Wander Women: 13 incredible female travellers and the destinations that inspire them

Sophie Darlington on Antarctica

Sophie and Julie Monière staging a women’s march in Antarctica (Sophie Darlington)

Sophie is an award-winning wildlife cinematographer, whose job takes her all over the world

“One place in the world that is particularly important to me as a woman is Antarctica. I went there in 2017 with camerawoman and explorer, Julie Monière – who is right now crossing Lake Baikal solo. Julie and I staged our own ‘women’s march’ amongst a few 100,000 Adelie penguins.

“I’m lucky enough to be ‘godmother’ to some incredible women and girls and truly believe, as Gloria Steinem said, that ‘the best way for us to cultivate fearlessness in our daughters and other young women is by example. If they see their mothers and other women in their lives going forward despite fear, they’ll know it’s possible’.”

Alice Morrison on the Sahara Desert

Alice on her adventures in the Sahara Desert (Alice Morrison)

Alice is an adventurer, TV presenter and writer. She was also the first woman to trek Morocco’s Draa River

Walking across the Sahara (Alice Morrison)

“Some people might think that travelling as a lone, western women with three Amazigh (Berber) men – who are strict Muslims and don’t speak any English – would be difficult.

But walking across the Sahara with Lhou, Addi and Brahmin was one of the best and most fulfilling adventures of my life.

“We women can do anything we want to and the most important thing to remember is that we are all in the human family.

Thank you to all the women and men who support adventures and Happy International Women’s Day.”

Ami Vitale on Kenya

Ami Vitale stops at nothing to get her shot (c/o Ami Vitale)

Ami is an award-winning photojournalist who has travelled to over 100 countries

“The magic of travel photography really begins when you stay in a place and give yourself enough time to gain insight and understanding. One of those places is Sarara Campin the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy of northern Kenya, where Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is located.

At Reteti, community-based wildlife keepers work to rehabilitate abandoned and orphaned elephants in order to return them to the nearby wild herds. The sanctuary isn’t just about saving elephants; it’s about breaking down stereotypes and redefining wildlife management. When people realise that they can benefit from healthy elephant populations, they’re proud to take care of wildlife.

“Reteti is also empowering young Samburu women to be the first-ever women elephant keepers in all of Africa. At first, the community didn’t think there was a place for women in the workplace. Now, the success of these women elephant keepers is unlocking new possibilities and setting a powerful example for young girls hoping to pursue their dreams…

Witnessing women being given opportunities to unlock their full potential has inspired me to push through my own personal barriers and work harder to uplift others.”

Mya-Rose Craig on Bolivia

Mya-Rose during her first visit to Bolivia, when she was just nine years old (c/o Mya-Rose Craig)

Mya-Rose, also known as Birdgirl is the world’s top teen birder. Aged 16, she became the youngest person on Earth to see 5,000 birds

Mya-Rose and her trusty binoculars (c/o Mya-Rose Craig)

“When I was nine years old, my parents took me birding to South America. That’s when I first visited Bolivia, my all-time favourite destination.

We visited Sadiri Eco-lodge in Madidi National Park in the Amazon near Rurrenabaque, set up by the indigenous community of San José de Uchupiamonas. They showed their resolve by banning logging, instead investing in building a lodge.

“This is where I met Ruth Alipaz who grew up deep in the Amazon. Age 12, she visited her mother and step-father in Rurrenabaque. A woman from their community asked her to pass on a message to her mother saying that she had a baby that needed accompanying to La Paz, where the parents had moved and now settled.

Ruth returned to the woman later that day, lying and telling her that Ruth’s mother had agreed for Ruth to take the baby.

“Ruth took the baby, running away to the capital and stayed with the family for a while, before working, studying and becoming the first person from her community to finish high school, later gaining a degree and masters.

Ruth then returned to her community, persuaded them to reject a logging contract and to vote to build an eco-lodge, which the 750 inhabitants now rely on. Ruth Alipaz is one of the most inspirational people that I have met.”

