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Royal Bengal tiger in Indian National Park - iStock

The Wild Bunch: 9 Best Adventure Travel Experiences

July 27, 2016

When it comes to once-in-a-lifetime wilderness experiences, extreme activities are only one end of the spectrum. In fact, when we asked our Alliance partners for their top wilderness picks, we discovered a fresh perspective on adventure travel. Wilderness adventure may involve activities you’ve never done before, but it’s also about access—both to remote and untouched landscapes and to the exceptionally knowledgeable guides who take us there. Our travel partners are discerning in their choice of guides, seeking only experts with “a talent for captivating storytelling and a strong, resilient character,” says Wynandt Verster of &Beyond. With Andrew Harper Alliance partners, whether you’re on safari in the Nepalese jungle, fly-fishing in remote areas of Colorado or foraging for elusive black truffles in Tuscany, you’re assured of exclusive access and bespoke service reserved for the uncommon traveler. The combination makes for truly unparalleled adventure for all ages and abilities.

On Safari in Nepal With &Beyond

Rhinos in Chitwan National Park - tcy3282/flickr

While Nepal is most commonly associated with Mount Everest, its southern reaches hold an unexpected secret: Chitwan National Park. Home to the one-horned rhinoceros and Bengal tiger, this World Heritage site consists of tropical and subtropical forests that also hide leopards, sloth bears, crocodiles and more than 300 bird species. The trip is best suited for “active, energetic travelers,” says Verster, as the park is explored on foot and by 4WD vehicle, with the added option for safari treks atop an elephant.

Of course, a trip to Nepal would not be complete without a glimpse of the world’s tallest mountain, so &Beyond’s Nepalese Mountain Tour & Jungle Safari begins with a flight around Mount Everest. This is the only place on earth where you can see both the top of the world and the heart of the jungle on the same trip.

Today You Could ...

  • Wake to the sounds of the jungle and a view of the Rapti River. Enjoy a morning dip in the pool.
  • Climb aboard a canoe for a morning paddle and guided tour, then enjoy a massage before lunch.
  • Head out atop an elephant for an afternoon safari in search of the one-horned rhinoceros and the elusive Bengal tiger.
  • Enjoy a sundowner before sitting down to a meal of traditional Newari and Tharu cuisine around a crackling bonfire.

Highlands of Iceland by Mobile Hotel With Nine Worlds

Mobile Hotel - Photo Courtesy of Nine Worlds

Iceland’s highlands offer extraordinary scenery, and perhaps the most unique way of viewing it is via a luxury “mobile hotel.” Ásta Ólafsdóttir of Nine Worlds, travel specialists in Iceland and Greenland, explains: “The mobile hotel offers eight double rooms with en-suite bathroom and shower,” plus an accompanying restaurant and chef. Because it’s mobile, the caravan can travel to remote and uninhabited locales “where you are the king of your own world,” says Ólafsdóttir.

While the scenery is the star, one of the highlights is “‘hearing’ the silence,” says Ólafsdóttir. “The fresh air, the peace, the space, the whole experience seems to have a healing effect.” Your handpicked guides are passionate about Iceland and its natural attractions, and “they know about the secret areas where our guests can be completely alone,” she says. Each trip is customized, and day-trips away from the mobile hotel, via super truck or helicopter, can be arranged for those who wish to forge even further into the countryside.

As a bonus, the experience can be done year-round, Ólafsdóttir says. “In summertime, you will enjoy staying under the midnight sun spoiled by the songs of the wild birds. In wintertime, you have the chance of seeing the magical auroras or experiencing complete darkness with a star-filled sky above.”

Today You Could ...

  • Wake in the mobile hotel in the heart of Iceland’s highlands. Take in the fresh air and untouched rivers, craters, high mountains and massive lava fields that surround you.
  • With your personal guide, head out in a super truck to explore the surrounding countryside, including ravines, rhyolite screes, steaming hot springs, cold springs and alluvial plains.
  • Explore further via kayak or set out on a hike to make the most of the stunning views.
  • Return to the mobile hotel and relax in the tranquility and peace of your surroundings before enjoying a chef-prepared dinner.

