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Cocktails on the beach don’t suck, but nothing compares to these 9 adventure vacations

8 min read
Cocktails on the beach don’t suck, but nothing compares to these 9 adventure vacations

Lying on a beach at sunset sipping a mojito is awesome and I won’t deny it. City breaks? I’ve nothing against cold beer and ceviche in Panama City or schiacciata alla fiorentina and espresso in Florence, especially if you’re paying. But would I choose a nature trek over a city break or beach holiday any day of the week? Absolutely I would.

Relaxing holidays have their place, but nothing fuels my fire quite like pitching a tent in the desert, climbing mountains or rapelling down a cliffside when I’m on vacation. I’m not talking about an afternoon of ziplining or jet skiing here, I mean exploring wild spaces in hiking boots, or skis or belay. Getting off the beaten track with an active vacation rejuvenates your mind and your body and is a unique way to see new places.

If you’re planning to do more active travel this year, here I’ve written about some of the best adventure vacations I’ve taken over the years to help inspire your next journey. Should you decide to take the plunge and buy a ticket, make sure you read our guides on how to pack for an active vacation without checking a bag or cut down on your baggage fees and rent outdoor gear instead.

1. Trekking in Lapland

A canoeist paddles on the Kesanki Lake in Akaslompolo, Kolari in Lapland, Northern Finland

A canoeist paddles on the Kesanki Lake in Akaslompolo, Kolari in Lapland, Northern Finland

Trekking in Lapland is the reason I fell in love with hiking. Back in 1997 when I was in high school, I had the opportunity to go on a group exchange trip to Finland where among other items on the agenda, we embarked on an epic 75 km hike across the country’s vast subarctic wilderness. Over three days of backpacking, we saw untouched forests, herds of reindeer and rolling hills, warmed up in the saunas then dove into pristine lakes to cool off.

It was the most extraordinary introduction into the wild and today it offers the modern hiker an unusual experience to properly unplug. Lapland encompasses a region bigger than the entire United Kingdom, with a total population of just 179,000, so you can spend days here without seeing another soul.

2. Canyoneering in Utah

A climber rappelling into a slot canyon

A climber rappelling into a slot canyon

Utah is well-known for its stunning National Parks – the most popular of which are Zion, Arches and Canyonlands – which wow visitors with their splendid rock fins, spires and canyons, but my favorite trips to Utah have involved finding a hole in the ground and rappelling down into it.

Canyoneering is the sport of exploring canyons, and thanks to Utah’s abundance of slot canyons, doing it there entails rock climbing, scrambling, hiking, wading and occasionally even swimming. The most remote areas deliver the best adventures, so pack your tent and get ready for some desert camping.

  • Check out: Keyhole Canyon in Zion is technical, with a few short rappels and swims, but it can be done in a couple of hours which means less commitment than the Subway and plenty of time to explore the other sights in the park.

3. Hut hiking in the Alps

Hiking in the French Alps

Hiking in the French Alps

Hiking around the Mont Blanc massif delivers rugged high altitude trails with views of some of the most spectacular peaks in the world, but unlike hiking in the Rockies or Scottish Highlands, you can quite easily bed down for the night here in the lap of luxury. Hut hiking in the Alps has easily been one of my favorite active vacations to date, combining my favorite activity with gorgeous views and great grub.

The extensive hut system in the Alps offers cozy lodging everywhere that is a site to behold for the intrepid hiker, with comfy beds, steaming fondue and welcoming bartenders at the ready to pour you a glass of crisp Vin de Savoie. Hike between huts and follow a long distance trail like the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, or find one for several nights and use it as a base for day hikes.

Hiking and camping in Yosemite



If you’re anything like me, you might tend to avoid really popular places because you dislike crowds, but don’t make this mistake with Yosemite National Park. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have guided four hiking and yoga retreats in Yosemite  and I can’t imagine a time when I’ll grow tired of going there.

This National Park is popular because it is so spectacularly beautiful and unlike anywhere else on the planet and whatever photographs you’ve seen of the place don’t do it justice. In Yosemite Valley alone, you’ll see imposing granite monoliths, rainbows reflected in tumbling waterfalls and some of the biggest trees on the planet. The place offers accessible day strolls and backcountry adventures to suit every level.

5. Chamonix in summer

Trekking across the Glacier du Géant

Trekking across the Glacier du Géant

Chamonix, France may be best-known for its amazing skiing, but my best trips there have taken place in the summer because then you can get up to loads of different activities. In a single weekend there, I’ve been able to take a gorgeously misty forest hike to Montenvers followed by a mountain train ride down, go glacier hiking on the Mont Blanc massif and take in some of the best trail running in the world.

