the Continent Dark Sky Initiative is a cross-border effort underway to create one of the largest dark-sky destinations on the planet.
Belize Maya Forest Reserve: The race to preserve one of the largest remaining tropical rainforests in the Americas got a big boost recently when a coalition of conservation partners led by the Nature Conservancy bought 236,000 acres of tropical forest in northwestern Belize to create the Belize Maya Forest Reserve.
Along with saving some of the most biodiverse forests in the world, the new protected area — which is contiguous with the neighboring Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area — closes a huge gap in a vital wildlife corridor that runs from southeast Mexico through Guatemala and into Belize.
Victoria, Australia: Drive the Great Ocean Road to find green shoots of regeneration popping up across Australia where bushfires in 2019 and 2020 burned some 72,000 square miles of land. The disasters led to the deaths of nearly three dozen people and more than one billion animals.
Best For Adventure
Seine River Bike Trail, France: La Seine à Vélo is a new cycling trail worthy of painter Claude Monet, whose house and famous water lilies in Giverny are on the route. The 270-mile Paris-to-the-sea path, opened in October 2020, also offers lesser known masterpieces such as the colorful street art of the Canal Saint-Denis in Paris.
On the trail’s 15 stages, bikers pass through protected natural areas, including Normandy’s Grande Noé Bird Reserve, located along a major migratory flyway.
Nepisiguit Trail, New Brunswick, Canada: A turtle-shaped rock near Nepisiguit Falls in the Canadian province of New Brunswick carries with it the legend that once the turtle (named Egomoqaseg, or ‘rock like a moving ship’) is completely out of the water, it will be the end of the world for the Mi’gmaq people.
The falls are a stop along a millennia-old First Nations migration route that has been developed into the longest back-country hiking trail in the Canadian Maritimes.
Running for 93 miles along the Nepisiguit River, the rugged Sentier Nepisiguit Mi’gmaq Trail follows ancient portage pathways used by the nomadic Mi’gmaq.
Costa Rica: Stretching across Costa Rica from the Caribbean to the Pacific, the Camino de Costa Rica is a 174-mile-long window into life far off the well-trod tourist path. The 16-stage hiking route mainly follows public roads as it passes through remote villages and towns, Indigenous Cabecar lands and protected natural areas.
It’s designed to spark economic activity in rural districts. Local families, nonprofits, and a network of micro-entrepreneurs such as Ecomiel honey producers, the woman-owned Finca El Casquillo organic farm and La Cabaña sustainable coffee micro-mill, provide most of the trail’s lodging, food, tours, and other hiker amenities.
Palau: Swim with sharks. To help protect Palau’s culture and environment from the negative impacts of tourism, when you arrive the stamp in your passport will include the Palau Pledge, which all visitors must sign, promising that “the only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away.”
Some 80% of the nation’s waters — recognized by National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project as one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet — is preserved as the Palau National Marine Sanctuary. At 183,000 square miles, the no-take sanctuary is one of the world’s largest protected marine areas, safeguarding 700 species of coral and more than 1,300 species of fish, including a dazzling variety of sharks.
Arapahoe Basin, Colorado: One must climb the Rockies, North America’s highest via ferrata, for unparalleled views of the Continental Divide. Arapahoe Basin’s “iron way”— a climbing route comprising metal rungs and cables — begins at the base of granite Rocky Mountain cliffs and ascends nearly 1,200 feet to a 13,000-foot summit.
A glance below reveals a weathered Colorado landscape dotted with green moss, pink and purple flora and rock gardens created by the cliffs themselves, the fallen chunks varying in size from pebbles to Volkswagen Beetles.
Best For Culture And History
Hokkaido, Japan: Two recent museums will teach visitors in Hokkaido, Japan’s wildly scenic and northernmost main island, about the Ainu, Indigenous people from the northern region of the archipelago. The museums are the National Ainu Museum and Park at Upopoy and the Kayano Shigeru Nibutani Ainu Museum.
