THE WORLD’S MOST EXTREME TRAVELERS don’t look out over an ocean or a mountain range and think to themselves, “Oh, that’s nice. Well, time to head back to my hotel and get some shuteye before another big day tomorrow.” No, they look out over the world’s wonders and think, “How can I get an adrenaline fix out of this? Perhaps by finding an incredibly fast way to get from the top to the bottom of that mountain, or perhaps by jumping into that ocean with its most dangerous inhabitants and little protection.”
The new age of exploration is all about self-exploration — seeing how far you can push yourself, seeing what you’re really made of. Matador teamed up with Flights.com to help guide those whose travel style can best be described as “adrenaline junkie.” Here are 15 ways to make your travels even more adventurous and even more rewarding.
1. Cliff jumping
Easily the quickest activity on our list, cliff jumping / diving can be done anywhere that has cliffs, gravity, and non-lethal materials (i.e., water) at the base of said cliffs. It involves basically no preparation — all you need is a swimsuit and a little bit of courage — and there are countless amazing places around the world to do it. One notable spot for the uncertain is Rick’s Cafe in Negril, Jamaica, where, if you don’t want to jump, you can have a drink and watch other fools do it instead. For more of a challenge, check out Palawan in the Philippines.
2. Shark diving
An important perk of diving with one of the world’s deadliest apex predators is that you’re underwater, and no one will ever know if you wet your pants. There are many types of shark dives available, from free-diving with huge, docile whale sharks, to cage diving with the infamous great white. For our money, the best spot for the latter is around Seal Island near Cape Town, South Africa. Even if the water visibility isn’t great (which, to be honest, doesn’t matter when a great white is five feet away), you may get to see the huge predators breach the water a la “Air Jaws” as they hunt the area’s many Cape fur seals.
3. Volcano trekking
You can go hiking anywhere, but there’s nothing particularly adventurous about a run-of-the-mill stroll. To remedy that, try hiking into the literal bowels of the Earth. Volcano trekking varies in definition from place to place, mostly because volcanoes vary so wildly in their activity. Haleakala, in Hawaii, for example, hasn’t done much in the past few hundred years, while the scenic volcanoes in Java are a bit more active. One of the best places to go volcano trekking, though, is Mount Etna, both because of its range of route options, its incredibly active status, and the fact that any day spent on Etna will end with a Sicilian dinner.
4. Cave diving
Scuba diving is an otherworldly experience in itself, but cave diving takes you to some of the most remote, least-touched places on the planet. It’s particularly dangerous, and thus requires an advanced certification and specialized equipment, but it’s worth it. You’ll discover geological wonders and wildlife that can be seen literally nowhere else on Earth. Become a cave diver, and you’re a legit explorer — you’ll be going places no one else has gone. One of the best known places to cave dive is in the sinkholes (or cenotes) of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, but the best cave diving spot may yet be undiscovered.
5. The Ice Marathon
An ordinary marathon would have no place on this list. Everyone does them and then puts those “26.2” stickers on the back of their car. Big deal. The Ice Marathon, however, is for true badasses — it’s a marathon in Antarctica. The race was originally founded so hardcore runners could run a marathon on all seven continents, but it’s since become its own thing. It takes place in the Antarctic summer, but that still involves constant strong winds resulting in a -20 C windchill. It all takes place only a few hundred miles from the South Pole, at the base of the Ellsworth Mountains, and offers some pretty incredible views.
6. Kayaking with whales
Sea kayaking doesn’t need any help being awesome. If you do it in the right place, you get to see fish, dolphins, seabirds, and incredible scenery. But hey, as long as you’re being awesome, why not be awesome next to the world’s largest animals? The ultimate place to do this is in Kodiak, Alaska, where even if you don’t manage to see a whale, you’ll definitely see puffins, seals, otters, and possibly bears. Oh, and you’ll be kayaking along the rugged coastline of one of the most beautiful places in the world. Yes, please.
