National Geographic Traveler is revising all of the travel guides in their library and adding some new ones. Vera got hold of a revision of the guide to Vietnam and a brand-new book about Argentina to share with us.

Taking advantage of their vast library of photographs, National Geographic has lavishly illustrated their guidebooks. They start with a full-color cover and continue with photos that capture a sense of the culture throughout the book.

Style

The text of these guides reflects the style of the National Geographic Traveler magazines. The writing is personal, friendly and helpful. Short descriptions of highlights squeeze in facts about history, geography and local life, while marginal notes provide practical info like addresses, phone numbers and prices. One thing that’s unique to National Geographic Traveler books are their Insider tips. These are short blurbs written by seasoned travel writers.


One of the first things I look at in a travel guide is the index. You need to be able to find what you need without wandering through the book. These indexes look very thorough, although I would want to road-test them to be sure they covered all needs. They highlight pages with pictures by setting them in bold type, which makes sense, since these are such visual books.

Sections

Action-oriented books, they put a boxed explanation of one or more culturally appropriate “experiences” in each geographic section. For Argentina that includes such things as learning to tango in Buenos Aires, catching dorado near Corrientes, and riding the rapids in Mendoza province. In Vietnam, they suggest kayaking in Ha Long Bay, visiting Hill Tribe Markets, and riding the Ho Chi Minh Trail on a motorbike. Additionally the book covers appropriate driving or walking tours, along with detailed maps and suggests scenic train rides.

Hotel and restaurant recommendations are limited to a section in the back of the book, and only one or two hotels are listed in each price range. Very few restaurants make the book, and confusingly, sometimes they are separated from the hotels section, and sometimes are part of the same list.

Obviously focused more on understanding and experiencing the culture than finding places to stay and eat, the books include a very good list of further reading that will serve the traveler well. On the other hand, you could hardly ask for a more practical guide when it comes to transportation and the maps provided. Overall, I believe I would be very happy to use these new National Geographic Traveler Guidebooks to plan a trip to Vietnam or Argentina, and will be looking for the NGT guides to other countries I visit in the future.


All uncredited images courtesy of Stock.XCHNG

Your thoughts on "Review: National Geographic Traveler guidebooks"

  • In my opinion it makes sense to limit restaurant listings in travel guides - they change hands so quickly - it is probably better to research them elsewhere on travel/restaurant review sites.

    on June 8, 2010 at 9:53 am Reply
  • Henri:That's absolutely true. I just mentioned the coverate since some people think a guidebook needs to have everything within its covers.

    on June 8, 2010 at 10:39 am Reply
  • Interesting thoughts. Limit them, but certainly include some. There have been times when I've been tired, hungry and wanted somewhere "safe" to eat. That's when I tend to reach for a guidebook rather than doing our normal stunt of wandering the streets looking for busy-looking places. I'm trying to decide what I mean by safe now. Hygenic, tasty and reasonably-priced come to mind. I think it's the tiredness that means you want the extra security ... even if the review is 10+months old by the time it appears in print, and probably in your hands more than 18 months after the reviewer was there.

    on June 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm Reply
  • I think it's essential to include restaurant reviews, at least for certain countries. I find that there are certain countries like Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Thailand, where the food is great almost everywhere (and for those I rarely bother with restaurant listings) whereas in other countries like England, Chile, and Indonesia, quality is much more variable, and choosing a restaurant at random often disappoints - and in countries like those, having a guidebook recommendation is crucial.

    on June 8, 2010 at 6:17 pm Reply
  • I take your point, Craig and Linda and Geoff, but would suggest that there is never a travel guide that is all things to all people. You have trade offs between in-depth information on sights, practical information, carrying weight, number of photographs, etc. Don't you generally rely on more than one guide in planning, and multiple web sites?

    on June 9, 2010 at 6:42 pm Reply
  • For restaurant reviews here in Buenos Aires, I tend to use the seasonal "Time Out" magazines. They're published twice a year so you're more likely to find that great new restaurant that other guidebooks don't list and also less likely to pick a place that has actually gone out of business. It'd be great to have that kind of seasonal magazine directed at tourists, and locals really, in more cities. Websites can serve that purpose, but the magazines are easy to carry with you and often a lot easier to navigate in terms of neighborhood, type of cuisine, price range, and what not.

    on June 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm Reply

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