I’ve recently returned (and am still recovering) from several days in Keystone, Colorado, for the 2012 Travel Bloggers Exchange. This is the third year for this growing gathering of travel enthusiasts, from travel bloggers (such as yours truly) to tourism bureaus eager to spread the word about their destinations.
Not surprisingly, a common topic during the weekend was the explosion of adventure travel – as well as where the next hotspots are. Here, a few expert picks for places to put on your adventure travel bucket list.Panama: The country’s most famous manmade icon, the Panama Canal, may be known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, but the natural wonders of this Central American gem (pictured above) are worthy of celebration from any outdoor enthusiast. Mountain biking in one of the country's 15 national parks, hiking in the rainforest, and kayaking or stand-up paddling in the azure waters of the Caribbean – take your pick from any number of adventure-oriented offerings, all within easy access of the country’s lively capital, Panama City. If there’s any energy left during downtime, check out the newly opened, Frank Gehry-designed Biodiversity Museum: Panama Bridge of Life, or the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is scheduled to triple its capacity by 2014, when it marks its 100th anniversary.
If You Go: Montana-based tour operator Adventure Life offers a number of active tours, starting at $1,375 for a seven-day trip. There are also an abundance of eco-lodges throughout the country, most of which offer excursions.
Newfoundland, Canada: A recent example of how this far-flung Canadian province is gaining traction on the adventurist circuit: in April, two experienced mountain (and ice) climbers swam to and then scaled an iceberg moored near the scenic harbor of Quidi Vidi, in St. John’s (and then jumped off it into the frigid water).
Not all of Newfoundland’s adventures are that extreme, however: the province’s East Coast Trail is the easternmost hiking trail in North America and is being expanded every year. Featuring about 135 miles of pathways and views of icebergs, fjords, and craggy coastline, the trail is simply sublime. Beyond hiking, travelers can pick from white water rafting, seeing icebergs via kayak or tour boat and dozens of quaint B&Bs and lodging.
If You Go: Twillingate Adventure Tours offers tours through the heart of Iceberg Alley, where you'll spot not only the giant 'bergs (all six kinds are represented in this region) but also whales and spectacular sunsets. In addition, The Outfitters, in St. John's, is a reliable guide and gear rental company. (I head to Newfoundland myself in July, so stay tuned for my posts and photos from there.)
Cuba: Long considered a forbidden fruit to American travelers, Cuba is on the cusp of change, as the U.S.’s strict (and outdated) travel restrictions are finally being relaxed. You’ll still have to go with a licensed tour operator, who will take care of visa arrangements, and, most likely, accommodations and your itinerary. But as I wrote following my trip to Cuba in August, exploring on your own and interacting with the locals is essential for getting an authentic view of life in this magical country. Go now – before Starbucks moves in or U.S. policymakers change their minds.
If You Go: New York-based Insight Cuba is a pioneer in legal travel to Cuba, but a number of other companies, including YMT Vacations and luxury outfitter Abercrombie & Kent, are now offering trips. Motorcycle enthusiasts should check out a bike journey across the island nation, led by photojournalist and Cuba expert Christopher Baker. Dates for the trip haven’t yet been announced, but if Baker’s wrap up speech from TBEX is any indication, it will surely be epic.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: This Eastern European country may be best known for its ethnically charged war in the 1990s (and as host of the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics), but nowadays, it’s making a name for itself among adventure travel circles, especially in Europe, for its wealth of skiing, hiking, and whitewater rafting and kayaking. Nowadays, mountain biking has come onto the scene, with a glorious singletrack system along ancient caravan routes. Another bonus: it’s deliciously affordable.
If You Go: Exodus, a UK-based tour operator, offers several excursions in Bosnia, including walking, snowshoeing, and mountain biking. The latter, which costs $1,530, starts on August 16, and features a weeklong route from Sarajevo, passing through Lukomir, the country’s highest village at 5,000 feet, along several lakes and finally to a waterfall.
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