Wheeler Expeditions

Since 1976, we have led unique, first-class adventures to exotic locations around the world. Join a Wheeler Expedition and step into your adventurous life.

Dr. Jack Wheeler, "The Real Indiana Jones," uses his intimate knowledge of the world, established relationships with locals, and over 40 years of adventure travel experience to personally design each and every expedition as a unique, first-class adventure. When you join a Wheeler Expedition, you embark on an adventure unlike any other. Every expedition we design is a unique combination of culture, history, and adventure: an intrepid voyage deep into the hidden mysteries of a land.

Operating as usual

THE MONEY THAT MADE US HUMAN. On display in the National Museum of Congo in Brazzaville: “Ancient Money.” I took the picture because this is the money that made us human 90,000 years ago. They are tiny Nassarius gibbosulus estuarine snail shells too small for food, perforated with small holes to string on a necklace, used as money “before the establishment of the CFA” as the sign says, the Central Africa Franc in 1945.

These are the species of shell that was the first jewelry in history unearthed at seashore sites in Morocco and hundreds of miles inland in Algeria some 90kya (thousand years ago) – meaning they were traded. For the first time in history, a species began to exchange things between unrelated unmarried individuals to share, swap, barter and trade, and over great distances.

Other animals do not barter. This, maintains science author Matt Ridley, is what made us distinctly human, enabling us to cooperate with other groups or tribes, to innovate, to evolve ever more complex cultures. This little shell, used as money, is the founding of human culture. And after 90,000 years, it was still in use in Africa until 75 years ago! (photo ©Jack Wheeler)

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET TOO CLOSE TO A 6,000 POUND ELEPHANT SEAL. The Antarctic island of South Georgia is one of the most extraordinary places on earth. Square miles of king penguin rookeries, thousands of fur seals, hundreds of gigantic elephant seals amidst a backdrop of massive glaciers and snow-capped mountains.

All of the animals here have no fear of you whatever and ignore your presence – except if you make the mistake of getting too close to a bull elephant seal for his comfort. It’s a mistake I made as you can see. Luckily, with several tons of blubber to carry, this fellow can’t move as fast as me, so I hightailed it quickly. That satisfied him, and all was soon back to placidly normal again. (photo ©Jack Wheeler)

DRACULA’S CASTLE. Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” described Count Dracula’s home as a castle located high above a gorge perched on a rock in Transylvania’s Carpathian Mountains. And here you are, Bran Castle, built in the late 1300s near the town of Brasov in Romania, and traditionally associated with Vlad Dracula (1428-1477).

His father, Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon), as the ruler of Wallachia (southern Romania), led Christian knights fighting Ottoman Turks called the Order of the Dragon, or “Dracul” in Romanian. His son succeeded him as Dracula – “son of the dragon” – waging war upon the Ottomans so brutally he became known as “Vlad the Impaler” for impaling his enemies. They began spreading rumors of his being literally bloodthirsty, drinking his enemies’ blood.

Over the centuries since, Vlad Dracula has been celebrated by Romanians as their national hero in his liberation struggle from the Ottomans. But was Bran Castle his home? He had many homes, and was here many times during his campaigns. Visiting Dracula’s Castle is always a highlight of our explorations of Eastern Europe. (photo ©Jack Wheeler)

THE DEATH OF PAN. At the foot of Mount Hermon in northern Israel you find the Grotto of Pan, the Greek God of Nature, where pilgrims came from all over the ancient world to worship. Remnants of the huge Temple of Pan are here, together with the cave grotto where he lived when not at Olympus. The spring that gushes forth from the grotto is one of the sources of the Jordan River.

If Pan was ever disturbed, he would groan so loudly it would cause anyone who heard it to “panic” (panikos in Greek) – the origin of the term. Loudest of all was his last. The legend is that with the advent of Christianity replacing belief in the Olympian Gods, Pan died for lack of worshippers, emitting a death groan of agony from the mouth of the cave you see here so loud and terrifying it was heard throughout the Mediterranean. It’s a beautiful and peaceful place today. (photo ©Jack Wheeler)

THE UNKNOWN RIVIERA. In the Mediterranean, we all know the French Riviera from St. Tropez to Menton, and the Italian Riviera from Ventimiglia to Cinque Terre. There is one Riviera in the Med you may not know – Albania’s. The Med has many beautiful coastlines, and just about all of them have been “discovered” by jet-setters to backpackers. Not yet, however, for Albania from Saranda in the south across from Grece’s Corfu to Vlora across from the tip of Italy’s Boot Heel.

