The Best Experiential Travel Trips You Can Take in 2019

Ride a catapult in New Zealand at up to 62 m.p.h., discover Cuba's hidden culture or take wildlife photos in Antarctica. Get the most out of travel and make your next trip an incredible adventure.

Photo By: Sven Olof Lindblad

Photo By: Sami Kattan

Photo By: Liam Neal/Peregrine Adventures

Photo By: James Morgan Photography

Photo By: Jonathan Irish

Photo By: Intrepid Travel

Photo By: Audley Travel

Photo By: Brennan Wesley/

Photo By: Sven Olof Lindblad

Photo By: Los Cabos Tourism Board

Explore Cuban Culture

Meet the fascinating people of Cuba and soak up their history, arts, architecture and more with National Geographic's Cuba: Discovering Its People and Culture. Expert guides connect you with scientists, artists, musicians and local residents on this revealing, inside glimpse at an often mysterious country. Your options are myriad: peek into Old Havana and the one-time home of Ernest Hemingway; take in an Afro-Cuban dance performance and experience the historic Bay of Pigs international incident and much more.

Tag Sharks in the Exumas

Forget Jaws. Sharks are vital to our oceans, and you can help marine biologists collect research data on them. Go hands-on, if you want, or just watch and learn. This adventure is a partnership between Grand Isle Resort & Spa, a luxury resort on Grand Exuma, Bahamas, and Beneath the Waves, a conservation and scientific research organization. The first excursions run Feb. 20-23, 2019, with more to be announced throughout the year. A $500 donation reserves your spot to search for, study and even tag hammerheads, tiger sharks, nurse sharks and reef sharks.

Cross the Antarctic Circle

Grab your camera and head to Ushuaia, Argentina, to join a Peregrine Adventures expedition to Antarctica. Few people have ever set foot on the Great White Continent, but you'll go ashore via Zodiac boat, accompanied by a professional photographer who'll help you snap pictures of penguins, whales and seals. Not a photographer? No worries. Go for the expert lectures on the history, wildlife and geology of the region. The tour even includes a loaner pair of waterproof boots.

Catapult at 3Gs in Nevis Vally

Are you game for a gut-wrenching drop? The Nevis Catapult, located below the Southern Alps near Queenstown, New Zealand, propels riders 492 feet up and over remote Nevis Valley. Daredevils reach speeds of almost 62 miles per hour in 1-1/2 seconds before they make that drop and start to bounce. This activity, offered by AJ Hackett Bungy of New Zealand, launched (literally) in August 2018. It's billed as the world's biggest and most extreme catapult, accelerating at up to 3Gs of force.

Safari in Tanzania

Set out one of many Tanzanian tours offered by National Geographic. The Tanzania Safari and Serengeti Experience takes you to Lake Manyara National Park to look for lions, leopards, rhinos, Cape buffalos and elephants. You'll also search for these "big five" at Ngorongoro Crater and on the Serengeti plains. At Olduvai Gorge, you'll see where humans—and their ancestors—lived almost two million years ago.

Visit Nomadic Herders and Reindeer

Ride an overnight train through Russia with local passengers and disembark on the Yamal Peninsula, an isolated region above the Arctic Circle. For the first time ever, the Nenets, an indigenous people, have invited travelers on Intrepid Travel's Russian expedition to visit them. The tour, Footsteps of the Reindeer Herders, lets you visit a traditional campsite, mingle with the reindeer, and try your luck at fishing. (Ask the Nenets how they stay warm when the temperature hits -50 degrees Celsius, or -58 degrees Fahrenheit). Later, journey on to Moscow.

Trek to the Tiger's Nest

Little-known Paro, Bhutan is home to the Tiger's Nest Monastery, which perches on a rocky ledge high in the Himalayans. It's a two or three-hour walk from the nearest parking area, but you can stop at small cafes along the way and take in the spectacular scenery. Bhutan has strict entrance policies, so you'll be accompanied on a carefully-planned itinerary by Audley Travel drivers and guides as you explore this very traditional, Buddhist culture. Tours can be customized.

Go Gullah in Charleston

You don't have to travel around the world for a great travel experience. Explore the Gullah-Geechee culture, which arrived with West African slaves in the 1700s, in South Carolina's Lowcountry. Start with the Culinary Experience Package at Charleston's French Quarter Inn. It's led by a renowned Gullah chef who'll guide you through a local farmers' market or farm to shop for fresh ingredients. After he gives you a private cooking lesson in an elegant Charleston home, you'll feast on a traditional Gullah meal. Later, visit the historic Andrew Pinckney Inn and book a 90-minute workshop with Gullah artist Lynnette Youson, whose work is on exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She'll teach you to weave a basket to take home as a keepsake.

Soak in Iceland's Blue Lagoon

Go on, slip into the warm, mineral-rich waters of the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, Iceland. Although it's man made, it's an example of the country's geothermal landscape—and it's said to have certain curative powers. This National Geographic Iceland Family Expedition is a great choice for adventurous adults and kids. You'll see geysers, puffins and other wildlife; hike to waterfalls; spelunk in caves; visit a museum where your kids can make friends with local children and more. Don't miss the storytellers who'll spin tales of Icelandic elves and sea monsters for you.

Swim With Whale Sharks in Mexico

Gentle whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world, reaching up to 30 feet long. They eat plankton, not people, so it's safe to swim or snorkel with them when you're accompanied by a Cabo Expeditions guide. From your hotel in Los Cabos, your group will travel by van to the marina in La Paz and spend about 2-1/2 hours with the whale sharks. You’ll finish this day trip with stops at Balandra Beach and Todos Santos and arrive back at your hotel around 8:30 p.m. After your tour, send your best whale shark photo to Wildbook for Whale Sharks, an international scientific database, to help researchers learn more about these magnificent giants.

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