EACH YEAR, National Geographic Traveler holds one of the most prestigious photography competitions out there. In 2013 (the competition’s 25th anniversary), over 15,000 entries were submitted from all over the world. Judging resulted in one first-place winner — who will receive a 10-day Galápagos National Geographic Expedition for two — second- and third-place winners, and a handful of “merit winners.” To see what the judges had to say about their picks, check out the Winners Gallery.

The winning images will appear in the Dec 2013 / Jan 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler. Matador is proud to be able to share the 11 images below. All photos copyright National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest.

1

First Place: Dig me river

I was in Manaus, Amazonas, during the Brazilian Aquathlon (swimming and running) championship. I photographed it from the water and my lens got completely wet, but there was so much energy in these boys that I just didn't worry about that. Photo and caption by Wagner Araujo / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

2

Second Place: Thunderstorm at False Kiva

I hiked out to these ruins at night hoping to photograph them with the Milky Way, but instead a thunderstorm rolled through, creating this dramatic image.

Photo and caption by Max Seigal / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

3

Third Place: Say cheese

Cheetahs jumped on the vehicle of tourists in Masai Mara National Park, Kenya.

Photo and caption by Yanai Bonneh / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

4

Merit: The TataHonda sect

The photographer could get inside of an enclosed sect named Tatahonda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The ladies are preparing for their religious ceremony.

Photo and caption by Gergely Lantai-Csont / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

5

Merit: Sakura

Cherry blossom is called Sakura in Japanese. Cherry blossom is Japanese symbolic flower. There are various kinds in a cherry tree and an especially old cherry tree has many kinds called Edo-Higan. The trees of the cherry tree exceeding hundreds of years are located in a line with a nebula this temple, and if spring comes every year, can looks at a powerful spectacle can do it. This photograph focused on Edo-Higan and photographed Beni-Sidare which is back together.

Photo and caption by Hideyuki Katagiri / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

6

Merit: Children of Reindeer

Mikael Ánde, a child of Sámi reindeer herders, takes a break indoors after a long, cold day of rounding up the animals for vaccinations and slaughter. Children of reindeer herders learn to handle these animals and the land they thrive in from infancy - young Mikael here knew far more about the ways of nature than I could ever hope to learn.

Photo and caption by Michelle Schantz / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

7

Merit: Piano play at sunset

Streets of Queenstown, New Zealand at the end of one more day filled with adrenaline. Calming and doleful scene with piano sound in the background.

Photo and caption by Nikola Smernic / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

8

Merit: Portrait of an Eastern Screech Owl

Masters of disguise. The Eastern Screech Owl is seen here doing what they do best. You better have a sharp eye to spot these little birds of prey.

Photo and caption by Graham McGeorge / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

9

Merit: Guanjiang Shou

Guanjiang Shou troupes are one of Taiwan most popular activities that may be seen all over Taiwan at traditional folk religion gatherings. With their fiercely painted faces, protruding fangs and powerful, choreographed performances, they are easily recognized. They may be described as underworld police or gods' bodyguards.

Photo and caption by Chan Kwok Hung / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

10

Merit: Lady in water

A lady collects water in the river by a village in Bagan, Myanmar, 2013.

Photo and caption by Marcelo Salvador / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

11

Merit: Another perspective of the day

The fisherman at Bira Beach.

Photo and caption by Dody Kusuma / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest