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It’s awards season, and, to celebrate, we’re rolling out the red carpet for the destinations we think deserve an accolade or two of their own. Over the past few months, our specialists and wider team have traveled the world, tried out hundreds of experiences, and stayed in some of the most sought-after hotels across the globe.

Now, we’re gathering those insights to crown our winning destinations and worthy runners-up across six categories, from the best spots for a feet-up luxury retreat to the places we head to for all-out adventure. So, where will you go next?

Best destination for wildlife encounters

From the tiniest insects to the tallest beasts, the animal kingdom has long been a fascination of ours. The following destinations give you a glimpse into their everyday lives as they leap, scuttle, swim, and stomp in some of the wildest corners on the planet.

And the winner is… Tanzania

Lioness lounging on a kopje in the Serengeti
Lionesses lounging on a kopje in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Witnessing the spectacle of the Great Migration on the Serengeti’s plains. Trekking through the jungle-smothered Mahale Mountains in search of chimpanzees. Spotting hippos, rare roan antelopes, and neon-plumed bee-eaters by boat on Nyerere National Park’s Rufiji River… Tanzania’s wildlife encounters are as varied as its landscapes — and that’s what keep us going back for our fix of the natural world time and time again.

In areas like the Ngorongoro Crater, the wildlife density is so high that you could arrive with a long list of animals you aspire to see, only to have checked most of them off on your first wildlife drive. And, once you’ve filled your camera with shots of the headline species, you could explore Ruaha National Park’s baobab-scattered grasslands on foot.

Following your expert guide closely, you might learn how to identify animal tracks, pause to observe skeletal remains left by a lion that’s eaten its fill, and begin to notice the ecosystem’s more subtle creatures, from termites to rainbow-scaled agama lizards.

Get me there: Experience the drama of the Serengeti on a nine-day safari in northern Tanzania, or head south for a 12-day trip combining Nyerere’s wildlife and Zanzibar’s beaches.

Land iguana, the Galapagos Islands
Land iguana, Galapagos Islands

Our runners-up

Best destination for luxury escapes

Everyone’s idea of luxury is a little different. It might be a private suite with the most envious view, an exclusive experience with your very own guide, or a multi-course tasting menu prepared with the finest ingredients. Our winning destinations serve up luxury in all its varieties.

And the winner is… the Whitsundays, Australia

Qualia, Hamilton Island
Qualia on Hamilton Island, Australia

Carpeted with silica sands and draped with cerulean skies, the mostly untouched islands of the Whitsundays possess unparalleled luxury in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.

Among them, you’ll find a variety of secluded stays to suit every brand of opulence, from solar-powered eco retreats to private suites overlooking azure waters. Depending on your tastes, you may choose to gaze out at pacifying waves in shoreside infinity pools, unwind among the hoop pines as you sink into a morning massage, or explore the islands’ undulating hills in your very own buggy.

Though, luxury doesn’t have to be confined to the islands themselves. From the Whitsundays, we can arrange for you to charter a yacht to explore alabaster sandbars, or sleep beneath the stars on a pontoon Reefbed. For a little more adventure, you could hop on a helicopter to view the reef from above. Or, perhaps you’d prefer to hire a catamaran and dive with the surgeonfish, stingrays, and sea turtles?

Get me there: Take a luxury trip to Australia, including a private catamaran tour of the Great Barrier Reef and a secluded stay at boutique hotel Qualia.

Restaurant on the beach
Beach restaurant in the Seychelles

Our runners-up

Best destination for outdoor adventures

If you want to get your adrenaline pumping amid the world’s most striking scenery, our top destinations for outdoor adventures promise action-packed days within diverse wilderness areas.

And the winner is… Hawaii

Nā Pali coastline, Kauai
Nā Pali coastline of Kauaʻi, Hawaii

Comprising tropical rainforests, active volcanoes, plunging sea cliffs, and coral-fringed coastlines, Hawaii is ripe for adventure. But, alongside this, you’ll find that a responsibility to care for the land (known as mālama ʻāina) is a foundation of Hawaiian culture, another reason we’ve chosen the island state as our winner.

On your trip, we can help you give back to the natural world as you explore. For example, you could go whale watching with a team of marine naturalists whose research helps protect the humpbacks you’ll spot. Or, spend the day in a nature reserve harvesting kalo, Hawaii’s most spiritually significant plant.

Elsewhere, you could balance relaxation with more active pursuits: snorkel with green sea turtles on Hanalei Bay, hike the emerald cliffs of the Nā Pali Coast, bathe in the orange glow of sunrise atop Haleakalā Crater before cycling back down, or take a private surfing lesson on Waikīkī Beach. Then, end your day stargazing on the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano.

