Travelling the world in search of an adventure is more popular now than ever – and for good reason. Gone are the days when adventure travel was purely the domain of backpackers or adrenalin junkies looking to tick off activities like bungee jumping and cage diving with sharks.
Over recent years, the term “adventure” has broadened considerably and can now be considered as anything “experiential”. Today, these kinds of trips are more about active exploration, educational experiences and trying something new, whether that's trekking to Everest Base Camp or taking a salsa class in Cuba.
Adventure travel is now one of global tourism's fastest-growing sectors. A 2014 report by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation revealed that the industry is worth $263bn (£183bn) per year globally and that 42 per cent of holidaymakers had been on trips classified as adventure holidays.
Since the recession, travellers are increasingly keen to get more for their money – and make the most of their time off work. Rather than sitting on a beach or by a pool for a week, we're packing in as much as possible, and tour operators are reacting to this increased interest by offering “adventure travel excursions” within standard, off-the-peg holiday packages.
Phoebe Smith, editor of Wanderlust magazine and author of Wild Nights: Camping Britain's Extremes believes our travel habits have also been influenced by selfie culture. “It's now all about the experience and the photo,” she says. “People want to be seen to be doing something that gives them bragging rights – such as climbing a mountain or meeting a tribal elder.”
With a number of new destinations recently opening up to the UK market, adventure travel has become even more far-reaching. Latin America is becoming more accessible thanks to new airline routes such as British Airways' direct flights from Gatwick to both San José (Costa Rica) and Lima (Peru), launching in April and May respectively.
In response, tour operators have introduced holidays in these destinations, including Into Latin America (0117 214 0247; intolatinamerica.com), which will offer a 10-day guided rafting trip along the Tambopata River in Peru this summer. Based on two adults sharing, the two-week package costs from £3,995pp and includes flights from Gatwick to Lima on July 20, domestic flights and transport, two days' B&B in Puno, a trip to Lake Titicaca and the 10-day rafting adventure with all meals, guiding, camping and wildlife walks.
G Adventures (0344 272 2060; gadventures.co.uk) has a new two-week Explore Costa Rica trip with special access to the Monteverde Institute, a research centre supported by National Geographic, from £1,429pp with transport, board and activities, but not flights.
Changes in red tape have also affected the popularity of certain destinations. For example, British passport-holders can visit Vietnam for up to 15 days visa-free until the summer, while a new e-visa is simplifying journeys to India. Moonstone Expeditions (07931 554 883; moonstone-expeditions.com) is launching new Kerala trekking trips in February, including the week-long Kerala Explorer through the Western Ghats for £680pp, with full board, transfers, a guide and entrance fees, but not flights.
Iran is back on the tourist radar since the FCO eased its travel advice in July 2015, and travel companies are adding more trips. World Expeditions (0800 074 4135; worldexpeditions.co.uk) is launching Damavand Expedition Iran, an eight-day trek to the summit of Mount Damavand, from £1,220pp. The price includes seven nights' accommodation and most meals. Flights extra; departures May to September.
For those who prefer two feet to two wheels, a walking holiday offers plenty of scope for adventure. Set off on foot along Spain's Camino de Santiago, staying in converted monasteries and manor houses along the way. The trip with Vidados (020 3750 2455; vidados.com) costs from £2,772pp and includes most meals, 17 nights' accommodation, transfers, the guided tour and a certificate for completing the pilgrimage. Flights not included.
Or why not combine walking with other activities? New Zealand's first and only pack-rafting provider, Expedition X (00 64 3445 3080; packraftingnz.com) has a one-day Raft & Ramble tour on which travellers trek into Fiordland National Park wearing a backpack containing an inflatable raft, which is then used to paddle over rapids. The trip costs from NZ$319pp (£145), including lunch and transfers from Queenstown. For the truly hardcore, the new overnight Explore The Wild trip includes a night's camping and costs from NZ$799 (£363), including equipment and meals.
Call of the wild
Add a wildlife encounter to your adventure. Steppes Travel (01285 601 751; steppestravel.co.uk) has a 10-day trip to Mozambique that encompasses yoga and freediving with dolphins.
Begin each day with yoga and breath-control sessions before heading out in search of dolphins. The £2,395pp cost covers seven nights' full board, four days of diving and the option of becoming certified in Level 1 (beginners) or Level 2 (advanced) freediving. The price excludes flights. Departs 28 February.
Or how about spending the night with a pack of wolves in Norway? The world's northernmost wildlife park, Polar Park in Bardu, now offers guests the chance to stay in a cabin inside a wolf enclosure (00 47 77 18 66 30; polarpark.no). Spend the evening in front of the fire as the pack howls outside. The next morning, meet a handful of socialised wolves in the enclosure. The WolfLodge package costs from £450pp, including one night's accommodation, dinner, a guide and the wolf encounter.
Tour operators are increasingly offering visitors the chance to meet local people and give something back during their trip. Nepal is once again welcoming visitors following the devastating earthquake of April 2015, and Dragoman's new Nepal Heritage Tour (01728 861133 ; dragoman.com) takes its customers to well-known destinations such as Kathmandu, as well as getting off the tourist trail. The majority of the 13-day trip is spent in remote or little-visited hillside communities and you'll spend a day in Annapurna district helping to rebuild shelters and restore damaged irrigation systems. The price, from £914pp, includes 12 nights' B&B, some meals, an English-speaking guide and driver but it excludes flights.
Saddle Skedaddle is known for cycling holidays but new for 2016 is a bike-free, 13-day tour of Malawi visiting fairtrade producers. The Malawi Meet the People tour (0191 265 1110; meetthepeople.skedaddle.co.uk) runs from 4-16 June and gives you the chance to meet fairtrade coffee farmers and rice producers in their homes and see the real impacts of fairtrade, as well as visiting national parks. The price of £2,445pp includes 12 nights' half-board accommodation in locally owned guesthouses, guiding, transfers and donations to the producers visited. Flights not included.
On your bike
While active holidays are on the rise, cycling is enjoying a particular boom, thanks in part to more urban commuters choosing pedal power over public transport. For those looking to take their biking experience to the next level, Exodus (0845 314 3516; exodus.co.uk) is offering a new Cycle Kilimanjaro trip in Tanzania that will circumnavigate the world's largest free-standing mountain and pedal through forests inhabited by leopards, buffalo and elephants and experience Maasai villages. The eight-day trip costs from £1,999pp and includes flights, accommodation, most meals, bike hire and a guide. The first departure is 10 June.
America's historic highway, Route 66, is a classic road trip, but it's also possible to tackle it by bike. Discover Adventure (01722 718 444; discoveradventure.com) has a new eight-day challenge that pedals 335 miles between the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, including a section of the old Route 66. You'll pass Wild West landscapes and Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US. It costs from £2,299pp with accommodation, most meals, flights from London to Phoenix, transfers, mountain bike hire and a support team. Departs on 12 March and 15 October.
Learn a lesson
Discover your inner scientist with a new type of cruise this year. Hurtigruten's Antarctica programme (020 3603 7112; hurtigruten.co.uk) includes an interactive science laboratory where you can examine a three-million-year-old piece of ice through a microscope, or study meteor fragments. Other activities include kayaking, snorkelling, snowshoeing and the chance to sleep on deck under the polar skies. The 15-day Adventure the Chilean Fjords and Antarctica voyage costs from £4,402pp on a full-board basis. Departs from Punta Arenas on 24 November. Flight and transfer packages start from £1,370pp.
If you've ever wanted to learn how to do freestyle tricks on the snow, a new course from Ticket To Ride (020 8788 8668; tickettoridegroup.com) could help. The week-long trip to Val d'Isère offers 16 hours of freeski or snowboard tuition to help you develop slides and spins. It costs from £595pp, including self-catered accommodation, lift pass and video analysis, but not flights. Departs 20 March.
Thrill your youngsters with Explore's Iceland Family Winter Adventure Tour (01252 883 878; explore.co.uk), featuring activities such as glacier walking, whale watching and snow-mobiling. It costs from £1,659 per adult and £1,392 per child, with flights from London to Reykjavik and seven nights' B&B. Each family booking also includes a free GoPro camera and selfie stick. Departures are on 13 February, 26 March and 26 December.
Closer to home, Wilderness Scotland (01479 420020; wildernessscotland.com) has a week-long Treasure Highlands trip. Taking in the west coast and Cairngorms National Park, it combines activities including kayaking (above), mountain biking, geo-caching, wildlife watching and canoeing, as well as a ride on the Harry Potter steam train along Glenfinnan Viaduct. The price is from £995 per adult and £785 per child, including six nights' B&B, activities and guiding.
- More about:
- Adventure holidays
- Cycle Kilimanjaro
- Everest Base Camp
- Mount Damavand
- Tambopata River
- Lake Titicaca
- Cairngorms National Park
- Wanderlust magazine
- Camino de Santiago