For those who like their trips to thrill, here’s our pick of the best places to feel pumped in 2014.
Mountain biking, Avoriaz, France
Avoriaz is one of 12 interconnected resorts in the Portes du Soleil region of the French Alps, where man-made bike trails and alpine tracks create a spectacular playground for mountain bikers. The area, which includes Les Gets and Morzine, opens 25 ski lifts during the summer for riders who’d rather earn their thrills the easy way. There are more than 650km of trails in Portes du Soleil, ranging from mellow to OMG. At the end of June the Pass’Portes du Soleil mountain bike festival sees 4000 bikers descend on the region for a 75km race that is mostly downhill. The gondolas close to bikers in September, then the skiers get their turn.
The Rustine School (www.rustine.fr) offers two-wheeled tuition to children and adults. Bikes and full-face helmets are provided.
Sailing, Cape Horn, Chile
Tall ships may look like they’ve sailed straight out of a classic oil painting, but you don’t need to set your DeLorean to 1870 to navigate the stormy seas in one – but you should be prepared to get stuck in on deck, and climbing the rigging is especially encouraged. The Auckland-to-Falklands route around Cape Horn is one of the gnarliest shipping channels on the planet, and you’ll rack up 5400 nautical miles among some of the world’s biggest waves.
You need some crewing experience for Classic Sailing’s Cape Horn trip (www.classicsailing.co.uk), though they organise shorter voyages for those with none.
Ice Marathon, Antarctica
Sidestep marathon-sponsorship inbox fatigue by doing a race so unusual that your friends will have no choice but to sit up and take notice. The annual Ice Marathon takes place in temperatures of -20°C, though the brutal wind chill whipping round your chops can make it feel another 20 degrees below that. It’s an environment so hostile even penguins won’t call it home. Yet to marathon in this frosted world you don’t actually need prior experience of running in extreme cold. You do need to follow advice on what to wear as if your life depends on it, as it probably does.
The 2014 Ice Marathon (www.icemarathon.com) is set for 19 to 23 November but the dates depend on the weather.
Swimming, Sporades Isles, Greece
You don’t have to watch The Beach to figure out that swimming from one island to another is a pretty magical way to arrive at your holiday destination. In this tour of a super-quiet stretch of the Aegean Sea you get to do that every day, Greek island–hopping stroke by stroke without the bother of carrying your kit, which will follow behind in the support boat. You’ll be sharing the craggy coastlines of the Sporades archipelago and its protected turquoise waters with dolphins, seals and scientists, as the area is part of Europe’s largest natural marine park.
Swim Trek (www.swimtrek.com) runs trips in June and July with average daily swims of 5km. Video analysis is on offer to help hone your stroke technique.
Climbing Mount Baker on snowboard or skis, Washington, USA
Scaling a summit, though always impressive, is a lot more fun if you plan to reward yourself with a hefty dose of adrenaline on the way down, rather than an energy depleted trudge back to base. It’s also a lot easier and faster to climb using skis instead of feet and now snowboarders can join the party by using splitboards. The peak of Mount Baker is 3285m and on the ascent, which includes glacial terrain, you’ll have stunning panoramic Alpine views plus the sight of the San Juan Islands and Washington’s inland waters to distract you from your toil.
The American Alpine Institute (www.alpineinstitute.com) runs three-day trips in May and June; you’ll need intermediate touring and riding experience to get involved.
For an experience so edge-of-the-world you’ll need to be careful you don’t actually drop off, this 160km hike and kayak expedition in remotest Kamchatka takes some beating. Your small group will be dropped by helicopter at the foot of the Karimsky volcano, where you’ll begin crossing the Siberian taiga. You’ll encounter no roads or people, the only tracks being those of the 25,000 brown bears who call this region home. When you reach the headwaters of the salmon- and trout-rich Zhupanova river, you’ll take to your kayak and paddle its entire length to the Bering Sea.
For this Natural Habitat Expedition (www.nathab.com), done in partnership with WWF, you’ll need multi-day paddling experience in rivers and oceans.
Yangshuo, a picturesque former fishing village, has found itself dubbed the adventure capital of China thanks in part to its accessibility but mostly due to the rock-climbing opportunities afforded by its many limestone karst peaks, which rise strikingly from the dense emerald-green vegetation. A buzzing scene of local and international climbers enjoy arguably the best concentration of climbs in Asia, most of which are reachable by a short bike or bus ride from downtown. Many routes are well bolted, though the more intrepid climber can still find fresh, and in some cases nearvertical, routes to conquer.
Insight Adventures (www.insight-adventures.com) do trips to Yangshuo. The best times are March to May and September to December; there’s a climbing festival in November.
Stand-up paddleboarding, Dominican Republic
If you plan on stand-up paddling (SUP), you’ll want to seek out spots that remain relatively empty, rather than popular surf breaks which increasingly resemble the scrums that follow door-opening at the January sales. The rugged northern coastline of the Dominican Republic offers 500km of such bounty buffeted by North Atlantic swells, and SUP is an easy way to catch these waves, while giving you the option of exploring the region’s river mouths, outer reefs and crystal-blue Caribbean coves in a manner so civilised you may not even need to get your swimmers wet.
Waterways Travel (www.waterwaystravel.com) runs tours most of the year but May to September is the best time to visit for small, fun waves with zero crowds.
Whitewater rafting, Mosquito Coast, Honduras
The swamp-ridden jungle that makes up the Mosquito Coast, named after the local Miskito Indians rather than the pesky bloodsuckers, is one of the least explored areas in the Americas. Yet the truly hardy can whitewater raft through its core, riding the Rio Platano river to the Caribbean coast with only the region’s indigenous tribes and unique wildlife (river otters, scarlet macaws, pumas, jaguars and vampire bats) for company. When not riding the rapids, you’ll explore the caves and subterranean creeks (once used for ancient rituals) that line the river, and by night you’ll hone your bushcraft skills by wild camping on the sandy riverbanks.
Epic Tomato (epictomato.com) organises the week-long rafting trips, after which it will transport you to a hidden coastal retreat to snorkel and rest.
Travel by horse and cart, Myanmar/Burma
Exploring the ruins of the ancient city Ava by horse and cart is not a tourist gimmick but simply the only way to get around. It’s also the best way to see the Buddhist temples and pagodas in Bagan. Still a popular mode of transport for locals, especially in rural areas, it’s not the smoothest ride nor the speediest, but at least that means you can enjoy your view rather than have everything flying past in one big whoosh. You’ll be sheltered from the sun and rain, should either get too full-on.
All Points East (allpointseast.com) runs tours of Myanmar. Alongside horse and cart, transport options include bike, local train, rickshaw and Irrawaddy cruiser.
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