Jessica Yew on The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Jessica Yew in the Congo DRC (Jessica Yew)

Jessica is the director of Sticky Rice Tours, a tour op in Sabah, Borneo. Here, she reflects on the inspirational women of the Congo DRC

“My experience of visiting Virunga National Park in the Congo DRC was one of the most astounding travel experiences I’ve ever had.

I went with the intention of seeing mountain gorillas after being inspired by the documentary Virunga but walked away with so much more. Part of this was meeting the women rangers of Virunga.

We got picked up at the border of Rwanda by Virunga National Park’s driver, accompanied by two female rangers armed with AK-47s. I later learned that since 2014, women were allowed to try for admission to be a part of the elite team of rangers who risk their lives every day to protect the park, also considered the most dangerous job in wildlife.

They can work up to 24-hour shifts escorting tourists, guarding visitors and protecting the park from poachers, illegal loggers, and anti-government rebels. Since 1996, more than 160 rangers have tragically lost their lives defending the park.

“Having always been an advocate for women’s participation in male-dominated jobs, their life stories and journeys inspired me tremendously. I applaud their resilience of having to weather negativity as a result of challenging the status quo, and their perseverance when it comes to completing the gruelling trainings.

They are basically the female ambassadors of the Congo DRC who are redefining women’s roles in our society.”

Tania Esteban on Papua New Guinea

Tania receiving a warm welcome in Papua New Guinea (c/o Tania Esteban)

Tania is a zoologist and wildlife filmmaker. Here, she shares what it’s like to go solo in Papua New Guinea

A bird of paradise found in Papua New Guinea (Shutterstock)

“One of my favourite places to visit is Papua New Guinea, one of the most biodiverse places on our planet and home to over 895 bird species including the famed birds of paradise.

Many know it to be a notoriously dangerous place for women to travel to, with rates of domestic abuse high. Sadly, this beautiful country is not on the top of many solo female travellers’ lists.

“I recently went on a shoot with a team of two to film these rare birds, and for me, getting the opportunity to visit this staggeringly beautiful country, meet its incredible people and see the remarkable wildlife was truly a blessing.

“The amazing women I met in some of the local villages were equally inspirational as we set off in search of the birds. Maia, who lives in a remote village 3,000m high in the Upper Montane forests, welcomed me to the village along with all the other women who had not seen a white European girl before.

“In a country with over 850 different languages, the only way we could communicate (apart from with my broken Pidgin English) was with the universal language of dance.

“We all partook in an enormous flash mob in the village, freestyling it with a mixture of salsa and contemporary bird courtship dance moves, which I had been studying before the shoot.

The women looked positively radiant and resplendent dressed in traditional head gear and paint, with me looking rather less appealing covered in sweat and donning my hiking gear (at this point with a thick layer of mud).

They blessed our onward journey and gave me a new nickname – ‘upisa oromo’, which translated literally means bird of paradise girl! A name and experience I shall treasure forever.”

Julie Monière on Antarctica

Julie marching with the penguins in Antarctica (Julie Monière)

Videographer, camerawoman and biologist Julie is currently attempting to cross Lake Baikal solo. Here’s how Antarctica shaped her as a woman

“Once upon a time, not that long ago, women were not allowed to step foot onto the Antarctic continent. Back in the 80’s when I was little girl, I kept dreaming about Antarctica, a fairy tale world I could only see in pictures. I made a promise to myself that one day I would go.

“In 2016, my dream came true. I was on my way to the end of the world on the Disney Nature film Penguin. The reality was more spectacular than my wildest dreams. I was literally in heaven. It was one of the most hostile yet peaceful places I have ever been to.

“During my time in Antarctica, I also met some incredibly strong and bright women who play an important part in science on this continent. I even met one of the first women scientists allowed on the continent which was a very special moment for me.

This meeting made me realise that, with time, patience and courage, everything is possible. We should never give up our dreams. One day, I hope we will have a more balanced world where men and women can live and work together in harmony.”

