The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

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  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    12. RIDE A SEVEN-STAR TRAIN ACROSS JAPAN

    Best for: stylish travellers looking for the Japan beyond Tokyo

    There are trains and then there are trains. Japan’s Seven Stars in Kyushu slots firmly into the latter category, siding with the likes of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and South Africa’s Blue Train in terms of pure, uncompromising luxury. On my own journey across the verdant, onsen-dotted landscape of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island, I was blown away by the astounding scenery and service alike, including 10-course banquets, live bands and a bedroom big enough to host my own cocktail parties. This is a perfect coupling of old-world glam and state-of-the-art tech, in spectacular surrounds.

    FEAR FACTOR: 0/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 4/5


    BOOK IT: cruisetrain-sevenstars.jp


    PRICE: From about £5,900 for three nights

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    11. TRAIN AS AN ASTRONAUT AT SPACE CAMP

    Best for: those craving more space

    With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 2019, why not take one giant leap of your own and sign up for Space Camp? The facility – next to NASA’s base in Huntsville, Alabama – welcomes guests of all ages for weekend retreats, where you’ll suit up and get hands on with the art of astronauting. On my recent visit, we learnt how to pilot shuttle simulators, walk in recreated lunar gravity (one-sixth that of the Earth’s) and perform repairs while floating in space suits. Not to mention the infamous Astronaut Trainer, which hurls you about like confetti at a wedding (tip – they aren’t joking when they suggest you don’t drink any alcohol the night before this particular experience, which is a problem as Hunstville has some really good bars).

    FEAR FACTOR: 2/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 4/5


    BOOK IT: spacecamp.com


    PRICE: Three-day Adult Space Academy about £435, including accommodation and food

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    10. EXPLORE THE EMPTY QUARTER

    Sand-lovers after the ultimate off-grid experience

    It’s bizarre that Rub al Khali, the world’s largest desert, isn’t better known. Translated as the Empty Quarter, this is the heart of TE Lawrence’s Arabia: an ocean of sand covering a mind-boggling 400,000 square miles, taking in parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. It’s bested kings and adventurers alike over the centuries, but today you can explore its untamed magnificence in high style, with UK-based expert Wild Frontiers. ‘The Empty Quarter is one of nature’s most remarkable creations,’ says founder Jonny Bealby, who leads expeditions here. ‘Standing on top of the world’s highest dunes, the sheer scale of the landscape and the utter silence blows you away. The tranquillity here is absolute.’

    FEAR FACTOR: 2/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 4/5


    BOOK IT: wildfrontierstravel.com


    PRICE: About £2,850

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    9. TAKE A NUCLEAR ICEBREAKER TO THE NORTH POLE

    Unlike Antarctica, which has become borderline mainstream in recent years, its polar opposite remains tantalisingly distant as a holiday destination. Distant, but not unachievable. Quark Expeditions runs three sailings a year to the North Pole, aboard a nuclear-powered icebreaker from the Russian port of Murmansk. On my recent trip, recorded by expedition photographer Mark Chilvers, above, we explored abandoned bases, witnessed polar bears on the hunt (with cubs in tow) and took the infamous polar plunge beneath the pack ice (invigorating and numbing in equal measure – they have plenty of whisky on standby afterwards). Even on a specialist ship such as Quark’s 50 Years of Victory, passage to the frozen north is only possible in July and August, with the entire 14-day voyage taking place under the perpetual daylight of Arctic summer. So pack an eye mask as well as thickest parka you can find.

    FEAR FACTOR: 2/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 5/5


    BOOK IT: quarkexpeditions.com


    PRICE:From about £23,500

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    8. TREK THE CLOUD FORESTS OF LAOS

    Best for: those after a story very few others will have

    When it comes to daydreaming about travel, it’s not just your head that could be lost in the clouds. Inside Asia Tours organises hiking expeditions into the incredibly diverse cloud forests of northern Laos, making for the summit of Phou Louey, or Forever Mountain, over five days. You will traverse meadow-carpeted valleys and endless green forests, with possible sightings of rare species such as sun bears, white-cheeked gibbons and clouded leopards – and overnight stays with hill tribes. ‘This is a remote corner of the country where few visitors have ever been: you’ll be one of only a handful of people to set foot in this region every year,’ says Inside Asia’s Chris Greener. ‘If Laos is little visited, this area feels positively uncharted.’

    FEAR FACTOR: 3/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 4/5


    BOOK IT: insideasiatours.com


    PRICE: 9 nights from £1,495

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    7. MOUNTAIN BIKE ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST ACTIVE VOLCANOES

    Best for: A fiery alternative to the fly-and-flop of neighbouring Mauritius

    The Indian Ocean’s Réunion Island has already been tipped as one of 2019’s hot destinations – and the good news is that you can bike up to its hottest point. The Piton de la Fournaise (Peak of the Furnace) is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, but there are dedicated trails crisscrossing all the way up to its bubbling summit. Plus you can create a fire and water experience by canyoning some epic waterfalls on the way down. ‘The trail descends across volcanic rock, through thick jungle and then cane fields before ending at the beach,’ says Alexis Vincent of local outfit Ayapana. ‘It might be stating the obvious, but nothing quite compares to the exhilaration of biking down the side of a volcano.’