Granted, you’ll need a big suitcase to pack your hiking boots, crampons and trail running shoes for that itinerary, but you won’t be bored and there are plenty of world-class restaurants where you can fuel up after your day on the trail

6. Rocky Mountain winter hut trip

Mountain winter landscape

Mountain winter landscape

Truly, any holiday in Colorado is an adventure, from skiing in Vail to exploring the desert landscape of Great Sand Dunes National Park. I spent 11 years exploring this adventure-filled state and some of my favorite memories were made in trips to some of Colorado’s backcountry huts.

Colorado’s backcountry is peppered with huts such as the famous 10th Mountain Division Hut System, which was founded for high altitude soldiers during World War II and now encompasses 34 huts connected by 350 miles of trails. The public can stay in these and many other Colorado huts, which sleep anywhere from three to 20 people, usually for a reasonable fee.

You can get to Colorado’s huts in any season, and even tour them on a hut to hut hiking trip, but my favorite way to explore them is in winter, on snowshoes or skis. This allows you to get the best of a Colorado winter without standing in a long lift line.

  • Check out: At over 11,200 feet above sea, Jay’s Cabin delivers breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains, but the trail to get there from Vail Pass is just a couple of miles long, meaning less seasoned skiers can still get here and more adventurous types can take off from the hut during the day.

7. Snorkeling in Thailand

Varja Garrett snorkels in the clear waters of KO SURIN THAI ISLAND in MU KO SURIN NATIONAL PARK, THAILAND

Varja Garrett snorkels in the clear waters of KO SURIN THAI ISLAND in MU KO SURIN NATIONAL PARK, THAILAND

I grew up casually snorkeling in the Mediterranean and though I loved it, I didn’t really see the big deal when I was backpacking through Thailand. Fortunately, my travel buddy strong-armed me into going with her when we were staying on Ko Lanta, a far flung island known for its vast coral reefs, mangroves, pristine beaches and rainforests. Snorkeling around here turned out to be a far cry from doing it in Spain.

Thailand’s reefs and waters support 4,000 species of the most colorful fish you’ll ever set eyes on as well as turtles, sea snakes and manta rays, and we had barely left shore and dove into the warm waters when we actually found Nemo. Though scuba diving is a popular pastime in Thailand, it can be time-consuming and expensive, whereas snorkeling is a relatively low maintenance activity that will delight you (and leave you more time for rock climbing in Krabi and eating in Chiang Mai). Grab a dry bag and head out on a long boat if you’re exploring the Land of Smiles.

8. Rock climbing in the Costa Blanca

Penyal d'Ifac, Calp

Penyal d’Ifac, Calp

Spain’s Costa Blanca is so well-loved for its warm weather and broad beaches by Brits that its rock climbing opportunities are often overlooked. Fortunately for me, I have family in the area so I’ve had plenty of time (and colder weather) to explore the local trails and crags over the years as well as the beaches and restaurants.

Around the Calpe area alone, there are over 400 climbing routes to choose from across eight different limestone crags, from the sea cliffs of Mascarat to the thousand-foot former volcano rising from the sea. You’ll find superb multi-pitch sport and trad climbing, though make sure your climbing shoes aren’t too worn and can handle all that smooth limestone. When your fingers can’t take anymore, head to the lovely nearby beaches.

Check out: Head out with a local guide to Sonjannika, a 6-pitch seacliff of nearly 600 feet on the Peñon de Ifach.

9. Thru-hiking in Scotland

Camping in Glen Coe

Camping in Glen Coe

If you’ve read Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods, you might think that thru-hiking doesn’t sound anything like a vacation, but a shorter trail can make an excellent holiday. Here in my home country of Scotland, the West Highland Way is our most famous long distance trail and for good reason: its nearly 100-mile footpath guides you from the hustle and bustle of Scotland’s biggest city along the shores of beautiful Loch Lomond and into the western highlands, where you’ll cross stark Rannoch Moor and rugged Glencoe. It’s dreamy.

People come from around the globe to hike this trail each year and you can tailor it to suit your needs, fastpacking it in five days with your tent or turning it into a 7 – 10 day adventure and staying in hotels and hostels along the way where you can indulge in a hot shower and a hearty meal.

  • Check out: Milarrochy Bay, not long after Balmaha, offers some of the best sunsets you’ll see on the Way, and makes for an excellent spot for a little wild swimming.

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