Cruising Greenland, Baffin and Ellesmere Islands With Lindblad Expeditions

National Geographic Explorer - Photo courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions © Ralph Lee Hopkins

Melting ice has opened up areas of the Arctic that were previously inaccessible. In response, Lindblad Expeditions has created a first-of-its-kind exploratory itinerary. True to its name, the Epic 80°N: Exploring Greenland, Baffin & Ellesmere Islands Tour features 24 days of adventure aboard the National Geographic Explorer. Arctic wildlife highlights include polar bears, narwhals, beluga whales, walrus, ringed seals, arctic foxes and the 800-pound musk oxen.

Guests hike and kayak among expanses of massive ice and tundra with an expedition team that is “the best in the world,” says Jacinta McEvoy of Lindblad Expeditions. “They are the ones who write the books; they are the locals; they are the experts that knowledgeable explorers want to travel with again and again.” While the expedition requires good health, the company takes care to offer excursion opportunities for travelers of all abilities. After witnessing the wonders of the Arctic, many guests “call these expeditions their best travel experience ever,” says McEvoy.

>>Related: Meet Our Guides: Lindblad

Today You Could ...

  • Wake to the Explorer heading ever northward. Prepare for the day as the ship makes its way along the beautiful and remote east coast of Ellesmere Island.
  • Cruise along scenic Smith Bay, bordered by a steep wall of mountains where a glacial ice tongue pours down on either side. Enjoy a cup of coffee in the chart room and track the ship’s progress.
  • Head up to the bridge to search for a patch of “polar bear ice,” the mixture of first-year and multiyear sea ice that is the bears’ preferred habitat. Keep your binoculars on hand.
  • At the end of the bay, go ashore to hike or kayak, or relax with a book in the dramatic window-lined library and observation lounge.
  • Rest before joining new friends in the lounge for conversation and cocktails.

Truffle Hunting in Tuscany at Borgo Santo Pietro

Showing off the day’s bounty of truffles - Photo courtesy of Borgo Santo Pietro

When it comes to truffle hunting, there’s only one Mauro, who makes his living rooting out the pungent and valuable fungi in the forest groves of Tuscany. “Our guests are the only ones he takes with him,” says Zaira De Biasio of Borgo Santo Pietro. “Unlike many truffle hunts, our truffles are not planted beforehand and ‘found’ by dogs afterward. They grow naturally and abundantly in private woodland protected from public truffle hunters.”

Suitable for anyone who is reasonably active, truffle hunting allows visitors to “immerse themselves in Tuscany at a sensory level,” says De Biasio. Guests can pull a truffle from the earth and later have it shaved over warm buttery pasta they’ve made themselves in the kitchens of Borgo Santo Pietro.

Today You Could ...

  • Depart with Mauro and his dog to hike the tranquil forests of Tuscany in search of black or white truffles.
  • Following the hunt, enjoy lunch in a local trattoria featuring a truffle-infused menu and regional wine.
  • Return to Borgo Santo Pietro for an afternoon tour of the 13-acre gardens or take part in one of Mamma Olga’s hands-on cooking classes.
  • Enjoy farm-to-table dining in the Michelin-star Meo Modo by Andrea Mattei.

Trekking the Trails of the Ancients in Tahiti With Paul Gauguin Cruises

Polynesian rainforest - Photo courtesy of Paul Gauguin Cruises

While the white-sand beaches of the Society Islands hold immense appeal, guests aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin also have access to an infrequently visited side of Tahiti. Archaeologist and Polynesian scholar Mark Eddowes leads a unique hiking tour into the upland rain forest of Moorea, one of the most striking islands in French Polynesia. Guests follow shady trails within the forest to learn about the ancient uses of trees and flora in traditional canoes and houses, ti’i (tiki) figures and ancient medicines. Eddowes has taken part in the excavation and restoration of archaeological sites in this area since the 1980s. En route, he shares his insight into the lives of the ancient Tahitians—their habitation sites, agricultural practices, stone tools and ancient temples, or marae, of which he is a recognized expert. While the tour is recommended for guests in good physical condition, those who stay aboard also benefit from Mark’s lectures and his reputation as an engaging raconteur.

