The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Eight best adventure and activity holidays for your bucket list

Our selection of top tours to tick off some experiences of a lifetime in 2023

Friday 12 May 2023 16:31 BST
Thrill seekers will take to new heights in Cappadocia, Turkey
Thrill seekers will take to new heights in Cappadocia, Turkey (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The rarest and most exhilarating travel experiences are often the ones thrill-seekers enjoy the most. The temptation of once-in-a-lifetime adventures for adrenaline junkies is enough to get the blood pumping and ready for a sensational skydive, stomach-dropping bungee jump or white-water rafting journey down grade five rapids.

With so many unique locations and activities to see and do respectively, it can be a struggle to whittle the options down to an essential bucket-list of activities. After all, from exploring a World Heritage site to reaching the base of Mount Everest, there are seemingly endless try-before-you-die experiences to tick off.

From scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef to hiking Machu Picchu and taking a polar plunge in Antarctica, there are adventures out there to suit every type of traveller. We’ve put together a list of some of the top ones to try around the world; read on for some serious bucket-list inspiration, and turn your travel dream into reality.

Read more on adventure travel:

Safari in the Serengeti, Tanzania

Tour the African savannah of the Serengeti National Park (Getty Images)

If a safari adventure tops your bucket list, the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is the perfect setting to see the Big Five for yourself. Picture lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalo mere meters away on the African savannah.

Proclaimed as a national park in 1951, the authentic natural landscape still hosts some indigenous tribes, including the traditional Maasai people. Get up close and personal with the diverse wildlife with a trip to witness the Great Migration, the journey of roughly two million wildebeest across the Masai Mara. Most travellers prefer to visit during the dry season from late June to October for the best chance of catching this vast spectacle.

How to do it

Spend eight days on a budget camping safari in the Serengeti’s Northern plains for just £1,719pp when you book through Lion King Adventures. The price includes transfers to and from Arusha Airport, safari transport in 4x4 vehicles and all camping meals and equipment required. Travellers will visit the Lake Manyara National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Crater along the way.

Hiking Machu Picchu, Peru

The Incan Citadel of Machu Picchu, Peru (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Deep in the mountains of the Peruvian Andes at the heart of a tropical rainforest lies an imposing 15th-century Incan Citadel. The site, built by Peru’s ancient civilisation and rediscovered by American archaeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911, had sat abandoned since the 16th-century Spanish invasion. In 1983 Unesco declared Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site and, in 2007, it was officially named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

It’s no wonder that hiking along the Inca Trail has topped bucket lists, but this adventure holiday is no walk in the park. At over 2,430m above sea level, get ready for some serious altitude, heavy rain between November and March and strenuous cardio. You’ll travel through the indigenous Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo ruins before reaching the South American cultural icon that is Machu Picchu.

How to do it

Intrepid Travel offers action-packed seven-day Inca Trail tours from £1,009pp, including accommodation, transport, activities and some meals. The Peruvian tour leaves from Cusco, Peru; return flights from London start from around £976 in September.

Fall from the Sky in New Zealand

Make the bungee jump from Kawarau Bridge, New Zealand (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The crème de la crème of bucket list activities for the most adventurous of adrenaline junkies can be found at great heights in New Zealand – skydiving and bungee jumping. In these top two adventure activities, taking a leap of faith is the fastest way down.

Freefall for 8.5 seconds from New Zealand’s highest bungee launch by making the jump from 134m above the Nevis River. Alternatively, embrace the heart-pounding jump from the site of the world’s first bungee at Kawarau Gorge – this is the original after all. Keen to ramp it up a notch and take your trip even higher? Skydive from 9,000ft in Queenstown or Wanaka for incredible views over the magnificent Kiwi landscape, including the Central Otago high country and lakes.

How to do it

Everything Queenstown offers full-day skydiving and Nevis Bungee combos for thrill seekers visiting New Zealand. Tandem skydive over Queenstown with NZone skydiving operator from 9,000 to 15,000ft before making the highest bungee jump in New Zealand with original bungee operator, AJ Hackett. Prices start from £306 for a 9,000ft skydive with bungee jump and include pick up and drop off transfers from central Queenstown.

White Water Rafting the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe

White water rafters face the rapids of the Zambezi River (Bundu Adventures )

The Zambezi River runs from Zambia to the Indian Ocean and is widely considered to have some of the best white water rafting rapids in the world. Tranquil pools, the beauty of the Batoka Gorge and picturesque sunsets provide a respite from the class three to five rapids of powerful waves and currents along the way.

Flowing under the backdrop of the world’s largest waterfall, Victoria Falls, the journey is simultaneously spectacular and elating. Think overnight stays on remote white sand riverbanks with moonlit campfires. Try your luck catching tigerfish and keep an eye out for native wildlife, including crocodiles and hippos, while navigating the fast waters.

