If you’re reading this, you’re staring at a screen. Wouldn’t you rather be exploring a different part of the world than the Internet? Get inspired (and stare at a screen for just a bit longer) by the best travel and adventure documentaries streaming on Netflix right now.
The year 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Parks Service, a federal program that has saved such treasures as Yellowstone and Yosemite for public use. National Parks Adventure, an ambitious documentary from filmmaker Greg MacGillivray and narrated by the one-and-only Robert Redford, explores the history and modern landscape of America’s precious natural assets. Artist Rachel Pohl, mountaineer Conrad Anker, and photographer Max Lowe lead the journey on camera, from the glaciers in Montana to the spectacle of Utah’s arches. Warning: This film will trigger severe travel envy, which can only be treated by planning your own trip to a national park.
If you haven’t heard of Anthony Bourdain, then you’re living under a rock. And if you’re living under a rock, Bourdain is probably going to swing by your place soon, because that’s what he does: explore the nooks and crannies of the planet. While his original acclaimed series, No Reservations, focused on the culinary scene of each location, Parts Unknown is a more encompassing look at the cultures, people, and history that make up the lesser-known gems in our big, beautiful world. Bourdain’s chefdom means the series has an edible slant, so foodies will enjoy Parts Unknown as much as adventure-hungry travelers.
In 1968, Douglas Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard drove from California to Patagonia in far-southern South America. Why do we care? Well, for one, that little drive was epic —really the ultimate road trip — which was documented in the film Mountain of Storms. Secondly, Tompkins and Choinard have significantly impacted the outdoors world as the founders of The North Face and Patagonia, respectively. In 180 Degrees South, fellow adventurer Jeff Johnson and director Chris Malloy recreate that same epic journey but with modern technology; this time, the group travels by sea rather than van. The result is a showcase of some of the best climbing, surfing, and boating spots along the route, as well as the beauty of the Americas.
How can we talk about worldly flicks without mentioning Werner Herzog? The German filmmaker blessed with a velvety smooth narrating voice teamed up with long-time collaborator and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger for another captivating documentary. Destination? The South Pole. Rather than focus on the wildlife found in Antarctica — yeah, penguins are cute, we get it — Encounters at the End of the World is a deep dive into the human population that works and lives on Earth’s most unforgiving continent, the resilient men and women who research the biology and geography that make up the bottom part of our globe. Highlights include volcanoes, ice caves, icebergs, okay, yes, some “fluffy penguins,” and a chilly rooftop concert.
All of the most potent documentary films, in-depth magazine features, and stirring non-fiction works have someone to thank: the person behind the camera. Photographers are often left out of the spotlight because they’re too busy searching for the next perfect shot (and, you know, taking it). Tales By Light, which began as a short series from Canon and evolved into a partnership with National Geographic, introduces you to one amazing photographer in each episode and takes you along his or her next journey to capture elusive wildlife, unique communities, and heartfelt themes. The almost metaphysical look through the lens at another person looking through a lens encourages you to see the subject matter in a slightly different light (no pun on the show name intended).
If you’re reading this, chances are you would jump at the chance to travel to a remote city and escape it all. Karl Pilkington, arguably one of the most well-traveled celebrities today, would whole-heartedly disagree with you. Pilkington began his TV career as the titular idiot in An Idiot Abroad, an off-center travel series spearheaded by comedians (and friends) Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant that forces the very particular and opinionated Pilkington into unusual situations across the globe. An Idiot Abroad is certainly worth a watch for the laughs, but Pilkington’s short-lived follow-up show, The Moaning of Life, is a more poignant exploration of the people in each of these destinations. Our host is in search for answers about how different cultures deal with big life topics like marriage, children, and death. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without some classic Pilkington complaints.
Craving something more culinary? Check out the best food documentaries on Netflix right now.