Here you find an abundance of gorgeous coves and pocket beaches tucked away with hardly a soul there. The one pictured above isn’t even named on a map – there’s just a tiny wharf for local fishermen. Yes, the Albanian Riviera is getting discovered, with boutique hotels and nightclubs sprouting up here and there. But as for now, it’s still the Unknown Riviera, gorgeous with so much untouched. You might want to experience it while it’s still pristine. Message me if Albania piques your curiosity. (photo ©Jack Wheeler)

Friday feeling! Cham Dance is the traditional dance of Bhutan. It involves a series of masked dances, which are usually performed by monks and laymen, wearing colourful costumes. These dances are vibrant and lively and are performed during Tshechus, the annual Bhutanese festival.

The dances depict the life of Padmasambhava, the major Buddhist Guru who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan in the 8th Century. They are considered as a token of respect for Buddhism and the saints.

We look forward to witnessing the vibrancy of Bhutan again soon!

AWE AT RILA. In a hidden remote mountain valley there is a monastery built over a thousand years ago by the students of a hermit who became the patron saint of Bulgaria, St. John of Rila. The colonnade you see leaves you awe-struck. Earthquakes, fire, pillaging by Ottoman raiders, all through the centuries the Rila monks would build it back ever-better and care for it immaculately.

It is little wonder that the Rila Monastery is a World Heritage Site. The picture you see is only one small section of the magnificent frescoes of the exterior archways – and the interior is equally extraordinary. There are nine more World Heritage sites in this Virginia-size country, like the ancient (and still flourishing) city of Nessebar on the Black Sea. Bulgaria is one of Europe’s true undiscovered gems. Contact us for helping tailoring your trip.

Did you know? The African wild dog is one of the world's most endangered mammals and can be identified by its long legs and irregular fur patterns.

Wild dogs live in packs and are extremely social and known to help other members of the pack when weak or ill. The same goes for hunting, with up to 20 working together.

In Zambia, the Luangwa Valley is home to the country’s largest African wild dog population.

On our Zambia expedition you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled as their camouflage is extremely effective!

NASIR OL-MOLK. What many consider the world’s most beautiful mosque is in Persia’s most captivating city, Shiraz. Far older than Persia, Shiraz was "Shirrazish," a city of ancient Elam at the birth of civilization in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago. For millennia, Shiraz was famous for wine. A thousand years ago, it was considered the best in the world. Marco Polo praised it. No more. Prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were over 300 Persian wineries. Now there are none.

Shiraz is still a city of gardens and flowers. At the garden tomb of Persia’s most revered poet Hafez (1315-1390), young couples gather for discrete romance as they have for centuries. The beauty of Nasr ol-Molk – with the sun shining through its stained glass windows covering the floor carpets in color, and the interior a dazzling display of pink tile ornamentation – can be overwhelming. The same for the friendliness of the people – always welcoming with a smile for you.

The Land of Persia is still here in today’s Iran. It’s an intense yet wondrous place.

Where would you like to plan your next adventure? In a world of Covid travel, things have got difficult but there are still places that can be explored.

At Wheeler Expeditions we can tailor bespoke trips to suit your location and wishes.

We will be running our classic expeditions with small groups as per usual with extra safety measures in place according to where we are.

Get in touch if you’d like us to arrange a one-of-a-kind adventure to satisfy your thirst for something a bit off the beaten track. Solo travellers, families or small groups - all are welcome!

AZENHAS DO MAR. A cliff-top fishing village on the Italian Riviera? Nope, Azenhas (ah-zhane-yas) do Mar – Watermills of the Sea – is on the Portuguese Riviera. This is a magic place of fairy tale castles, thousand year-old fortresses, luxury boutique hotels, fabulous food, great wine, gorgeous beaches, and postcard-perfect scenery everywhere.

The Portuguese people are among the kindest in Europe, while Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world. Of all the planet’s First World countries, it’s hard to find one more calm and serene than here.