Marginalized since the late 1800s, Japan’s Ainu were granted legal protections in 2019. Visitors can discover the timely, sustainable-living lessons of the Ainu, whose spiritual beliefs are rooted in respect and gratitude for nature. Just 30 minutes to the southwest, you can soak in nature at Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido’s premier hot springs resort in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park.
Jingmai Mountain, Yunnan, China: This place offers a perfect cup of tea. Located in the remote southwestern corner of China’s Yunnan Province, the region which was a starting point of the legendary Ancient Tea Horse Road, is one of the oldest cultural landscapes in the country and slated to become one of the newest UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2022.
The Ancient Tea Plantations of Jingmai Mountain in Pu’er collectively form the world’s largest ancient, artificially-cultivated tea plantation, featuring about 1.13 million tea trees, the oldest of which is 1,400 years old.
Tin Pan Alley, London: Despite pushback from punk and rock purists, the remix of Denmark Street, former hub of the British music industry, promises to hit all the right notes. Once lined with music publishers, recording studios, rehearsal rooms, and dimly lit clubs, the tiny street nicknamed London’s Tin Pan Alley helped launch the British punk rock movement and legendary figures such as David Bowie, Elton John and the Rolling Stones.
Now this iconic slice of history is being revived as part of Outernet London, the West End’s new $1.2 billion entertainment district.
Procida, Italy: The island city has been selected as the Italian Capital of Culture 2022, with the theme La cultura non isola (Culture does not isolate), which now seems particularly on point. Located 40 minutes southwest of Naples via high-speed ferry, city officials plan to use their year in the spotlight to illustrate the importance of culture, particularly in times of uncertainty.
Procida 2022 will run cultural programming such as contemporary art exhibitions, festivals and performances over 300 days to encourage responsible travel throughout the year.
Atlanta, Georgia: At the forefront of social change, this unique American city is the cradle of the civil rights movement, the home of Coca-Cola and of hip-hop culture shaping global culture.
Easily accessible on foot or by bike via the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood blends nightlife and dining venues with historic highlights including the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.
Parque Nacional Yasuni, Ecuador: In recognition of the global importance of the Amazon, France is leading the fight against deforestation in eastern Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989.
The 4,000-square-mile park, home to mahogany trees, sweet guabas, anthuriums, palms and hypnotizingly green ferns, is the first of five pilot sites in the French-funded TerrAmaz program, a four-year initiative launched in late 2020 to support sustainable development and safeguards biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Yasuní — considered one of the most biodiverse places on Earth — shelters an astonishing assortment of creatures such as anteaters, capybaras, sloths, spider monkeys and about 600 species of colorful birds. In the Napo and Curaray rivers flanking the park, visitors can watch for the Amazon river dolphin, an endangered and enigmatic species.
Ruhr Valley, Germany: Mining and steel production once dominated the densely populated Ruhr Valley in Germany’s western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Today, the region is repurposing former slag heaps (mounds of mining waste) and post-apocalyptic industrial sites as parks and open-air cultural spaces.
The most famous is the World Heritage site of Zeche Zollverein (Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex), home to an outdoor swimming pool, ice rink and walking trails and part of the wider Emscher Landscape Park, an east-west system of green spaces and corridors covering nearly 175 square miles.
Łódź, Poland: Named a UNESCO City of Film since 2017 for its rich cinematic culture, Łódź, a city of 700,000 in central Poland, was a major textile manufacturing center in the 19th and 20th centuries. Now Poland’s Hollywood is flipping the script on its industrial past to create a greener future.
In recent years, Łódź has embraced new ecological technologies such as using pre-RDF (refuse-derived fuel) and biomass energy to heat homes. Nearly one-third of Łódź is green space, ranging from new pocket parks to the 2,977-acre Łagiewnicki Forest.
In the city’s old industrial areas, factories are being reborn as parks, cultural centers, residences and retail spaces. The trendiest spot on the cultural map is OFF Piotrkowska, a buzzing art, design, dining and club district housed in a former cotton mill.
