Into the Wild: The World's Best Nature Escapes

The Irati Forest, in the Spanish Pyrenees, was inaccessible until the 1960s
The Irati Forest, in the Spanish Pyrenees, was inaccessible until the 1960s | © Raul Esteban / Alamy
Photo of Cassam Looch
Social Editor23 March 2021

Travellers have always been fascinated with finding the best nature escapes around the world, a factor that is an even bigger concern for people looking to get away in 2021. Following months at home, the desire for time away from city centres and suburban domiciles leads us to our list of incredible destinations that are just wild enough to need a little taming. Let’s take a look at Culture Trip’s favourite nature escapes around.

The default option used to be an African safari when considering a wild adventure. These classic holidays are still popular today, but with new destinations offering more accessibility and a wide array of experiences, the choices seem endless.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Okay, hear us out on this one. Cinque Terre, in the northwest of Italy, is a popular tourist destination many of you will already know. The five villages that make up the coastal area are vividly coloured and make for incredible social media posts. The wider area is part of the Cinque Terre National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site where access by car is limited, so trains run from nearby cities, as do regular ferry services in and out of the main port. If you can tear yourself away from the tourist hubs, however, you’ll find some fantastic nature and hikes into the hills nearby. This destination is ideal for anyone looking for a classic Italian experience with a healthy dose of outdoorsiness thrown in. If you have even more time, then book one of the dolphin- and whale-watching boat trips to really reconnect with the wild.

From Vernazza, one of the five iconic villages of Cinque Terre, you can begin your hike into the surrounding nature | © Scott Wilson / Alamy

San Lucas Island, Costa Rica

Costa Rica already has great ecotourism credentials, and they are getting even better. The rainforests, unspoiled coastlines and volcanic regions combine to showcase a diverse set of raw landscapes that are hard to find anywhere else on the planet. There are many popular retreats here, but we’ve gone for the “newest”, that is, the destination that has most recently been added to the list of official national parks. San Lucas Island is the 30th such destination in Costa Rica, and here you will be able to see howler monkeys, deer and pheasant (as well as dozens of other species) run wild. The best thing about the region is that everything is geared to sustainability, so you can enjoy your adventure in a guilt-free manner.

Isla San Lucas is one of Costa Rica’s best destinations for a nature escape | © Pura Vida views / Alamy

Redwood National and State Parks, USA

Home to the tallest trees in the world, the Redwood National and State Parks are a rare contrast to what most people imagine when they think of California. The rest of the state is full of popular tourist destinations like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Monterey, but there are other places to discover, too. In fairness, there are well-known nature spots away from crowds like Joshua Tree National Park and Yosemite, but we think there’s something extra magical about Redwood. The rugged northern California coast provides a thrilling border to the more relaxing atmosphere found in the forest itself, where locals love to spend time on weekends. This is an underrated spot that is worth exploring on your next trip to the West Coast.

As the tallest trees in the world, redwoods are awe-inspiring | © George Ostertag / Alamy

Sossusvlei, Namibia

Desert safaris are growing in popularity across Africa. You get a sense of welcome isolation as well as a chance to gawp at natural wonders with these sandy experiences. If you’re after chasing exotic animals while sat in a jeep, then the wilds of Namibia‘s Sossusvlei might not be for you, but they work for us. There are mind-boggling road trips to take where you can go for miles without seeing another car or quiet retreats offering five-star comfort in the middle of nowhere. Namibia is a perfect destination to explore once travel is back on the agenda.

The expansive dunes in Sossusvlei, Namibia, are the perfect antidote to cooped-up city life | © Reinhard Dirscherl / Alamy

Irati Forest, Spain

This beech-fir forest in the western Pyrenees was relatively inaccessible until the 1960s, when roads were built. As such, the region is full of mystery and adventure augmented by relative silence and remoteness. The majority of the 17,000 acres (6,900ha) of the forest sits in Spain’s Navarra region, with some land also in France. You could head to Germany’s Black Forest in Bavaria if you want to see Europe’s biggest forest of this type, but Irati is one of the hidden gems of Spain.

Escape to the Irati forest in the Basque Country | © Westend61 GmbH / Alamy

Hokitika Gorge, New Zealand

New Zealand isn’t short of natural wonders; in fact, the wild side of the country is one of the main reasons travellers are drawn to the islands in the first place. International travel is still off the agenda for now, but domestic travel is thriving and locals are discovering neat spots like Hokitika Gorge in growing numbers. A walking track just outside the main town of Hokitika on the west coast of South Island takes you 33km (20mi) through breathtaking forests and over rampaging rapids. The views are superb throughout and peak at the vertigo-inducing rope bridge you cross at one stage.

A trek to the Hokitika Gorge includes making your way across a rope bridge | © travellinglight / Alamy

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