Adventure travel expert Catrionna Grant from Tucan Travel introduces the world’s top spots for exciting travel options.
Once upon a time, adventure travel was only for the young, brave, rough-and-ready hippy backpackers and hardy trekkers, but these days adventure holidays are increasingly popular for people of all ages.
What many don’t realise is that just because you want to trek Mt Fuji, jump out of a plane over Jinja, take a felucca cruise along the Nile, meet the warriors of the Maasai Mara, climb a volcano in Costa Rica or walk among penguins in Antarctica, it doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your creature comforts too.
Adventure tours can be as cosy or as basic as you choose with tour companies offering everything from overland camping and public transport tours, to accommodation in luxury hotels and expedition cruises to remote destinations like Antarctica.
Adventure tours are great for those looking for new friends; you’re so it’s a safe way to meet like-minded individuals, even if you’re a woman travelling alone. But going on a tour doesn’t mean you have to give up your independence – quite the contrary. Although you’ll spend time travelling with your group, there are plenty of opportunities to go your own way.
Generally your tour leader will give you an orientation tour of each city you visit. Then you can follow your nose into the spicy labyrinth of the medina of Marrakech, tip-toe through the darkened caverns of Cappadocia, or let the rhythm take you at a salsa club in Havana, all in your own time. Your tour leader will make sure you know where you’re going and what you’re doing next on the itinerary, and then your time will be yours to explore and enjoy your surroundings.
The benefits of travelling with an experienced tour operator are obvious. Staffed by passionate travellers with expert knowledge, tour companies will show you the most naturally beautiful and exotic places on the planet, guiding you through tricky cultural exchanges, language barriers and convoluted border crossings with ease. With your accommodation and transport pre-arranged and paid for, all of the normal hassles of travel are gone, giving you more time to enjoy your chosen destination.
**Russia, Mongolia and China**
An exciting way to combine these three fascinating destinations is to take the Trans Mongolian Railway from St Petersburg via Irkutsk and Ulaan Baatar to Beijing. A genuine ‘path less travelled’, you will spend your days on the train admiring the changing scenery, from busy cityscapes to barren plains, vast grasslands and deep forests.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to make friends with local people, learn some Russian and Mandarin, play card games and sample vodka and rice wine. During your time off the train you’ll explore the famous sites of St Petersburg, Moscow, Ulaan Baatar and Beijing, go horseriding through the endless Mongolian plains and walk along the Great Wall of China.
A long-standing adventure travel favourite is colourful, crazy India, brimming with exotic flavours and holy cows. Where else could you admire the greatest tribute to true love our world has ever seen, the Taj Mahal, and contrast it with the Karni Mata, a temple dedicated to 2,000 holy rats? On an adventure tour you can visit towering fortresses like the I’timad-ud-Daulah (Red Fort), and track tigers in Rathambore National Park, take a boat trip on the Ganges River at the holy city of Varanasi and go on an elephant safari or jungle trek at Chitwan National Park. It is also possible to combine a tour of northern India with a tour of Nepal, where you can experience some of the most beautiful mountain treks in the world, in the Annapurna mountains. Most tours in India travel in small groups on local transport so you can get among the locals and meet new people.
This South American country is one of the most popular destinations for adventure travellers. The ancient Inca capital of Cuzco features fine Inca stone walls, excellent museums and delicious neo-Andean cuisine. It’s easy to organise day trips from here to nearby Inca sites like Sachaywayman, Ollyantaytambo and the Sacred Valley. Treks in the Andes often launch from Cuzco as many tour operators are based here.
However, if you want to trek the famous Royal Inca Trail, culminating at the ‘lost city’ of the Incas, Machu Picchu, a bit of pre-travel planning is required. In order to preserve this popular trail, only 500 permits are given out for each day, which includes porters, guides and trekkers. As a result, permits sell out months in advance, particularly for the peak trekking season of June through August.
