With another holiday season behind us at last, it is time to start looking to the year ahead and firming up our travel plans. If you haven’t already made your preparations for 2011, and you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous this year, then perhaps we can suggest a few destinations that might meet your needs.
Last year, when we shared our list of top adventure travel destinations it was populated with a few countries that are commonly recognized as offering outstanding experiences for the adventure traveler. Places such as Nepal, Tibet, and Peru, which are widely considered to be classics of this type of travel. For this year’s list, those places have been sent to the Adventure Travel Hall of Fame, making room for some up and coming destinations to get some much needed recognition.
So, without further ado, here are my picks for the top adventure travel destinations for 2011.
The United States
This may seem like an odd pick to begin the list with, but hear me out before dismissing it. The U.S. is one big, diverse place, with plenty to offer any traveler, let alone those looking for adventure. No matter what your outdoor pursuit or adrenaline inducing addiction, you’ll find an excellent place to pursue it here in the States. Enjoy mountain climbing? Then head to Colorado where you’ll find 53 peaks in excess of 14,000 feet in that state alone. Is mountain biking your thing? Then make the journey to Moab, Utah, home to some of the best trails in the world. Into kayaking? Great! What’s your flavor? Whitewater? Flat water? Sea kayaking? It doesn’t matter, you can do it all right here in the U.S., where there are plenty of forests, deserts, mountains, and rivers to roam. If you’re coming from abroad, you may be surprised, and a little overwhelmed, with all the options. And if you’re from the U.S., perhaps you’ll be reminded of the magic of domestic travel too.
Africa has always held a certain allure for the adventure traveler, with many headed to Kenya, Tanzania, or South Africa for the classic safari experience. But there are plenty of other fantastic destinations on the continent that are worth exploring as well, most of which have a lot less tourism traffic. Take Ethiopia for example. The country is rich in history and culture and offers plenty of options for the active traveler as well. I recommend trekking the Simien Mountains, where you’ll encounter packs of rock climbing baboons en route to the medieval fortress of Gondar or make the journey to Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. Stop by the holy city of Lalibela as well, where you’ll be treated to the amazing site of a series of churches carved from the rock. [Photo credit: Justin Clements via WikiMedia]
For travelers looking to go to extremes, it is tough to beat Argentina. The country offers visitors plenty to see and do while exploring a diverse number of unique landscapes. For instance, visitors can go to the Iguazu Falls region to take in the tropical rain forests and then travel south to Tierra del Fuego for a taste of the Antarctic. Backpackers and climbers will find plenty to love in the incomparable Patagonia district and paddlers will be thrilled with the whitewater options as well. The truly adventurous can test their mettle on the 22,841-foot tall Aconcaqua, the highest peak in the world outside of the Himalaya.
Over the past decade, Eastern Europe has gone from a very well kept secret to a popular destination for those seeking unique cultures, lavish history, and fantastic art. But the region has plenty to offer the adventure traveler as well, with Croatia leading the pack as the best destination for adrenaline junkies. Travelers who enjoy being on the water will love sea kayaking and sailing on the Adriatic Sea, while those who prefer to be under it, will love to dive the various ship wrecks that are just off the coast. Moving further inland, paddlers will find crystal clear rivers to run, replete with plenty of whitewater while trekkers and backpackers will enjoy the mountain trails that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Head to Ucka Mountain for a hike through dense forests that eventually give way to a spectacular view of Kvarner Bay.
New Zealand earned a spot on our list last year, but it is such a great adventure destination that it deserves another nod for 2011 as well. For many travelers, New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world thanks to its amazingly diverse terrain, which gives rise to some of the best mountain biking, paddling, and climbing options found anywhere. It is also home to what is quite possibly the greatest hike in the world in the form of the Milford Track, a 33 mile trail that runs through the heart of Fiordland National Park while surrounded by some of the best scenery on the planet. The winter months bring great skiing and snowboarding options as well, with Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano cone on the North Island, being amongst the most popular destinations. [Photo credit: Wikikiwiman via WikiMedia]
Another large and geographically diverse country, India can lure adventure travelers with a host of options. Want to spend some time on the beach or go diving and snorkeling? Then head to Goa for plenty of aquatic fun. Prefer a mountain trek? Then make your way to the remote northern region to gain access to the High Himalaya, along with its quaint mountain villages and Buddhist culture. For a different kind of hike head to the famed Valley of Flowers to experience more than 300 species of the colorful plants in one location. And for a truly unique adventure, explore the massive Thar Desert on the back of a camel.
Often overlooked in favor of more well known South American destinations, Guyana is a great choice for adventure travelers looking to escape the crowds and get off the beaten path. Highlights include jungle canopy tours of the Iwokrama Rainforest Reserve and a visit to the 741-foot tall Kaieteur Falls, which is billed as the tallest sheer drop waterfall in the world. But no trip to Guyana is complete without a trek through the Rupununi region in the southern part of the country. This remote and isolated wetlands area is home to a dizzying array of wildlife including giant river otters, black caiman, anteaters, jaguars, tapirs, anacondas and more. Birdwatchers will find the place especially alluring with hundreds of unique species on display.
Another destination that returns from our list in 2010 is Botswana, which offers its own take on the classic safari experience. Each year, seasonal rainfalls in Angola drain into the Okavango Delta, swelling it to three times its normal size. This conveniently occurs during the dry season, which means that the region draws vast numbers of animals in search of water. Visitors can take in this spectacular migration in a traditional safari vehicle of course, but the more adventurous will elect to go with a guide on foot or in a dugout canoe. Those two options allow you to get much closer to the wildlife, which include elephants, giraffes, hippos, lions, cheetahs, and so much more. And when you tire of watching animals, head to the Kalahari for a wonderful trek through the desert and a cultural experience with the famed Bushmen that inhabit that region.
Straddling the border between Europe and Asia, Turkey has long held an allure for travelers of all types. It is yet another destination with a rich culture and history, and it shows in the variety of ancient ruins and unique structures that dot the landscapes. Trekkers who make their way to Turkey may be overwhelmed with all the options, with the Cappadocia region being the most popular thanks to its low degree of difficulty and unusual landscapes. Those looking for more of a challenge will want to check out the Taurus or Kackar Mountains, which offer much wilder terrain and higher altitudes to contend with as well. Mountaineers will find a variety of peaks to tackle, including the famed Mt. Ararat, the reputed final resting place of Noah’s Ark. Backpackers will love the 300+ mile long Lycian Way, which wanders along the beautiful Mediterranean coast. Sea kayaking, diving, and snorkeling in the waters of the Med will round out a very active visit.
The North Pole
Obviously not a country, but the North Pole is certainly a worthy destination for any adventure traveler, albeit one that requires deep pockets to reach. Make no mistake, going to the top of the world is an expensive proposition, but if you have the cash to do it, there are multiple ways to get there. The easiest way to reach 90º north is by taking a cruise through the Arctic Ocean aboard an icebreaker ship. But for truly adventurous travelers, the only acceptable way to reach the Pole is on skis. A number of adventure travel companies offer “last degree” guided expeditions that travel through the arctic on foot before culminating at the northernmost point on the planet, a place that only a few very lucky people ever have the opportunity to see. [Photo credit: NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Lab]
There you have it. Ten great destinations that will fill your travel itinerary with plenty of adventure in the year ahead. Enjoy!