Sometimes your only requirements for a healthy vacation are that it be warm, sandy, and, increasingly if possible, off the grid. Other times, it’s city exploration you crave, drinking wine (or perhaps some bubbly LaCroix) in Paris or cachaça in Rio while mingling with locals, shopping, and seeing the sights.
Every so often, however, it’s real adventure you seek, an experience that’ll challenge and thrill you, push your boundaries, and expand your understanding of the world. *Channels that last sentence through Morgan Freeman’s voice.* Well, these once-in-a-lifetime adventures offer all of that and more—they’re dramatic, unforgettable, and will leave you with an unrivaled sense of achievement.
Scroll down to get the scoop on 13 of the world’s most-epic adventures.
1. Camp in Antarctica
If you’ve ever borne witness to the Instagram feed of a person who’s traveling through Antarctica, you know just how epic the experience promises to be. (Penguins! Enough said.) Even more so if you opt for a cruise, which includes camping and *lots* of icy landscapes, as do the trips offered by Oceanwide Expeditions. These voyages depart from the resort town of Ushuaia on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in Argentina, AKA “the end of the world.” You’ll travel the Drake Passage (the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn and Antartica’s South Shetland Islands) for two days before arriving in the Antarctic, where you’ll mingle with the aforementioned penguins—plus, spot humpback whales IRL, snowshoe hike, scuba dive, and, of course, pitch a tent on the frozen tundra.
2. Dive at Darwin’s Arch
Beneath this natural rock feature (located nearby the uninhabited Darwin Island in the Galápagos) the ocean is teaming with some of nature’s most-impressive inhabitants—frankly, for big-sea creature spotting, there is nowhere better. Expect to see innumerable turtles (from green to hawksbill), large schools of sharks (e.g. whale, tiger, hammerhead, and more), dolphins, manta and eagle rays, and, of course, lots of fish. You can only reach Darwin’s Arch via a live-aboard dive vessel (ideally between June and November), and it’s considered an advanced dive due to strong currents.
3. Skydive at Mount Everest
If you’re lucky enough to have $25,00 to spare, you may want to consider spending it on the highest jump in the world—from a mere 23,000 feet. Unlike most skydives, which are finished before you can so much as blink, this one is an 11-day adventure that includes trekking and three separate days of jumping. For an additional cost, you can then opt to hike to Everest’s basecamp, an excursion that takes eight days. Currently, the company hasn’t announced its 2018 dates, but the trips will most likely take place in the late fall. (Can’t wait? This dive into the Great Blue Hole in Belize isn’t bad, either.)
4. Safari on horseback in Africa
For a certain type of traveler, driving by wildlife doesn’t exactly sound like an adventure—however, on horseback, the whole safari setup takes on new life. You can try one in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where wildlife is aplenty and floods deter vehicles but not horses, or in Tanzania, should you want to witness the great migration. For those looking for something a little more extreme, however, the Namibia Horse Safari Company is no joke. It’s run by Sarah Jane Gullick, a pioneer in the space who’s been leading horseback safaris in African for over 20 years. She advises reading the comments on her trips before booking, as the six-hour-per-day rides require that adventurers be both skilled and exceptionally fit.
5. Hike the Half Dome at Yosemite
If you’re adventurous but not, say, summiting Mt. Everest adventurous, the Half Dome hike in Yosemite might well be worth adding to your bucket list. The trail is between 14–18 miles long, and it passes through waterfalls and Sequoia forests en route to the top. Some parts are paved, while others are lined with staircases carved into the rock—and some are just, well, dirt paths. The entire route takes around 10–12 hours to complete. When you reach the actual Half Dome, you’ll more or less pull yourself up to the top using cables, which requires significant upper body strength. (Try this expert-approved monkey bar workout to prep before you go.)
6. Heli-ski in Revelstoke, British Colombia
There are many locations throughout Canada, Alaska, Europe, and even all the way to India and New Zealand that offer heli-skiing adventures—and all are likely epic. Still, Revelstoke, British Colombia, is a favorite among enthusiasts. The area sees 700 inches of snow per year and offers landscapes so varied (including some of the best tree-skiing around) that no-fly days are few. Plus, Revelstoke skiing doesn’t require you hang out in the middle of nowhere—the resort offers various locations perfect for a sociable après ski.
