Looking back over the eight amazing years my wife and I have been running our ecotourism/conservation blog, Green Global Travel, I’ve come to realize that adventure is everywhere if only you know what to look for.
From our very first trip together (to Hawaii’s Big Island) and the Galapagos Islands trip that established our website in 2011 to our three-week safari in Kenya this summer, the adventures we’ve taken over the years have brought our family closer together, expanded our world view, and kept us feeling younger and more vibrant.
These are just a few of the many benefits of active travel. Whether you prefer “soft adventures” such as birdwatching, hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking, or more extreme activities such as multi-day trekking, climbing, or bungee jumping, adventure gets you outside in nature and gets your adrenaline pumping.
Here, we’ve enlisted 20 of the world’s most experienced adventure travelers – including the award-winning Canadian couple behind ThePlanetD, America’s “Expert Vagabond” Mathew Karsten, and the Aussie team known as NOMADasaurus – to share their picks for the top adventure destinations for 2019.
From Antarctica and Madagascar to Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan, you’ll find plenty of the planet’s coolest places to add to your own world travel bucket list… –Bret Love
Antarctica is one of those rare places where the destination is the adventure in and of itself. From the minute you begin crossing the world's most treacherous sea to your last iceberg sighting, you'll feel like the intrepid explorers. Fortunately, these days the adventure of cruising to the planet’s southernmost continent generally comes with loads of luxury.
One of the last relatively untouched destinations on Earth, Antarctica’s ecosystem remains remarkably pristine. You’ll sail past spectacular glacial lagoons, kayak around dramatic icebergs, and observe incredible wildlife that includes breaching whales, penguin colonies, and deep-diving seals.
You may have a chance to trek across glaciers and visit scientific research bases. But for those who consider themselves truly adventurous, the polar plunge into sub-freezing waters is a right of passage for travelers. If you’re feeling bold, pack your bathing suit! -Meg Jerrard of Mapping Megan
Austria is mainly known for its alpine ski slopes in the winter and rolling green hills and mountain trails for hiking in the warmer months. But when two-thirds of the country is blanketed in snow, there’s plenty of ground for adventure activities that you might not know about.
Beyond skiing and snowboarding, you can also carve the snow via a fat bike or Segway, or snowshoe your way around the valley fringes. For adventure travelers feeling a need for speed, you can toboggan down a mountain side. Or, if you want a more physically challenging extreme adventure, climb a frozen wall.
Warmer months uncover countless deep, rocky caverns that are perfect for canyoning, forests fit for climbing parks and zip lines, and fast-flowing rivers awaiting whitewater rafters. You can get up high and take on a bridge bungee jump, clamber a mountain region on a Via Ferrara route, or take to the skies by paragliding over verdant valleys. -Becki Enright of Borders of Adventure
With a world-famous reef, stunning coastlines, thick jungle, and an array of wildlife, Belize offers a lot of outdoor adventure opportunities. Best of all, the relatively small Central American country lets you experience the best of everything on even a short trip.
The highlight is undoubtedly the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef system in the world. It stretches for 300 kilometers just off the coastline, and is easy to reach for diving or snorkeling from popular tourist towns like Placencia and San Pedro.
The jungles of Belize offer more active adventures, whether it’s exploring ancient Mayan ruins or climbing through caves. The most popular of these is the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave, which has Mayan skeletons and ceramics inside. But at less-visited places like Tiger Cave near Punta Gorda, you’re almost guaranteed to be on your own.
For true thrill-seekers, there are other great options like zip-lining, rappelling down waterfalls, or an animal safari. Plus, they’re all made better by the beautiful jungle and coast that serve as the backdrop! -Michael Turtle of Time Travel Turtle
Canada is one of the greatest countries for adventure travel on earth. The world’s second largest country by landmass, with a population of only 36 million, it’s a place where you can truly get off the beaten path. But when you choose your adventure, you must choose wisely, because Canada is huge!
From walking with polar bears in Manitoba, to spying grizzlies in British Colombia, to canoeing in an isolated lake to spot moose in Alberta, the country has some of the best wildlife encounters you’ll ever see.
Canada also has the second longest coastline on the planet, not to mention the highest number of freshwater lakes and rivers, which makes it a paddlers dream. There are countless epic coastal adventures that are totally unique to Canada, like rafting the world’s highest tides or kayaking with Beluga whales.
From the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, there are summer and winter adventures to be found from coast to coast. If you want to see it all, try crossing the TransCanada Trail – the longest recreational trail on Earth – which weaves approximately 15,000 miles through the Great White North. -Dave Bouskill and Deb Corbeil of ThePlanetD
Sandwiched between the majestic Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Chile may be a skinny country but its extreme landscapes pack one heck of a punch.
