2011’s hottest adventure travel destinations
A lot can change in a year, particularly in the world of adventure travel. So what are the world’s hottest, most in-demand destinations in 2011? We spoke to Wild Frontiers and The Adventure Company, two of the UK’s leading adventure travel companies, to find out.
“We specialise in destinations that are hard to get to,” says Marc Leaderman, Head of Operations at Wild Frontiers. “We run group trips that are capped at 12 people — that’s rare these days. Smaller groups mean easier access to more unique experiences, like getting inside people’s houses, going into small villages… Fundamentally, we’re all about pushing the boundaries, and giving travelers authentic experiences.”
“There was a time when Syria appeared on the ‘axis of evil’, although in Britain we’ve always had good relations with Syria,” says Marc. His company has been receiving lots of enquiries to this part of the world. His theory is that travelers have gone to more popular places like Jordan, and they’ve returned feeling that it wasn’t as exotic as they were hoping.
Marc says that highlights include palaces that have been converted into boutique hotels in places like Damascus and Aleppo; amazing ruins, busy souks, great shopping and amazing deserts. Travelers can also stay in traditional Bedouin tents.
“Because Syria receives less tourism than other Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Jordan, the people are incredibly welcoming, there’s a lot less hassle.
You can fly direct with BMI. Take a week off and explore the whole country.
Best time to go: Between Mar — May, or Sep — Nov
Estimated costs: Group tours start at £1710 + £550 for flights
“The country is divided in two: the southern part is well developed, particularly with South Africans going on holidays, but the north and north east is completely undeveloped,” says Marc. “Here you’ll find a few top-end eco-lodges. They’re not cheap, but they are built on concessions with private beaches. We’ve just taken a luxury camping group out there – they stayed on a remote island and were the only people there. They came back and said they’d never been on a camping trip like it.”
Marc says there was a separate boat for the camping equipment, guests stayed in walk-in tents with showers and toilets – they even had their own barman who followed them around the island!
“It’s super top end, rivaling the best you’d find in places like the Seychelles. Some of these places just have 6 or 7 rooms. They have the most beautiful beaches, some of the world’s best snorkeling and diving. It’s paradise.
Unfortuately there are no direct flights from the UK — flights go via Johannesburg or Nairobi and aren’t daily.
Best time to go: between Mar — May (to avoid the hurricane season!) and Sep — Nov — a great escape from the UK cold.
Estimated costs: 16 days from £2000 — 12 days from £2995 + £950 for flights
“This is such a big destination, it’s hard to pin point specific places to go,” says Marc. “India is growing phenomenally as a tourist destination — not just westerners, but also domestic tourism because of India’s bourgeoning middle class. So while our trips take you to the well known spots, we also aim to get away from the tourists.” These off the beaten track locations include Gujarat and the tribal lands of Orissa. “We’ve just put on a new trip to the north east, the part that borders Burma.”
Marc says that he sees a lot of people going back to India time and time again, some return as many as five times.
“We’ve found if people like India, they like it a lot!
Best time to go: Sep — March
Estimated costs: It varies greatly, but a 2 week break could start at £2000 + £450 for flights
“This used to be a standard destination in the 90s, and then problems beset the country. The British Foreign Office advises against travel to Yemen, due to the threat of terrorism, kidnapping and tribal violence, so people find it hard to get travel insurance,” says Marc. “But we operate differently to other companies. We’ve negotiated special insurance rates for our clients, and we’ve been running trips to Yemen safely for the last 3 years.”
Marc says group itineraries are submitted to the local police, and during some legs of the trip there is added security. “We travel in small groups and have never had any problems. All our groups come back from Yemen loving it.”
Marc describes Yemen as “a stunning destination”.
“The capital itself, the old city of Sana’a, is a UNESCO heritage site, with thousands of tower houses 7 or 8 stories high. Some date back 500-600 years. It’s like no other capital city in the whole world.”
Other highlights include spectacular walking trips, coffee plantations in the south and an island named Socotra which is referred to as ‘the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’, mainly because of the unique flora and fauna.
“There have never been any problems there. You can camp on the beaches, walk in the mountains… There’s also a place in the east called Shibam which is known as ‘the Manhattan of the desert’. It has skyscraper buildings made out of mud brick which tower out of the desert. It’s almost like a medieval Vegas – utterly amazing.”
Best time to go: Sep – March
Estimated costs: 14 days from £2400 + £450-500 for flights
This is another location that comes with a warning from the British Foreign Office. “Our trips don’t contravene this advice,” says Marc. “The north of the country is the most stunning mountain scenery you will find anywhere on the planet. Four mountain ranges come together, and as you drive you see such different changes in scenery. The people there are incredibly resilient, especially after the floods that happened there last year…”
Marc said that tourists to this part of the world get the most amazing welcome.