7. Surf the “Pipeline” in Hawaii
Oahu’s Banzai Pipeline is considered to be one of the most (if not the most) dangerous waves in the world, so this is an adventure reserved for only the most experienced of surfers. Here, 12 to 25-foot waves break over shallow, volcanic reefs that are both hard and sharp. The Pipeline is home to a number of competitions that attract adrenaline junkies worldwide, so if you’d like a more low-key environment in which to conquer the wave, it’s recommended you head to Oahu in the off seasons. If you’re looking to experience this bucket-list achievement vicariously through the pros, you’ll definitely want to do so (along with thousands of other spectators) during one of its many contests, which typically take place in winter when the waves are highest.
8. Bike across Siberia
So far, no woman has finished the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme bike race—but keep in mind that not many have tried. Perhaps because this adventure spans 6,000 miles of Russia and takes riders through seven different time zones over a 24-day period. Last year, only 10 riders entered the race—two of whom were female (one, an American cancer survivor)—and only three of the guys managed to cross the finish line. You could be the first woman to make it happen in 2018 or beyond. If attempting this amount of pedaling sounds insane to you, however, opt instead to motorbike the same route via a local motorcycle tour company.
9. Volcano board in Nicaragua
Cerro Negro in Nicaragua is an active volcano, which adventurers flock to for what’s known as volcano boarding or surfing. After climbing to the top of this nearly 1,500-foot peak, you can choose to either stand (surf) or sit (sled) down the volcano’s surface using a special board, which can be rented via a local tour company. Though volcano boarding can be dangerous, you do wear special jumpsuits to protect against the rocky material, and technically you control your own speed as you go (max is approximately 59 mph).
10. Spot snow leopards in Ledakh
Snow leopard sightings are rare, but if you’re willing to trek to a remote spot in the Himalayas and wait nine hours a day—outside, in sub-zero temperatures—in order to get your chance to see one IRL, there’s some hope. Your best bet is to make the journey between December and March, when the animals (which are no longer considered endangered, but now “vulnerable”) are most likely to make an appearance. First, you’ll fly to Leh, where you’ll acclimate to the altitude for two days. Then, you’ll drive to Hemis National Park, after which you’ll walk (or ride a mule) for about four hours to Rumbak Village. There, you’ll stay in one of the village’s eight homes, or in a tent, venturing out early in the morning each day and arriving many hours later for dinner and your nightly rest. Snow leopard sightings aren’t guaranteed, but there are other animals you’re like to spot while you wait, including yak, Tibetan wolves, and more.
11. Circumnavigate Mont Blanc
This 105-mile loop around Europe’s tallest peak will take you through Italy, France, and Switzerland over a 10 to 12 (or more)-day period. It’s a popular hike, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging —the days can be long, and there’s significant elevation gain involved. As consolation, however, you’ll encounter charming mountain towns throughout your journey wherein the cuisine can hardly be considered rustic. (The area is known for it’s cheese, specifically.) The outdoor apparel and gear company, REI, in partnership with local guides, offers its own version of the tour, a 13-day trip, which can be viewed in detail here.
12. Get up close with gorillas in Rwanda
Did you know there are fewer than 900 mountain gorillas left in the world? This figure alone makes adding a trek to their remote habitats worthy of a spot on your bucket list. Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is part of the Verunga Mountain range, which straddles Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it’s home to around 200 gorillas. Dian Fossey’s base was once here, where now 80 tourists per day are allowed a permit to spend one hour with the gorillas for a fee of $1,500 each. You can book your permit through the Rwanda Development Board or wait to do so through the soon-to-open One & Only Resort, Gorilla’s Nest, which is one of the most buzzed about hotels of 2018 and will offer a luxury lens to this adventure.
13. Whitewater rafting at Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls, which is located on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia in Africa, is the largest waterfall in the world. Plus, the Zembezi River on which it’s located includes rapids with names such as Stairway to Heaven, The Terminator, Oblivion, The Washing Machine, Judgement Day, and Oblivion, which may give you a sense of why it’s a popular spot for adventure rafters. The most intense time of year to go is when the river is lowest— generally that’s between July and February. You can take on a one-day raft excursion from either the Zimbabwe or the Zambia side, but know that if you choose the former, you’ll have to hike out of the Bakuta gorge at the end, which is challenging in and of itself.
Now that you’ve got plenty of travel inspo: This is the best month to book plane tickets. Plus, find out why another type of active vacation is totally trending right now.
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