Note: The Trails of the Ancients Trek is offered as a four-hour shore excursion from the m/s Paul Gauguin.

Today You Could ...

  • Join scholar and guide Mark Eddowes at the pier. Travel to the beachside at the entrance to the valley and learn the history of the Tahitian Maohi people. Visit the landing place of Captain James Cook and the local agricultural school.
  • Visit Belvedere Lookout for one of the most spectacular views in the South Pacific before your transfer to the edge of the forest.
  • Descend through the ancient forest to discover marae, archaeological sites and ancient agricultural terraces. Be on the lookout for rare native birds like the u’upa (gray-green fruit dove) and blue-winged flycatcher.

Exploring the Galápagos at Galapagos Safari Camp

Guests explore a tropical cave on a guided hike - Photo courtesy of Galapagos Safari Camp

With an increase in land-based tourism, cruising in the Galápagos is no longer the only way to explore the islands. However, as 98 percent of the archipelago is guarded by the Galápagos National Park, most tours are formulaic and times of visits are highly regulated. “What ultimately determines the quality of a Galápagos experience is the choice of where you stay and how your trip is designed,” says Stephanie Bonham-Carter of Galapagos Safari Camp.

“As a destination, Galápagos is simply an exceptional experience,” she says. “Nowhere else is wildlife so at ease in such close proximity with visitors, and the sheer power of nature so humbling.”

Galapagos Safari Camp focuses on customized exploration across all ages and abilities, matching guides with guests’ needs. It offers what Bonham-Carter calls “appropriate luxury” in a natural environment—a design that allows visitors to be as close to nature as possible throughout their stay. She recounts the story of a young couple that came up for breakfast “and told us how terrified they were at night as they felt their tent moving and loud grunting outside. The husband plucked up the courage to explore and found a couple of tortoises mating right under their tent.” Now that is an encounter you simply can’t get in a hotel room.

Bonham-Carter describes adventure in the Galápagos as simple but transformative: watching blue-footed boobies dive or dance, swimming with tropical fish among sharks, discovering a carpenter finch using a small stick as a tool to feed, stopping in your tracks to wait for a giant tortoise to cross the road. As she reverently puts it, “The communion that takes place with nature can reach spiritual levels.”

Today You Could ...

  • Enjoy sunrise from the camp observatory before joining your fellow travelers for breakfast.
  • A morning drive takes you to the eastern part of the island. At 1,600 feet above sea level, Cerro Mesa Reserve offers spectacular views of the largest crater on Santa Cruz Island, exotic plants and seven unique subspecies of finch, plus the elusive vermilion flycatcher.
  • After lunch, explore Garrapatero Beach, with stunning contrasts of mangroves, black lava, white sand and turquoise water, including a flamingo lagoon. Set out on a kayak or mountain bike for close-up adventure.
  • Back at the lodge, visit the farm, then take a swim before sitting down to the restaurant’s farm-to-table cuisine.

Grizzly Bear Viewing With Entrée Destinations

Guests look on as a grizzly bear hunts for its next meal - Photo courtesy of Entrée Destinations © Martin Rudlof Marketing Consulting & Photography

“It’s hard to take a bad picture of a grizzly bear that is 10 feet away—or closer,” says Marc Télio of Entrée Destinations. “There is nothing like standing next to a grizzly face-to-face." It’s one of his top-listed backcountry experiences in both Canada and Alaska. Télio recalls one trip when he was standing in the middle of the river fishing “and out of nowhere a massive bear jumped off the shoreline and rushed at me. These bears can run faster than a quarter horse, so no point in running from him. He stopped right in front of me and skewered a huge salmon swimming at my feet.”