“We have trips that offer unique experiences, like having tea with local maharajas, being invited inside palaces, riding around in open top jeeps — it’s a real adventure.”
Best time to go: March — October
Estimated costs: 18 days from £2000 + £550 for flights
For more information on trips on offer from Wild Frontiers, visit www.wildfrontiers.co.uk.
“These days, people are expecting more from their holidays. An adventure holiday is all about understanding the country you’re going to, getting under the skin of it,” says James Ingham, Marketing Director for The Adventure Company. “Towards the end of last year, we asked over 8000 people where they would most like to go in 2011 and we found quite a few surprises.”
Northern Lights in Iceland
“This was the most surprising one, it has come from nowhere for us really,” says James. “It seems like astronomy/star gazing has become a big culture. I think the Brian Cox show ‘Stargazing’ on BBC has popularized it. It’s suddenly jumped to the top of people’s wish lists.”
James says that it may be a case of people realizing how accessible the Northern Lights are.
“You can see the lights from quite a few locations, like Norway, Alaska, Canada… We run trips to Northern Iceland, which is a remote, snowy playground, so you can go on snowmobiles and go cross country skiing too. The lights are visible all year round, but they are best in the winter months when it’s darker for longer.”
Best time to go: Jan, Mar — Apr, and Sep to Oct, depending on the country.
Estimated costs: 8 day group trip is £1189 incl. flights, transfers, breakfasts, accommodation.
“The Inca Trail is on most people’s list of things to do before they die. It’s always been a popular favourite,” says James. “The key thing to know is that you need a permit to walk on the Inca Trail, and only around 500 people can be on the Inca Trail at any one time. About 300 passes are taken up by working staff, so you can only really get about 200 passengers from all over the world a day on the Inca Trail. The demand is quite high. We recommend booking 3 months in advance.”
James says a big part of the appeal is the sense of achievement that comes from trekking high in the Andes.
“We offer a special trek where you get to watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu. This also means the group gets the trail to themselves for a few hours before all the tourists arrive and fill the place up.”
Best time to go: Jun — Aug (Apr and Sep are quieter, but wetter)
Estimated costs: 10 days from £1900 incl. all flights, transfers, accommodation, all meals on trail, all breakfasts
“This part of the world has a reputation for being pretty tough, and for hardened mountaineers, which is unsurprising since it’s the largest mountain range in the world, and has 12 of the world’s highest peaks,” says James. “However, with the advent of the adventure travel genre it’s opened up to a lot more people.”
James says that this is now his company’s number one destination. They sent almost 1000 people there last year, and they’ve seen 60% growth to Nepal in recent years.
“People see Mount Everest as one of those things they want to do before they die. However, climbing Mt Everest costs £30,000 and there’s a lot of training required — it’s a massive project. However, a trip to Everest base camp is about £1000, so it’s much more accessible. For most people, it’s as close as they’re going to get.”
Best time to go: Mar — mid-May, Sep — mid-Nov
How much will it cost: 18 days from £1600 + incl. flights
“This is another perennial favourite – it’s the world’s number 1 wildlife destination. The numbers are controlled and the animals are very tame – they don’t really know how to interact with humans because they see so little of them. They’re just not bothered, they walk around you.”
James says that each island offers a completely different experience.
“Trips involve being out on boats, stopping off on different islands, going on ‘walking safaris’, going snorkeling with sea lions swimming around you — these are really unique experiences. This is also where Darwin’s theory of evolution developed. It can be quite expensive though, so it tends to be one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ things to do.”
Best time to go: Opinions differ, but Apr — May the water is warm, seas are calm and the high tourist season (Jun — Sep, Nov — Apr) is yet to begin.
How much will it cost: 13 days from £3000 all incl.
“Thailand came into vogue as a destination 15 years ago, then it was Vietnam, then Cambodia. Now Laos is opening up and building an infrastructure to accept western tourists,” says James. “Cambodia’s been around on the circuit for about 10 years now and it didn’t have much of an infrastructure for the first five. These days it has fairly good rest houses and places to stay, and some of the sites are very ‘Indiana Jones-like’, with temples in the middle of the jungle, vines climbing all over the walls, very ornate carvings. It’s a pretty spectacular place.”
James says that the trips his company runs to this part of the world include Angkor Wat, as well as cultural experiences. “We spend time in the rainforests, we go to fishing ports, it’s a real mixture of culture and wildlife.”
Best time to go: Nov – Jan
How much will it cost: 16 days from £1900 all incl.
For more information on trips on offer from The Adventure Company, visit www.adventurecompany.co.uk.
For the best in the UK adventure travel industry, head to the Adventure Travel Live show this weekend Royal Horticultural Halls, Victoria – 28 – 29 January, 2011.
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