This paper presents a thematic framework that simplifies and explains the complexity of tourist encounters with nature. The research combines qualitative data, derived from questionnaire surveys, in-depth interviews, field journals and personal observations, of wildlife encounters in Spain and Mexico and encounters with tropical forest in Australia. The data reveal that embodied tourists encounter nature in a multisensory manner, although they privilege visual perceptions of the natural world. There are clear differences in the emotional significance of encounters, with visitors negotiating individual yet diverse relations with their surrounding environment, mediated by in situ social interactions. Wildlife tourists often perform ritualised roles, directed by tour guides, causing some to question the collective performances of prescribed mobilities. Rainforest tourists, by contrast, are more unbounded in their performances. It is suggested that visitors on guided tours should be given time to experience the wonders of the environment at their own pace, facilitating the achievement of 'higher order' needs. The theoretical framework presented in the paper facilitates an exploration of the diversity of connections between people and nature and the myriad ways in which such relationships are formed, interpreted and afforded relevance. The framework is not definitive, but context-specific, serving to inform future understanding. © 2013 © 2013 Taylor & Francis.