Depending on the time of year, the terrain and the species, bear viewing may be done on foot, from a small vehicle or via boat. Throughout, guides play an important role in the experience, says Télio. One of his favorites, Phil Timpany, “literally wrote the book on safety and co-existence with these powerful animals,” Télio explains. “Phil is a fabulous storyteller, a gentleman and a natural guide. He used to be a hunter and became a conservationist, and he now protects enormous sections of land abundant with grizzlies.”

Anyone can go bear viewing, as it typically isn’t dependent upon physical ability. However, climbing in and out of helicopters and small planes is necessary to reach backcountry locations, and of course, a healthy respect for Mother Nature is essential.

Today You Could ...

  • Enjoy the warmth of your bed before rising for breakfast at the lodge. Prepare for the morning’s outing.
  • With your camera at the ready, head out with your guide on the day’s first bear-viewing excursion.
  • Return to the lodge for a rest, lunch and to recount the morning’s sightings.
  • Take to the trail in pursuit of fresh tracks.
  • Back at the lodge, enjoy dinner and spirited conversation about the day’s encounters.

Backcountry Fly-Fishing at Smith Fork Ranch

Backcountry fly-fishing at Smith Fork Ranch - Photo courtesy of Smith Fork Ranch

Owner Linda Hodgson of Smith Fork Ranch in Crawford, Colorado knows she has something special in the 300-acre family-owned property, situated within the Gunnison National Forest. Because ranch guides have exclusive guiding rights within Gunnison, Smith Fork Ranch offers outdoor adventures you really can’t get anywhere else.

Limited to four guests, the ranch’s backcountry fly-fishing trip takes you on horseback into one of the most pristine areas in the forest, a region frequented by a mere handful of humans in any given summer. Anglers fish the ponds and streams of Gunnison and the West Elk Wilderness for trout, including a rare A-strain of Colorado cutthroat found in only two locales in the state. Elk, deer and eagles are commonly seen en route, along with the occasional brown bear. The remote, rugged mountain trails are best suited for “folks with adventurous attitudes,” says Hodgson, and intermediate riding skills. The adventure is interrupted only for a gourmet streamside lunch and engaging conversation.

Today You Could ...

  • After a hearty ranch breakfast in the Cook House, depart on horseback from the corral with your SFR wrangler and fly-fishing guide for the two-hour ride up into Little Elk Basin in Gunnison National Forest.
  • At 8,000 feet, fly-fish and picnic at Little Elk Basin campsite along the North Smith Fork Creek. Enjoy a gourmet riverside lunch and a glass of wine or beer, followed by an afternoon respite.
  • Descend the trail back to 7,200 feet and take in the down-valley views in the late afternoon light.

Heli-Skiiing at Dunton Hot Springs

Heli-skiing at Dunton Hot Springs - Photo courtesy of Dunton Hot Springs © Brett Schreckengost

At an elevation of 8,700 feet, Dunton Hot Springs is a restored ghost town located in the San Juan Mountains of the Colorado Rockies. When it comes to wintertime activities, Dunton’s Edoardo Rossi says heli-skiing tops his list.

“One of the great things with heli-skiing at Dunton,” says Rossi, “is that you don’t have to drive anywhere.” The helicopters arrive directly on-property to pick you up, a rarity in the United States, according to Rossi. “So you get up in the morning, have breakfast, put on your gear, get on a helicopter,” he says. It’s that easy. After an epic day of skiing in and around Telluride, you return to Dunton for a soak in the natural hot springs, a cocktail, dinner and conversation. Then do it all again the next day. “Pretty amazing!” he says. We agree!

Today You Could ...

  • Rise early for a morning soak in the hot springs followed by a session in the Yoga Studio and breakfast in the Saloon.
  • Depart via helicopter from the center of town, 100 feet from your cabin.
  • Return from an epic day of skiing and relax your muscles in the hot springs.
  • Sip a cocktail in the Saloon before dinner. Later, enjoy an after-dinner drink outside by the fire under the night sky.
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This article is an excerpt from the July, August, September 2016 edition of Traveler magazine. Click here to access the full issue.

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