Fancy a multi-day trek around stunning teal lakes, glaciers, and vertical peaks? Head to Patagonia and explore the Torres del Paine National Park. Want to feel like you've landed on the moon? Get yourself to the Atacama Desert and experience otherworldly salt-flats, erupting geysers, and a billion-star sky.
Chile has so many volcanoes, so little time... Of the 500 volcanic peaks that grace the country, Villarica offers a summit that's within reach for even non-Sir Edmund Hillary types. Plus, the geothermal Pucon Hot Springs (which is located nearby) will reward your tired mountaineering muscles later.
As you near your final flight out of Santiago, you also come closer to the heart of Chile's world-renowned wine country. You can cycle from vineyard to vineyard through the Maipo Valley and raise your glass of Carmenere to one of the finest adventure travel destinations South America has to offer. -Mike & Anne Howard of HoneyTrek
Costa Rica ticks all the adventure travel boxes, especially for family travelers. The Central American country is remarkably rich in natural wealth – containing nearly 6% of the world's biodiversity – and remains deeply committed to preserving it.
Costa Rica protects a glorious mix of ecosystems, animals, and ways for adventure-lovers of all ages to enjoy them. Water lovers have surfing schools and easy kayaking on both flanking oceans, low-stress rafting on pristine rivers, and relaxing in natural hot springs. Adults and older kids can Scuba dive off Caño Island, which is located just 40 minutes by boat off the Osa Peninsula.
Landlubbers have 28 national parks crisscrossed by kid-friendly hiking trails that are bustling with numerous species of monkeys, two kinds of sloths, giant iguanas and anteaters, and a dizzying array dazzling birds (toucans!). Zip lines and canopy walks allow visitors to get even closer to the fauna, and deliver different levels of adrenaline rush.
My favorite family-ready regions include Manuel Antonio National Park and its adjacent beach, the area around Arenal Volcano, and the southern Caribbean coast at Cahuita. -Ethan Gelber of The Travel Word
“You will see more wildlife in eight minutes underwater in the Galapagos than in eight hours on land,” said my naturalist guide as I put on my mask.
Within just a few minutes of snorkeling near Devil’s Crown, an extinct collapsed volcanic cone in the ocean near Floreana Island, I witnessed a beautiful spotted eagle ray gently “flying” underwater above lavender and green coral reefs. A giant sea turtle, a pretty chocolate chip starfish, and a few white-tip reef sharks cruised the reef as sea lions and vibrant fish swim around me near the surface. It was pure magic!
Located in the Pacific Ocean approximately 600 miles west Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are heaven on earth for animal lovers and outdoor adventurers.
From sunbathing Galapagos sea lions on the beach at Gardner Bay and blue-footed boobies and waved albatrosses on the rocks of Española to wise old Galapagos tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz, there’s no doubt that exploring these enchanted isles by both land and sea yields many other-worldly wonders. –Lavanya Sunkara of Nature Traveler
After decades of flying under the radar, Greenland is slowly getting more recognition for being a top adventure travel destination – a reputation it completely deserves. The Arctic country ticks all the right boxes, offering a unique and interesting indigenous culture, vast untouched landscapes, and plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy.
Whether you want to sea kayak among icebergs in the Southern Fjords, hike past herds of reindeer on the famous Arctic Circle Trail, or go all-in and ski across the ice cap itself, you'll come away with more photos and stories than you'll know what to do with!
While more people are visiting Greenland, there's still plenty of opportunities for adventure travelers who want in-depth exploration. -Matthew Karsten of ExpertVagabond
Traveling in Guatemala, with the chicken buses speeding along narrow mountain roads, can be an incredible adventure in and of itself. But, in terms of adventure travel activities, the country has plenty on offer.
Tops on the list would be scaling one of the country’s 30 volcanoes, which can be anything from an hour hike up Volcan Pacaya to overnight camping near the summit of Acatenango. Rio Dulce, which leads out to the Caribbean Sea, offers great kayaking, with lots of wildlife to spot along the way.
El Paredon, on the Pacific Coast, has steady tides rolling onto black sand beaches, and it has become the country’s premier surf spot. Mountain biking trails can be found all over the place. El Mirador is a multiple-day hike to jungle-clad Mayan ruins, which surpass even Tikal as the biggest in the country.
Lake Atitlan, which is often considered the most beautiful lake in the world, offers high-altitude scuba diving. And we haven’t even gotten into the country’s cultural sites, festivals, or other natural wonders… -Jonathon Engels of A Life About
Iceland is a country that’s practically tailor-made for adventure travel. Most mainstream tourists head straight for some of Iceland’s most world-renowned sites along the increasingly popular “Golden Circle.”
But even when mass tourism threatens to overwhelm the destination (primarily in peak summer season), there are still plenty of wide-open spaces where you’ll feel like you’re all alone in the land of fire and ice.