National Columbia Gorge Scenic Area, Oregon/Washington: It’s the largest National Scenic Area in the U.S., straddling the Oregon-Washington border and comprising 293,000 acres of public and private lands along the Columbia River Gorge.
The area attracts more than two million visitors a year. A nonprofit alliance is helping to reduce tourist impact on local nature and culture. This collaboration has become a model for other regions building a sustainable tourism economy.
Chimanimani National Park, Mozambique: A conservation success, the park, established in October 2020, is one of Mozambique’s newest national parks. It sits on the country’s mountainous border with Zimbabwe and is home to Mozambique’s highest peak, Mount Binga (elevation: 7,992 feet). It was once flush with elephants, lions, and other large animals whose images appear in ancient rock art created by the ancestral San people.
While poaching during decades of civil unrest decimated wildlife populations, small numbers of elephants remain as do at least 42 other species of mammals and a dazzling variety of plant and avian life. Chimanimani is one of Africa’s great parks rebounding from war.
Best For Family
Danube River Cruise: Boating on the Danube can seem like traveling through a realm of fairy tales with its scrolling views of castles, medieval towns and stately palaces that help to bring European history to life. The river twists through 10 European countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Ukraine) and most Danube cruise itineraries include stops in at least four of those, with special family sailings featuring kid-friendly onshore activities.
Granada, Spain: Built as a palace-city by 13th-century Nasrid sultans — rulers of the longest-lasting and final Muslim dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula — the Alhambra (“red fort”) is considered the Moorish architectural jewel of Europe. The almond-shaped profile of this UNESCO World Heritage site rests on a hill above Granada, one of Spain’s most picturesque cities.
The mathematical wizardry on display here is particularly fascinating for families: Intricate mosaics, arabesques (a repetitive, stylized pattern based on a floral or vegetal design) and muqarnas (ornamental vaulting) make the Alhambra a masterpiece of geometric beauty and a colorful classroom for age-appropriate exploration of math concepts, such as shapes, symmetry, proportion and measurement.
Bonaire: Bathed in dazzling sunlight, a turquoise sea, palm trees, white beaches and a laid-back atmosphere, Bonaire is an idyllic tropical destination. Compared to many other Caribbean islands, Bonaire — population 21,000 — is quiet and still relatively wild and unspoiled.
Off its coast lies one of the oldest marine reserves in the world, the Bonaire National Marine Park, a reserve encompassing 6,672 acres of coral reef, seagrass and mangrove vegetation where divers and snorkelers can spot up to 57 species of coral and more than 350 different fish species.
Lycia, Turkey: The nomadic Yörüks, (literally, “walkers”) originally from different Turkic groups that ranged from the Balkans to Iran, once roamed the plateaus of the Turkish riviera. Now settled down, they have kept many of their thousand-year-old customs alive.
In the historical Lycia region in southwestern Anatolia, Teke Peninsula, Yörüks live a semi-nomadic life with their tents, kilim rugs, herds, shepherd dogs and transhumant traditions, set against a mountainous, Mediterranean backdrop full of olive trees.
In recent years, tour companies have started to merge the marvels of Lycia with Yörük life. Families can trek parts of the famous Lycian Way amd visit ancient sites such as Patara, Xanthos, or Letoon.
But it’s the children who have the most fun as they experience Yörük culture by making syrup with pomegranates, cooking local pastries, milking goats or taking part in the olive harvest.
Eastern Shore, Maryland: The history of the Underground Railroad flows through the waterways, wetlands, swamps and tidal marshes of Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This is where the secret network’s most famous “conductor,” Harriet Tubman, was born enslaved, grew up and honed the skills such as trapping, hunting, and using stars to navigate that she used to escape to freedom in Pennsylvania.
She then returned 13 times to rescue more than 70 enslaved friends and family. Her heroic story is told at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, one of the more than 30 stops along the 125-mile Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.