Where are you dreaming of going this year? AFAR readers cast more than 150,000 votes to honor their favorite hotels, cruises, airlines, trips, and destinations in the annual AFAR Travelers’ Awards. We have spent much of 2020 close to home, but that doesn’t mean we—and you—didn’t dream, of African safaris, Italian food tours, and over-the-top trips around the world. We hope this comprehensive list of winners helps spark your wanderlust and inspire your next trip.
Winner: Country Walkers
Since 1979, Vermont-based Country Walkers—a winner for the second time in this category—has been on a mission to make travel active and intimate. And its walking tours, which range from self-guided to small groups, do just that. Really, is there any better way to build up an appetite for, say, hearty Umbrian cuisine or Moroccan tagine than by walking 5 to 10 miles a day? Bonus: In light of COVID, the company has rolled out a no-risk cancellation policy and a series of protocols to protect travelers.
Winner: TCS World Travel
TCS World Travel, a pioneer in the private jet space, is the mastermind behind the 24-day, 9-destination Four Seasons private jet experience. So yeah, it knows over the top. But that OTT vibe comes in many flavors—to date, TCS has developed nearly 300 luxury jet trips—including 21-day tours of Australia and New Zealand and a 24-day around the world journey. It also crafts custom itineraries, if you have a bigger dream in mind—and offers a very flexible cancellation policy (among other COVID standards).
Hiking and Walking Trips
Winner: Wilderness Travel
Since 1978, Wilderness Travel has been showing active travelers the world on foot: About half of the company’s 200 journeys focus on hiking and trekking. Adventurers can go to Kyrgyzstan to sleep in yurts, dine with a local family, and watch eagle hunters at work; on another trip, history buffs head to the Andes with an expert archaeologist to see the monumental pre-Inca ruins of Chavín de Huántar, where they get exclusive access to the ancient site’s subterranean water channels.
Winner: Wilderness Travel
Wilderness Travel also specializes in extraordinary wildlife adventures. Ever wanted to trek with gorillas in Uganda or snorkel with sea lions in the Galápagos? With Wilderness, the groups are small, the guides are specialists in their fields, and conservation is front and center. The company also offers U.S. trips (including several Alaska excursions) and private journeys perfect for bubble travel.
Rafting and Kayaking Trips
Winner: Sea Kayak Adventures
The 27-year-old company won the top spot in this category last year. AFAR travelers have shown, time and time again, that they appreciate Sea Kayak’s perspective on the world, whether that’s kayaking in Rwanda or plying Caribbean waters in Cuba. More recently, the company has addressed the pandemic, rolling out Baja Bubble Journeys for private groups of two to eight people.
Trips That Do Good
Winner: REI Adventures
It’s no surprise that REI rocks outdoor-adventure trips. But the philanthropic brand also offers a series of volunteer tours that genuinely make a difference—and won this category for the third time. REI emphasizes stewardship, which means travelers can spend 10 days working to protect and research sea turtles in Costa Rica or 13 days repairing trails in Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park.
Winner: VBT Bicycling and Walking Adventures
There are few better ways to get to know a place than by cycling its countryside. With both guided and self-guided trip options from VBT—a two-time winner in this category—beginner and experienced cyclists alike wend through terraced vineyards in Germany, enjoy Atlantic coastline views near Cape Town, pedal toward Arthur’s Pass in New Zealand, or see the rice paddies of Vietnam from their bike saddles.
Winner: National Geographic Expeditions
Travelers learn the ins and outs of light, aperture, and frame from National Geographic photographers on dozens of photography-focused trips, which also won the top spot in 2020. Five UNESCO World Heritage sites serve as settings for shoots on a train tour through India, and the colors and costumes of Kagura dancers make for captivating subjects in Hiroshima, Japan. Certified photo instructors come aboard all Nat Geo cruises, too.
Winner: Abercrombie & Kent
Imagine dining with the owners of a spice plantation in India, or floating in a hot air balloon above stupas in Myanmar, or privately touring the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities. For nearly 60 years, Abercrombie & Kent has taken travelers deep into the heart of some of the world’s most fascinating places, with a mix of luxury and behind-the-scenes access. Opt for a group trip aboard a luxury cruise ship or a private jet or for a tailored experience for you and your companions, complete with a personal guide.