    FEAR FACTOR: 3/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 3/5


    BOOK IT: ayapanareunion.com


    PRICE: About £60

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    6. ABSEIL DOWN TABLE MOUNTAIN

    Best for: solo travellers who want to let loose

    At 1,000 metres above sea level, Table Mountain isn’t just South Africa’s most famous landmark – it’s also one of the highest commercial abseils in the world. As such, it’s the obvious spot to propel yourself from your comfort zone in immortal fashion. Group adventure-travel specialist Flash Pack can easily arrange the heart-in-your-mouth experience as part of a longer stay in the area. ‘We did the big abseil on day one, so people were going straight from their desks to a literal cliff edge,’ says one person who braved it. ‘The views across the cityscape and the Cape Peninsula are absolutely spectacular, but edging over the rim can be terrifying. Once you’ve done it though, you’re buzzing for days afterwards – you feel like you can take on the world.’

    FEAR FACTOR 5/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL 4/5


    BOOK IT: flashpack.com


    PRICE: 13 days from £3,549

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    5. JOIN THE GREATEST SHOAL ON EARTH

    Best for: David Attenborough fans ready to take the plunge

    Each June, one of the animal kingdom’s most thrilling spectacles takes place off the KwaZulu Natal coastline. The Sardine Run sees millions of sardines migrating north, following warmer currents towards the Indian Ocean. This moving smorgasbord attracts a who’s who of hungry ocean predators, from dolphins and game fish to sharks and whales. If you’ve got the nerve (and the swimming ability), Dive Worldwide can drop you into the thrashing heart of the action. ‘During our five days at sea we were fortunate enough to jump into the water with a super pod of dolphins, swim alongside an enormous humpback whale and witness numerous bait balls as they were attacked from all angles,’ says photographer Mat Howell-Reeve. ‘The gannets dive-bombed from above, the dolphins orchestrated from below and the sharks make a wondrous mess of the middle. It was epic to witness nature on this scale.’

    FEAR FACTOR: 4/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 4/5


    BOOK IT: diveworldwide.com


    PRICE: 11 days for £2,695

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    4. CYCLE THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS ROAD

    Best for: travellers with balance and backbone in equal measure

    You don’t get a nickname like Death Road by accident. Hacked into the side of a mountain near the Bolivian capital of La Paz, Yungas Road earned its sobriquet thanks to a notoriously high fatality rate. Today, the bulk of local traffic takes a safer route, but the road remains – and mountain-bike crews such as Barracuda Biking will take you down it. Twisting rapidly to sea level from the snowy summit, you’ll pass everything from grazing alpacas to a government drugs checkpoint. Just keep your wits about you and both hands over the brakes – fatal accidents are less frequent now, but broken bones are an almost daily occurrence. On the plus side, the views are to die for.

    FEAR FACTOR: 5/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 5/5


    BOOK IT: barracudabiking.com


    PRICE: About £65

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    3. LEARN TO BE AN OLYMPIC SKI JUMPER

    Best for: Experienced skiers looking for a new challenge

    If you’ve ever felt like channelling your inner Eddie the Eagle, you can do so at Utah’s Olympic Park near Salt Lake City. After a couple of days’ training on smaller jumps, competent skiers graduate to the Olympic training ramps and eternal glory – or a large medical bill. The trick, as I learnt, is to lean forward and ‘attack’ the jump as you exit the ramp, forcing your body into the correct aerodynamic shape as you reach for the clouds. My take-off from the 40-metre jump (photographed above) was perfect – it was just the landing on my backside that left a lot to be desired.

    FEAR FACTOR: 5/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 5/5


    BOOK IT:utaholympiclegacy.org


    COST: Single pass from about £35

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    2. FIND YOURSELF BY GETTING LOST

    Best for: outdoor enthusiasts eager to test their limits

    In what has to be the world’s ultimate digital detox, intrepid-deluxe outfit Black Tomato will drop you into the wilderness from a helicopter, then leave you to fend for yourself. When you sign up for Get Lost, your precise location remains a secret, even to you, but it could be anywhere from Guatemala to northern Iceland. All you’ll have is a small pack of supplies, a satellite phone and a set number of days to work your way back to civilisation. ‘Clients can choose what kind of terrain they want to be lost in: polar, desert, mountain or jungle, and then given the necessary survival training,’ says co-founder Tom Marchant. ‘The skills you acquire, and spending time in the wilderness, can really change the way you look at the world.’

    FEAR FACTOR: 5/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 5/5


    BOOK IT: blacktomato.com


    PRICE: From £15,000

  • The 12 best adventure-travel experiences in the world

    1. GO CLIFF CAMPING IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS

    Best for: Insomniacs with a head for heights

    When it comes to reflecting back on the sunlit plateaus of life’s long journey, this is one you’ll never forget. Colorado-based KMAC offers a cliff-camping experience deep in the Rocky Mountains, where you’ll spend the night suspended from a sheer rock face 200ft (or 18 storeys) up. After abseiling down to it, you’ll make yourself comfortable on a portaledge little wider than a church pew, then settle in till morning. You can see our attempt in the photograph above. Personally, I didn’t sleep a wink, but the spectacular view over the moonlit mountains was worth it – as was the hard-earned sunrise, incinerating any lingering night fears as it ignited the sky about me. (I was grateful to get my feet back on terra firma afterwards though).

    FEAR FACTOR: 5/5


    SHOW-OFF LEVEL: 5/5


    BOOK IT: kmaconline.com


    PRICE: One person about £950

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