FROM trekking across the Serengeti plain to wolf-watching in Montana and kayaking the canals of Venice – they are the world’s best outdoor adventures.
And only one in Britain is worth trying in your lifetime, according to a new global guide – the Hebrides.
National Geographic Travelermagazine chose Wilderness Walking: The Outer Hebrides and Skye for its 2014 list of “50 Tours of a Lifetime”.
The six-day trail, which starts in Inverness and takes in coastlines, glens and hills on the islands of Harris, Skye and Scalpay, shows off some of Scotland’s wildlife, including birds of prey – such as white-tailed sea eagles – basking sharks and whales, and the flora of the Outer Hebrides.
Operated by Aviemore-based Wilderness Scotland, the tour has run for ten years from May to September and is popular with North American, European and South African visitors. The travel guide, read by 8.5 million people worldwide, had previously ranked the firm’s Scottish Sea Kayak Trail on its 2011 list.
National Geographic Traveler writes: “What better way to celebrate Scotland’s Year of Homecoming – when the diaspora are invited back to explore their heritage – than to wander its coastal machairs [fields], peaks, and glens on the far-flung islands of Skye, Harris, and Lewis.”
Executive editor Norie Quintos said the guide’s writers looked for the most “authentic, most innovative, most immersive, best-guided, and most sustainable” adventures.
She said: “This year marks the 30th anniversary of National Geographic Traveler, which has always looked at the world through the lens of culture, nature, and history. The tours we selected go beyond destination to add meaning and context. They open the mind to new possibilities, new connections, new ways of thinking – all critically important given the world’s complex issues.”
Hamish Taylor, who ran tours around the Hebrides for 17 years until he retired in 2013, said visitors keep returning, not just for the wildlife but for the people who act as guides.
He said the social history of the area was as valuable as the natural wonders.
The 74-year-old, from Flodabay on Harris, said: “A real person showing you real people and real things – it’s as simple as that.
“I fear sometimes that we have forgotten how to be really unreservedly friendly with people. I would do 100-150 families per summer and we were turning people away. When you’re seeing something as up close and real as you do in Harris, it’s not so much a touristy thing – you’re showing people as friends.”
Wilderness Scotland managing director Paul Easto said everyone should visit the islands at least once.
He said: “The whole team is delighted to have received another incredible accolade from National Geographic Traveler. We have been running trips in the Outer Hebrides and Skye for more than a decade and have always believed the islands to be truly special.
“To have our signature walking trip to the islands recognised as a Trip of a Lifetime is a great testament and we’re now even more excited to welcome our first clients in 2014.”
VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay congratulated Wilderness Scotland and said the guide would increase interest in the tour and the Hebrides.
He added: “VisitScotland is encouraging people who have never been to a Scottish island to get out there and find out exactly what makes them so special.”
Other tours on the top 50 list include Hyenas to Humpbacks in Kenya, Untouched Africa: Gorillas of the Congo Basin in the Republic of the Congo and the High Road to Kashmir in India.