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Top 10: Adventure travel hotspots for 2016

Fed up of following the crowd? We asked the UK’s top travel companies to pick out their top off-the-beaten-track adventures for 2016

Top 10: Adventure travel hotspots for 2016
Skylodge, Peru. Image: Skylodge

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01 Peru

British Airways’ new direct Gatwick-Lima service (from May) will take just 12.5 hours, putting Peru firmly on the travel map. This year, a new cable-car will improve access to ridge-top Kuélap — Peru’s ‘other Machu Picchu’. And for adventurers looking for an unusual adrenalin fix, there’s nowhere like the Skypods in the Sacred Valley. The glass pods, 400ft up a cliff, offer epic views of Cusco by day and the stars by night. It takes several hours to climb, hike and zip-line to your Skypod, which thankfully has its own private bathroom.

02 Iran

Ever since the UK Foreign Office relaxed its travel advice for Iran last summer, tour operators have reported spiralling demand. With most of the country now deemed safe, and the reopening of the Iranian embassy in London making the visa process simpler, travellers can easily explore its 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Mt Damavand, the Middle East’s highest peak.

03 Canada

This spring, six new WestJet routes fly out of Gatwick (to Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and St John’s), while WOW air will begin services to Toronto and Montréal via Iceland in May. Tailor-made travel specialist Discover the World is using Vancouver as the gateway for its new sailing adventure touring the remote west coast Islands of Haida Gwaii on a 68ft sailing vessel, on board which there’ll be just 16 passengers along with a specialist naturalist guide. The ‘Galapagos of the North’, Haida Gwaii is rich in sightings of whales, bears, and sea lions at Cape St James, and a variety of interesting birds such as the black-footed albatross.

04 Iceland

New flights and a growing number of tours and activities make Iceland ideal if you don’t want to travel halfway around the world for a spot of adventure. Black Tomato’s four-day survival expedition in the frozen wilderness gives hardcore adventurers the chance to snowkite and ice fish in Midgard, learn polar survival skills and camp out on the Langjökull Glacier under the glow of the Northern Lights. Meanwhile, the UK’s first direct flight to Iceland’s Eastern Region with Icelandair will depart twice weekly (28 May-24 September) from Gatwick to Egilsstaðir, a pretty lakeside town near the East Fjords with easy access to the rugged highlands.

05 The Stans

There’s nowhere like ‘the ’stans’ to bag that unusual passport stamp, and a cracking adventure experience. The recent relaxation of visa restrictions has helped boost interest in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — all of which celebrate 25 years of independence from the Soviet Union this year. “The four countries are so different in terms of the activities and the culture of native tribes, and visitors have the chance to learn about everything from the former Soviet occupation right back to the legendary Silk Road,” says G Adventures’ Rachel Wasser.

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica. Image: AWL Images

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica. Image: AWL Images

06 Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s varied landscapes — from the hill country to the pristine coast — teem with endemic wildife, making it ideal for walking and cycling tours, explains Jim Eite from adventure specialist Exodus. “It’s easy to stay off busy roads, distances aren’t huge, plus there’s lots cultural sightseeing and a coast.” Bookings are booming across the board — visitor numbers to the country were up 17% in the first nine months of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

07 Colombia

Teyuna is Colombia’s answer to Machu Picchu, but around 650 years older and with far fewer crowds. Set in the Sierra Nevada mountains, getting to the Lost City typically involves several days’ trekking and camping in the jungle, sometimes among local communities. But with scenic flights over the ruins also available, this is a destination that’s become accessible for most travellers, with add-ons such as horse-riding and microflighting. Other must-sees include San Agustín Archaeological Park; Tierradentro, a national park famed for its painted tombs; and Gorgona Natural National Park, where humpbacks can be seen from August to September.

08 Cuba

‘Book now if you want to visit Castro’s Cuba before the country becomes Americanised’ is the key message from tour operators, which report demand is currently outstripping supply in terms of accommodation. Many of Exodus’s clients choose to trek or cycle out to lesser-known regions. World Expeditions offers a 12-day guided tour with six days’ cycling. Guests pedal through Cuba’s ever-changing landscape, from the sweeping coast to the fertile Viñales Valley, ending in colonial Trinidad, whose streets brim with colonial Spanish architecture. The town is also included in Intrepid’s Cuba Music & Dance trip, which takes in the town’s salsa clubs and also gives visitors the chance to record their own track with local musicians in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city.

09 Nepal

In the wake of last year’s earthquake, tour operator World Expeditions is set to return this spring to the worst-affected areas, including Langtang and Manaslu. Nepal is the best-selling destination for KE Adventure Travel. Director Glenn Rowley urges people to go now while trails are still quiet. Many new lodges and hotels are also opening, from basic rooms to luxury five-stars. KE Adventure’s Everest Luxury Lodge trip combines trekking in the ice fields of Khumbu with stays in well-appointed lodges.

10 Costa Rica

British Airways’ new direct flight to San Jose from 27 April will supplement Thomson’s charter flight, making it easier for travellers. Explore’s new walking trip combines Costa Rica and Nicaragua with easy daily treks from 3km to 14km. “In central America, distances are small but the variety is quite incredible,” says John. “On just one walking trip you can see volcanoes, rainforests and lakes.”

Read more in the March 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)