1. Baja California National Marine Parks, Mexico
Close encounters of the ginormous marine kind are common in the waters off Mexico’s fingerlike Baja California peninsula. Baja is bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California), where behemoths of the sea—whales, great white sharks, and manta rays with wingspans up to 20 feet—and a variety of fish congregate. Twenty years ago many of these species were on the brink of extinction due to overfishing and pollution. Partner- ships between local communities and the government helped turn the tide with the creation of Cabo Pulmo, Guadalupe Island, Revillagigedo Archipelago, and San Ignacio Lagoon marine reserves.
Today San Ignacio Lagoon is the primary calving ground for eastern Pacific gray whales. And Cabo Pulmo— widely considered one of the world’s greatest ecological comeback stories— teems with marine life, its total fish biomass rebounding more than 400mpercent since fishing was banned in 2000.
Why Go Now?
Applaud a conservation success story
2. Via Dinarica, Western Balkans
The Balkan Peninsula’s beautifully rugged wilderness areas just became more accessible. In 2017, for the first time after years of expansion, the 1,200-mile Via Dinarica trail will be completely mapped with stage information compiled from agrowing community of hikers. The trek—which stitches together ancient trading and military routes—traverses the Dinaric Alps, linking the countries of the Balkan Peninsula from Slovenia, then south through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Trekkers sleep in mountain shelters along the Adriatic Sea, or atop the region’s highest peaks, or above one of the deepest gorges on the continent. But the path is also a cultural corridor, where thru-hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, paddlers, and day-trippers encounter old world traditions unchanged after five decades of communism. During homestay layovers—along the popular three-day stretch from Albania’s Theth National Park to the Kosovo border, for instance—you might find yourself drinking coffee cooked in a copper pot, with a work-worn but hospitable farmer.
What was a contentious region has become the planet’s most eye-opening cross-border destination. “The Via Dinarica has replaced politics with nature,” says Thierry Joubert, of Green Visions, a Bosnia and Herzegovina-based tour operator. “What could be more beautiful?”
Why Go Now?
Set off on the world’s newest long-distance trail
3. Ecuador’s Cloud Forests
Birders flock to the primeval cloud forests of Ecuador’s Choco region, considered some of the richest depositories of plant and animal life on the planet. Located north of Quito on the fog- shrouded Andean slopes, the biodiversity hotspot is home to hundreds of bird species, including the flashy Andean cock-of-the-rock and dazzling hummingbirds. Other wonders include a profusion of epiphytes (air plants) and rare orchids. The teddy bear-faced olinguito was identified here in 2013 as the newest mammal species in the Americas. At Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve & Lodge go on a guided night walk to spot hand- size moths and flickering fireflies. At Mashpi, a National Geographic Unique Lodge, soar through the mist on a zipline Sky Bike or an open-air gondola for heady views of the forest canopy.
Why Go Now?
Spot wildlife in a hotbed of biodiversity