Ten Great Adventure Travel Destinations For 2011

Top adventure travel destinations for 2011With 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.

Ethiopia
Top adventure travel desinations for 2011Africa 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]

Argentina
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.

Croatia
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
Top adventure travel destinations for 2011New 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]

India
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.

Guyana
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.

Botswana
Top adventure travel destinations for 2011Another 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.

Turkey
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!

Top ten cutest residents of the Valencia Bioparc

Valencia Bioparc - lemurs in trees!The zoo in Valencia, Spain, known as Bioparc Valencia, is full of wonderful animals in deluxe, non-depressing enclosures. You’ll find it on the western border of the city, easily reachable by bus or subway (you’ll have to walk about 15-20 minutes if you take the subway).

Bioparc Valencia is a new zoo which opened in March 2008, and its philosophies include sustainable design, scientifically-created habitats to ensure the well-being of the animals, specialized animal care provided by teams of both biologists and veterinarians and a concept called zoo-immersion for guests. Zoo-immersion means that when you enter an area of the zoo, which is divided into geographical ecosystems (currently only the African savannah is open, but Southeast Asia and the Neotropics are next), you will be surrounded by vegetation and landscaping appropriate to the animals you’re viewing, and in some cases, like with the ring-tailed lemurs, you’ll be inside an enclosure with the animals. The lemurs run all around their habitat, jumping over your head and crossing your path like cats.

And that brings us to #1 of our Top Ten Cutest Residents of the Valencia Bioparc: lemurs in trees (above and below)!

Cutest residents #1 through #4 are included in the video above. Here are the rest:

5. Blue butt monkey

Valencia Bioparc - blue butt monkey

So you like a cute blue-footed booby. How do you feel about a blue butt monkey? I feel pretty good about him.

6. Kirk’s dik-dik

Valencia Bioparc - Kirk's dik-dik

This little antelope is only about knee-high. I’m so jealous of whoever Kirk is. (Kidding.)

7. Ostrich

Valencia Bioparc - ostrich

I get the feeling this ostrich thinks he blends in. He doesn’t. He stood very still and tried as hard as he could to make me think he was a tree, but I totally knew he was an ostrich. All. Along.

8. Rhino (I know)

Valencia Bioparc - rhinoceros

You may point out, and you’d be right, that an animal like a rhinoceros is not normally called “cute,” but this guy’s wrinkly muzzle and his graceful, tri-clump feet are adorable. No? Agree to disagree.

9. Aardvarks in a heart-shape

Valencia Bioparc - aardvarks

I spotted these two aardvark lovers sleeping together in the dark, curled around each other into the perfect shape of a heart. My guide told me that some visitors think aardvarks are ugly, but I think they’re tremendous.

10. The mama and baby hippo

Last, but certainly not least — probably best, in fact — are the mama and baby hippo who love to swim together in an enclosure where you could watch their behavior underwater. Click here to watch the video: Mama hippo and baby hippo swimming together – cutest video ever.

Read more about Valencia here!

[Photos and video by Annie Scott.]

This trip was sponsored by Cool Capitals and Tourismo Valencia, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

SkyMall Monday: Top ten things to stuff in the Turkey Cake Pan

SkyMall Monday Turkey Cake PanIt’s Thanksgiving time once again in the good ol’ US of A. That wonderful time of year when we slow down, take a break and acknowledge the people and things for which we are most thankful. Most people focus on the thanks. I like to focus on the ful(l). Here at SkyMall Monday headquarters, we love to stuff our faces on Thanksgiving. From stuffing to green bean casserole to, of course, turkey, Thanksgiving is a gut-bustingly wonderful holiday. Inspired by the impending feast, I searched for “turkey” on the SkyMall website. After wading through the various Turkish wraps, I found the delightful Turkey Cake Pan that you see demonstrated on the right. It’s breathtaking. It allows you to bake turkey-shaped cakes. But why stop there? What else could you stuff into that Turkey Cake Pan? Imagine molding your favorite foods to look like wild game. Are you imagining it? Well, let me help you. This week, we’re listing the top ten things to stuff in the Turkey Cake Pan.

