For many of us, summer vacations used to mean highway miles in the mini-van, drive-thru windows, and four-night stays in beachside condominiums. Fortunately, times have changed since we were kids, and summer breaks have become a lot more adventurous. These days, summer trips can include wondrous wildlife encounters, thrilling outdoor activities, and immersive cultural enlightenment.
International Expeditions offers more than a dozen different summer adventures that seriously up the ante. Families can bond on small ship cruises that explore the far reaches of tropical waterways. Children can interact with and learn more about ancient (and modern!) indigenous peoples. There’s rafting, rappelling, trekking, and animal tracking.
Available on four different continents, these summertime expeditions include some of the world’s most stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and intriguing cultures. These types of adventures can create lifelong memories. Explorers return home having seen things they’ve never seen and done things they’ve never done. When your trip is more of an experience than a vacation, it helps to build confidence, expand the mind, and inspire you to become more adventurous in your day-to-day life.
Whether you prefer exploring deserts, jungles, or beaches, ancient civilizations or rare animal species, IE has an experience that’s perfect for you. Here’s a look at some of the incredible summer adventures that can help kick-start your Indiana Jones-style spirit…
Forget about behemoth boats and cheesy cabaret performers. Our version of a cruise is something altogether different. Small ship cruises offer better connections with your fellow passengers and crew, intimate shore excursions that big ships can’t provide, and all of the other things that make a big-time adventure fun (expert naturalist guides, great food, etc). Here are a few summer cruises to choose from:
A 32-guest yacht, the Evolution, takes voyagers all around the Galapagos Islands. Adventures include nature hikes, lectures about the history and wildlife of the islands, as well as close-up encounters with the famous Galapagos Islands animals. Our favorites include giant Galapagos tortoises, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos sea lions, Galapagos penguins, marine iguanas, and more.
The intimate yacht is equipped with all of the comfort, but none of the gaudiness of the 5,000-capacity mega cruise ships. Excursions on IE's Galapagos Islands cruises are led by experienced naturalists, and the ratio of guides to guests is the best in the archipelago. This makes for a personal experience that will far exceed all expectations.
International Expeditions has been offering Amazon River cruises for nearly four decades now, providing guests with access to rainforests and wildlife unlike any other in the world. The voyage covers over 600 miles, venturing into remote stretches of the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve (where large ships are not allowed to go).
The luxury Amazon vessel, the Zafiro, carries just 37 passengers in total. But the ship comes equipped with all the necessities, and then some. Guests have an opportunity to visit an Amazonian manatee rescue center, look out for pink dolphins, and take daily Zodiac excursions tours with expert field guides. Along the way, you’ll spot countless monkeys, capybara, caiman, scarlet macaws, and many other rare Amazon rainforest animals.
Iceland is becoming a hugely popular destination these days. Though its name might bring to mind snowy landscapes, summer visitors will find a lush land of green with its own unique wildlife to observe. While the country might not yet be on every traveler’s bucket list, there are plenty of things to do in Iceland for nature lovers.
There are number of Arctic sea birds to spot along the coast, including puffins and razorbills. Large mammals such as orcas, minke, humpbacks, and blue whales might be seen swimming in the cool waters. Inland, there are amazing natural spas for soaking in hot mineral waters. As for the country’s human inhabitants, in 2013 Iceland was awarded “Friendliest Country to Tourists” by the World Economic Forum.
Nature/wildlife-focused family adventures have become increasingly popular in recent years. Not only are these journeys chock full of experiences that will delight kids of all ages, but they also help bonds the whole family closer together.
A summer adventure is a great way to celebrate there being no school, yet also sneak in something educational. Our knowledgeable guides will be there every step of the way to answer endless questions from curious kiddos (and their parents).
The Galapagos Islands Voyage and Amazon Voyage (above) are both excellent family excursions, with all of the excitement and amenities needed to keep children safe and entertained. Here are a few other family-focused trips to consider:
Costa Rica travel is tailor-made for families, offering a fantastic combination of beaches, nature, and adventure (not to mention the occasional cocktail for the adults). Kids get a chance to see diverse wildlife, incredible landscapes, and numerous notorious national parks. Meanwhile, parents are still provided with plenty of pockets of time for relaxation and leisure.
IE’s Custom Travel Planners can create a Costa Rica Family tour visiting conservation facilities for rescued sloths and macaws, as well as nature reserves for sea turtles and resplendent quetzals. Adventurers will explore Tortuguero National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest, and Punta Islita Beachy. Yoga classes, bartending workshops, and golf clinics are also available.
Panama offers an amazing mix of cultures, biospheres, and architecture. The tiny sliver of land that connects North and South America contains a surplus of adventure, including the Panama Canal and its locks, Caribbean islands, and volcanic highlands. The country also has a history of pirates that the kids will love!