Mountain climbers spend a lifetime developing both their physical prowess and their technical skills in order to reach the highest places on Earth. The payoff (aside from an almost absurd sense of achievement) is some of the greatest views in the world. The good news is that there are mountains easy enough for pretty much anyone to climb, and the quality of the views aren’t dictated by the level of difficulty. One of these is Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. It’s totally doable as an amateur, provided you’re in shape and keep an eye on the threat of altitude sickness.
8. The Rickshaw Run
Remember the Cannonball Run? Well, this is basically that with less reliable vehicles, and across one of the most diverse, chaotic countries in the world. It’s a 3,500km race where you’re not given directions, just a starting point and an ending point. How you get there is up to you. Riders buy their own autorickshaws (dubbed “the Indian Disaster Machine” by race organizers the Adventurists) and trick them out with decorations before charging across the Indian Subcontinent for two weeks. It’s the ultimate example of why the journey is more important than the destination.
9. Bungee jumping
This sport has taken off quite a bit over the last few decades, and can now be done virtually everywhere on the globe. Trust me when I say the scenery doesn’t matter all that much when you’re plummeting to Earth, but one of the most beautiful and terrifying jumps is over the Nevis near Queenstown, New Zealand. You’ll jump from a cabin suspended over a gorge, and you’ll freefall for eight seconds. Here you can read more about some of the worlds’ highest bungee jumps with stunning views.
You may have heard, earlier this year, about the free climbers who spent 19 days climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan cliff face. You may have wondered to yourself — “Wait, if it’s a sheer cliff face, where are they sleeping?” Climbers rely on hanging tent systems known as “portaledges.” Inevitably, the rest of the world looked at portaledging and thought, “Hey, this would be even cooler without the risk to life and limb.” So places like Waldseilgarten in Bavaria allow you to sleep in portaledge tents either on cliffs or, if you want a little more safety, suspended from trees.
11. The American Triple Crown
The United States has three undisputed jewels in its long-distance hiking crown: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide, and the Appalachian Trail. Hiking all three involves covering 7,900 miles, including a million feet of vertical gain. You’ll visit 22 states and join the elite ranks of Triple Crown members — only around 200 people have completed all three. Take note: This one requires a bit longer than your average vacation.
Some people refer to it as “caving,” but those people don’t know an awesome word when they see one. “Spelunking” basically means exploring caves. You can go from the insanely easy walking guided tours (like those through Mammoth Cave in Kentucky) to the technical and difficult, but for our money, the best place on the planet to spelunk is in Chapada Diamantina, Brazil. Hike down into the Lapão Cave, maybe go for a swim in an underwater pool, and then hike out and up to the cave roof to go bungee jumping back into it.
13. Mountain bike racing
Skiers who hate missing out on their “controlled-fall-down-a-mountain” fix during the summer might want to take up mountain bike racing — it’s difficult, exhilarating, and immensely fun. Probably the coolest mountain bike race out there is the Colorado Trail Race. It’s an unofficial event — you don’t register and you don’t win anything — but you also get to bike 500 miles through the Colorado Rockies for over 70,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s dangerous and tough, but the views are spectacular.
14. Sailing a major body of water…solo
Sitting alone on a boat powered entirely by the wind and your mastery of it, feeling the spray on your face, watching the sunset, falling asleep under the stars… It’s basically the most romantic adventure you can have. Of course, it does require a solid amount of training and experience and the equipment can be pricey, but can you imagine a more rewarding trip? The place to get started is on the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis, Maryland, where there’s no shortage of training and equipment available for rent.
At this point, getting a picture of yourself on a camel in the Sahara is passe. Instead, transfer your snowboarding skills to the desert and learn how to sandboard. It’s exactly what it sounds like. The only difference from snowboarding is a) you can wear shorts, and b) it’s impossible to build a lift on a sand dune, so you’ll be walking back up to the top. You can sandboard anywhere there are unprotected dunes, but there’s a certain appeal to doing it in the world’s largest desert, so head to Erg Chigaga in the Moroccan Sahara. Or mix sandboarding and volcano trekking in places like Cerro Negro, Nicaragua.