Photo: Large rock formation dusk

Ker & Downey takes travelers to Egypt’s White Desert to view limestone formations.

Photograph by Clemens Emmler, laif/Redux

By Margaret Loftus

Epic Serengeti Bush Trek

Strike out in the Serengeti with one of the few outfits leading extended walking safaris in a rezoned and largely unexplored area of the park. Maasai warriors accompany some of the treks and share stories about their culture around the campfire. “We walked the hunting paths of lion prides and used elephant tracks to find watering holes,” says guest Michael Procknal. “I’ve never felt so in touch with the world around me.” Digs are mobile tents, except for a night spent in a “tree nest.” Mark Thornton Safaris: “Epic Serengeti Bush Trek,” 9 days; $6,376.

Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Eritrea: Red Sea Odyssey

New this year

Travel aboard the 110-passenger Clipper Odyssey to explore the most celebrated sites of the region—the rose-pink ruins of Petra in Jordan and Luxor temple in Egypt—as well as those places visitors rarely tread. See Sudan’s old city of Suakin, a once thriving trading post with buildings carved from coral blocks; and the Dahlak Archipelago in Eritrea, where islanders fish for pearls as they have for centuries. Zegrahm and Eco Expeditions: “Voyage through the Red Sea,” 17 days; $11,980.

Zimbabwe: Walk Among Elephants

New this year

After years of political turmoil, Zimbabwe is back on the radar for safarigoers, but this outfitter never left, working with local communities to conserve wildlife populations. Track the herds by jeep and on foot in Hwange National Park, known for its proliferation of elephants, rhinos, and lions, and glide past wading hippos on a two-night canoe trip in Mana Pools National Park. Africa Adventure Company: “Eyes on Elephant,” 15 days; $6,295.

South Africa, Tanzania: Origins of Humanity

This expedition is like stepping into a National Geographic documentary. You’re in the field with the paleoanthropologist who discovered the 3.2-million-year-old skeleton “Lucy,” exploring early human prehistory where it all began. You’ll visit the spot in Olduvai Gorge where another early hominid was found, study the similarities between chimpanzees and humans in Gombe National Park, and tour the fossil-rich Sterk­fontein caves with a paleoanthropologist who’ll discuss his work excavating what could be the oldest and most complete hominid. National Geographic Expeditions: “Human Origins,” 15 days; $13,475.

Egypt: Dive into History

New this year

Retrace Alexander the Great’s march through the Western Desert to the Oracle of Amun, where he was proclaimed a god and the pharaoh of Egypt. In the Siwa Oasis—housing a distinctive Berber culture—stay at Adrère Amellal, a modern eco take on the traditional Siwi thatch-and-mud home. Later, scuba dive in Alexandria’s harbor for a look at the surreal, preserved ancient city discovered in 1994. Ker & Downey: “Uncovering Alexander’s Egypt: A Desert & Diving Expedition,” 14 days; $9,870.

Botswana: Africa, Inside and Out

A unique foray into the heart of Africa in two parts: Spend the first week embedded with the San community as young men prepare to hunt an antelope for a rite of passage that will initiate them as adults. Next, fly to Makgadikgadi Pans to ride quad bikes across the lunar expanse of a giant ancient lake bed toward Kubu Island, a granite rock sacred to the Kalahari Bushmen. Trufflepig Travel: “Bushman Initiation Hunt & Kubu Island Quad Bike Safari,” 15 days; $17,825.

Ghana: Voodoo and Bush Camping

New this year; good value

The journey kicks off in the capital, Accra, then heads to Ghana’s remote northern region. Meet traditional Lobi people, visit a witchcraft oracle, and pitch your tent in the bush. Green to the core, the outfitter often eschews hotels in favor of camping and uses alternative energy at its Toronto headquarters. Gap Adventures: “Ghana Untouched,” 13 days; $2,700 (some meals not included).

These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler's 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2011 for the outfitters' commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection.

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