A new year is marching ahead, and along with it, a growing interest in adventure travel. Fire up your wanderlust for 2013 and beyond in these destinations, which are quickly gaining a reputation as hubs for adventure across land, sea, and even air, via two wheels, a paddle, or a pair of hiking boots. Here’s to another year of exploration and adventure, wherever your travels take you.
Namibia: How’s this for a stamp of approval from the adventure travel community: In October 2013, the Adventure Travel Trade Association, the authority of the industry, is hosting its annual summit in this spectacular African country. No surprise, as Namibia has been on the rise for a while now, with its jaw-dropping panoramas of the red dunes of Sossuslvlei, safari excursions to catch glimpses of such rare wildlife as the endangered black rhino, and commitment to eco-friendly practices.
Located just above South Africa, Namibia hasn't experienced the civil unrest of many of other African countries and boasts one of the continent's highest literacy rates, as well as some of its most unspoiled landscapes, all of which make it a strong draw for tourism – though many people hadn't even heard of the country until Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie visited in 2006 for the birth of their first child together. In recent years, there's been a growing emphasis on promoting ecotourism while creating economic opportunities for locals, and many tour operators and lodge owners have come on board with that mission. If you're looking for a lesser-traveled African adventure, Namibia is just the spot.
Cuba: This island nation, which has been all but forbidden to most Americans in the last half-century, is poised for a surge in U.S. tourism in the coming years, following new regulations in 2011 that opened up the country to visitors traveling with a licensed operator. And though the government appeared to drag its feet in issuing permits in 2012, enthusiasm about Cuba hasn’t waned. As of now, most of the leading operators have their permits in hand and have resumed their travel to Cuba, and the country’s minister of tourism expects about 3 million tourists in 2013.
Colombia: This South American gem is finally emerging from its decades-long turmoil of drug violence and civil unrest to become a mecca for mountain biking, white water rafting, and hiking. Its hub cities, including Bogota and Medellin, are easy flights from Miami, and offer an exotic, approachable way to experience local culture when the adrenaline rush from the day is over.
Another plus? Colombia is supremely affordable, whether you go solo or with a group. One operator to consider is Adventure Life, which specializes in Central and South American countries and recently added several itineraries in Colombia. Trips feature activities include mountain biking through historic ruins, tackling the rapids of the world-famous Andes River, and coffee tastings at organic haciendas, starting at just $1,875 for a four-day trip around Cartagena.
South Korea: While its unfriendly neighbor to the north continues making headlines about nuclear weapons and its most famous pop singer, PSY, continues riding out his Gangnam Style fame, South Korea has quietly made a name for itself as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. It boasts vast potential for pursuits like golfing, fishing, and hiking, all of which will be highlighted on a global landscape when the country hosts several major international sporting events in the coming year, including the Special Olympics Winter Games, the World Rowing Championship, and the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.
For some urban-fueled adrenaline during any visit, be sure to stop by its capital city of Seoul. This uber-energetic metropolis of skyscrapers, a bustling culinary scene, and the frenetic pace characteristic of many Asian cities is an adventure within itself.
Iceland: Fire, ice, fog, waterfalls, volcanic eruptions, hot springs: This small country is packed with multi-sensory opportunities for adventure. And there’s no better time to take advantage, with the country still recovering from the currency crash of 2008 that effectively devalued the króna by 75 percent, making the historically expensive country much more budget-friendly for visitors.
Iceland is about the size of Kentucky, making most excursions within a day’s drive of its capital city of Reykjavík. Take a two-wheeled spin around the emerging mountain biking hub of Keflavík, about 40 minutes west of the capital, take a dip in hot springs of the world-famous Blue Lagoon, or explore the spectacularly rugged terrain of its southern coast, near the charming towns of Skógar and Vík.