If your idea of a holiday is to scale mountain peaks rather than recline on the sun lounger, or to have adrenaline coursing through your veins as opposed to yet another poolside cocktail, then you’re in luck. The appetite for adventure travel is higher than ever.
With new flight routes cropping up to emerging destinations and far-flung corners of the globe, and countries that once required a ream of paperwork now welcoming visitors by relaxing visa restrictions, it’s never been easier to get off the beaten track.
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But you don’t need to be the next Bear Grylls to get your fix - adventure can start close to home. Some of the world’s most well-established destinations have earned their reputations for good reason and, as long as you’re willing to embrace your inner explorer, you’re sure to find a holiday that gives you a unique perspective on this planet of ours.
With that in mind, we’ve selected eight of the best adventure holiday destinations for 2019, from some of our old favourites to future stars that you can grab a slice of before the tourist throngs arrive.
The towering peaks and plunging valleys of Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains mark the intersection of Europe and Asia. With the country’s thriving capital, Tbilisi, enjoying a revival in the past decade, and the mountains being home to some of the most jaw-dropping scenery you’re ever likely to set eyes on, it is little wonder Georgia is one of the most-talked about adventure destinations of 2019.
What to do?
Tbilisi combines the winding lanes, historic architecture and 4th Century Narikala hill fort of a bygone era, with revamped museums, humming cafés and buzzing nightlife. Adventure starts in the mountains, though, and Georgia has mountains to rival any in the world. The town of Stepantsminda (often referred to by its previous name, Kazbegi), three hours north of Tbilisi, lies in the shadow of the 5,033m Mount Kazbek and offers world-class hiking (including the popular day hike to the Gergeti Glacier via Gergeti Trinity Church, one of Georgia’s iconic landmarks). Meanwhile, the remote region of Svaneti gives you the opportunity to truly get away from it all, surrounded by wild summits and rushing rivers.
Landlocked Switzerland is a picture-postcard country of chocolate box mountain villages set against a backdrop of some of Europe’s highest peaks. Whether you want to strap on a snowboard in winter or take to two wheels in summer, Switzerland provides a landscape ready for your next adventure.
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The mountain resort of Crans-Montana hopes to reinvent itself as a hub for adrenaline junkies with the launch of Chalet Alaïa, a 5,000sqm complex with year-round training facilities for freestyle skiers and snowboarders, as well as a vast indoor and outdoor skate park. The facility will offer coaching and courses for all abilities. Otherwise, the wider Crans-Montana area offers more than 140km of pistes and 40km of marked ski touring trails in winter, and extensive mountain biking and hiking in summer.
Everything is amped up to 11 in New Zealand: the mountains rise like spears from the valley floor, the glacial rivers run bluer than the sky, and the ocean waves crash endlessly onto mile-upon-mile of sweeping coastline. New Zealand is an adventurer’s playground, whether seeking solitude on a multi-day hike through the hills or strapping yourself into a speedboat for a white-knuckle ride through towering canyons.
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Queenstown is the thrill seeker’s capital of New Zealand - if not the world - and lies on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, framed by the Southern Alps. Hiking, mountain biking, skiing, canyoning, white-water rafting and bungee jumping - if it sends adrenaline pumping around your body, you’ll find it here. In fact, Queenstown was the birthplace of bungee jumping. It’s an addictive place, with a thriving restaurant scene and pulsing nightlife to boot.
Madeira may be best known as the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo, but the Portuguese island has plenty to offer thrill seekers. There’s the idyllic year-round climate for a start, with highs of 19 degrees in January and 26 degrees in August, which makes Madeira the ideal destination for outdoor pursuits. That’s before you consider the craggy volcanic landscape.
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Madeira is a geologist’s dream - the island is the top of a volcanic shelf that rises 20,000 feet from the ocean floor - but mountain bikers have staked a claim here, too, thanks to the network of mind-blowing trails. There’s very little flatland in Madeira and the landscape of steep-sided valleys and dense forest is as dramatic as it comes. Add to the mix superb canyoning, climbing and hiking, and this Atlantic outcrop is ready for adrenaline-fuelled exploration.
Sandwiched between Austria to the north, Italy to the west and Croatia to the south, Slovenia may not have the established reputation of its immediate neighbours, but this compact country’s snow-capped peaks and crystal-clear lakes make it a nature lover’s paradise. Throw in an increasing number of flights to the capital (British Airways starts seasonal flights to Ljubljana this summer) and Slovenia should be high on the bucket list of any intrepid traveller.
What to do?
Slovenia is a magical land of sky-high mountains, awe-inspiring lakes and tumbling waterfalls. The Julian Alps offer some of the most affordable skiing in Europe and transform from glistening white in winter to vivid green in summer. Hikers can explore more than 10,000km of marked trails, adrenaline junkies can paddle the crashing white-water of the Soča river, and road cyclists can ascend the beautiful Mangart Pass. Slovenia is sure to leave you breathless in more than one way.
With world-renowned natural beauty at every turn, Costa Rica is a dream destination for any lover of the great outdoors. Spot sloths and tree frogs between hiking through virgin rainforest (Costa Rica has 27 national parks and more than 150 protected areas in total), catching a wave on the Pacific coast or paddling on the Pacuare, ranked by National Geographic as one of the top five rafting rivers in the world.
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For a slice of Costa Rica at its purest, head to the mountain town of Monteverde. Straddling the continental divide at 1,400m, the area is home to the Monteverde Cloud Forest - one of the world’s most biodiverse natural reserves, with more than one hundred mammal species, four hundred species of bird, thousands of insects, 2,500 plants, and 120 reptiles and amphibians. Marked hiking trails provide easy access for all ages or, for a thrill seeker’s perspective on the surrounding forest, strap yourself in for a zip-line tour through the canopy.
Uzbekistan has long held significance for travellers, with the cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand once booming stop-offs on the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and West. Now the former Soviet republic is looking to reinvent itself as a tourist destination fit for the 21st Century by relaxing visa restrictions. As of February 2019, visitors from 45 countries, including most of Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, can enjoy visa-free travel for up to 30 days.
What to do?
The Central Asian nation offers a beguiling combination of ancient culture and vast vistas. Swap the towering minarets of myriad mosques and the exquisitely-tiled walls of madrasas (religious schools) in Samarkand for the opportunity to sample traditional village life and off-the-beaten track hiking in the Nuratau Mountains. Meanwhile, the Chimgan & Ugam-Chatkal National Park, just under two hours north of Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, offers skiing (and, more significantly, heli-skiing) in winter and hiking, paragliding, horse riding and rafting in summer.
As you would expect from the second-biggest country in the world, Canada is a natural wonder - a true showcase of the best Planet Earth has to offer. Canada has it all, from the inlets and islands of Vancouver in the west, to the untouched wilderness of Quebec in the east. And that’s before we mention the Rocky Mountains.
What to do?
Canada is road trip country, whether jumping between powder-drowned mountains in winter or plotting hiking routes (and dodging bears) in summer. If skiing or snowboarding are your thing, Whistler is consistently voted among the world’s best resorts, while the snow-filled bowls of Revelstoke attract some of the planet’s best freestyle riders. Once summer arrives, Canada’s staggeringly beautiful landscape - a seemingly endless supply of coastline, rivers, mountains and lakes - provides a true playground for anyone who values a healthy dose of fresh air.