Shiree Francis on Bali, Indonesia

A rice terrace in Bali (Shutterstock)

Shiree is a digital nomad who founded SAF, an online company that helps digital nomads work from anywhere in the world

Shiree Francis in Bali (c/o Shiree Francis)

“Mama Bali is such a magical island. I have been living here since 2018 and Bali was the first place that fully allowed me to connect more with my feminine energy instead of against it.

“I take part in cacao ceremonies, sound healing and yoga every week, which allows me to tune into my feminine side even more.

“Also, I have had the pleasure to connect with some amazing, beautiful, conscious women from all over the world, who accept me for me no matter what.

Being in an environment where I can be myself unapologetically has made a huge difference in my life. YES to the sisterhood.”

Ness Knight on Namibia

San Buhsmen in Namibia (Shutterstock)

Explorer, conservationist and ocean advocate Ness has completed a diverse collection of global expeditions in extreme environments. Currently, she’s in Namibia

“As I sit beside a roaring fire, beneath a marula tree in the north-east of Namibia, I’m surrounded by San Bushmen and women. I’ve come here to embed with them and learn primitive survival skills from the most ancient civilisation on Earth.

Not only that, I’m a female asking to be taught how to make bows, poison arrows, assegais and a plethora of tools that all make up – what is in their culture – a thoroughly male role. But somehow, I’m accepted in without so much as a sideways glance from either the men or women.

“I ask !amace (pronounced with a click at the start, and spelt correctly!) – the old hunter teaching me – why they are so accepting. The answer is simple and comes with a broad smile. “We are all one. Men, women, black, white or San bushman.”

Here, they have no hierarchy, no weighted judgements. All are equal, they believe, because all of us have come from the same ancient Earth and will go back to that same soil when our time comes.

“Perhaps it is this humanity and togetherness that has seen them become the longest surviving people on our planet.”

Holly Budge on the Himalayas

Holly travelling through the Himalayas (Holly Budge)

Holly is a world-class adventurer, a renowned conservationist and the founder of How Many Elephants. Here, she tells us why the Himalayas hold a special place in her heart

Holly showcasing the How Many Elephants logo (c/o Holly Budge)

“I love being in the Himalayas: wandering, climbing, hiking, day-dreaming, sketching, writing and just being. Life in these mountains is not for the fainthearted though!

Every day presents new challenges. A positive mindset and an acceptance that nothing is perfect or even comfortable is essential. However, the rewards are huge.

“A stand-out memory is enjoying the summit of Mount Everest for over 30 minutes, with just myself and my climbing partner, soaking in the view and the bluebird day.

“There is a wonderful simplicity about life in the mountains. Every piece of equipment has a role, every object has a place and thoughts have purpose.

I love the local people I have met in the mountains, the culture and the energy.”

Rhiannon Bryant on Rajasthan, India

Rhiannon Bryant with women in Rajasthan (c/o Rhiannon Bryant)

Rhiannon is a trip manager at Contiki. She has led trips across many parts of the world, and is currently working in Asia

“A place which means a lot to me is the Dhonk Centre, Ranthambore, in Rajasthan. In the photo (above) on a recent trip at the Dhonk Centre, I am sitting with the inspiring ladies and laughing about them organising my Indian arranged marriage.

“Dhonk is a social enterprise supported by Contiki and Treadright, which focuses on female empowerment and tiger conservation in the national park here in Ranthambore.

“We may differ in our appearance, our culture and our language. But want we want from this world is the same: equality. These women are my sisters.”

Nastasia Yakoub on South Africa

Nastasia en route to her next destination (c/o Natasia Yakoub)

Nastasia is a photographer, travel blogger and author. Here, she tells us about the country that inspired her to set up her travel community, Dame Traveler

Natasia Yakoub

“South Africa will always be one of the most special countries to me. Eight years ago, I was knee-deep in nursing school at Loyola University and had a dream to volunteer in Africa.

Having never travelled solo before, I began searching for people and friends to join me on this trip, only to find that no one would actually commit to it, especially on short notice.

