Top 10 (+2) adventure destinations for 2010

With 2009 rapidly coming to an end, it is time to look ahead to 2010 and begin making our travel plans. For adventure travelers, the year ahead is full of possibilities, with amazing destinations just waiting to deliver the trip of a lifetime. Here are ten of the very best places to feed your need for adventure.

10. Antarctica
One of the most coveted destinations on any adventure traveler’s list has always been Antarctica, the coldest, highest, and driest place on the planet. The frozen continent is remote, rugged, and challenging, but there are now multiple ways of getting there, ranging from luxury cruises to “last degree” ski expeditions to the South Pole. You could easily make the argument that Antarctica is the last great frontier, and perhaps the most adventurous destination on Earth, and should be ranked higher on this list. I’d agree with those sentiments, except for one very big consideration, which is the expense of getting there. Unfortunately, it still costs a good deal of money to visit Antarctica, and for now, it is beyond the budget of many of those adventurous enough to want to make the journey.

9. British Columbia, Canada
If you’re the kind of person that enjoys a busy, active vacation than perhaps British Columbia should be your next destination. Located in Western Canada, BC has so many options for outdoor adventures, you may never want to go home. Adrenaline junkies will have opportunities to mountain bike, hike, and climb there way through the Canadian Rockies. And when you grow tired of all the fun on dry land, the Pacific Ocean beacons with some great sailing and sea kayaking options as well. Throw in breathtaking scenery and legendary Canadian hospitality, and you have everything you need for a very adventurous trip. Don’t miss out on a visit to Vancouver while in the area too, and you’ll discover why it is considered to be one of the best cities on the planet.
8. Iceland
Boasting massive glaciers, snow-capped peaks, active volcanoes, and remote fjords, all within a relatively small area, Iceland is a wonderland for adventure travelers. With some of the best hiking and mountain biking in Europe, you can challenge yourself on a trail all day long, then relax in a the country’s famous hot springs at the end of the day. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding are other popular activities for those that enjoy the colder weather. Use Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, as your base of operations, and you’ll find new adventures in the evening as well. The city has a thriving art community and a surprisingly active nightlife, and with the economy still struggling a bit, there has never been a more inexpensive time to go.

7. Madagascar
Located in the Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Africa, Madagascar has earned a reputation in recent year for being a hot spot for eco-tourists. The island nation has diverse scenery, ranging from mountain highlands, to deserts and dense rainforests, and just about everything in between. Those varied landscapes contain five percent of the world’s plant and animal life, many of which can only be found there. Jungle treks and safaris are popular activities, with lemurs, unique to Madagascar, as the highlight. This exotic location conjures images of remote and wild places, and doesn’t fail to deliver on that promise.

6. New Zealand
New Zealand is another one of those countries that seem to exude adventure at every turn. After all, this is the nation that came up with concept of commercial bungee jumping, and the sport of adventure racing can trace its origins there as well. Multi-sport adventures are the name of the game, with mountain biking, paddling, and trekking options abounding. Mountaineers are lured in with some of the most amazing peaks in the southern hemisphere, and in the winter months, skiing and snowboarding take center stage. Whether you select the North or South Island as your adventure destination, you can’t go wrong, as both have plenty of options to keep you busy for days on end. And when it’s time to go home, you’ll likely be planning a return trip to experience even more of the Kiwi culture and hospitality.

5. Peru

No list of adventure destinations would be complete without at least mentioning Peru and all of the amazing possibilities it has to offer. Whether you’re trekking in the Andes, exploring the Amazon, or visiting Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines, Peru will impress at every turn. There is a reason that this South American country is considered one of the epicenters of adventure travel, and backpackers are still drawn to the place for its unique blend of ancient cultures, natural wonders and modern sensibilities. The classics will never go out of style and Peru remains one of those destinations that every adventurer should visit.

