By Eric Hiss
Experiencing new foods and cultures can be thrilling, but it's adventure tourism that takes adrenaline junkies to the world's most action-packed destinations. Ready to take the leap? Consider these international locales for an exciting vacation of climbing, surfing, paddling, diving, trekking, skiing and generally getting awed and amped while exploring some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth.
Charles Darwin was one of the first outsiders to discover that something special was up in Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands have since attracted not only scientists, but also divers and other adventurers seeking to catch glimpses of everything from schools of hammerhead sharks to rare birds and reptiles. Increasingly, though, it's the South American country's mainland marvels that have been attracting the adrenaline set. Volcano treks, Amazon expeditions through the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve (home to the world's greatest biodiversity) and motorcycle expeditions that travel along cow paths and coastal roads are just a few of the avenues of adventure here. en.ecuador.travel, aggressor.com/galapagos.php
From North America's longest spring skiing season to sea kayaking with orcas, British Columbia does adventure with a capital "A." The biggest challenge here is deciding what to do. Tops on the menu has to be Whistler Blackcomb, with its epic network of runs, lifts and trails for all-season adventures including skiing, boarding and trekking. For mountain bikers, this westernmost Canadian province's mountains are the wheel deal, playing host to the world-famous Whistler Mountain Bike Park. Another bucket-lister is Vancouver Island's West Coast trail, a multi-day coastal wonder where challenging hikes, empty surf breaks and stellar sunsets await. whistlerblackcomb.com, hellobc.com
Gorgeous Pacific sunsets, beaches of powder-soft sand, ahh-inspiring overwater bungalows - it's true, Tahiti and her islands have their soft spots. But French Polynesia is also home to Teahupo'o, the world's most feared and respected surf break, as well as countless secret surf spots. Off-the-chart adventures like a trail-run up the 6,000-foot, mist-shrouded Aorai mountain should also get the blood pumping. Native culture remains strong here, its influence felt in the Hawaiki Nui Va'a and Bora Bora's IronMana, longdistance boat races that test the endurance of the world's best paddlers. Get in the action by renting a canoe and following the path of ancient oceanic voyagers, or by SCUBA diving Rangiroa, one of the world's largest atolls. tahititourisme.com, kainaluxt.com, boraboraliquidfestival.com
If you think adventure isn't what it used to be, and you yearn to be challenged and awestruck, then go to Namibia. This is the land of 100km adventure races, sand-boarding expeditions among the tallest dunes on Earth and world record kite-boarding speeds (55 knots). The arid country's 300 days of sunshine make it ideal for skydiving. Another impressive number to remember in Namibia is 42, which represents the percentage of the nation's land that's under conservation. That means, whether you're whitewater rafting down the Kunene River or running a 100km "century race" across the Namib Desert, you're almost guaranteed to spot some of Namibia's thriving wildlife, which ranges from crocodiles to desert elephants and rhinos. namibiatourism.com.na/adventure-and-activities
With numerous peaks above 10,000 feet, Switzerland is essentially the birthplace of modern Alpinism. The Matterhorn and lesser-known peaks such as Piz Roseg are home to a thousand rock climbing, ice climbing and skiing/boarding adventures, but that's only a peek at the peak experiences the country offers. Depending on the season, you can also try snow kiting, mountain biking along a well-maintained system of trails or cruising twisting alpine roads on a motorcycle. Switzerland's popular adventure parks feature zip-treks, rope climbs and other obstacles, all framed by some of the world's most breathtaking mountain views. myswitzerland.com/en/interests/adventure-sports-winter.html
Travel writer Eric Hiss regularly navigates the world in search of off-the-beaten-path, unexpected and enlightening stories. In a career spanning a decade, he has contributed to dozens of publications and websites, including Condé Nast Traveler, Los Angeles Times, Delta Sky, Robb Report, Variety, Men's Journal and others.