White water rafting trips are not only exhilarating but offer a physical challenge, speed and a sense of adventure. The best season for ticking off rafting the Zambezi from your travel bucket list is during the lower water levels from July to January.

How to do it

Bundu Adventures provide six-day rafting activity packages from Victoria Falls to Lake Kariba for £865pp, with a minimum of four people required for the tour to run between August and December. This includes swimming under the falls, all meals, camping equipment, transfers and a final night’s stay in a chalet at Bimbi Lodge.

Ride a Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air balloons in Cappadocia, Turkey launch at sunrise (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Cappadocia in central Turkey has become almost synonymous with the iconic image of the flight of hundreds of hot-air balloons across the skyline. The huge attraction is now a staple to the modern bucket list as thousands flock to Turkey to take to the skies and enjoy the World Heritage Site. Try to get an early start for the best views of the sunrise as you calmly float over the historic Göreme Town and spot the distinctive fairy tale chimneys in the rock formations. Hiking trails in the region further make the trip a whimsical dream for adventurers.

Hot air balloon flights are weather dependent, so tourists are advised to travel between April and June for the best chance of getting off the ground.

How to do it

Turquaz Balloons Cappadocia hot air balloon tour takes off at dawn to catch the sunrise over the Cappadocia valley. The three-hour excursion includes a light breakfast, English-speaking tour guide, pickup from your hotel lobby and a champagne celebration after the flight from £156.57pp.

Scuba Dive the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Get up close and personal with Australia’s marine life (Getty Images)

Sign up for scuba diving in Australia for an underwater adventure on one of the largest living structures on Earth. The Great Barrier Reef stretches 1,400 miles down Australia’s east coast and is teeming with vibrant corals. Dive sites enjoy protected status as a Marine Protected Area and are home to an abundance of regularly spotted marine life. Bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, jellyfish and minke whales swim the waters, and you may even get to face your fear of sharks.

Swim, snorkel or scuba dive the gentle currents as a beginner, or take it one step further and get scuba certified for a guaranteed return trip – there’s a reason the reef is renowned as one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world.

How to do it

For £135pp when booking with Ocean Freedom, embark on a scuba diving tour on Upolu Reef for non-certified divers with no required experience. A crew of professional dive instructors will take you five to six meters deep among the colourful marine life just 30km from Cairns. The Great Barrier Reef tour includes a scuba diving lesson, wetsuits, diving equipment and 30 minutes under the clear water.

Climb to Everest Base Camp, Nepal

Mount Everest Base Camp, Nepal (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

If a past staycation in Snowdonia gave you a taste for climbing, why not set your sights on an aspiring hiker’s biggest challenge: Mount Everest. The world’s highest mountain peak, 8,849m above sea level, has an infamous reputation that precedes it worldwide. Everest has been the tallest order on every thrill-seeking adventurer’s wish list since it was first summited in 1953.

Beginners fear not, those with little climbing experience can still enjoy the wonders of the vast mountain without trying to reach the summit. Still, plan ahead and allow for a few months of preparation time for basic altitude and fitness training. The dramatic scenery of the Himalayas is just as awe-inspiring from Base Camp. Think monasteries, alpine lakes and Sherpa villages along the way to the established community at the bottom of the formidable Khumbu Icefall.

How to do it

Intrepid Travel offers an epic 15-day Everest Base Camp trek for 18- to 29-year-olds from £1,004pp, including transport, accommodation and porterage of one 10kg bag. Eight hours a day of trekking will take you to altitudes of over 5,500m, so this trek is not for the faint-hearted. To reach the start destination you’ll need to fly from London to Kathmandu – return flights start from £400.

Polar Plunge, Antarctica

Prepare to take a polar plunge into the icy waters of the Antarctic Peninsula (Getty Images)

A cruise to Antarctica is certainly not your average summer holiday, but a visit to the icy, isolated continent remains a dream for many. Make the once-in-a-lifetime journey through the rough seas of the Drake Passage from South America to Antarctica for a chance to brave a swim in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Expedition leaders will look out for the most optimal conditions along the way, be it a quick dip from onshore or launch from the ship’s gangway and Zodiac boats. Polar plunges stimulate heart rates and oxygen levels so get ready to feel invigorated for the rest of the journey. It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned swimmer; all those taking the plunge are kept safely secured to the boat by a tethered harness as guides in survival gear circle the area.

How to do it

Quark Expeditions is one of a few Arctic tour operators to offer this experience. The highlight of an Antarctic cruise, the polar plunge is scheduled once each voyage. Prices for the 12-day Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent expedition start from £5,229pp, including all meals, shore landings, transfers and educational presentations.

Read our reviews of the best hotels in Istanbul

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in