A new year always brings new possibilities, particularly in the realm of travel. With 2012 now officially underway, it is time to start plotting our adventures for the year ahead. This year, rather than share yet another top ten list of adventure travel destinations, we thought it would be fun to recommend some highly specific adventures instead. These are unique journeys that will take you to the very ends of the Earth and deliver a travel experience that simply can’t be easily found elsewhere.
Visit Yellowstone in Winter
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most breathtakingly scenic destinations in all of North America, and well worth a visit any time of the year. But in the heart of winter, it takes on a whole new level of beauty and wonder. With fewer than 100,000 visitors during the colder months, the park offers plenty of solitude as well, making it the perfect winter wonderland for those looking for a true wilderness adventure in the snow. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and wildlife spotting are amongst the best activities, and Austin Lehman Adventures offers fantastic itineraries that provide all of that and much more.
Explore Botswana’s Okavango Delta By Canoe
Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, which is formed when waters from the Okavango River empty into the flat-lands near the base of the Kalahari Desert. The result is a fertile piece of swampland that attracts all manner of African wildlife, including elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, and much more. The best way to explore that expanse of wetlands is in a traditional dugout canoe, which puts you in very close proximity with those amazing animals. National Geographic Expeditions has a unique itinerary that allows travelers to do just that, while learning to track game with the famed Kalahari Bushmen and wander the Makgadikgadi salt flats on horseback. This is truly an amazing, once in a lifetime, journey to the very heart of Africa.
Cycle The Silk Road
Stretching across Europe and Asia, the Silk Road was once one of the most important trading routes in the entire world. Today it serves as the dramatic and historic backdrop for one of the longest, and most epic, annual cycling trips that any adventure traveler could ever ask for. The Silk Route Tour, which is designed by the team behind the amazing Tour d’Afrique, stretches from Shanghai to Istanbul, covering a distance of more than 7450 miles and requiring 129 days to complete. This year’s route takes riders into Iran for the first time and will test their legs on Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway, which rises above 15,000 feet. Don’t have time to commit to the full tour? Then ride any combination of the individual legs instead.Climb A Himalayan Peak
Standing 23,494 feet in height, Pumori is a Himalayan peak that often serves as a tune-up climb for mountaineers hoping to move on to bigger challenges such as Everest. Located in the Khumbu Region of Nepal, Pumori also happens to be a great challenge for those who want to experience a major alpine expedition in the most spectacular mountain chain on the planet. Peak Freaks, one of the top Himalayan guide services in world, offers an excellent, fully featured, 34-day climb up the mountains South Ridge, which requires no high altitude experience, although some technical skills with crampons and ice axes are a must.
Go Gorilla Spotting in Rwanda
The mountain gorilla is one of the most elusive and endangered animals on the planet, and because of this, their remote habitats have been designated as nature preserves and sanctuaries throughout Africa. One of the best places to spot them is in Rwanda, where adventure travel and eco-tourism have helped directly fund the preservation of these gentle creatures. Visitors to the Virunga Volcanoes National Park must hike for miles through dense forests just to catch a glimpse of the gorillas, but those who have made the journey report that it is a magical experience unlike any other. Adventure travel specialists Abercrombie & Kent can help make that experience a reality for wildlife lovers who want a very personal encounter with these amazing primates.
Trek The Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan
In the remote northeast corner of Afghanistan there is a narrow strip of land known as the Wakhan Corridor. The region once served as a buffer zone between the British and Russian Empires, but today it is a wilderness that rarely sees outside visitors. Trekking through that valley is akin to stepping back in time, as there are few modern amenities to be found. What is in abundance however are scenic mountain vistas, tiny villages populated by local herdsman, and rugged trekking routes that are amongst the most remote on the planet. Few travel companies organize expeditions to the region, although Wild Frontiers out of the U.K. does have plans to lead two excursions – one 20 days in length, the other 30 – into the Corridor this year.
Hike and Bike Easter Island
Speaking of remote destinations, they don’t come much more remote than Easter Island. Famous for the mysterious moai statues that proliferate the landscape, the South Pacific island is an intriguing mix of history and outdoor adventure. For those looking to visit the place for themselves, G Adventures offers an affordable option that features full and half-day cycling excursions and day hikes to visit some of the more famous locations where the stone faces that Easter Island is known for are in abundance.
Dive The Maldives
For more than 45 years, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, or PADI, has been teaching travelers how to scuba dive. But the organization also offers a host of diving trips to some of the most exotic destinations on the planet. For example, the PADI itinerary to the Maldives take divers on a cruise through the beautiful island nation, where the waters offer visibility in excess of 100 feet and encounters with sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and scores of other marine animals.
Experience Mongolia’s Gobi Desert
Mongolia’s Gobi Desert has long held an undeniable allure to the adventure traveler, and what better way to take in its wonders than by traveling overland through those remote landscapes. Intrepid Travel has a new itinerary for 2012 that sends travelers on a three-week long odyssey over towering sand dunes, past ancient ruins, and through lush, open steppe lands. Accommodations range from traditional Mongolian Yurts to rugged bush camps. This is the ultimate road trip through a part of the world that few outsiders are lucky enough to ever see.
Ski To The South Pole
If you’re a well heeled adventure traveler looking for the ultimate escape, a last degree journey to the South Pole may just be fit the bill. The expedition begins in Antarctica at 89°S and covers the final 60 miles to the Pole on cross country skis. It isn’t an easy journey however, as you’ll be pulling your food and gear behind you in a sled, while battling fierce winds, subzero temperatures, and occasional whiteout conditions. If this sounds like your particular brand of suffering, than Adventure Consultants has a 17-day itinerary that you’ll probably love. Just don’t let the sticker shock scare you.
Good luck in your 2012 adventures, where ever they may take you.
[Photo credits: Pumori - Philip Ling; Easter Island - Aurbina both via WikiMedia]