V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer

Best Adventure Travel

Published online at www.msn.ca, July, 2010, as a photo gallery.

Adventure travel

You’re an adrenaline junkie with a penchant for unpaved, gravel roads less travelled. Or you’re tired of the pool-side, all-inclusives and need an adventure that will shake you out of your vacay boredom. From hiking to a fabled kingdom in the clouds in the Himalayas, toeing the rim of an active volcano in Nicaragua, or rappelling down cascading waterfalls in Brazil, we’ve got a few ideas that should get the heart pumping.

Gorillas in our midst
Tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda

Retrace the steps of famed conservationist Dian Fossey — the inspiration for the movie Gorillas in the Mist — as you climb towering volcanoes, trek through tropical forests and weave your way through overhanging vines in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, with one single goal: to meet a mountain gorilla.  Only 700 of these gentle giants remain in the world, and Fossey spent 18 years living in the same forest to protect this endangered species from extinction. See what inspired her for yourself, as you watch these jungle lords feeding, playing, resting, grooming and raising their young. Their behaviour, a more primal version of our own, and gentle grown eyes may have you reaching for a copy of the Origin of Species. Viewing time is limited to one hour — 60 minutes that few people in the world will ever share.

Kingdom in the Clouds
Trekking the remote, isolated country of Bhutan

Known as both The Last Shangri-la and The Land of the Thunder Dragon, this landlocked country between India and China seems like a fabled, lost kingdom, tucked high into the walls of the eastern Himalayan Mountains, communing with the clouds. The country only recently opened its doors to the world in the 1970s and maintains restricted tourism: visitors are requested to book with pre-arranged tour operators and independent travellers are discouraged. Its most photographed image is of the Taktsang or “tiger’s nest” monastery, built right into the sheer rock face of granite cliffs and perched miraculously on the mountain’s edge. Bhutan is a hiker’s destination for its pristine ecology, elevated mountain passes and quiet spirituality. Treks will take you exploring through traditional weaving villages and Buddhist monasteries, amidst the clouds.

What goes up must come down...way down
Rappelling the falls of Brazil

Harness the power of cascading waterfalls by rappelling alongside them in perhaps the most intimate way of seeing the falls —barring barrels and a prayer. It’s a wildly popular outdoor pastime in Brazil to see the falls by abseiling down over the side of a cliff suspended in mid-air. The Iguacu Falls, shared by Brazil and Argentina, boasts 275 tiered waterfalls averaging 60 m in height, stretching along three kilometres above the Iguacu River. Another popular destination for canyoning is the Parque Nacional Chapada dos Veadeiros, famous for its plunging waterfalls, the tallest one being 120 m high.

Reach the ends of the world
Patagonia in Argentina/Chile

At the southernmost tip of Argentina and Chile, lies the end of the earth, or as terminal as it gets for human habitats. In this geographic region, where the Andes mountain range trails off, you’ll find yourself amidst blue-white glaciers, pure crystalline lakes and waterfalls and quiet swaths of forest. You can also add a notch to your intrepid globe-trotter belt by boasting that you reached the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia. Here, you’ll find wild sea lions, elephant seals, whales and colonies of penguins. Take a cruise of the islands and inlets of the Beagle Channel, and then make sure to swing by the Antarctic peninsula to complete your journey to the bottom of the world.

Be your own Lawrence of Arabia
Camel trekking in Morocco

Lest you think stilettos, haute couture and cellphones with seriously impressive long distance providers are the norm for camel trekking across the Saharan desert, it’s really not re: movie Sex in the City 2. But desert safaris astride camels is an exotic and authentic way of traipsing through Moroccan sand dunes. Many tour operators also offer sand-boarding and quad-biking, a more kamikaze way of experiencing the desert. You can do a day-trip from Marrakech or opt for overnight camel treks through the Erg Chebbi desert, one of the highest and most stunning in Morocco, where you’ll dine and sleep in a nomad tent under the stars.

Explore an underwater labyrinth
Cave diving in Mexico

It’s the marine explorer’s dream destination. Along the Riviera Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula, lies the world’s largest underwater network of caves and hidden passageways, filled floor to ceiling with stalactites, stalagmites and columns. Cenotes, or water-filled limestone sinkholes, connect with deeper, labyrinthine caves, some of which is home to creatures found nowhere else on the planet. Near the ancient city of Tulum, you’ll also find the longest underwater cave systems in the world, in water so clear divers look like they’re suspended in air.

Fly through the clouds
Zip lining in Costa Rica

One of Costa Rica’s best exports to the world is their version of a jungle gym. Zip lines that allow you to fly over canopies and skim tree tops have been replicated all over the world, but the one that started it all — aptly called The Original Canopy Tour in the  Monteverde Cloud Forest — is worth a visit. Straddling the Continental Divide at 1,440 m, moisture from the Caribbean and warm air from the Pacific meet here, to create the misty, cloudy conditions that make this tropical forest even more mystical. Zip across the  canopy through the clouds and get a view of the world as the birds see it. Sidenote: one of Costa Rica’s best imports, meanwhile, is zip line creator Darren Hreniuk, a Canadian expat.

Saddle up with Mongolian cowboys
Horseback riding across Mongolia

Trek the Gobi desert like the locals in Mongolia on a breed of horse purported to be unchanged since the time of Genghis Khan. Horses here number about 2.5 million and are deeply embedded within Mongolian culture: they’re a sign of a man’s wealth and prowess, and children are often taught to ride in their infancy. Trekking on horseback will allow you to take in the vast expanse of Mongolian plains and grasslands and appreciate this nomadic culture. Visit with local herders, drink milk tea with families and trek across the country uninterrupted. And don’t be fooled by the size of the horse. Though they’re smaller than North American breeds, they have an impressive stamina and are strong.

Fire and brimstone
Volcano hopping in Nicaragua

With a chain of volcanoes that pockmark this country in a steady line from north to south, Nicaragua is a hotspot for terrestrial explorers. Listen quietly and you can almost hear the earth heaving and breathing underneath your feet. The range of volcanoes offers visitors a variety of activities: climb safely up dormant craters; swim in crater lakes, or go as far as your feet and courage take you, over the rim of an active volcano. A national park has been created around the active Masaya volcano, which is the only volcano in the western hemisphere where you can along drive paved roads that lead right up to the rim of the smoking crater mouth. Just watch your step.

African safari

This is trip is on many a traveller’s bucket list. Which is why you’ll find a bazillion different tour companies soliciting your business with promises of mass elephant sightings, lions practically licking at your feet or giraffe rides for the kids. First decide what you want from your experience. The Serengeti in Tanzania, for instance, is where you’ll be able to witness the greatest wildlife show on earth: the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebras. Nearly two million herbivores — the largest and longest migration in the world — travel en masse toward the Mara River, for fresh pastures and watering holes. Or, if it’s about seeing the lion kings of Africa, head to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, where you’ll find the “Big Five”: lions, rhinos, elephants, buffalo and leopards. And if those aren’t thrilling enough for you, take a leap off the tallest commercial bungee jump in the world from South Africa’s Bloukrans Bridge, or perhaps the world’s most scenic, with a 111 m plummet against Victoria Falls.

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