Walking the Inca Trail

7 Amazing Active Adventures for Your Bucket List

Walking the Inca Trail

According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, active adventure is one of the fastest-growing segments of the $7 trillion international travel industry. All sorts of adventurous activities continue to grow in popularity, including ecotourism, cultural tourism, cycling tours, and safaris. Interestingly, a whopping 40% of all adventure travelers are between the age of 50 and 70, with an overall average age of 47.

Here’s a look at seven of our favorite active adventures around the world, including options in Africa and Central and South America:

Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling

Diving and Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef

This UNESCO World Heritage Site stretches over 190 miles, comprising more than a third of the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest coral system in the world. It’s also Belize’s top tourist attraction by far, drawing around 130,000 visitors annually.

The 370-square mile Belize Barrier Reef System encompasses seven marine reserves, 450 cayes (including the ever-popular Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker), and three atolls. The most famous of these is Lighthouse Reef, the most easterly diving hotspot in Belize and home to the Great Blue Hole.

As a result, Belize is arguably the most exceptional place for Scuba diving and snorkeling in the western hemisphere, with a diverse array of walls, pinnacles and reef flats to be explored. It’s also one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, providing home to over 100 species of coral, 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrates.

During IE's Belize tours, you may see reef sharks, spotted rays, lobsters, pufferfish, seahorses, a moray eel, lionfish, and even a sea turtle.

Inca Trail Trek

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Located around 50 miles northwest of Cusco above the Sacred Valley, the mountaintop citadel of Machu Picchu was built by the Incas around 1440 AD. Attracting over a million visitors each year, it’s easily Peru’s most popular tourist attraction.

It’s easy to see why: The glorious architecture of the ancient city perched high above the clouds remains largely intact, with giant stone walls, old temples, and luscious green terraces overlooking a canyon on the Urubamba River and the surrounding Andes mountains.

Guided expeditions along the Inca Trail to this UNESCO World Heritage site are increasingly popular (and, thanks to overtourism issues, strictly regulated). Depending on the starting point, trekkers hike 25 to 33 miles through semi-arid desert, verdant tropical rainforest, and breathtaking mountain passes to reach the stunning pre-Columbian ruins.

At altitudes of up to 13,700 feet, it’s no easy hike. But the jaw-dropping views along this 500-year-old trail are certain to provide a lifetime of memories.


Trekking to See Gorillas in Rwanda & Uganda

If you're looking for a unique active adventure, there's nothing like trekking to see endangered mountain gorillas on a Rwanda or Uganda Safari.

These gentle giants were relatively unknown in the west until Louis Leakey sent Dian Fosssey to the Virunga Mountains (which border Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to research them in 1967.

Thanks to her, trekkers can now divide into groups of 8 each morning, hike through the dense, muddy jungle, and spend an hour with one of the park's 10 habituated gorilla families. It's an awe-inspiring experience, with baby gorillas pounding their chest comically, mothers calmly chewing on bamboo and other vegetation, and massive Silverback males watching over everyone.

The rules say you have to keep your distance, but the gorillas didn't get the memo. One female walked right through our group, putting her hand on a woman's shoulder.

Sossulvlei Dunes

Sandboarding in Namibia

Namibia is known as an unspoiled, untamed nature-lover’s paradise that’s almost completely covered by deserts. The Namib Desert runs the entire length of the coastline, while the world-renowned Kalahari covers the Eastern half of the country.

Some of the sand dunes you’ll find there are larger than most of the buildings. Dorob National Park, located just outside the coastal city of Swakopmund, has become a haven for enthusiasts of sandboarding. This relatively new sport combines elements of snowboarding and surfing.

With the help of experienced guides, you’ll learn how to wax your board, strap your feet in, and hurl yourself down the dunes. They’ll coach you to make sure to keep your legs straight, stiff and close together, and the front of the board pulled up.

We highly recommend wearing long clothing to protect your body from abrasions, and hopefully you’ll avoid getting a mouthful of sand in the process. It can take some time to get the hang of it, but for those who do, it’s an exhilarating adventure!


Snorkeling in the Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands are world renowned for their wondrous land-based wildlife, thanks to the impact Galapagos finches and tortoises had on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the remarkable marine life found in the islands’ waters often gets overlooked.

The archipelago offers extraordinary marine biodiversity thanks to its location on the Equator, about 560 miles west of Ecuador. Its nutrient-rich waters are churned up by the warm California current from the north and the cooling Peru (or Humbodlt) current from the south. This collision brings nutrients that stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, the base of the ocean’s food chain.

When this algae flourishes, so does the area’s marine life. And since many of the Galapagos Islands don’t provide the proper nutrients on land, many of the archipelago’s most intriguing species have adapted to feed in its waters.

As a result, the snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands is second to none. Sure, you’ll be treated to incredible sightings of rays, reef sharks, sea lions, sea turtles, and countless tropical fish on daily excursions from IE's Galapagos cruises. But you’re also very likely to see animals you won’t find anywhere else in the world, including flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, and marine iguanas.

Patagonia trekking

Trekking Torres del Paine’s W Circuit

Patagonia is home to some of the world’s most stunning scenic vistas. Think verdant valleys of wind-swept grasses, towering granite cliffs, waterfalls, and emerald mountain lakes. Perhaps this explains why National Geographic called the region, “Eden at the End of the World.”

The best hiking trail from which to take it all in is the famed W Circuit around Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. Ranging in length between 37 and 52 miles, depending on which route you choose, the world renowned trail usually takes about four days to complete.

Along the way you may see some of the park’s abundant wildlife, such as guanacos, foxes, caracaras, pumas, and the massive Andean condor.

The W Circuit’s finest sections include the hike through the Valle Francés (where you’re virtually surrounded by massive glaciers), and the approach to the Torres del Paine massif, whose dynamic rock towers give the national park its name.


Whitewater Rafting in Costa Rica

Want to go on a wild jungle adventure, but don’t feel like traveling all the way down to the Amazon River in order to do so? Head to the city of San Jose, where you can embark upon a heart-pounding rafting ride down Costa Rica’s picturesque Pacuare River!

Winding through rock canyon walls and past cascading waterfalls, the raging whitewater rapids (which range from Class II-IV in difficulty) take you on an invigorating hour-long journey. You can venture deep into the rainforest to an award-winning eco lodge, which is situated on a 740-acre private nature reserve and features surprisingly luxurious accommodations.

While there you can soak up the serene beauty of your surroundings, visit the neighboring Cabecar Indian village, and zipline through a two-hour tour of the rainforest canopy in this unspoiled nature-lover’s paradise.

Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.