Set off on the ultimate wildlife adventure with top National Geographic experts and encounter an incredible array of the world's legendary creatures. As we explore Rwanda, Borneo, Nepal, Madagascar, and more, our zoologists, naturalists, and conservationists share their insights on endangered animals, and on the research and fieldwork underway to help ensure their survival for generations to come.
Depart the U.S. independently on an overnight flight to Johannesburg. Upon arrival, transfer to our hotel and gather for a welcome reception and dinner.
Four Seasons Hotel Westcliff Johannesburg (D)
Rwanda is a land of rolling green hills, majestic volcanoes, and endless forests. The bamboo forests of the Virunga volcanic range are home to roughly half of the approximately 700 mountain gorillas in the world. Embark on a thrilling trek in Volcanoes National Park in search of these fascinating giants, which the late Dian Fossey famously studied with support from National Geographic. These highly sociable creatures can be found in communities of more than 20 individuals, each led by an older, dominant male known as a silverback for the silver sheen of his fur. Enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe these gorilla families up close.
In Kigali, learn about these endangered creatures from primatologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Elizabeth Lonsdorf, vice president of the International Primatological Society. Then visit the Kigali Memorial Centre, a meaningful tribute to those who perished in the genocide of 1994. You will have an opportunity to hear survivors’ stories and learn how people in Rwanda are working to create an environment for unity and healing.
Kigali Serena Hotel and Mountain Gorilla View Lodge (A limited number of accommodation upgrades are available at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge and Virunga Lodge.) (B, L, D daily)
Alternatives: Instead of gorilla trekking, explore Nyungwe National Park in search of the area’s chimpanzees; or fly by helicopter over the Virunga volcanoes and visit the Akilah Institute for Women, an inspiring vocational training and leadership program.
Kigali Serena Hotel and Nyungwe Forest Lodge; or Kigali Serena Hotel only (B, L, D daily)
Please note: Because the hikes at Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe National Park are arduous, your doctor’s approval is required. A personal porter will be available to each traveler for assistance.
The island paradise of the Maldives is surrounded by colorful coral reefs that teem with marine life. Arrive in Gan and take a short boat ride to the tiny island of Villingili, and then settle into your private over-water bungalow. Explore the islands’ dazzling underwater world, where more than 2,000 sea species thrive, including nudibranchs, harlequin shrimp, sweetlips, lionfish, and nurse sharks.
Dive or snorkel with National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle, who will discuss her efforts to restore health and productivity to the oceans by promoting the creation of marine protected areas. Be on the lookout for some of the largest sea turtle species in the world, which we may see close to the surface of shallow waters, basking in the sunshine. Take a cruise to see spinner dolphins dance on the water. These sleek swimmers breach the water’s surface to pirouette several times in a row and can reach speeds of more than 18 miles an hour. Later, if you choose, hop on a bicycle and head to neighboring islands and villages linked by a 10.5-mile road, the longest in the Maldives.
Shangri-La's Villingili Resort and Spa (B, L, D daily)
Fly by private jet to Borneo, an island known for its biodiversity ever since Charles Darwin’s cohort Alfred Russel Wallace observed curious variations in a staggering number of unique animals there more than 150 years ago. We land on the Malaysian north side of the island, in Sandakan, our base for excursions into lush lowland rain forests. At the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, come face-to-face with orangutans, a name that means “person of the forest” in the local Malay language. Highly intelligent, these long-haired, orange primates spend most of their time in trees, swinging from branch to branch, foraging for fruit and insects, and making nests of leaves.
Next, glide along the Kinabatangan River as it wends its way through the mangroves of the Abai Forest Reserve, and search for the elusive and endangered proboscis monkey, named for its protruding nose. This area is home to one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Southeast Asia, including macaques, rainbow-colored butterflies, and many species of birds, including brahminy kites, fish eagles, and kingfishers.
Explore the reserves with field biologist and National Geographic wildlife photojournalist Tim Laman, who landed his first National Geographic magazine assignment working in the rain forests of Borneo. Enjoy a festive dinner featuring the finest local cuisine.
Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan (B, L, D daily)
We continue to China, landing in Chengdu. The next day, travel into the Sichuan wilderness, where the spectacular landscapes have inspired many artists and poets. Explore the native bamboo forests of the Qionglai Mountains, the largest remaining block of giant panda habitat, and home to the Wolong Nature Reserve, China’s most significant panda protected area. Wolong personnel manage 180 captive pandas and the reserve has 150 of these wild, highly endangered animals.
Visit Wolong’s new Panda Center, a world-class research and breeding facility within this UNESCO-listed reserve, and step behind the scenes with scientists to encounter captive pandas up close. Averaging several births per year, the center will likely introduce us to delightful baby panda cubs, who are learning to munch on bamboo and wrestle with each other. Meet with conservationist and National Geographic grantee Marc Brody and gain exclusive access to the historic, and now closed, panda center at Hetaoping. Throughout our Wolong visit, Marc will lead discussions and site visits into restricted areas where we will see and learn about the restoration of panda habitat, the monitoring of wild pandas, and the reintroduction of captive-bred pandas into the wild.