Don’t miss the incredible opportunity to snorkel between the North American and European continents in some of the clearest water in the world! -Jennifer Dombrowski & Tim Davis of Luxe Adventure Traveler
Since my first days in India, I’ve found it to be the land of incredible adventure. At first, it was simply the adventure of navigating a new (and very different) culture. Over time, I’ve experienced many types of adventures in India, from trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas to wildlife safaris in the heart of tiger country.
India offers intrepid adventurers almost every type of geography you can think of, from the snow-capped peaks of the north to the arid deserts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, from the lush, tropical jungles of Madhya Pradesh to the beaches and backwaters of Kerala. In all of these locations, you’ll find adventure nearly everywhere you turn.
Several of the North Indian states – especially Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand – are prime outdoor recreation destinations. Here, you can find many options for activities such as trekking, mountain biking, white-water rafting, and birdwatching. In winter, Ladakh is home to the Chadar Trek on the frozen Zanskar River, which is said to be one of the toughest hiking challenges on Earth.
Wildlife safaris are another great option in India, which is home to about 70% of the world’s wild tigers. While there are about 50 tiger reserves in India, I recommend those in Madhya Pradesh, especially Kanha National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park. These parks are so abundant in wildlife– including many rare species and an incredible variety of birds– that even without seeing a tiger, you will feel satisfied by the immersion in natural beauty and the thrill of the chase. -Mariellen Ward of Breathedreamgo
The ultimate destination for adventure travel, Kyrgyzstan is a country of diversity. The perfect trip to this emerging Central Asian hotspot will involve a visit to the busy capital of Bishkek, which serves as your hopping off point to the country.
Your next stop should be Karakol, where you have direct access to the stunning Tian Shan Mountains. This area offers some of the best mountain hiking in the world, from low valley paths to multi-day treks that take you up and over mountain passes, camping along the way.
Moving onto Jyrgalan, you can continue to enjoy great hiking or opt for something different by taking a horseback trek. As a nomadic culture, the Kyrgyz people have strong bonds with their horses. So spending some time on a horse with them is the perfect way to both adventure and connect with the indigenous culture.
Culture seekers will also have the pleasure of meeting the proud eagle hunters during a demonstration on the south shore of Issyk Kul Lake, or even take in an intense game of Kok Boru. No matter your adventure style, Kyrgyzstan delivers on a scale you'll find hard to compare elsewhere. –Lina & David Stock of Divergent Travelers
Madagascar is a great choice for adventure travelers who want to combine adventure with nature. The East African island’s Andasibe Mantadia and Ranomafana National Parks are a great place to start.
Cars and bikes aren’t allowed there, so the only way to explore them is on foot, which means you’ll see much more since you’re exploring slowly. Hiking trails range from 45 minutes to full day circuits, offering something for everyone. You’ll search the forests for chameleons, frogs, and lemurs, which rank among the rarest and most endangered primates on the planet.
Madagascar is not only about lemurs, though. One of the most bizarre geological formations I’ve ever seen are Tsingy – razor sharp limestone formations that rise sharply from the ground. The name “Tsingy” comes from the Malagasy language, and appropriately translates as “the place where you can’t walk barefoot.”
You’ll carefully scramble through and around the rocks until you reach a viewpoint where you find yourself surrounded by Tsingy, feeling like you’re a character in a Dr. Seuss book. There are several places where you can explore these formations, including Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. -Laurel Robbins of Monkeys and Mountains
Though it may be better known for its rich traditional cultures, Morocco is a fantastic adventure travel destination because there are so many different options available!
Head to the north of the country to scuba dive in the Mediterranean, or hike the trails of the Rif and Middle Atlas Mountains. Swing down across the Atlantic coast of western Morocco, where surfing and kite surfing reign as the supreme adventure activities.
As you venture inland, prepare your rock climbing gear to scale the country’s gorges before taking a slightly tamer adventure, trekking on the back of a camel exploring the Sahara desert.
Fortunately for us “soft adventure” types, not all the activities here are so hardcore. You’ll find hiking, bird watching, and cultural adventures available throughout the country. Morocco really does have something for everyone. -Amanda Ponzio-Mouttaki of MarocMama
Despite Namibia’s unforgiving (yet stunning) desert landscape, outdoor adventure is easy to find.
Along the Skeleton Coast in Damaraland, guests of Desert Rhino Safari Camp are able to track, view, and photograph members of the largest free-roaming population of black rhino in the world… on foot. A portion of the excursion fee is donated to support research and conservation initiatives.
Farther north, near the Angolan border in the pristine wilderness of the Kaokoveld, travelers can visit the Himba villages in the area. This indigenous, semi-nomadic tribe is a fascinating throwback to yesteryear, and many still live like their ancestors did centuries ago.