IE’s private Panama tour options can take visitors to both coasts, up into the Chiriquí cloud forests, and right into the Panama Canal. Guests will go to national parks in search of wild birds, whiz through the jungle canopy on zip lines, and try to spot capuchin monkeys, three-toed sloths, and spectacled caiman. Panama City’s ancient ruins and modern museums also add some colonial history and swashbuckling culture to the mix.
Active holidays can be just what the hard-working adventurer needs. Many of us aren’t suited for just sitting around on the beach all day, lapping up the sun. We need action, exhilaration, and—bluntly put—something to do. IE’s active trips combine excitement and relaxation for travelers who want more than a tropical cocktail and a lounge chair beside the pool.
Costa Rica is world-renowned for its immense natural beauty. So what could be more rousing than watching it roll by while traversing class III rapids, repelling down waterfalls, and bird-watching at an ecological farm? Costa Rica is one of the world’s premiere destinations for summertime adventuring, and it’s also one of the greenest.
After action-packed days of sea kayaking or canopy zip-lining, your evenings will be filled with just the right amount of chilling out. Resorts and spas with an eye on nature, pampering, and sustainability are a huge part of Costa Rica’s attraction. Consequently, they’re also a huge part of IE’s Costa Rica Adventure.
Machu Picchu is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, not to mention a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Millions of people visit each year, but far fewer dare to trek the Inca Trail, which allows hardy hikers a chance to see all the other ancient architectural marvels of Peru’s Sacred Valley along the way. Machu Picchu is a special city, and this trip makes it even more so.
IE’s four-day Inca Trail Trek includes bridges over the Urumamba and Kusichaca Rivers. It ascends into the clouds, peaking at nearly 14,000 feet. The trail winds along ridges, over valleys, and past many other Inca ruins. It stretches over 25 miles, and dazzles with jaw-dropping vistas of the Andes mountain range.
Visiting two of the most revered national parks in the United States isn’t a bad way to spend a summer vacation. Ask IE's team about an Alaska Coast to Denali adventure takes guests to Kenai Fjords and Denali National Park. The trip’s exceptional itinerary includes hiking, sea kayaking, and canoeing. There will be opportunities to see moose, grizzly bears, sea lions, bald eagles, puffins, and other wildlife, not to mention glaciers and– if the weather cooperates– the majestic summit of Mount McKinley (North America’s tallest).
For the nature lover, rugged, wild Alaska has got to rate high on the list of adventure travel destinations. You can choose a huge, meandering trip through three national of the state’s finest national parks– Kenai, Kenai Fjords, and Denali. It’s wrought with wildlife, dramatic landscapes, and action-packed activities.
There are informative talks about the area and its many amazing features. Additionally, this trip includes several beautiful backcountry lodges, fantastic meals, and incredible tours. For hardcore bear lovers, there’s a two-day Grizzly Bear Viewing extension that takes adventurers to a fourth national park, Katmai, to see up to 50 bears fishing along the Brooks River during salmon season.
For those who love to see wildlife in its natural habitat, these adventures are sure to fulfill summer vacation fantasies. From the depths of the Peruvian Amazon and the wetlands of Brazil’s Pantanal to the frigid coasts of Iceland, these trips offer animals aplenty!
Not many people can say that they’ve participated in hands-on research projects in the Amazon rainforest. But International Expeditions gives adventurous travelers a chance to do just that. After learning about the range of conservation issues currently facing the Peruvian Amazon, guests head into the rainforest in order to study it themselves.
Days include classes on tropical medicine and learning about the life of the indigenous Yagua and Maijuna people. Afternoons are spent observing some of the estimated 7,000 species of insects in the Amazon, spotting birds, and checking out sustainable cacao farms. Nights might be spent searching for nocturnal animals and watching traditional local dances.
Featuring nearly two weeks worth of exploring the wilds of Brazil, this excursion offers eye-opening experiences that reveal the state of local ecosystems. Led by expert naturalist guides, this adventure showcases the remarkable range of biodiversity throughout the country.
While the chance of seeing the elusive jaguar might prove a trip highlight, the remaining wildlife in the Brazilian Pantanal (the world’s largest wetland) does not disappoint. There are over 500 species of butterflies, 600 species of birds, and five species of monkeys to be spotted. There are large reptiles, such as caiman and anacondas. The trip also ventures into the southern Amazonian rainforest, where more regional species begin to emerge.
Costa Rica is famed for its rich diversity of animals, climates, and land formations, many of which are included on this small group trip. IE's Costa Rica tour begins with three days in Tortuguero National Park, home to the Atlantic green sea turtle, jaguars, manatees, macaws, toucans, and basilisk “Jesus” lizards that can walk on water.
From there, it’s into the Sarapiquí region, where the winding Sarapiquí River attracts river turtles, crocodiles, monkeys, iguanas, sloths, and much more. After that, natural hot springs fed by the Arenal Volcano offer soothing downtime before exploring the cloud forests of Monteverde, which home to over 2,000 species of flora and a host of tropical birds.