So, one day while I was sitting in Anatomy and Physiology class, I impulsively booked a flight to Cape Town, South Africa… so there was no way I could talk myself out of it!

“I hopped on a flight and joined 12 other volunteers from all over the world for three whole weeks, to give back and reconnect with myself.

“Being a sheltered girl from Michigan, moving to Chicago was a feat in and of itself, but the notion of travelling to Africa alone was just terrifying.

But I did it anyway. I cried tears full of fear on my way there, but happy tears on my way back because I was so proud of myself for pulling it off. I felt empowered and I wanted more.

“This was the very beginning of my love for solo travel and it became the inspiration for my idea to start @dametraveler. It’s crazy how one impulsive decision could drastically change one’s life.

To think that I may not be telling this story now if I didn’t impulsively book that flight in class that day is mind blowing to me. Sometimes, you just have to listen to your gut instead of other people’s opinions, you never know where it may lead you.”

The Dame Traveler community has been so successful that Nastasia now has a book out,Dame Traveler: Stories and Visuals from Women Who Live the Spirit of Adventure.

Julie Gabbott on Benin

Julie in Benin with the locals (c/o Julie Gabbott)

Julie is an award-winning guide for Dragoman, leading countless trips all over the world. Here, she shares why Benin is a special place to her

When I think of places that have particularly shaped me and inspired me as a woman, my mind goes to rural Benin.

When I met people here, I really learned that even though we may not speak the same language or dialect, as women we all connect and move to the same beat.”

More stories of incredible women in travel:

Your top tours: The most popular Trip Finder adventures of 2019

1. Trekking the mountain trails of Lebanon

The Cedars of Lebanon (Shutterstock)

Wanderlust readers have always been ahead of the curve, so it’s no surprise that months before everyone else was waking up to the charms of Lebanon, you lot were booking this one-week walk along the Lebanon Mountain Trail with KE Adventure Travel.

The trip cherry-picks the best bits of the 470km trail, linking an intricate web of ancient, interconnected tracks and footpaths. It winds its way through a number of national reserves, (home to jackals, hyenas and wolves), past the early Maronite troglodyte monasteries in the Qadisha Valley and Roman ruins at Baalbek.

The food is excellent, too – a delicious mix of Turkish, Arab and Mediterranean cuisine.

Type: Small group

When: May to Nov

How long: Nine days

How much: From £1,185 (exc. flights)

2. Cycling Lake Constance

Reichenau Island in Lake Constance (Shutterstock)

This classic cycle tour around Lake Constance with BSpoke Tours has been a real hit on Trip finder. Passing through three countries – Germany, Austria and Switzerland – it combines breathtaking scenery, fascinating history and just the right amount of short break European cardio.

Surrounded by vineyards, orchards and beaches with views of the stunning alps, Lake Constance is the perfect short break destination for those who want to get active, but indulge in good food and great wine, as well.

Swim in the lake, visit medieval castles. Take a ride a traditional lake steamer. Where else can you enjoy apple strudel in Austria for lunch and tuck into fondue in Switzerland for dinner?

Type: Self-guided

When: Mar to Oct

How long: Six nights

How much: £775 (exc. flights)

3. Touring classic Iran

Persepolis in Iran (Shutterstock)

Wanderlust readers are more open-minded and adventurous than most. That’s probably why this classic tour of Iran with Evaneos is one of the most popular holidays on Trip Finder.

This tour is the perfect introduction to this fascinating and misunderstood country, visiting the most important cities of Iran as well as its most important UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

From the blue-domed mosques of Isfahan to the ancient ruins of Persepolis, you’ll experience Iran’s incredible history. But more importantly, you also meet the country’s greatest asset: its incredibly hospitable people.

Trip:Iran: Classic Tour

Type: Tailor-made

When: Flexible departures throughout the year

How long: 10 days

How much: From £1,690 (exc. flights)

4. Watching bears and birds in Finland

A brown bear in Finland (Shutterstock)

Wanderlusters love their wildlife. And untouched wildernesses. So this bird and bear watching tour in the timeless forests of Finland with Magnetic North is a real hit on Trip Finder.

