If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that travel should be savoured. These immersive experiences – in some of the world’s most intriguing destinations – will convince you that slow travel is the only way to go.
Slow down, take your time, be mindful, and focus on your journey rather than the destination. You will find a deeper cultural experience, increased mindfulness and authentic experiences. Not just for you, slow travel is better for the planet too.
From walking the wild plains of Zambia to sipping tea in Sri Lanka, there are endless wonders to discover when you take the time to immerse yourself in your travels. Slow travel is taking off, and these incredible experiences will leave you feeling inspired, grounded and connected.
1. See the best of Zambia on foot
Deep in Zambia’s savannah, listen to baboons bark and monkeys chat from your camp’s open-air bath in the South Luangwa National Park. Part of a walking safari with Abercrombie & Kent, where elephants are within arm’s reach.
Days are spent deep in the national park. Your main mode of transport is walking, because there’s no better way to experience this slow travel experience with exotic wildlife.
Trek between your luxurious bush camps and walk high along the banks of the Luwi River with hippos below.
Further out, large elephant herds roam, zebras gallop past and there are few places in Africa where you will see as many leopards. Dine on gourmet food and bed down in tents with plush four-poster beds, large picture windows and private open-air bathrooms.
Then fly to UNESCO World Heritage-listed Lower Zambezi National Park. Here, the big game thrives – elephants, buffalo, lions and leopards. Drift silently along in a boat. You won’t need binoculars; instead, you’ll hear the wildlife rustle among the trees and turn to see that it’s you who is being watched.
Abercrombie & Kent’s Best of Zambia 11-day walking tour starts from $17,450 per person.
2. Cruise with Holland America
Cruising is the ultimate slow travel experience, allowing travellers to uncover hidden gems and immerse themselves in each port they visit. Holland America has been wowing passengers on the world’s oceans since the 1800s and it’s full steam ahead to mark its latest milestone.
It’s the only cruise line with a dedicated culinary council, a floating art gallery valued at more than US$4.1 million, world-class live music performances, and 500 itineraries to more than 470 ports.
To celebrate its 150th anniversary, Holland America has launched a collection of ‘Heritage Cruises’ taking in destinations across Alaska, the Caribbean, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Hawaii, South America and Mexico.
These curated journeys will take in the quintessential sights – the storied laneways and cerulean waters of the Mediterranean, Hawaii’s volcanic beaches and the picturesque wine regions of New Zealand. All the while, you’ll be accompanied by Holland America’s exceptional hospitality, award-winning dining and 150 years of cruising expertise.
Read more: Holland America’s 48 ‘Heritage Cruises’ celebrate the cruise line’s history
3. Explore Okinawa Japan
Okinawa is Japan, but not as you know it. The pace is slower, the culture and history distinct, and the natural landscapes sublime.
Comprising 160 islands at the southwestern tip of Japan, Okinawa has a friendly, relaxed island vibe. Immerse yourself in Okinawa by renting a car and cruising along the stunning coastal roads of the main island. The further north you head, the more stunning the scenery becomes as you enter the UNESCO Heritage-listed Yanbaru National Park. Take a stroll along a trail of elevated boardwalks around Gesashi Bay. Or join a three-hour kayak tour and paddle to the sea.
The food you’ll find here is unlike anything you’ll find on the mainland. Okinawan cuisine is big on fresh vegetables and other nourishing ingredients. It’s one of the key reasons local people live long, healthy lives – Okinawa is one of the world’s Blue Zones with a higher-than-average life expectancy.
For an even slower pace, explore Okinawa’s stunning outer islands each with their own relaxed vibe and local experiences. One highlight is a visit to Hatenohama Beach on Kume Island – the whitest beach in the region.
Read more: 13 reasons why Okinawa is Japan’s hottest travel destination
4. New Zealand by train
As the sun sinks behind snow-capped mountains, travellers on board the TranzAlpine press their faces to windows and think, yes, this is why we came to New Zealand. The scenic slow travel experience takes you from the South Island city of Christchurch, through the heart of the Southern Alps, to Greymouth on the West Coast. You’ll pass breathtaking viaducts and soaring mountains. The West Coast is the place to enjoy endless walking trails, historic mining towns, and nature abounds. You’ll also have the opportunity to sample local brews at Monteith’s Brewery.