Howard Johnson Conference Resort Chengdu, Dujiangyan (B, L, D daily)
Alternative: Instead of exploring Wolong, you may stay near Chengdu airport and travel by day to neighboring Dujiangyan with two leading attractions. Visit a giant panda research and medical center managed by Wolong staff and see Mount Qingcheng, a World Heritage site, and its famous temple at Tianshi Cave, considered the birthplace of Taoism.
Kempinski Hotel, Chengdu (B,L,D Daily)
Our private jet soars over the Himalaya to Nepal’s colorful capital, Kathmandu—at once ancient and modern, Buddhist and Hindu, natural and urban. Upon arrival, we transfer to smaller aircraft to venture deep into Nepal’s southern Tarai region, a vast stretch of subtropical jungles, grasslands, and wetlands where a remarkable variety of wildlife roams.
Ride Asian elephants through the jungle in search of one-horned rhinos, gray langurs, civets, sloth bears, sambar, and the elusive Bengal tiger. Sometimes called the Indian tiger, the Bengal tiger is the most numerous of the tiger subspecies, although fewer than 2,500 remain in the wild. The riverine grasslands here are a particular draw for birders, who may be able to spot many of the hundreds of recorded local species. Meet with National Geographic Emerging Explorer Krithi Karanth, who will discuss her work on strategies to help endangered wildlife and humans coexist. Before departing Nepal, stop at Kathmandu’s iconic Boudhanath stupa, which has drawn pilgrims for centuries.
Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge or Kasara Jungle Resort; and Dwarika's Hotel, Kathmandu (B, L, D daily)
Our next stop is beautiful Madagascar, an island in the Indian Ocean that is home to an astonishing array of unique flora and fauna. Some 80 to 90 percent of the species here—including its celebrated lemurs—are endemic, or found nowhere else on Earth. Land in Antananarivo, the colorful, multiethnic capital. Meet with National Geographic Emerging Explorer Luke Dollar, who will share stories of his work with Madagascar’s lively long-tailed lemurs and their catlike predator, the fossa. He’ll also discuss effective conservation strategies to maintain the delicate balance between these animals. The next day, go to one of three of the country’s pristine wildlife reserves:
Spend two days in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (also called Périnet), a wet montane forest environment that is home to 14 different species of lemur. Track and observe indri lemur families, whose haunting calls echo through the treetops. Spot some of the more than 100 bird species that thrive here, including various beautiful vangas, rollers, and couas. Explore the park during nocturnal and early morning walks to observe entirely different ranges of creatures—from tiny chameleons and frogs to dwarf lemurs—that are active at these times. Then visit the Mandraka Reserve, a reptile and butterfly breeding farm.
Carlton Hotel, Antananarivo; and Andasibe Hotel or Vakona Forest Lodge, Andasibe National Park* (B, L, D daily)
Alternatively, take a local flight to Montagne d’Ambre National Park, one of the most biologically diverse places in all of Madagascar, located on the northernmost tip of the island. Hike the broad, easy trails to see waterfalls, crater lakes, lush forests, birds, reptiles, and a variety of lemurs, including Sanford’s brown lemur. Visit the charming town of Antsiranana, formerly known as Diego-Suarez, and enjoy a performance of traditional Malagasy dance and music.
Carlton Hotel, Antananarivo; and Domaine de Fontenay or The Litchi Tree* (B, L, D daily)
Alternatively, take a local flight to the northwestern coast of Madagascar and settle into a beachfront eco-lodge on the Mozambique Channel. See black lemurs leaping from tree to tree and spot parrots, osprey, and other native birds. Swim with sea turtles and, with luck, watch a nesting or hatching, as many occur throughout the year here. Stroll the beach, dotted with distinctive baobab trees, some several hundred years old, and keep an eye out for whales and dolphins.
Carlton Hotel, Antananarivo and Eden Lodge (B, L, D daily)
Return to South Africa for an unforgettable classic safari adventure. A land of incredible biodiversity, South Africa accounts for only one percent of Earth’s land surface, but it is home to almost 10 percent of the world’s known bird, fish, and plant species, and about six percent of its mammal and reptile species.
Our private jet arrives in Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, where we transfer to smaller aircraft and fly to the exclusive Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Bordering the western, fenceless edge of Kruger National Park, Sabi Sand offers world-class views of wildlife in a pristine setting free from the crowds of neighboring Kruger. It is also considered by many to be one of the best places in the world to see the elusive leopard up close. Meet with National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay, who has worked for decades to conserve wildlife in Africa. In 1999, he embarked on the 2,000-mile Megatransect trek across central Africa to document species, and in 2004, he conducted the Africa Megaflyover, an aerial survey of the entire African continent.
Embark on morning and late afternoon game drives in open vehicles, exploring open grasslands and dense riverine bush for a chance to see all of the “Big Five” (leopards, lions, African elephants, Cape buffaloes, and rhinoceroses), as well as giraffes, cheetahs, hippos, zebras, and so many more animals. Birders will appreciate the chance to see some of the hundreds of species in this area.
Singita Boulders Lodge; Singita Ebony Lodge; or Londolozi, Sabi Sand Game Reserve* (B, L, D daily)
Take a charter flight to Johannesburg, where we enjoy a farewell lunch. Then connect to your commercial flight home, arriving the following day. (B, L)
This expedition is not currently being offered.