You don’t need to be an athlete or hardened trekker to complete the 3 night / 4 day trek, but a reasonable level of fitness is required as there are some steep climbs and fairly long days. By law, you will be fully escorted by expert naturalist guides who are licensed to accompany you. As you trek, they will give talks and presentations about the various flora, fauna and remnants of Inca culture along the route.
Most of the gear is carried by a team of porters, who also set up camp and cook substantial meals for trekkers. Other escorted treks, such as the lesser known Lares Valley trek, do not require permits but offer similarly spectacular scenery, fewer tourists and more contact with local people.
**Tanzania – Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater**
For those seeking the ultimate safari experience, the Serengeti National Park offers a thrilling volume of animals to see. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of wild, rugged Africa, this park is one of the best places in the world to spot teeming herds of wildebeest, antelopes, zebra, buffalo, often pursued by big cats such as lion and cheetah.
If you are lucky enough to be in the park around the time of the largest mammal migration in the world, that of the Serengeti wildebeest, you’ll see around 1.5 million-strong herd migrating to follow the African rainy season between Tanzania and Kenya – a truly magical sight. The migration dates change according to the weather every year, so plan your trip around May to August for the best chance to catch it.
While you’re in the area, you shouldn’t miss a visit to Ngorongoro. Before it exploded and collapsed 2 million years ago, the Ngorongoro Volcano was one of the world’s tallest mountains. Today, the 610m deep crater is one of the most stunning natural wonders in the world, with an area of about 260km2. Because the sides are very steep, the crater has become a natural enclosure for a wide variety of wildlife which can be seen in their natural habitat.
This gives adventure travellers the opportunity to get very close to the game, with spectacular photo opportunities as there are few places for them to hide. Among the 25,000 animals, you may see herds of wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, as well as the ‘Big 5’ of rhinoceros, lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo.
High on the flanks of the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, mountain gorillas roam freely through the misty rainforest in small family groups. Trekking to meet these amazing creatures face-to-face represents the ultimate wildlife encounter and if you’re intending to visit east Africa then this is an experience not to be missed.
As Sir David Attenborough famously said in the first nature documentary to capture them on film in the wild, "There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know." A meeting with a mountain gorilla family represents the adventure of a lifetime for many travellers.
Mountain gorillas are critically endangered with only about 700 left in the world. About half live in the mountains of Rwanda, so visiting them in their own habitat is something only a few people will ever able to experience. Due to strict conservation controls imposed by the Office Rwandais du Tourism et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN) to protect the remaining gorillas, no more than 8 people can visit any habituated group on any day and visitors must apply for an official permit in advance of travel.
The restriction means you can rely on having a close up experience with the gorillas, but also means that permits are at a premium, particularly in the high season of July and August, so early bookings are essential. You will only have an hour with the gorillas, so get as many great shots as you can, but give yourself plenty of time to see the gorillas with your own eyes, not just through the lens.
An eternal magnet for explorers and researchers alike, Antarctica is one of the last great wildernesses on Earth. But modern Antarctica is no longer just the territory of the brave and the bold: this is now a continent within reach of any adventure traveller.
Although it is still one of the most uncharted places on earth, you can join an expedition cruise from Ushuaia in Argentina and be one of the lucky few to set foot on this breathtakingly beautiful continent during the austral summer from November to March.
From the fascinating archipelago of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula, Shetland Islands and beyond, you’ll be totally mesmerised by unique wildlife, majestic icebergs and superb scenery. Landing in zodiac style boats, sightings of large penguin colonies, magnificent whales, and breathtaking glaciers will make each day more incredible than the last.
About Tucan Travel
Passionate about adventure travel since 1987, Tucan Travel offers 450+ exciting and affordable escorted group tours, plus a range of independent travel packages and Expedition Cruises to destinations worldwide, including Europe, the Middle East & North Africa, Asia & Russia, East & Southern Africa, Latin America & Antarctica. Take the adventure of a lifetime with Tucan Travel today.