If you’d like a personal experience of the best of Portugal, Wheeler Expeditions can arrange it for you.

There’s nothing more beautiful than sitting and watching the sunset over the vast Zambian plains, with the golden light twinkling on the shallow lakes and undulating foliage.

The perfect way to end a fantastic day of wildlife spotting.

Get in touch to join us on this expedition, which brings back clients year after year.

We have led more than 20 expeditions to the North Pole. This photo you see was taken in April, 1999. The location was 90 North, the geographic North Pole.

We landed our ski-equipped Twin Otter on the sea ice – and as it’s featureless with the ice slowly moving on the Arctic Ocean surface, nothing stays there for long.

So if you want a physical candy-stripe North Pole, you have to bring your own! It is so indescribable to actually be on the very top of our planet that it has to be experienced to be understood.

Our 21st expedition there was in 2003. Maybe it’s time for another!

Fuel for expeditioning is important! On our exploration of Portugal you will become familiar with the palm-size pastel de nata, or egg tart. It is the country’s most iconic pastry and in Lisbon, the creamy custard tarts are available in pastelarias across the city.

The recipe dates back to the 16th century, when the confections, like many other Portuguese sweets, were made by nuns in convents. Now, locals eat pastéis de nata at breakfast, in the midmorning, after lunch, or in the evening - any time they’re craving a snack.

Join us this fall in Portugal, and will satisfy your appetite for adventure... and custard tarts!

The most fabulously exotic country on earth is the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. The Bhutanese religion of Tantric Buddhism is here exemplified by the Yab-Yum physical union of Compassion and Wisdom. Male compassion is personified as the deity Samvara with a blue body, multiple faces and arms. He embraces his consort of female wisdom Vajra-varahi.

It is important to understand that Yab-Yum is considered a sacred act as a path to Enlightenment. It is just one example of how Bhutan may stretch our comfort zone to learn ancient ways and practices, giving us a broader perspective on our humanity. For an in-depth understanding of Bhutan’s extraordinary culture, consider joining our Wheeler Expedition to the Land of the Thunder Dragon this November.

On our Himalaya Helicopter Expedition we swoop towards the world’s 3rd highest mountain, named “Five treasures of snow” – Kanchenjunga in Tibetan – for its five main peaks, four of which are over 8,000 meters (26,247ft).

To get there, we fly down the Baruntse Valley – so spectacular it was called the “Valley of Eternity” by Sir Edmund Hillary, over the Shipton Pass (named after Hillary’s climbing partner, the famed Eric Shipton), and straight for the Five Treasures.

As we approach the Kanchenjunga Massif, its enormity becomes apparent – for it has 16 peaks over 23,000 feet and 170 glaciers.

As our helicopters are capable of flying at 7,000 meters or 23,000 feet, we can see what no one else sees – the entire ridge line of Kanchenjunga over 8,000 meters high, with its four peaks of (right to left) Kanchenjunga South, Central, Main, and Yalung Kang.

Join us this fall to experience this magic!

Did you know that South Luangwa National Park hosts the world’s highest naturally occurring concentration of leopards? You’re practically guaranteed some exciting sightings of these gorgeous hunters.

Oh, and about the weather... It's (pretty much) always sunny in South Luangwa!

Contact us to learn more about joining us on expedition to this magical place with plane charters available.

INSIDE GIBRALTAR. We’re all familiar with the famed Rock of Gibraltar, huge and imposing from the outside – but inside the Rock itself is the enormous St. Michael’s Cave with fantastical formations colorfully illuminated. For millions of years, rainwater created fissures in the Rock’s limestone widening into huge caves with the steady drip of mineralized water creating massive stalactites hanging from cave ceilings and stalagmites rising up from cave floors. A phantasmagorical experience.

Gibraltar has been a British territory since 1713 when Spain ceded it in the Treaty of Utrecht. Thus also high up inside the Rock are the Great Siege Tunnels the British dug then lined with cannon emplacements to defeat Spain’s attempt to seize Gibraltar in the 1780s. Walking through the tunnels, you peer below looking down where the Spaniards and their French allies were vainly dug in – and where there is now an airplane runway stretching across the isthmus.