In the south, intrepid adventurers are challenged to climb the shifting sands of the epic, pumpkin-colored dunes in Sossusvlei, some of which top out at nearly a thousand feet tall. And in the east, Etosha’s famed watering holes draw an abundance of African wildlife, delivering hours of spectacular interactions. –Susan Portnoy of The Insatiable Traveler
If you had to design the ultimate destination for adventure travel from scratch, you would be hard pressed to come up with a better place than New Zealand.
Home to an incredible array of epic landscapes, from beaches and glaciers to mountain peaks and old-growth forests, every corner of the island nation offers a huge variety of ways to get your adrenaline pumping.
This is the birthplace of bungee jumping, not to mention the Southern Hemisphere's hotspot for snow sports. And if you love being outdoors, the hiking in New Zealand is heralded as being some of the best in the world. If you prefer to stick to the water, the country also has some truly amazing sea kayaking spots, allowing you to get into hidden fjords and private beaches.
To make the most out of New Zealand, all you need is a true sense of adventure and a willingness to get outside at every opportunity. -Jarryd and Alesha of NOMADasaurus
Slovenia is our favorite country for adventure because it’s a diverse land filled with mountains, coastlines, caves, and rolling hills.
Triglav National Park and the surrounding region in northwest Slovenia is home to the highest peak in the Julian Alps, Lake Bohinj, Lake Bled, the Soča River, and more waterfalls than you can count. There’s an endless array of hiking, mountain climbing, and biking routes to be explored throughout the country.
You can stand-up paddle board through the clear, peaceful glacial waters of Lake Bohinj or try your hand at white water kayaking down the wild Soča River. For an aerial view, run off the edge of the 1,682-meter-high Mount Vogel, and paraglide your way back down to earth.
Another thrilling adventure found throughout the country is canyoning, which involves rappelling, sliding, and cliff-jumping your way through a deep canyon. There truly is no shortage of adventurous pursuits to be found! -Jenna Kvidt of Wander The Map
After ending a 30-year civil war in 2009 and recovering from the 2004 Tsunami, Sri Lanka has catapulted itself into the international tourism scene with impressive speed and ambition over the past few years. Sri Lanka is one of only two South Asian countries rated "high" on the Human Development Index (alongside the Maldives), and has aggressively expanded its tourism infrastructure with competitive offerings for travelers ranging from luxury to backpackers.
The prodigious implementation of travel services alongside the country's rarely seen cultural attractions, ancient cities, and rich ecology has earned it a reputation as a must-see destination for seasoned travelers.
Sri Lanka has a historic cultural tradition of environmental sustainability, and has maintained an impressive degree of natural attractiveness. Its lush, relatively untouched jungle, scenic mountain ranges, exotic wildlife, and pristine national parks make it one of the most exciting emerging destinations for outdoors adventures in Asia, especially for hiking and wildlife viewing.
Personally, I love the surfing. The East-facing coastline receives consistent, world-class waves, but still lacks the crowds of similar breaks in comparable locations. -Matt Gibson of XpatMatt
Fast becoming one of the hottest new ecotourism destinations, Tasmania is a fabulous place for adventure seekers. An isolated island south of the Australian mainland, it’s an untouched gem with vast rugged wilderness and natural wonders, but very few crowds.
There are ample hiking trails and bush-walks through pristine forest or along dramatic coastal cliffs to keep you busy for weeks on end. And you'll feel your heart pumping if you come face to face with one of the state's iconic Tasmanian devils.
There's white water rafting on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Franklin River, an incredible amount of kayaking, boating, and sailing, or discovering a fascinating world of underground caves.
It may be a small state, but Tasmania certainly packs an adventurous punch. There are activities on offer here to suit every level of fitness and challenge. But, with over a third of the state made up of protected wilderness regions, just being outdoors is often adventure enough. -Michael Jerrard of Waking Up Wild
Uzbekistan isn’t your standard adventure… there is no bungee jumping or white-water rafting or wildlife spotting. The adventure in this land is one of exploration, following in the footsteps of Arabs and Persians and Mongols along what came to be known as the Silk Road.
Several of the Silk Road’s iconic cities lie within Uzbekistan’s borders, including Bukhara and Samarkand, with their turquoise minarets and mosaic madrassas familiar landmarks for passing caravans.
For an unconventional adventure, head north. At Nukus, you’ll be entering the capital of the nominally autonomous Karakalpak Republic, whose ethnic Turkic people make up 2.2% of Uzbekistan’s population.
Push on to Moynaq, once the country’s only port and a fishing town on the edge of what used to be the Aral Sea, before the building of a Soviet dam forced it to recede. Today, the rusting hulks of the fishing fleet are that past’s only reminder. -Leyla Giray Alyanak of Women On The Road
BIO: Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.