The term “jungle” may have devolved over the years into more categorically correct definitions, but the ideas and images it conjures remain: lush, primeval gardens shrouded in exotic mystery, swallowing civilizations whole and locking out the rest with walls of tangled vines and perils both real and imagined. Indeed, the tales of lost cities, hidden wealth and untold secrets combine fantastically with the colorful flora, fauna and cultures that call the jungle home, creating the perfect mix of ingredients to inspire a classic adventure.
Though they were once impenetrable to all but imaginative novelists and the most intrepid of explorers, luckily a number of fine lodges and camps now let you cross into these evocative landscapes free of the risks and challenges that they traditionally carried, and tour partners across the world offer thrilling treks that lead you into the natural habitats of the planet’s rarest and most elusive species.
Enjoy a glimpse into these unfamiliar worlds with insight from our on-the-ground destination specialists, or delve into the mysteries of the jungle yourself with a selection of sample itineraries designed to provide memorable experiences of the unique culture, ecology and recreation found in these wondrous biomes.
Though the world’s jungles are equally fascinating, it may be those of Africa that most command the imagination. From the grand adventures popularized by Victorian writers to the vibrant and boisterous world of The Lion King, the allure is varied and far-reaching. As Mr. Harper notes, the wild regions of Africa provide many occasions for wonder, but it is the jungle that contains the most profoundly intimate encounter: an up-close meeting with a mountain gorilla. “[It] is quite simply the most intense wildlife experience that Africa has to offer,” Mr. Harper says.
In Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, guests have the opportunity for these close encounters with the world’s largest population of wild mountain gorillas. The densely vegetated slopes are also home to golden monkeys, and the chance to observe these animals in their natural, undisturbed setting is a remarkable experience. A private safari in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a World Heritage site, allows guests to be guided through the dense network of vines, shrubs, steep ridges and bamboo forests to witness the complex social structure of the mountain gorillas who reside there, far away from the rest of the world. Letting an experiential travel partner such as &Beyond organize your journey allows you to focus on the extraordinary sightings and benefit from knowledgeable experts.
“&Beyond’s lodges, tours and safaris are renowned for their natural luxury and are underpinned by the knowledge and expertise of their highly skilled rangers, trackers, guides and naturalists,” says &Beyond CEO Joss Kent. “Our expert guides and naturalists passionately impart an incomparable wealth of knowledge — personally researched and experienced — about habitats, ecology, birds, trees, plants, animals and insects, providing our guests with enough memorable wildlife experiences to last a lifetime.”
The ancient ruins of Angkor Wat beckon thousands of tourists to visit the Cambodian temples every year, and Andrew Harper tour partner Abercrombie & Kent reaches sites by helicopter that are otherwise difficult or impossible to access. The private, half-day tours take you to sights such as Beng Mealea temple, now entirely encompassed by jungle. Built during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the 12th century, entering the overgrown temple has the effect of making guests feel like Indiana Jones. The tour also visits the imposing tiered pyramids of the 10th-century Koh Ker temple complex, once the capital of the Khmer Empire. A catered lunch with a private butler allows you to adventure in style, with dishes such as pomelo and prawns salad, marinated beef rolls and pineapple carpaccio.
Traveling the Mekong River between Cambodia and Vietnam, an Aqua Expeditions cruise takes in the natural beauty and culture of these two countries, including everything from exclusive insider access within private temples to a trek in the languid hills around Da Lat in the Vietnamese highlands. The river cruise also makes port at relaxing beaches such as Sihanoukville, and it allows time to explore the vibrant city life of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Along the way, guests can enjoy cooking classes, kayaking and visiting artisan studios.
“We know our guests put a premium on being able to ask lots of questions and interact one-on-one with the crew, as well as with local artisans and community members,” says Aqua Expeditions founder Francesco Galli Zugaro. “Our small size and superb teamwork onboard allow us to rapidly revise our operating procedures to deliver a ‘one-to-one’ level of luxury service to our guests.”