That’s just a glimpse of what to discover visiting Gibraltar, as there’s so much more! Contact us if this is an area of the world you fancy exploring...

If you are worried about air travel in these times we have the ability to charter planes for our expeditions and all of our trips are tailored to small groups.

Please get in touch to see how we can adapt your travel plans to suit your location and get you on the road to adventure.

Reunion is a volcanic island studded with deep extinct craters covered in lush foliage and a myriad of waterfalls pouring wispily down their walls. An active volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise (The Furnace), erupts frequently and spectacularly, with giant streams of lava flowing into the ocean. Since the active areas of the volcano are not inhabited, its eruptions pose no danger and cause little damage.

Much of the island is like a huge botanical garden. One third is covered by preserved native forest. Everywhere you look is a profusion of flowers – orchids, hibiscus, bright red poinciana flame trees, purple jacaranda trees, yellow trumpet lilies, frangipani, bougainvillea. Everyone’s home is surrounded by them.

The beaches are magnificent, with waves that attract surfers from all over the world. The breezes that sweep up the hills above the beaches attract paragliders worldwide, as do the lagoons offshore for scubadivers. Then there’s the deep-sea fishing and mountain canyoneering.

Contact us for help arranging an adventure of a lifetime here...

Kanton Atoll, Phoenix Islands, Pacific Ocean. If you really want to get away from it all, you come here.

Named after an American whaling ship that wrecked on the reef here in 1854, you don’t get more isolated than this. The nearest inhabited island is over 1,000 miles away. The only visitors are via a private yacht about once a year or so or a Kiribati patrol boat bringing supplies once every six months.

We were the first private plane (our chartered King Air) to land here in years. The islanders who live here are Micronesian speaking Gilbertese. There are only some three dozen of them. You can imagine how happy they were to see

They held a memorable celebration for us with glorious singing and traditional dances. You cannot find a more friendly and hospitable people.

You and I live in an exceedingly stressful world. We wish we didn’t. Do we have to live on Kanton Atoll to be as stress-free as the Kantonese, to live a life of idyllic isolation?

It’s a real question which we all have to answer for ourselves. For at least part of the answer can only be found by looking inside ourselves, at our attitude towards life – life in general and our own individual life in particular.

All of us – unless our physical brain is malfunctioning neurologically – have the capacity for an inner serenity, an inner joyfulness for simply being alive. We need to search and explore for it.

We really need to unless the world, which seems to be getting crazier by the day, drives us stressed-out crazy in the process. Each of us has to find a path to our own Kanton Atoll.

Gross National Happiness (also known by the acronym: GNH) is a philosophy that guides the government of Bhutan. It includes an index which is used to measure the collective happiness and well-being of a population. Gross National Happiness is instituted as the goal of the government of Bhutan in the Constitution of Bhutan, enacted on 18 July 2008.

The term "Gross National Happiness" was coined in 1979 during an interview by a British journalist for the Financial Times at Bombay airport when the then king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, said "Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product", expressing a concept that had been developed during the 1970s.

GNH is distinguishable from Gross Domestic Product by valuing collective happiness as the goal of governance, by emphasizing harmony with nature and traditional values as expressed in the 9 domains of happiness and 4 pillars of GNH. The four pillars of GNH are:

1) sustainable and equitable socio-economic development;

2) environmental conservation;

3) preservation and promotion of culture; and

4) good governance.

The nine domains of GNH are psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.

Come see what GNH looks like yourself by joining us on expedition later this year...

Our Story

Dr. Jack Wheeler, described by The Wall Street Journal as “The Real Indiana Jones”, uses his intimate knowledge of the world, established relationships with locals, and over 40 years of adventure travel experience to personally design each and every expedition as a unique, first-class adventure. When you join a Wheeler Expedition, you embark on an adventure unlike any other. Every expedition we design is a unique combination of culture, history, and adventure: an intrepid voyage deep into the hidden mysteries of a land.

Our ability to create incredible adventures is inspired by Dr Wheeler’s 60 years of non-stop globetrotting...

1956: Born in 1943 in Glendale, California, he became the youngest Eagle Scout in American history at age 12, receiving the honor of traveling to the White House to meet President Eisenhower.

1958: Only two years later, he became the youngest person to summit the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, one of the most iconic mountains in the world.

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