Nat Geo/G Adventures tours mix education, fun and free time

Nat Geo/G Adventures tours mix education, fun and free time

Six months after the launch of National Geographic Journeys
with G Adventures, a collaboration of National Geographic and Toronto-based G
Adventures, the product that has emerged is a hybrid excursion that infuses G
Adventures’ socially conscious, fun and flexible tours with a dose of National
Geographic-style education and naturalism.

With 70 itineraries available, the small-group adventures
offer outdoor excursions led by expert guides and hands-on cultural experiences
with the local community. In its first six months, Journeys has seen strong
growth among older baby boomers, G Adventures said, and 2017 will bring new
destinations, including Japan and Namibia.

The La Paz Waterfall in Costa Rica is a series of seven falls, but from the bottom only the final one is visible. Photo Credit: Sarah Feldberg

Guests can visit a Sri Lankan seed farm, tour Botswana’s
Okavango Delta or spend the night at a monastery in Nepal, all at a price point
substantially lower than National Geographic’s luxurious small-ship voyages
with Lindblad Expeditions or the energetic Adventures With Mountain Travel
Sobek brand.

The Journeys’ cost ranges from $1,500 to $5,000, compared with
fares for the Lindblad and Mountain Travel Sobek trips that generally start at
$4,000 and can reach upward of $20,000 for extended itineraries or upgraded
ship cabins.

The co-branded G Adventures trips sacrifice some of the
style and comforts of National Geographic’s more expensive options. Clients
travel in private transportation and stay in comfortable three-star hotels with
amenities such as WiFi and pools. However, they don’t bed down in luxury
accommodations, and most of their meals are not included.

That trade-off is also evident in the itineraries. While
National Geographic’s high-end tours feature days packed with organized
activities, Journeys splits the schedule more evenly between planned excursions
and free time, enabling optional extras such as a soak in natural hot springs
or a zipline through the treetops, letting guests spend as much or as little
time and money as they want on schedule-filling activities. Travelers can book
excursions a la carte or just kick back during unscheduled hours.

Guests who want a fully choreographed vacation might find
the tours too loose, but for those who enjoy the freedom to shape their own
travel, a National Geographic Journey enables plenty of independent
exploration.

That National Geographic stamp also means education and
access for an explicit emphasis on understanding the destination with help from
researchers and local guides. Unlike more academic tours, however, National
Geographic Journeys are education-light, with lessons disguised as forest walks
and few formal lectures or speakers.

On a nine-day survey of Costa Rica’s natural highlights
(starting at $1,499 for double occupancy) earlier this year, the group woke up
early for a guided stroll through the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, where pumas,
kinkajous and the magnificent quetzal bird roam. Then it was on to the
Monteverde Institute, which hosts National Geographic researchers studying the
ecosystem, for a quick talk and to get guests’ hands dirty weeding saplings for
distribution to local families as part of the Institute’s reforestation
efforts, an experience exclusive to National Geographic Journeys.

Richard Bennett, who went on the trip with his wife, Nancy,
was drawn by the National Geographic branding and the overt, though not overwhelming,
emphasis on learning about the environment.

“We like to mix a little education with the vacation,” he
said.

Adventure was in plentiful supply, too, in the form of an
optional Adrenaline bundle (available only on the Costa Rica tour) that
included rappelling, kayaking and ziplining or a la carte excursion options
like horseback riding or spelunking. 

In Costa Rica, Dona Mara Rojas Perez cooks tortillas, handmade by a tour group during an in-home cooking class.

In Costa Rica, Dona Mara Rojas Perez cooks tortillas, handmade by a tour group during an in-home cooking class. Photo Credit: Sarah Feldberg

G Adventures’ emphasis on sustainable travel and social
relevance is also embedded in the trips. In Costa Rica, the group toured Mi
Cafecito, a coffee collective supported by G Adventures’ sustainable tourism
nonprofit, Planeterra, which includes 140 family farms that share the
processing and roasting facility and sell their beans under a unified brand.

In Nepal, groups visit Sasane, a program that trains
survivors of human trafficking to be paralegals so they can help other
trafficking victims.

Christy Ridenhour, who traveled to Costa Rica with her
husband and 12-year-old son, booked the tour because the mix of activities
seemed to suit all family members.

Ziplining through the canopy and monkey-spotting in Manuel
Antonio National Park were family favorites, but it was the in-home
tortilla-making class and dinner with local resident Dona Mara Rojas Perez, an
exclusive National Geographic Journeys experience, that stood out as the true
highlight for Ridenhour.

“I’m holding back tears right now,” she said as the group
gathered around the table for a typical Costa Rican casado dinner.

“I knew I would be getting something special,” Ridenhour
said later. “I felt like this tour was priceless.”

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