In India, &Beyond drops intrepid travelers into the idyllic setting of The Jungle Book. Enjoy firsthand the experience of the Rudyard Kipling classic in central India by encountering the magnificent Bengal tiger in Kanha National Park, one of the first places where the endangered species was protected. Other wildlife found in the area includes leopards, jackals, antelope and the extremely rare barasingha, or Indian swamp deer. After a full day of exploration, dine from menus inspired by traditional tribal food and favorites of the British Raj.
In the south, discover Sri Lanka, the small island in the Indian Ocean that is still off the map for many travelers. Here, watch elephants swim in their natural habitat while vibrantly colored birds swoop between old-growth trees. The unique Sinhalese culture has been influenced through the centuries by Hindu invaders, Dutch spice traders, Portuguese missionaries and the English, who were on a quest for tea. With a tour partner such as Asia Transpacific Journeys, explore rich archaeological and historical sites through diverse jungle landscapes and national parks while you overnight in grand estates or ecolodges.
Most people know about the beaches, resort towns and Mayan pyramids of Mexico, but many are surprised to learn the country is also home to one of the world’s most important pink flamingo colonies. In the massive wetlands of the Celestun Biosphere Reserve, guides from Harper-recommended destination specialist Journey Mexico navigate one of the Yucatán’s most protected areas to observe these graceful creatures. Their itineraries also include time in protected mangroves, barrier reefs, colonial cities and Mayan archaeological sites such as Chichen Itza and Ek Balam.
Though Central America may be a small sliver compared to the continents above and below, it is incredibly rich with biodiversity and wildlife. In Panama, the vast Darién Gap jungle is untamed, nearly as wild and magnificent today as it was for the early conquistadors 500 years ago. Un-Cruise Adventures takes guests along the Mogue River in a motorized dugout canoe, as the expedition guide helps with wildlife spotting and cultural exchanges with local villagers throughout the largest natural protected area in Central America. A 15-day Ultimate Costa Rica and Panama tour with Un-Cruise lets you explore the Darién along with the Panama Canal, Guna Yala’s 300-plus indigenous islands and the Pearl Islands in Panama along with time spent in Manuel Antonio National Park, the wildlife refuges and the conservation areas of Costa Rica.
Because of the way Un-Cruise ships operate, there is more time to search for wildlife and enjoy the pace of the journey. According to Richard Edwards, vice president of marketing and longtime resident of Costa Rica, the reduced number of guests allows the crew to customize each day’s activities. “The crew become your friends,” he says. “They know your name and your preferences by day two. Don’t be surprised when you are offered your favorite cocktail in the hot tub or the bartender delivers your favorite wine to your dinner table.”
There may be few names that suggest the thrill of a jungle adventure more so than Monkey Island. This remote island in the Peruvian Amazon is a refuge for multiple species of monkeys, many of them orphaned or rescued from the pet trade. A fragile ecosystem of endangered species, it is imperative to go with a company committed to sustainable tourism conservation such as Abercrombie & Kent. Their environmentally intelligent approach has earned many accolades, including the Green Award for Corporate Social Leadership in Travel & Tourism from the World Travel & Tourism Council.
Monkey Island is the first stop of A&K’s Amazon Adventure: Rainforest & River Cruise, which also winds along the Tahuayo River in search of the exotic pink river dolphin. The journey traverses the source of the Amazon in an area said to contain more primate species than any other part of the mighty river. One distinct advantage of the Peruvian Amazon is that it’s always peak season, and the rainforest is perpetually lush and teeming with wildlife. It’s also home to numerous indigenous tribes, and A&K can arrange visits with several of them.
And while not the typical image of a jungle, the dense temperate rainforests of the continental United States also yield incredible natural resources and opportunities for viewing wildlife. In the Pacific Northwest, the glacial fjords, archipelagos and old-growth forests are home to seals, sea lions, orcas, gray whales, sea birds and the bald eagle. Un-Cruise Adventures takes guests on eight-day voyages with onboard experts, including renowned birding guides and the region’s foremost craft brewers — they even offer special craft beer–themed cruises several times a year. Kayaking, hiking across islands and hidden coves, snorkeling and bird-watching are all available during your adventure.