Or for vast ocean views and wineries, take the Coastal Pacific through the heart of the Marlborough region and to the top of the South Island. Leaving from Christchurch, your train glides along the rugged Kaikōura coastline, where giant sperm whales are the year-round residents. Sip wines on board as you pass lush vineyards and, on arrival, head to the countryside and learn the secret to this region’s winemaking success. Whether you choose a day trip, package or tour, travel in this stunning landscape will stay with you.
5. Dive in a vibrant underwater world at Wakatobi
This Indonesian dive resort sits pretty in Southeast Sulawesi, in the heart of the Coral Triangle. Wakatobi Resort boasts exclusive access to a privately funded marine reserve.
Explore some of the world’s best reefs, including a House Reef with shallow coral gardens extending 80 metres before plunging into the ocean.
But a stay at Wakatobi isn’t just for dedicated dive travellers. The resort blends five-star comfort with aquatic adventures and is just as appealing to snorkellers or young families. Relax in a traditional bungalow or oceanfront villa with plunge pool and garden shower. Guests can enjoy a meal at the beach restaurant, a cocktail at the jetty bar or an indulgent massage.
Your stay at Wakatobi Resort supports local communities to honour no-take fishing zones and funds patrols and cleanings to protect and preserve the reef.
Read more: Diving your vibe? This Indonesian island resort is one of the best places in the world to do it
6. Lounge with lions in Canberra
Sip Moët & Chandon and dine on decadent dishes of native macadamia-crusted snapper and roast lamb while lions laze in front of you – albeit behind glass.
The lion accompanied dinner is part of an overnight stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge, a five-star retreat within Australia’s National Zoo & Aquarium, Canberra. The family-run property has seven African-inspired rooms and suites. Think a safari-style lodge with its own shark tank and tropical gardens and rooms overlooking the Molonglo River, where giraffes linger at windows. Or jungle bungalows where you can soak in a bubble bath as lions, tigers or Malayan sun bears saunter by.
When you’re not admiring the animals pour a glass of fine wine (it’s free-flowing), sit on the terrace and take in the sunset. All the while knowing your stay is helping fund education and breeding programs for the conservation of these incredible creatures.
Read more: What makes Jamala Wildlife Lodge a ‘wild’ sleepover?
A stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge starts from $1,750 per night.
7. Raft in the wilds of Canada
Canada’s Tatshenshini River is known as the wildest river in North America, but beginners are still welcome on this Nahanni’s 11-day rafting trip.
Make your way from Whitehorse, Yukon, through the largest bio-preserve in the world. You’ll paddle by large glaciers, through a lake dotted with icebergs and past riverbanks popular with grizzly bears, moose and mountain goats.
Birds flying overhead, your days will be spent floating along peaceful waters and whooping with excitement on stretches of whitewater before bedding down for the night in riverside camps.
A short flight via bush plane will transport you back to your starting point – invigorated and with a lifetime’s supply of fond memories.
Tatshenshini River Rafting 11-Day Expedition costs $8,915 (CAD) per person.
8. 10 days in a nomadic Mongolian community
If you’ve been looking for a way to leave your worries behind, this out-of-the-ordinary travel experience may well be it. Black Tomato has curated a 10-day immersion into the lives of Mongolia’s nomadic communities. You’ll venture into remote deserts and national parks, ride horses over mountain passes and raft on the Tuul River.
Accommodation ranges from lodges and eco camps to a family’s home, where you’ll spend two nights joining in local life. Try your hand at herding cattle and making fermented airag (horse’s milk) and traditional buuz (steamed meat dumplings). The trip culminates in some shopping in Ulaanbaatar, before a farewell dinner that will leave you hungry to see more of this unique country.
Black Tomato’s Explorer in Mongolia 9-night tour stars from £6,300 per person.
9. Slow travel throughout Australia
The NRMA’s Sloways network directs you away from fast-paced highways and through regional towns you’d otherwise miss out on seeing. Sloways is a collection of slow-drive routes for caravanners and motorhome holidaymakers wanting to take their time.
Choose from a selection of slow-drive routes in each state or plan your own trip with suggested stops and stays to create your own slow travel experience.
10. Stay in historic hotels
Sleek and modern hotels have their own kind of appeal. But buildings with history invite us to slow down, rest and return to a simpler time. New on the accommodation scene in Australia and New Zealand is Historic Stays, a booking platform for gorgeous holiday lets with authentic period charm.
From converted gaols and wool stores to graceful homesteads and shearers’ quarters, Historic Stays represents a curated selection of beautifully restored and decorated properties in which to unwind. The history of each property is outlined on the website, along with details of its transformation. You’ll also find information on what to expect during a stay, and what to do in the local area.