10. Clay

Kids get bored at family get-togethers. The meals last too long, the strange relatives make bad jokes and all of their good toys are left at home. This year, let your kids paint a decorative clay turkey. Pop the mold into the oven on the self-cleaning cycle (it gets up to 900˚ in there) and the clay should set. Let the kids paint their turkeys and use them as centerpieces. What could go wrong?

9. Jell-O

Why have cranberry sauce when your side dish could be jiggling? Bonus points if you have giblet-shaped fruit floating inside the mold.

8. Stuffing

Let’s get one thing straight: Stuffing is far and away the best part of the Thanksgiving meal. It’s a scene-stealing side dish. Turkey gets all the attention though. Give stuffing the starring role it deserves by making it look like the headliner.

7. Ice cream

I mean, it’s ice cream. Do I really need to make the case for ice cream?

6. Butter

People are going to want butter for their mashed potatoes. People are going to want butter for their dinner rolls. People are going to want a giant butter turkey.

5. Fudge

Really pack it in.

4. Ice

Why should fancy gala events be the only places you see ice sculptures? Blow your guests’ minds with a turkey-shaped block of frozen holiday cheer on each and every table.

3. Chicken & Duck Cake Pans

Have you ever had turducken? Well, it’s amazing. Now imagine turkey-shaped cake stuffed with duck-shaped cake stuffed with chicken-shaped cake. Don’t forget to have mutliple flavors of icing in between each layer.

2. Whiskey

Ladle out some heaping servings of SkyMall Monday’s favorite medicine. It will make your family seem a whole lot more tolerable during those extended dinners.

1. Turkey

Let’s get meta. Stuff some ground turkey in there and make a turkey-shaped meatloaf. Throw some turkey meat in a blender and liquify it. Pour that protein shake in the Turkey Cake Pan and bake it until it reconstitutes into solid turkey. Even that sounds better than Tofurkey.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving. Here at SkyMall Monday headquarters, we’re thankful for all of you great readers with a sense of humor, our fantastic colleagues and editors at Gadling and, of course, SkyMall.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Ten great bands that I only discovered by traveling

To travel is to trade.

From the 15th century Portuguese explorers to the overconfident 18-year old who crosses the ocean with a loaded iPod, travelers are always in the business of exchanging things: ideas, food, fashion, genes and diseases. Music is right up there, and with the ease of the MP3, we freely unload playlists to one another like apples in a market.

When I look over some of the best music I own, I realize that I only discovered these bands/musicians from traveling away from home, well outside my own musical comfort zone. Certain bands are universal, others still quite local (or were, once upon a time), but despite iTunes attempts to drench us all in far-reaching world tastes, some music is still homegrown. Here’s a quick (and personal) top ten of my own discoveries accompanied by a slew of cheesy YouTube clips for your listening pleasure.

Trentemøller (Denmark) Something about dark, electronic music and the Nordic countries go hand in hand. Trentemøller has become a legendary DJ who plays across the globe, but had I never gone to Denmark, I would have waited five years for his music to work its way across the Atlantic.

Zero Degree Atoll (Maldives) I met the lead singer of this band in his home country of The Maldives, right after he performed a chilling cover or R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion”. Though he masters Led Zeppelin and his favorite band is Jethro Tull, his own music is sung in the Dhivehi languages and combines the local blend of Arabic and Indian influences.

Cheb Hasni (Algeria) You can’t visit North Africa and not hear the signature sounds of Algerian Raï music blaring in the chaotic streets of the medina, day and night. Cheb Hasni is king of the genre–an Algerian man, who with his band, cultivated a global following before he was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in 1994. I caught on to Cheb Hasni in Morocco and despite regular online research, have yet to listen to every one of his songs that make up his prolific discography.
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola (Ireland) Sometimes when you’re traveling, you just have to take a chance and buy a random CD from the locals. I picked up Lasairfhiona in Ireland’s windswept Aran Islands some 7 years ago and have been listening to this Gaelic singer ever since. I don’t know any other music that captures the spirit of a place like she does.

