WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Geographic Society announced today the launch of National Geographic Private Expeditions, a new line of trips geared toward independent travelers, offered in partnership with Virtuoso®, the leading international network of luxury-focused travel agencies and advisors. Private Expeditions are unique itineraries to destinations all over the world that are specially designed for those who seek the flexibility to travel when and with whom they wish. Travelers explore independently while enjoying the benefits of traveling with National Geographic: top local guides, access to sites and experiences, built-in free time to explore and excellent accommodations. Travelers simply select a Private Expedition, choose their travel dates and any number of traveling companions and leave the legwork to National Geographic Expeditions and Virtuoso.
With a lineup of 13 Private Expeditions at launch and more on the way, travelers can choose from a range of trips geared toward a wide spectrum of interests. Culture enthusiasts can venture into Buddhist temples and ancient fortresses in Bhutan, and join monks and nuns for prayer ceremonies. Adventure seekers can hike or ride horseback along the dramatic coasts of South Africa's Western Cape before heading out on safari in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. Throughout each trip, travelers are treated to local perspectives and meaningful cultural experiences, such as examining dinosaur fossils with a paleontologist in Mongolia or sitting down to mint tea with a rural family in Morocco.
Many Private Expeditions feature National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, a new collection of world-class, sustainable hotels that were also announced today by the National Geographic Society. Spread across six continents, the lodges are linked by their dedication to providing an outstanding guest experience while celebrating the cultural and natural heritage of their region and embracing sustainable tourism practices.
Virtuoso comprises over 355 agencies with more than 8,900 elite travel specialists in 25 countries throughout North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific and Europe. As part of the partnership, Virtuoso has enlisted 20 top travel advisors to form a team of National Geographic specialists dedicated to managing Private Expeditions bookings. These specialists can also offer additional assistance with obtaining visas and arranging air travel.
"By partnering with Virtuoso to offer this exciting line of trips, we are able to complement our unique itineraries with the exceptional level of personal service for which Virtuoso is renowned," said Lynn Cutter, National Geographic's executive vice president, Travel and Licensing. "Independent travelers can expect a seamless experience as they prepare for their trip and then set out to discover fascinating places in the spirit of National Geographic's explorers."
In preparation for the launch, National Geographic Expeditions and Virtuoso co-hosted a "Virtuoso Challenge," inviting Virtuoso travel advisors to create a dream trip that reflects the core values of National Geographic. Tamara Olton of Traveline Travel Services won the grand prize for her Costa Rica itinerary, which is now a part of the lineup of National Geographic Private Expeditions. Her trip offers unique wildlife and cultural encounters, exhilarating outdoor adventures and opportunities to experience some of Costa Rica's most remarkable hotels — including Pacuare Lodge and Lapa Rios Eco Lodge, both members of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.
"Virtuoso is proud to be the exclusive partner for National Geographic's Private Expeditions," says David Kolner, executive vice president of Consumer for Virtuoso. "Our advisors strive to provide their clients with unique experiences that immerse them in local cultures, customs and environments, and that is exactly what National Geographic has created with these trips."
The initial collection of Private Expeditions comprises the following:
1. Australia — Experience diverse wonders from Sydney's Opera House and the sacred monolith of Uluru to the unique wildlife of Kangaroo Island. Learn how to cook bush tucker with a chef, and ride The Ghan railway from the Outback to the rolling vineyards of Adelaide.
2. Bhutan — Take part in the cultural traditions of the "Kingdom in the Clouds" on visits to its historic fortresses, mountain villages and Buddhist temples, including the famous Tiger's Nest. Experience breathtaking views of the Himalaya, and join monks and nuns for prayer ceremonies.
3. China — Uncover ancient Chinese monuments, art and traditions still celebrated amid the expanding skylines of Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an and Chengdu. Come face-to-face with pandas at an important breeding center, and meet masters of tai chi, calligraphy and culinary arts.
4. Costa Rica — Discover three distinct rain forest regions while rafting the white water of the Pacuare River, hiking the base of Arenal Volcano and exploring the Osa Peninsula with local naturalists. Delve into the traditions of the indigenous Cabécar people, and discover the incredible biodiversity of the jungle canopy close up.
5. Ecuador — Immerse yourself in stunning landscapes on extended stays amid the volcanoes and lush valleys of the Altiplano and deep within the pristine jungles of the Chocó rain forest. Visit farmers and local artisans in the Andean highlands, and go on a research outing in primary cloud forest with a scientist.
6. Greece — Journey from bustling Athens to the sun-drenched shores of the Cyclades, exploring the iconic Parthenon, Minoan ruins in Crete and Santoríni's breathtaking caldera along the way. Spend two days exploring the sites near stunning Agios Nikolaos, and settle into a cave-hotel atop the cliffs of Santoríni.
7. Mongolia — Embrace the lifestyle of the nomad while journeying across the steppe and the Gobi, stopping along the way to visit a camel-herding camp and to examine dinosaur fossils at a paleontology lab. Encounter singing sand dunes and the Flaming Cliffs, and enjoy a peaceful sleep in a traditional ger.
8. Morocco — Become immersed in Morocco's colorful culture while wandering the lively bazaars of Fez and Marrakech. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Volubilis and Meknes, and experience the dramatic landscapes of the High Atlas Mountains from a traditional kasbah set just below their lofty peaks.
9. Peru — Trace the legacy of the Inca from Cusco to Machu Picchu, exploring boulder-built fortresses and intriguing colonial towns. Get an intimate look at life in the Sacred Valley during a local weaving demonstration and on visits to a ceramics workshop and active salt mines. Get an insider's look at efforts to conserve the native spectacled bear, and join a guide to explore Machu Picchu.
10. South Africa — Experience the best of South Africa on a trip that combines vibrant Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula, the dramatic southern coast of the Western Cape and a wildlife safari in a world-renowned private game reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park.
11. Tanzania — Track an astonishing array of wildlife on safaris across the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater, the plains of the Serengeti and the jungles of Lake Victoria's Rubondo Island. Go on night drives and bush walks with local rangers, and get to know the cultures that have inhabited Tanzania for centuries.
12. Vietnam and Cambodia — Journey from the rice paddies of the Mekong to the misty waters of Ha Long Bay, visiting Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi along the way. Sail a traditional-style junk among the karst formations of Ha Long Bay, visit the Mekong's floating villages and cap off the trip exploring the temples of Angkor with a Khmer scholar.
13. Chile — Journey from the heart of the Andean altiplano to the glacial landscapes of Patagonia, staying in two National Geographic Unique Lodges along the way. Explore snow-capped volcanoes and glittering salt pans in the otherworldly Atacama Desert, discover the wine country near Valparaiso, venture into Torres del Paine National Park with local guides, and enjoy a traditional barbecue at a gaucho ranch.
National Geographic Private Expeditions complements National Geographic's portfolio of travel offerings, which includes National Geographic Expeditions, Traveler magazine, books, photography courses and the @NatGeoTravel digital and photography community.
For more information about National Geographic Private Expeditions, visit www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com/triptypes/privateexpeditions.
For more information about National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, visit www.nationalgeographic.com/lodges.
SOURCE National Geographic Society