11. Scuba in Cuba
With balmy seas and great visibility, the little-explored waters around this Caribbean island are undisturbed. Safety comes first on the 14-day Havana-to-Havana tour with Simply Cuba Tours, which will have you exploring sunken ships off the coast of Trinidad, vibrant fish in the pristine waters of Cienfuegos Bay and the coral reefs off Playa Girón.
It’s not all about the diving, as spectacular as it is. Nightlife and activities range from salsa dancing to rum tasting. What else would you expect in Cuba?
12. Icelandic nature therapy
Reconnecting with nature is blissful anywhere, but in Iceland, it is extra restorative. On this four-night mindful experience with Slow Adventure, you’ll hike through hills overlooking a glacier, go island hopping by kayak, practice outdoor yoga and meditation, and soak in geothermal baths.
Outdoor cooking is also on the cards at the summerhouse of your local guide. Deep sleeping is almost a given after stress-free, outdoorsy days. Each night, you’ll bed down at a peaceful local farmhouse close to the mighty Vatnajökull glacier. A maximum of six people can join this tour.
Icelandic Nature Therapy costs £1,025 per person.
13. Remote photography expeditions
Lovers of photography can indulge their passion without distraction on one of True North’s photographic expeditions. Accompanied by experienced guides, venture to remote parts of Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Throw yourself off an adventure runabout to hone your underwater photography skills, capture aerial shots from the onboard helicopter and drone, and access difficult-to-reach locations. With your guides navigating the best on-the-day-locations, amateur and professional shooters alike can focus on fully immersing themselves in their craft.
14. The Highlands and Hogwarts by rail
Fans of Outlander and Harry Potter will love ByWay’s four-night rail journey from London into the Scottish Highlands. The spectacular route takes you to Fort William, where you’ll stay overnight in an old police station. Then, channel your inner Harry, Hermione or Ron as the train traverses the 21-arched Glenfinnan Viaduct to Mallaig and on to Inverness. You’ll spend two nights aboard the train in a sleeper cabin, and another in an Inverness mansion dating back to 1786. What you do at each stop on this slow travel experience is up to you. In Inverness, take a cruise on Loch Ness and visit the Culloden Battlefield or feast on Haggis-loaded fries and other Scottish delicacies.
The Highlands & Hogwarts route via sleeper train journey starts from £570 per person.
15. Alpine Italy
Warning, hiking from one alpine hut to another through pristine pastures is highly addictive. Setting off from Morbegno in Northern Italy’s Valtellina region, Slow Adventure’s six-day itinerary will take you out of your comfort zone and into the heart of the Italian Alps.
You’ll trek anywhere from three to six hours per day with elevation gains of up to 1000 metres – and absolutely incredible views. At night, you’ll live simply in stone huts, sharing good food with your guide and fellow adventurers.
Embrace Slow Living in Alpine Huts Slow Adventure costs £876 per person.
16. Walk the Camino de Santiago
Lace up your hiking boots for this famed ancient pilgrimage. With an Intrepid Travel leader by your side, you can skip the hassle of organising accommodation and luggage transfers and just enjoy the journey.
Intrepid’s 10-day walk (up to 29 kilometres each day) begins in Sarria, Spain. From here, you’ll walk the Camino trail’s final 100 kilometres, culminating in Santiago de Compostela. Along the way, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the route with a small group of like-minded travellers.
Walk the Camino de Santiago tour starts from $1,795 per person.
17. Trek through the desert by camel
Enrich your trip to Morocco with Berber Camps. The four-day Sahara Desert trip from Fes to Marrakech includes an overnight camel trek in the Merzouga Desert, crossing the Atlas Mountains and camping under the stars. Sandboarding from the highest sand dune of Erg Chebbi (one of Morocco’s red sand dune ‘seas’ formed by desert winds), walks and shopping are also part of the exciting itinerary.
18. Slow travel in Sonoma Country, California
Sonoma County in Northern California is well known for its towering redwoods and sustainably produced wine. But there are also more than 80 kilometres of dramatic Pacific Ocean coastline to explore. Keen hikers will enjoy the five-kilometre Bluff Top Trail that winds from Gualala Point all the way to the beach. From November to March, migrating whales can be seen from the shore.
