Seven wonders of the natural world and how to see them
The Seven Natural Wonders of the world are being announced today following a global poll. We've selected holidays to seven of the spectacular sites on the shortlist
The Amazon, Ecuador
The Ecuadorian Amazon is disappearing at a mind-boggling and terrifying rate as illegal loggers and oil companies continue to destroy vast swathes of the forest. As a tourist, one of the best places to learn about the scale of the problem and what is being done about it is Yachana Lodge on the banks of the Napo river. As well as being a fantastic base for visitors to experience the forest and its wildlife, it also serves as a teaching base for the Yachana Foundation, which educates young people of the region. The foundation supports students from remote tribal communities on a three-year sponsored programme, the aim of which is to empower the next generation to protect their forest and livelihoods through sustainable tourism. "It's a drop in the ocean when you think of the scale of devastation being wrought and the might of the businesses responsible," according to Yachana sales director Hugh Yarbrough, but an important drop nonetheless, and one you can contribute to.
• Tribes Travel (01728 685971, tribes.co.uk), a British tour operator specialising in sustainable adventure tourism, offers a 10-day Andes and rainforest Ecuador package, including Yachana Lodge, for between £1,200 and £1,600, excluding flights
The Grand Canyon, USA
Most of the five million people who visit the Grand Canyon each year see it from the South Rim, the most accessible part of the park, but there are numerous ways to go beyond the main viewpoints and explore this astonishing feat of nature. The most traditional is by mule. Join an overnight ride along Bright Angel Trail and across the Colorado river, staying overnight at Phantom Ranch, the only lodge below the canyon ridge. A one-night ride costs $497.89pp (grandcanyonlodges.com), including accommodation, breakfast, lunch and steak dinner.
For the less energetic, the Grand Canyon Railway (thetrain.com, adults $70 return, children $40) takes tourists into the canyon along the century old railway line. The day trip starts from Williams, Arizona – with a shoot-out! Cheesy? You bet!
For the full-on Grand Canyon experience, AdventureX (adventurex.co.uk, £3,595, May and June only) has an amazing but pricey 16-day rafting and kayaking tour along the Colorado river, camping on wild, empty beaches and hiking up to Native American ruins.
Or if you're planning a mini gap and want to experience the canyon up close, Bunac's (bunac.org.uk) eight-, 10- or 12-week volunteer USA conservation programme is based in Flagstaff and features a number of conservation projects in national parks, including the Grand Canyon. The work involves assisting with re-vegetation, trail maintenance, fence building and protecting local endangered species. It costs from £295, camping and staying in shared houses.
The Great Barrier Reef
In the shelter of the Great Barrier Reef lie 74 islands and islets – the Whitsundays. Sail among them from Hamilton Island on board Sunsail's Oceanis 323 standard yacht (0844 463 6578, sunsail.co.uk), mooring or dropping anchor en route to admire the glorious technicolour underwater views. A package costs £1,750 for a seven-night bareboat (uncrewed) charter for up to six people in two cabins and bunks in the living area, with snorkelling gear (excludes damage waiver and fuel). At least two of you need some prior experience. Hiring a skipper costs an extra £185 per day.
If you'd rather keep your feet on the ground, Mr & Mrs Smith's new holiday home rental collection includes some spectacular properties in Port Douglas, a gateway town to the Great Barrier Reef. For example, 6 Beachfront Mirage costs A$750 a night for six guests (around £84pp per night) but one look at its designer pool, vast kitchen, "media room" and swanky bedrooms might be enough to make you splash out for a few nights of luxury.
At the other end of the spectrum Port O'Call Eco Lodge, a 10-minute walk from Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas, is a great budget option, with shared rooms from A$36 per night. The hostel also runs a £200 volunteer package that includes accommodation at the eco-friendly hostel along with participation in a government monitored research programme where volunteers spend two days on board a boat with marine biologists helping to collect samples from frequently visited sites on the reef.
The Maldives' 1,192 small islands are scattered across turquoise seas and surrounded by reefs. The majority of resorts offer scuba diving but Baros (baros.com) has been designated the first Eco Dive resort in the country, and is the official training centre of the Maldives, where guests can be trained to help survey the local reefs. The small island resort has a Padi centre where you can arrange dives of the house reef 30 metres from the shore to 30 dive sites further afield, a spa and three restaurants. A runner-up in Trip Advisor's Travellers' Choice Awards 2011, it is popular among honeymooners but also has a family programme (for over 10s).
• Booked through Kuoni (0844 488 0138), a seven-night stay on a B&B basis costs £1,625 including flights departing 1 May from Heathrow
A journey to the remote archipelago is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It can cost upwards of £5,000pp for one of the more upmarket cruises around the islands but it is possible to get up close to the endemic wildlife that inspired Darwin's theory of evolution for less than that. Journey Latin America has a 12-day Ecuador and Galapagos programme that includes five days on Isabela Island, staying in a local guesthouse in the only settlement on the island, Puerto Vilamil. By day you can bike or hike to various parts of the island to view the fearless wildlife, visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre and snorkel; by night you can discuss the day's sightseeing at the local bar or mingle with islanders in the main square. The holiday costs £2,526pp including domestic flights, most meals, transfers in Ecuador, guesthouse/mid-range accommodation and most excursions but not international flights, which are roughly £850 from London to Quito return
The only volcano on mainland Europe to have erupted in the last 100 years, Vesuvius is most famous for the eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in AD79. Explore these sites in style with The Traveller on a 10-day tour led by Roger Wilson, professor of archaeology of the Roman Empire at the University of British Columbia. The Traveller's £2,525 trip includes flights to Naples, B&B accommodation and some dinners.
Or DIY it by flying to Naples from Gatwick with easyJet, staying at Micalo, a designer bolthole in a converted palazzo, and making your own way to Pompei, or less touristy Herculaneum. A double room at Micalo booked through i-escape.com costs from €165 per night low season (until 28 December).
The Dead Sea
KE Adventure has two action-packed itineraries that include a dip in the world famous sea, the lowest point on the planet. A new week-long adventure begins with a walk through forest and farmland near Ajloun, north of Amman, where you overnight at a homestay, and visit the nearby Roman ruins at Jerash; traverses the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea; and includes canyoning in Wadi Mukheries, cycling between farming villages, and a hike to Petra. KE's Dead 2 Red tour is a nine-day biking adventure from the spiritual site of Mount Nebo, down to the Dead Sea and taking in Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba. Both tours cost £995 land only or £1,445 with flights.
But for many the Dead Sea is a place for rest and recuperation, famed for its oxygen-rich air and mineral-rich water. Wallow in luxury at the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar resort which has nine fresh water swimming pools should you tire of basking in seawater.
• Booked through Scott Dunn (020 8682 5475) seven nights' B&B costs £1,540, including Royal Jordanian flights and transfers