Meeting brown bears in their natural environment is an unforgettable experience. Guests stay in a purpose built Bear Hide Cabin, waking up to the sound of bears cracking through the undergrowth outside. Floor-to-ceiling windows, stylish Nordic interior and views across lakes, fells, and forests – it doesn’t get any better than this.

There are plenty more activities on offer. Spend your days paddling across crystal clear lakes to hidden away beaches and enjoying gentle hikes through old pine forests. This is nature at its very best.

Type: Tailor-made

When: Flexible departures throughout the year

How long: Seven days

How much: From £2,300 (exc. flights)

5. Exploring the wide open roads of Patagonia

Highway crossing Patagonia leading towards Mount Fitzroy (Shutterstock)

Patagonia is always one of the most popular destinations on Trip Finder and this self-drive holiday with Journey Latin America the most popular trip.

It showcases three contrasting regions of Patagonia in Argentina and Chile while giving you the independence to stop at any time and simply soak up the jaw dropping scenery – what’s not to love?

It’s a route that takes in Argentina’s glorious lake district and Los Glaciares National Park as well as Torres del Paine National Park in Chile – incredible landscapes to explore at your leisure and preferred speed, but with the security of knowing your accommodation is booked for you at the end of a day on the road.

Trip: Self-Drive Patagonia: The Open Road To Torres Del Paine

Type: Self-guided

When: Flexible departures throughout the year

How long: 20 days

How much: From £5,230 (exc. flights)

6. Going wild in Borneo

A baby orangutan in Borneo (Shutterstock)

Every year, Borneo tops the list of most searched for destinations on Trip Finder. It’s wild and remote, with incredible wildlife and a few creature comforts thrown in as well well – just what Wanderlusters are looking for. Like this trip through Sarawak with Intrepid.

It’s easy to see why it’s so popular. You’ll see orangutans swinging through the rainforest treetops in Semenggoh, weave through the vast Mulu cave systems and spend a night in an Iban homestay.

After following the Headhunters’ Trail in Sarawak, and wandering along Kuching’s riverside promenade, you’ll get time to wind down and relax the on golden-sand beaches in Labuan.Perfect.

Type: Small group

When: Regular departures throughout the year

How long: 10 days

How much: From £1,170 (exc. flights)

7. Discovering Georgia with Dario Ghirlanda

Ushguli village in Georgia (Shutterstock)

One of the first indications we had that Georgia was set to become one of the hot destinations of 2019 was the popularity of this trip through Georgia, with guide Dario Ghirlanda, on Trip Finder.

The combination of an incredible, relatively undiscovered destination, led by a Wanderlust World Guide Award winner, proved irresistible.

It helps, of course, that Georgia delivers. Known as the pearl of the Caucasus, it is a magical mix cultures and religion, history and nature, all served up with extraordinary hospitality and sumptuous food and wine. Book now.

Type: Small group

When: July

How long: 11 days

How much: From £1,895 (exc. flights)

8. Experiencing the voodoo vibes of West Africa

Traditional wooden canoe in Ghana (Shutterstock)

Here’s a trip hardcore Wanderlusters loved: an overland journey through West Africa with Dragoman. You won’t find an awful lot of wildlife or tourist infrastructure, but if it’s African music, culture and chaos you’re after, you’ll get it by the bucket load.

Travelling through Ghana, Togo and Benin, this is Africa at its rawest – and most exhilarating. You’ll enjoy great tribal homestays, cool hill hikes to see butterflies, wonderful palm-fringed beaches and boat trips to stilt villages.

There’s fascinating history, both indigenous tribal and unwanted in the form of the Slave Trade, plus a national park with lions and elephants.