4. Mongolia
Mongolia has been one of the top adventure travel spots for the past few years, and while it has become more accessible, it remains far from commercialized. Located in central Asia, the land locked nation has one of the lowest population densities on the planet, which means that there are a lot of wide open spaces that are miles from any kind of settlement. In the southern part of the country is the great Gobi Desert, which stretches a thousand miles from east to west. In the north, is the remote Altai mountain range that offers unique trekking opportunities through snow capped peaks. Adventurous travelers can follow the path of Ghenghis Kahn, on horseback no less, with the nomadic tribes that still call the Mongol Steppe their home. Of all the locations on this list, this one remains the most wild and untouched by civilization.

3. Botswana
When you think about the classic African travel experience, Kenya and Tanzania are generally the first places that come to mind, but for an equally amazing safari experience, with smaller crowds, and a different atmosphere, consider Botswana. The Okavango Delta has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife on the planet, and can be explored in the traditional safari vehicle of course, but the more adventurous will prefer to go on foot or by dugout canoe, to gain a very different perspective of life on the African savanna. From there, travel to the Kalahari Desert to meet the fabled Kalahari Bushmen and to track one of the few remaining packs of wild dogs found anywhere on Earth. Africa’s Big Five, consisting of lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, and buffalo, are well represented here, on a wide open expanse that sees far less traffic than those other safari destinations.

2. Chile
Another nation with wild and varied landscapes, Chile has something for everyone, starting with the Atacama Desert in the north, a place so dry that it hasn’t rained there in recorded history, stretching to the southern end of South America, where Patagonia offers striking vistas that are unmatched any where else on the planet. In between, you’ll find the lake district, mountains, plains, and dense forests too. Adventure travelers will flock to Patagonia, with some of the best backpacking routes in the world, not to mention amazing rock climbing. Chile’s Pacific Coast offers great sea kayaking as well, and don’t forget to drop by Punta Arenas, one of the southernmost cities in the world, which serves as the gateway to Antarctica for explorers heading to that frozen continent. And when you’ve finished up with the mainland, consider a side trip to Easter Island, which falls under Chile’s domain. The famous stone faces remain as compelling as ever, and are worth the journey to one of the most remote places on the planet.

1. Nepal/Tibet/Bhutan
Okay, so I lied when I said this list would include ten places for adventure travelers, but in my defense, when it came time to select a destination from the Himalaya, it soon became abundantly clear I couldn’t choose just one. The legendary mountain range is amongst the most breathtakingly beautiful places on Earth, offering great trekking opportunities, wild paddling expeditions, and the most challenging climbing trips anywhere. Throw in a healthy dose of unique culture and spiritualism, and you have the makings of a trip that can only be described as “life altering”. If any of that appeals to the adventurer inside of you, then you can’t go wrong with a visit to either Nepal, Tibet, or Bhutan. They each have their own unique appeal, and to visit any of them, you’ll have to go through Kathmandu, a city that is as eclectic and fascinating as the Himalaya themselves.

Travelers to Nepal can choose a myriad of adventure options, including hiking the Annapurna Circuit, making a trek up to Everest Base Camp, located at 17,500 feet, or tackling a mountain such as Island Peak, which stands at 20,305 feet, but remains popular for non-technical mountaineers looking to add a Himalayan summit to their resume. As the birth place of adventure travel, Nepal knows how to cater to the backpackers, vagabonds, and modern day nomads, that pass through its borders.

Tibet offers a similar Himalayan experience, although the wide open spaces of the wind-swept Tibetan Plateau make it unique in its own right. On this side of the mountain, you can actually drive up to Everest Base Camp, and Buddhist monasteries dot the landscape, often in the most unexpected places. Barring any unforeseen unrest in the region, Tibet is also likely to see its border remain open for all of 2010 as well, making it more accessible to adventure travelers than it has been for the past two years.

Bhutan is probably the most mysterious and lesser known of these three destinations. The tiny kingdom has placed limits on the number of visitors from the outside, and the government has taken steps to ensure that the country maintains its traditional culture. Visitors are treated to tours of ancient monasteries and remote villages, while trekking through the eastern end of the Himalaya, getting a glimpse at a way of life that has remained largely unchanged for centuries.

That’s the list. My suggestions for the very best destinations for adventure travel in the year ahead. With the economy remaining in uncertain territory, many of these destinations will be as affordable as they ever have been. Pick one that appeals to you and go. Have an adventure that will stay with you for a lifetime.