For many travelers the word safari summons up something primal from within. And the thought of having four different options to choose from? Well, it simply boggles the mind. When it comes to adventure, the best African safaris these offer nature’s beauty at its finest:
IE’s Kenya and Tanzania Safari offers two full weeks on the roam with big cats, huge elephants and rhinos, and the plethora of other wildlife that has made East Africa one of the world’s most desirable ecotourism destinations. This is that once-in-a-lifetime safari adventure that every animal lover has always wanted to take, with five different national parks and a game reserve to boot.
Guided by a staff of expertly trained local naturalists, guests will get to see plenty of wildlife and learn a lot about East Africa’s amazing animals. The list of what to look out for—giraffes, leopards, lions, cheetahs, wildebeest, crocodiles, birds of prey– is simply too long to include. Suffice it to say the sheer quantity of superb sightings is guarantee to blow your mind.
As one of the original forms of glamping, safaris bring to mind a sense of nostalgia. This Southern African safari includes a taste of throwback safaris, including camping out in the middle of nature. From these upscale safari camps, guests will have a chance to explore rivers, wetlands, and wildlife galore. The trip also includes a visit to Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world.
As would be expected on a safari, this expedition offers chance to see crocodiles, hippos, elephants, leopards, zebras, and so many more animals. It’s also a chance to get off-grid and get back to the heart of nature, with more than enough amenities to be comfortable, yet far enough from “civilization” to avoid distraction. Nighttime campfires and communing with locals and fellow travelers come with the package.
Known for its wide, open skies and stark deserts, Namibia boasts some extraordinary discoveries for those willing to make the journey. Skilled naturalist guides lead guests into the country’s remote wilderness to see the world’s oldest desert, including endemic animals such as ostrich, springbok, and oryx.
From the desert, the adventure moves to the coast of Swakopmund, where observers can spot pelicans, dolphins, seals, flamingos, and even whales. The route from Swakopmund proceeds over large sand dunes and down to the Skeleton Coast National Park, the site of shipwrecks, bountiful wildlife, and actual desert oases.
This Namibian adventure includes journeys into the deserts, dunes, and plains, where explorers will spot a bevy of migratory mammals. Adventurers will camp in dome tents on raised platforms, complete with decks to view the country’s natural treasures.
Highlights of the itinerary include the red dunes at Sossulsvlei, the coastal marvels of Swakopmund, the myriad animals of Damaraland, and rock engravings at Twyfelfontein (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Finally, the trip passes through Ongava Game Reserve, which has some of the world’s the largest populations of white and black rhinos.
Nature and wildlife are, of course, wonderful aspects of any great adventure. But to truly understand the heart and soul of a destination, you have to explore its rich indigenous cultures. Here are a few cultural expeditions IE offers that are sure to prove the highlight of your summer:
Machu Picchu provides an incredible glimpse into the inner workings of one of the most prevalent Pre-Colombia civilizations– the Inca. History seems to stand still in these ancient ruins, which are perched high in the Andes. The relics that remain tell the mysterious story of a truly clever approach to life. IE’s Machu Picchu & Cusco tour also includes visits to several other Inca sites.
The city of Cusco is an interesting example of what happened throughout much of Latin America after the Spanish arrived. Here, a haunting collection of colonial architecture (specifically churches and convents) was built atop Inca temples. Today, this city is undoubtedly stunning, and exploring it allows guests a chance to learn more about traditional Peruvian culture.
Due to its complicated connection with the USA, Cuba has remained a country with its own unique cultural identity. Though elements of it may seem like stepping into a time warp, Cuba is home to a rich culture— cigars, classic cars, music, rum, and revolution— and distinctive approaches to art, agriculture, dance, education, and much more.
The race is on to reach Cuba before the Caribbean island– which is full of beautiful beaches and fertile mountains– becomes overrun with mass tourism. True to its name, IE’s Complete Cuba expedition explores the island’s best national parks, ecological projects, vibrant cities, and incredible UNESCO sites.
Machu Picchu is not the only ancient history present in Peru. Along the country’s northern Pacific coast, the Moche, Lamayeque, and Chimú people built great cities and constructed magnificent handicrafts of textile, metal, and jewels. Even today, you can find small Indian villages, which often seem more in tune with the region’s pre-Colombian days.
A summer adventure through Trujillo, the country’s cultural capital, provides a very different view of Peruvian culture. A visit to Chiclayo, a commercial melting pot of indigenous cultures, expands upon its richness. There’s even a city called Kuelap, which pre-dates the Inca. Mix this up with the chance to see local wildlife (hummingbirds, bears, etc.) and Peru has much more to offer visitors than most people realize.
Jonathon Engels is a traveler, writer, and vegan gardener. Born and raised in Louisiana, he has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in between. His interests include permaculture, cooking, and music. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About