Trip:Voodoo & Vibes Of West Africa

Type: Overland

When: Jan & Dec

How long: 21 days

How much: From £1,280 + $US580 kitty (exc. flights)

9. Riding the Trains Siberian in luxury

Lake Baikal in summer (Shutterstock)

The legendary Trans Siberian rail journey across Russia is on most Wanderlusters’ bucket lists, and it seems the majority of you think that if you’re going to do it, you may as well do it in style.

Regent Holidays’ rail journey abroad the Tsar’s Gold Private Train is by far the most popular Trans Sib option on Trip Finder.

Travelling from Moscow to Beijing, this journey delivers three of the world’s largest countries directly to your stylish compartment. Lean back and enjoy the dramatic changes of scenery and savour some of Europe and Asia’s most dramatic and beautiful landscapes, experiencing Russia, Mongolia and China in pure style.

Go on. Spoil yourself.

Trip:Trans-Siberian Tour On The Tsar’s Gold Private Train Moscow To Beijing

Type: Tailor-made

When: May to Sep

How long: 16 days

How much: From £4,230 (exc. flights)

10. Spotting leopards in Sri Lanka

Leopard in the wild in Sri Lanka (Shutterstock)

Any doubts about Sri Lanka being back on the travel map is quickly dispelled by the popularity of this five-day leopard safari in Yala National Park with Wildlife Trails.

With a bargain beach holiday Bentota package tagged on the end, it remains Trip Finder’s most popular Sir Lankan trip. It includes five half-day jeep safaris and one full day drive inside Yala National Park, so your chances of multiple, breathtaking leopard encounters are truly maximised.

There’s also a substantial elephant population along with spotted deer, sambar, wild buffalo, sloth bear, jackal, mongoose and crocodiles. Birdwatchers are in for a treat as well, with over 120 bird species calling the park home.

Type: Small group

When: Flexible departures throughout the year

How long: Five days

How much: From £840 (exc. flights)

11. Discovering the real Japan

Mount Fuji (Shutterstock)

If you’re going to visit Japan, you may as well go with the experts. Well, that’s what Wanderlusters think, judging by the popularity of this classic tour of the country with InsideJapan Tours.

All the big sites are included, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka, as well as a remarkable 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

There’s a real focus on cultural experiences, with plenty of opportunities to ride the famous Shinkansen bullet train, enjoy traditional Japanese hospitality at an authentic ryokan inn, watch a geisha tea ceremony in Kyoto, and wander through Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market.

Type: Tailor-made/self-guided

When: Flexible departures throughout the year

How long: 15 days

How much: From £3,160 (exc. flights)

More fabulous trips to consider:

5 of the most memorable African performances and festivals

1. Whirling dervishes, Sudan

A whirling dervish in Sudan (Shutterstock)

A highlight of any visit to Sudan is a Friday performance by ‘dervishes’ at Sheikh Hamad-al Nil’s tomb in Omdurman, near Khartoum – an age-old tradition related to Sufism.

2. Lake of Stars, Malawi

People on the beach at sunset at Lake of Stars Festival (David Harrison)

This contemporary three-day music festival, staged alongside Lake Malawi, celebrated its 15th year in 2018. Watch out for dates and acts for 2019; expect Malawian and international musical performers and dancers.

3. Ouidah Voodoo Festival, Benin

A man in a trance during Ouidah Voodoo Festival, Benin (Shutterstock)

Voodoo is a part of everyday life in Benin, and this wild festival in Ouidah (in January) showcases the ceremonies surrounding the magic.

4. Saint Louis Jazz, Senegal

A colourfully-designed cart on the streets of Saint Louis, Senegal (Shutterstock)

Africa’s best jazz exposition showcases the continent’s finest performers alongside an array of international talent for performances in the atmospheric river city of Saint Louis, northern Senegal, each April.

5. Timkat, Ethiopia

A celebration of Timkat in Ethiopia (Shutterstock)

Epiphany (19 January) is celebrated across Ethiopia, as Tabots – replicas of the Ark of the Covenant – are paraded amid ecstatic crowds. Addis Ababa, Gondar and Lalibela are all good places to catch it.

Explore more festivals: