Best active holiday destinations
By Martha Hales
Adventurous destinations often go hand in hand with exciting activities, and many of our experts - based all over the world - are specialists in both. Ever fancied fishing for piranhas in the Amazon River? Hiking through spellbinding scenery to Ethiopia’s highest peak? Running the rapids on the River Nile? We can offer you all this and more. Bespoke holidays with that special local insight and your perfect mix of action and relaxation are what we do best, so read on to find out more about the huge range of adventures and activities you could be enjoying on your next trip.
Travelling on foot is the ultimate way to connect with your destination. From leisurely strolls to full day hikes and epic multi-day treks, we’ve got it covered. All of our trusted local experts can incorporate hikes into your trip itinerary, and they know just where to take you to fulfil your priorities. Whatever you are looking for, from routes with great views to trails with good birdwatching, they will use on-the-ground local knowledge to point you in the right direction. We have a huge variety of hiking itineraries to inspire you, so here’s a quick round up to get you started. And don’t worry, if you don’t see what you are looking for here, just ask - our local experts tailor each trip to your requirements.
Where better to start this summary of great hiking destinations than Peru, where the epic Inca Trail is an outstanding bucket-list adventure encountering high grasslands and cloud forests on the way to Machu Picchu - truly one of the world’s most exhilarating treks.
Nearby Argentina and Chile have huge scope for keen walkers too, and nowhere are the trails as dramatic, wild and wonderful than in Patagonia. Our ‘Highlights of Patagonia’ itinerary combines some world-class trekking around the mountains and lakes of El Chalten and the icy crags of Torres del Paine with glacier adventures and horse riding. To combine Patagonian hiking with Chile’s many other highlights, have a look at our ‘Best of Chile’ trip.
Colombia is another great South American destination for hikers, and the ‘Hiking in Colombia’ itinerary takes you from the High Andes to the lowland pàramo, from jungle trails to Ciudad Perdida - the Teyuna lost city.
In neighbouring Ecuador, try the epic treks of our ‘Route of the Volcanoes’ itinerary - visit the tallest volcanic peaks and enjoy the High Andes scenery from the viewpoint of beautiful hiking trails. The hiking is moderate, leaving plenty of time for sightseeing and cultural excursions, too.
Staying with the Americas, Belize is a fantastic option for a hiking trip with a wildlife focus, and the Maya Mountains are the perfect spot for treks in the national park where you can experience jungle creatures, Mayan ruins, and natural beauty before making your way to the Caribbean Coast.
Moving the focus to Asia, the options for walkers are no less appealing. Consider the mystical mountain kingdom of Bhutan, where multi-day trekkers will love the stunning scenery and local life on both the Thousand Lakes Trek and the famous Druk Path Trek. Blissfully traditional and undisturbed, the culture of Bhutan unfolds before you as you journey on foot through this wondrous land.
Similarly, India has a huge variety of landscapes to discover, none more impressive than those in the far north where the ‘Walking in the Himalayas’ itinerary reveals some incredible scenery amid some of the world’s highest mountains.
Among all the exciting activities available in Indonesia, getting out into the wilderness to explore local life has to be up there among the best. If you are keen to combine culture with your outdoor pursuits, have a look at our ‘South Sulawesi’ sample itinerary, where you can enjoy trekking as well as biking and snorkelling.
Meet local hill tribes and learn about their way of life on a trekking tour of Myanmar, with treks to Inle Lake and time in surrounding Pao villages.
Maybe the Philippines isn’t the first destination to spring to mind when you think of walking holidays, but our trusted local experts have put together an exciting itinerary allowing a thorough exploration of the Philippines on foot. From volcanoes to lakes to the crinkle-cut rice-terraced hillsides of Banaue, there’s plenty of variety. Finish off with some beach time on one of the Philippines’ most idyllic islands.
Nepal has to take the crown as one of the world’s top trekking destinations, so if you are pining for the top of the world, look no further. From the iconic Everest Base Camp trek to the more peaceful Langtang Trek, Nepal has something for everyone, always accompanied by that epic Himalayan backdrop.
Hiking among Vietnam’s Tonkinese Alps is a great mix of activity and culture as you discover little-visited villages where traditional, rural Vietnamese life goes on like it always has. Although lodgings are very rustic, the off the beaten track experience is well worth it.
Central Asia’s Tien Shen mountains are the scenic surroundings for a hiking tour of Kyrgyzstan - a nine day immersion in Kyrgyz nature and rural culture, as well as abundant scenery on the Boz Uchuk trail, deep in the Jyrgalan Valley.
Africa’s hiking trails are perhaps not as well known as others, but nevertheless there is no shortage of jaw dropping scenery to discover on foot and many of our expert local partners on the ground in Africa have excellent suggestions for hikes and treks.
Perhaps the most underrated trekking destination in the world is Ethiopia, where soaring highlands sliced through with verdant canyons harbour unique wildlife and some incredible panoramas. Take your pick from a stunning Simien Mountains trek, a trekking adventure in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains, or some cultural immersion on a trekking holiday with the communities of northern Ethiopia. All can be combined with the historical circuit if required.
More underrated mountain ranges are to be found in South Africa, where you can discover the demanding trails of the Drakensberg Mountains combined with wildlife spotting on the Whale Trail and even a walking safari through Big Five Country on the ‘Hiking in South Africa’ itinerary.
Uganda is another African nation where you can combine great hiking with wildlife watching, specifically Rwenzori Mountains hiking with safari expeditions in Queen Elizabeth National Park and the enticing surroundings of Lake Mburo National Park.
Namibia’s fabled landscapes are possessed of a stark and unique beauty which you can see up close on a trip on foot. Walk some of the best hiking trails and enjoy a great opportunity to stargaze when you spend a night or two in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, one of the world’s few International Dark Sky Reserves.
There’s more to Morocco than meets the eye, from deserts and coast to ancient medinas and some impressive mountains. Get to know the High Atlas range when you take on the Mount Toubkal Trek which scales the highest peak in North Africa via Berber villages and rural valleys, easily combined with some time to unwind and explore in Marrakech.
Jordan has earned its place on the list of great hiking destinations with the recent inauguration of the epic Jordan Trail, a six week trek joining the highlights of this beguiling country. If you don’t have six weeks to spare, shorter stretches are easily arranged, or mix it up with the ‘Adventurous Jordan’ trip... Stay in a Bedouin camp in the desert, hike through the incredible scenery of Wadi Rum and walk across the varied terrain of Dana Nature Reserve, looking out for the interesting birdlife - 180 species in all.
One destination which is gaining ground with hikers and foodies is Georgia, where a few days spent hiking the Svaneti Highlands takes you to Europe’s highest permanently inhabited settlements, surrounded by dazzling alpine scenery and infused with centuries of history.
More mountainous panoramas await in Armenia, where the combination of mountains and monasteries makes for an incredible hiking destination with fabulous scenery everywhere you look and some excellent birding to boot.
Getting active in Rwanda could involve a day or two of primate trekking, but it doesn’t end there. How about a hiking and biking adventure where you get a broad overview of the stunning landscapes and wildlife Rwanda has to offer?
Cycling through southern China gives you a unique perspective on the culture and landscapes of this celebrated region. Encounter rice terraces, cave systems, villages and the stunning karst scenery around Yangshuo, so much more satisfying seen from the saddle.
If hiking and biking are a bit too ‘everyday’ for you, you’ve come to the right place. Some of our local experts have dreamed up some fantastic adventures to tempt those who like some thrills on holiday.
Take a look at our 'Nicaraguan Adventure’ trip which tempts the bold with various pulse racing activities such as volcano climbing, kayaking and canyoning all mixed in with some wildlife and culture to boot.
Active families with adventure on their minds should look at this family trip to Panama where you can give the kids lifelong memories with an itinerary that includes jungle trekking, ziplining and snorkelling.
Fans of adventure sports should make a beeline for Nepal, where there is a brilliant selection of activities to keep you entertained. Try canyoning, paragliding, rafting and trekking or mix it up with a trip that includes wildlife, culture and canoeing, all easily combined with some of the best trekking on the planet.
Experience an active adventure in Sri Lanka involving thrilling waterfall abseiling, white water rafting and mountain biking, as well as a three day trek through the Knuckles Mountain Range. All that adrenaline is balanced with cultural encounters and wildlife viewing opportunities.
South America also has an impressive roster of thrilling experiences to get that adrenaline pumping. Discover wild Colombia on a holiday that includes buzzing down a canopy top zipline, the thrill of night wildlife walks, a nail-biting alligator safari, fishing for hungry piranha, and even whale watching from atop a paddleboard. It doesn’t get much more adventurous than that!
Getting your outdoor fix is easy when you choose an itinerary like our ‘Active Ecuador’ one, where hiking to Laguna Cuicocha, riding around Cotopaxi volcano and feasting your eyes on the famous Quilotoa Loop hike are just the prelude to a rafting experience in the Jatunyacu River surrounded by the Amazon rainforest.
More Amazonian excitement with an Ecuadorian flavour awaits on our ‘Amazon Adventure’ trip - category VI rapids raise the pulse as you get your adventure fix rafting on the Hollin and Jondachi Rivers. Follow this with some hiking in Yasuni National Park and some idyllic canoeing trips in search of riverside wildlife and you have a brilliant holiday bursting with fun and excitement.
Argentina has plenty of tempting attractions for active holidaymakers. Fans of sailing, horse riding or snorkelling with sealions should check out our ‘Pioneers of Patagonia’ trip, making the most of the marine wildlife of the Peninsula Valdez. One of the standout destinations in Argentina for outdoor pursuits is Bariloche, which features alongside Southern Patagonia on our ‘Road Trip’ itinerary and makes a great base to tour the lake district or get that adrenaline pumping with some adventure sports in a beautiful location.
Costa Rica is renowned as one of the world’s best hotspots for adventure sports, many of which were first dreamt up here. If beach holidays aren’t your thing, up the ante with our ‘Adventurous Costa Rica’ tour featuring kayaking, rafting, ziplining, and hiking all in the stunning surroundings of Costa Rica’s forests, volcanoes and coasts. If you like to retreat to luxurious lodgings after a hard day’s rafting, wildlife cruising, kayaking, SUP, canopy walking or hiking, the ‘Ultimate Costa Rica’ trip should give you food for thought.
With epic landscapes, wildlife, coastlines and culture, South Africa is an obvious choice for adventurous spirits, and we know just the itinerary to inspire you. The ‘South African Adventure’ trip is full of thrilling wildlife encounters - diving with sharks, anyone? - as well as fun activities such as abseiling and forest treks.
Jinja is the adventure sports capital of Uganda (and possibly Africa) so it makes the perfect base for some wild and spine tingling adventures on and around the white water sections of the Nile. Bungee jumping over this epic river is just for starters, as our ‘River Nile Thrill Seekers experience’ will also see you tackling some of the world’s most iconic grade V rapids by raft and kayak as well as ziplining through the treetops in the Mabira Forest.
True mountaineers won’t settle for hiking around or across the world’s greatest mountain ranges, they have a calling to get to the top of the highest peak. Across the planet TravelLocal’s partners have put together some fantastic trip ideas for those who long to have their heads in the clouds.
Africa’s best known challenge is Kilimanjaro, a unique mountain that rises from the lowlands in Tanzania. Choose the well known Machame route for great scenery and ease of access, or the Lemosho route for less footfall and a more gradual acclimatisation. Both offer incredible panoramas over the African landscape.
In nearby Uganda, the mountains may be less famous, but that doesn’t make them less impressive. Make it your mission to summit the Rwenzoris, where the third highest peak in Africa is waiting for you after you climb through stands of giant lobelia and montane forest, looking out for various monkeys, birds and reptiles along the way.
Of course there is no greater dream for summit baggers than Everest, but if time and cost do not allow you to attempt the mightiest mountain of all, Nepal can also offer the fabled Everest Base Camp trek, which is a pretty impressive second prize.
Kenya is renowned as a world-class safari hotspot, but the coast is fabulous too, and if you are seeking a great watersports holiday then look no further than the Lamu Archipelago for dreamy beaches, a historic island capital in Lamu Town and watersports galore, from kitesurfing to fishing.
A peach of a coast is ripe for the picking in Mozambique, where blissful Indian Ocean colours and a rich underwater world are waiting to be discovered. The delightful Quirimbas Archipelago is a heavenly destination for dhow cruising, perhaps with some snorkelling and sailing if you can tear yourself away from the glorious bone white beaches. Divers will rejoice in the opportunities for underwater adventures off Medjumbe Island, a luxury retreat with excellent dive sites and optional watersports.
Swim with turtles, explore the delicate coral reefs and dive with shoals of colourful fish off the coast of Sabah, Borneo. Gaya Island is perfect for back to back snorkelling and diving adventures, while on the mainland a wildlife cruise along the Kinabatangan River will bring sightings of exciting land animals.
If you enjoy exploring the underwater world, Belize should be top of your list. Just offshore you will find the world’s second largest barrier reef teeming with life, as well as the diving mecca known as the Great Blue Hole. Choose a trip such as ‘Active Belize’ and you will have ample opportunity to explore on land and underwater, both as fascinating as each other.
Diving veterans will tell you that for pristine submarine ecosystems you can’t beat Raja Ampat - one of Indonesia’s hidden gems where lush green islands alive with birdsong are surrounded by clear water perfect for diving and kayaking. It’s a rural area where you have the chance to interact with local communities and learn something of the life here.
A magnet for marine life and curious humans, the Galapagos Islands have untouched nature on their side, and when you take a cruise around the archipelago you will experience first hand this amazing Noah’s Ark. Snorkelling, sea kayaking and diving are just three water activities you can enjoy on this trip, as well as plenty of excursions on land to investigate the unique wildlife for yourself.
Diving in the Philippines is simply wonderful, giving you access to an incredible variety of marine life including hundreds of species of fish and even marine turtles if you are lucky. The Visayas are an island group renowned for excellent diving, and Apo Island is one of the best - among the top ten dive sites worldwide.
Winter sports offer a great way to inject a blast of fresh air, exercise and hopefully sunshine into your winter plans. The Central Asian mountains harbour several ski stations to cater for all abilities, so if you fancy a change from the Alps take a peek at our Kazakh and Kyrgyz ski itineraries for inspiration.
Winter in Japan is a treat, with well established ski resorts making it another great place to enjoy some winter sports with a twist. While you are there, look out for the many other winter-friendly activities to grab your attention too, such as the Sapporo Ice Festival and the famous snow monkeys.
Have you ever wondered whether you can ski on the African continent? Well wonder no more, because you can actually ski in Morocco’s High Atlas range at Michlifen Ski Station. It’s only a small area with two lifts but how great to get the chance to ski in Africa without the crowds and follow up with a few days in Marrakech?
Make it happen
Active holidays are one of TravelLocal’s specialities and there’s a good chance that if you can dream up your favourite activity our local experts can make it happen for you in your destination of choice. Make your next trip into an adventure when you try something new with all the family. There’s a whole world out there and so many ways to experience it! To find out more click on the links above, or to speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.