Get me there: Spend 17 days island-hopping in Hawaii, including time exploring the wilderness of Kauaʻi and the beaches of Maui.

Rhyolite mountains of Landmannalaugar, southern Iceland

Our runners-up

Best destination for cultural immersion

Authentic experiences and meaningful connections are at the heart of all our trips, but the following destinations have so many opportunities that you could spend weeks dedicated to exploring the local culture and still return to uncover more.

And the winner is… Japan

Geisha in backstreets of Kyoto
Geisha in the Gion district of Kyoto, Japan

From the precise ritual of a tea ceremony to the complexities of wearing a traditional kimono, many aspects of Japan’s culture are nuanced and steeped in history and meaning. In Kyoto alone, you can explore the Zen philosophy infused in every rock at Ryoanji garden, take a class in the delicate art of ikebana flower arranging at the Women’s Association of Kyoto, and glimpse a geisha on a tour of the Gion district with an expert.

Even a simple stay at a rural inn can be an adventure in Japanese culture. When you stay at a ryokan, you’ll don a yukata (a casual cotton kimono), soak in communal hot-spring baths known as onsen, and enjoy an elaborate multi-course kaiseki meal.

If you prefer modern life or futuristic cityscapes to traditional culture, Tokyo’s the place. We suggest visiting Harajuku, where the fashions seem to come straight from the pages of a comic book, or Shinjuku, the city’s frenetic commercial hub, packed with tiny eateries and karaoke bars, and lit up in neon.

Get me there: Immerse yourself in Japan’s culture for 11 days on a trip that includes time in Tokyo, Kyoto, and at a rural onsen.

Camel train in the Erg Chebbi
Camel train in the Erg Chebbi, Morocco

Our runners-up

Best destination for family trips

Keeping children entertained abroad is no mean feat, so we’ve picked our favorite destinations that offer a good dose of adventure, as well as a range of family-friendly stays with ample space to unwind.

And the winner is… Italy

Traditional Mask, Venice
Traditional Venetian-style mask, Venice, Italy 

Whether you’re traveling with small children, teenagers, or a group that spans three generations, you’ll find a wide range of hands-on experiences across Italy that will help to burn off some of that youthful energy. We could arrange a hands-on lesson in gladiator fighting in Rome, or you could learn to make traditional Venetian-style masks with a master artisan along the canals.

Italy is also home to pizza, pasta, gelato, and other familiar dishes that are usually devoured by even the pickiest eaters. For slightly older or more adventurous children, we can arrange private cooking classes that can be adjusted to their level.

Stress-free travel is another reason we’ve crowned Italy as our winner. Many locals speak English, and you can travel between cities via train. This is ideal for restless little legs that don’t enjoy long car rides or standing in line at an airport, allowing you to make the most of your Italian adventure.

Get me there: Spend ten days exploring Venice, Florence, and Rome with the whole family, including a pasta-making class in Florence. 

Elephant Hills Tented Camp
Elephant Hills Tented Camp, Thailand

Our runners-up

Best destination for cruising

Aboard a boat, you can gain completely different perspectives of the destinations you visit, explore places unreachable by land, and unwind far from the crowds. Our top picks cover a range of cruising styles and vessels, from gentle river cruises to icy expeditions.

And the winner is… the Arctic

Polar Pioneer
Expedition vessel in the Arctic

And the winner is… the Arctic

Imagine peering up at blue-tinted glaciers towering overhead, spotting a whale poking its snout out of the water, and watching long-tusked walruses basking on rocky beaches, all from the comfort of your lodgings. An expedition cruise to the Arctic gives you the opportunity to experience all of this and more from the deck of an ice-classed vessel.

For us, the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard stands out as a winning polar-cruise destination thanks to its relative accessibility. Compared to Antarctica, it’s easier to get to, more affordable, and, if you’re short on time, you can cover a good deal of ground in just over a week. Embarking from Longyearbyen, the northernmost town in the world, you’ll sail past slowly shifting glaciers and up wide fjords backed by pointy, snow-capped peaks. En route, you may even catch a glimpse of the elusive polar bear.You could also step off the ship to kayak under steep cliffs where Atlantic puffins nest, trek across tundra abloom in Arctic flowers to visit abandoned whaling stations, and take wildlife photography workshops under the midnight sun.

Get me there: A seven-night Arctic cruise gives you a chance to glimpse ever-changing icebergs and spot an array of wildlife in and out of the water.

The Oberoi Zahra near Luxor, Egypt
The Oberoi Zahra in Luxor, Egypt

Our runners-up

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