Further inland, Lake Sonoma beckons with opportunities to fish, swim, canoe or paddle board. Beyond the beach, Sonoma County is home to dozens of spas and wellness centres. Soak in a healing alchemy of a cedar enzyme bath and get a skin refresh bespoke to the region with a ‘Crushed Cabernet’ scrub. Then, enjoy an al fresco massage or visit Sonoma Roots for a vitamin boost with B-12 shots.
19. Tea time in Sri Lanka
Be waited on hand and foot at Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Tea Trails. Stay in one of five historic tea planter bungalows perched high in cool-climate hills. Here, you’ll greet the day with a cup of tea (poured by your butler) and take a stroll through the lush tea fields before settling in for an afternoon at leisure. A bath ritual, croquet on the lawn or relax by the pool, perhaps?
20. Big-game walking safaris
Encountering a big, toothy wild animal is enough to scare the pants off you from the comfort of a safari vehicle, but imagine the exhilaration of spotting one of the big five when you’re out on a walk. Fortunately, you’ll have an armed guard by your side in case the wildlife saunters a little too close for comfort, along with mobile camps and a support crew to ensure you’re well fed and sleeping comfortably (and safely).
Natural High Safaris leads walking tours in Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. Each day, you’ll head out for a walk in the morning, enjoy some downtime in the heat of the day, then take another walk in the late afternoon. Surrendering to the natural rhythms of nature is the ultimate way to unplug.
21. Journey to the Ecuadorian jungle
The G Adventures Local Living tour into the Amazon Rainforest proves you don’t need to have a big budget to enjoy an exclusive travel experience. This immersive seven-day tour delivers a week of surprise and adventure. Departing from Quito, a maximum of 16 guests can head into the jungle to meet a local Quichua family.
You’ll be hosted in their village for the next four nights where you’ll learn about local traditions and medicinal plants. You’ll also walk to a jungle waterfall, visit an animal rescue centre by canoe, and hone your blowgun skills. Accommodation is otherwise in simple hotels and rustic wooden bungalows with shared bathrooms.
The G Adventures Local Living tour starts from $1,049 per person.
22. Horse riding in the South Island
Saddle up and mount your steed for the trip of a lifetime on New Zealand’s scenic South Island. Adventure Horse Trekking runs a six-day ride from Queenstown to the iconic Glen Lyon Station. The station is nestled on the banks of Lake Ohau in the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky International Reserve, so expect some sensational star gazing. You’ll ride along rivers, deep into mountain-flanked valleys and into the heart of the Southern Alps.
The Iconic Glen Lyon Station Pack Trail ride starts from $4,450 (NZD) per person.
23. Ride the Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin
The journey from Adelaide to Darwin – and back – is a lot of ground to cover. But on the AAT Kings Outback Tracks tour you can rest easy knowing you have 19 days to do it. Not just that, but on the return trip from Darwin you’ll sleep on board The Ghan, one of the world’s greatest rail journeys.
With guides and a tour director by your side, you’ll explore Indigenous rock art, the lunar landscape and opals of Coober Pedy, and the wonders of Australia’s Red Centre. Historic pubs, vast cattle stations and wildlife-rich national parks await. You’ll take a billabong cruise (look out for crocs), scenic flight and cooling waterhole swims. It’s an unforgettable adventure in our own rather large backyard.
AAT Kings Outback Tracks tour starts from $13,225.
24. Europe by bike and river
Uniworld River Cruises has teamed up with Butterfield and Robinson to cycle and cruise in style. Exploring Germany, Austria, Hungary on the lavish new river boat, SS Maria Theresa. The boat will serve as your base as you float down the Danube River. Along the way, take in stately cities, historic sites, charming villages, towering castles, farms and forests.
Guided shore excursions will have you cycling along quiet roads through picturesque valleys and zipping about on bike lanes in some of Europe’s most interesting cities. A hybrid or racing bike is included on the Danube River Cruise Biking trip, depending on whether you want some motorised help when your legs get tired or want to go it alone.
The 8-day Danube River Cruise Biking tour stars from $10,595 (USD) per person
25. Slow travel Peru
If you’re travelling all the way to Peru, it makes sense to spend some time getting to know the place. Responsible Travel’s 22-day in-depth tour will have you taking in the highlights like Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Lima. You’ll also spend a full week in the Sacred Valley and Colca Canyon, the second-deepest valley in the world.
Walk two different Inca Trails, including the final 12 kilometres to the Sun Gate, where you’ll get a great view of the site. The trip includes the opportunity to learn about indigenous cultures during community immersion days, which help fund the area’s local education and health facilities.
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