Faye Wong/ 王菲 (Hong Kong) Anyone who’s been jetlagged in Asia knows the thrill of watching hour after hour of sappy karaoke-style MTV all night long. And yet, I actually discovered Faye in a discount bin in New York City’s Chinatown and had to wait until YouTube came around to take in her full repertoire, which is extremely vast. Somedays she the Chinese Celine Dion, other days the Asian Alanis Morissette–Faye is constantly reinventing herself and loves to do Cantonese covers of western indie classics. So don’t judge too quickly–Faye grows on everybody.

Architecture In Helsinki (Australia) Admittedly, big city Melbourne’s got a pretty crazy independent music scene but Architecture in Helsinki might just be the trippiest of them all. Going on a decade strong, the bizarre musical set-ups of AIH evokes a lot of “What?” reactions while still gaining global fans for their deliciously infectious, irresistibly toe-tapping and hip-shaking songs. As ambassadors from down under, AIH begs the question, is Australia an actual country or just a constant spaced-out party?

For a Minor Reflection (Iceland) Four 20 year-old dudes wailing thoughtfully on guitars. It’s a tried-and-true recipe but somehow, this post-rock band from Reykjavík adds something wonderfully new, delivering long, drawn-out ballads completely devoid of lyrics. Heard them first at Iceland Airwaves, which might be the greatest music festival in the world.

Marisa Monte (Brazil) Fairly popular in Brazil and France, I only came upon Marisa myself while passing through South America earlier this year. Her voice, songwriting, rhythms and melodies fall slightly outside the typical Latin American canon, which is why she’s succeeded in crossing over to an international following.

Springbok Nude Girls (South Africa) Compelling band name and even more compelling music, there’s not a South African out there who doesn’t have a strong opinion about these guys, thumbs up or down. That’s why I started listening to them in London, where there are more South Africans than Brits, I think. Springbok’s broke up a few years back but are apparently back together and playing sold-out gigs in South Africa right now.

Iryna Bilyk (Ukraine) Countries with dysfunctional governments always promise a steady flow of talented artists, and after living there for several years, I can say without irony that Ukraine is no exception. Of the many divas that rock Ukraine’s airwaves, Iryna Bilyk is the most classic–a kind of bottle-blond Slavic Madonna that plays in every cab in Kiev. Like the actual Amereican Madonna, Iryna caused no small scandal when the 40-year old singer married her 22-year old backup dancer. This song is called, “I’m not sorry.”

Feel free to add your own great musical finds in the comments below–Just make sure it’s music you discovered while traveling abroad.(If you spam me with your favorite Beyoncé or Coldplay clip, the world will know that you don’t even own a passport.) Thanks!

Ten random skills Gadling readers learned on trips

Learn a new skill on vacation.It seems like you always learn when you travel. Even if you don’t happen to be picking up the language or attending a professional development session, just being in a new place creates new pathways in your mind and, arguably, makes you smarter. Better still is when you actually learn a skill you didn’t expect to learn.

We asked our readers on Gadling’s Facebook page “What random skill did you learn on a trip?” The answers may surprise you — or, you may have learned the exact same thing yourself! Check out our ten favorites:

1. “How to de-scale and gut a fish.” — Despina

2. “How to hack into your own phone.” — Sherri

3. “How to ‘bark’ like a dingo in a didgeridoo.” — Camilla4. “Learnt to drive on right side of the road!!” — Norton (clearly British)

5. “How to Segway through a city with pedestrians and cars all around.” — Saadia

6. “How to make Mozart balls! And, how to kitesurf.” — Terry

7. “How to outrun Latvian truckers whilst riding a motorbike across the Baltic states?” — Jason

8. “How to meditate.” — Sophia

9. “Not exactly a skill, but I did learn how to do the Thriller dance on a cruise.” — Martha

10. “How to hold on in a massive current 90 feet down while watching a shark feeding frenzy a few feet away. And how to get married. Not sure which was scarier.” — Max

Learn something else? Want to join in the conversation? Visit Gadling on Facebook.

Photo by Annie Scott.