There are a few types of activities I like to infuse on almost all of my trips — food, homestays, cycling, hiking and a good adrenaline rush. While it wasn’t easy pinpointing my 10 favorite epic adventures from the road, the following are some of my most cherished memories of being scared silly before laughing like hell on the ride of a lifetime. Moreover, epic adventures can help you face your fears, assist your growth and show you you’re stronger than you thought. For me, they’ve helped me become the person I am today.
1. Summiting Volcan Concepcion (Ometepe Island, Nicaragua)
Named after the Virgin Mary by the Spanish and reaching heights of 5,282 feet, it’s the highest point on the island. For some reason I didn’t think it would be that difficult. As the only female in my Intrepid Travel Way To San Jose group signing up for the trek I also felt it was my duty to show these guys up. The first 1.2 miles of the hike were flat, while the rest of the 4-mile round-trip trek were uphill at a 25-35 degree angle. Combine that with altitude and loose rock face, and you’ve got one serious physical challenge.
The truth is, the Concepcion Volcano hike was the toughest I’ve ever done, but was so worth it for the views and to test my strength. Concepcion Volcano actually passes through five distinct ecosystems, meaning the vegetation, landscape and insects are constantly changing. At the top, I saw pioneer cloud gas vegetation bugs that literally looked like they were from Mars: ants with horns, flies with neon yellow zebra stripes and metallic green click beetles that reflected the surrounding steam. Talk about otherworldly.
Traveling solo I’m not sure I would have been able to complete the trek on my own; however, I had an amazing guide, Willmore of Ometepe Wildlife Tours (firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-8601 -9191).
2. Rock Climbing In Park Forest Marjan (Split, Croatia)
The setting for this story is the beautiful Park Forest Marjan, a preserved pine forest overlooking Split, Croatia. For most locals it’s considered a sacred place, uber enchanting with Adriatic Sea views and historic sites like the 13th-century St. Nicholas Church (aptly paying homage to the patron saint of travelers). There are also myriad limestone cliffs ripe for climbing, which I did with Croactive Holidays.
I’d never climbed before aside for in a rock gym, so we focused on beginner trails — at least to them — including the 49-foot Vananas and 36-foot Pimi. The trick with climbing compared to adventures like skydiving and bungee jumping is you have to actually have both physical and mental skill (vs just jumping from somewhere high attached to gear someone else hooked you into). While there were many times I became stuck or felt like I’d run out of foot placement options, my guides coached me through and I was able to conquer both trails and learn what I was truly capable of.
3. Swimming With Sharks (The Galapagos Islands)
On the Galapagos Island of San Cristobal I signed up for a snorkeling tour of Isla Lobos, León Dormido/Kicker Rock and Puerto Grande — including swimming with sharks and sea lions. Kicker Rock in particular was an adrenaline rush, a massive rock formation rising 500 feet out of the water and taking on the appearance of a sleeping lion. It’s also the site where I submerged myself into a sea of black tip, white tip, Galapagos and hammerhead sharks — almost 100 at one time. While scary, the truth is they rarely harm humans, through that knowledge did nothing to calm my nerves every time one swam within 10 feet of myself. Once we left Kicker Rock, however, I realized how lucky I was to have had such a unique experience. And, along with the sharks, the Chocolate Chip starfish, sea turtles and an array of tropical fish and colorful corals reminded me I was in one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse places in the world.
Virtually all the tour companies on the island sell the same packages. I personally booked through my budget hotel, Leon Dormido.
4. Going On Safari (South Africa)
I’ll admit I did not expect to be scared. Before going on a safari with Honeyguide Tented Safari Camps, I expected to see the Big Five and take some photos of the wildlife; however, what I received was a more immersive experience where I didn’t just view elephants, lions, giraffe, hyena, zebra, leopards, hippos, rhinos and other exotic South African animals, but explored their natural habitats to see how they acted in their everyday life: A male lion trying to attract the attention of a female, an elephant drinking from a stream and eating leaves with its trunk, a wounded leopard trying to recuperate, a rhino leaving his mark with feces to find a suitable mate, a female lion protecting her cub, a giraffe keeping guard for a pack of zebra, an old wildebeest kicked out from its herd trying to befriend a group of impalas. It was witnessing these simple but natural moments that really made me feel like I was more than just an onlooker.
5. Canyoning For The First Time (Ouray, Colorado)
While Colorado has many unique and worthwhile cities, one of the quirkiest is Ouray. Ouray is full of mountains, canyons and crevices, but instead of hiking them I decided to repel down them. Actually, I decided to shimmy myself down a slot canyon while being pelted in the face by a waterfall with San Juan Mountain Guides. It was certainly an adrenaline rush — especially that first moment when you actually have to make yourself fall back over a cliff — but after I learned to trust the rope this became one of my favorite epic adventures in a beautiful place.
6. White Water Rafting Class 4 Rapids (La Fortuna, Costa Rica)
The Class 4 Rio Toro river on my Costa Rica Descents white water rafting trip wasted no time showing us what she was made of, fierce gushes of water drowning out my group’s shrill screams as we bounded over rocks and cascades. I concentrated hard on trying not to knock my fellow rafters’ teeth out while also throwing myself from the boat rim (where we sit most of the time) onto the boat floor when particularly intense rapids pop up.
Which was about every 5.3 minutes.
Which was terrifying.
Which was also what made the trip so much fun.
Shockingly, nobody fell out of the raft. Actually, let me re-phrase. Nobody fell out of the raft due to the rapids. The men on board, however, were another animal, and during the few relaxing parts of the boat ride the women were helplessly thrown from our seats into the water, though we secretly loved it.
The day ended with lunch and a tour on the company owner’s organic farm, including homemade coffee and booze. Talk about a delicious adventure!
7. Downhill Mountain Biking (Winter Park, Colorado)
Trestle Bike Park features over 40 miles (64 kilometers) of mountain bike trails. Like skiing, trails are labeled by colors — green, blue and black, along with special blue blacks and double blacks — with much of the park’s terrain designated for advanced riders. The single-track green trail I embarked on, called Green World, was about 5.5 miles long, with plenty of action along the way to satisfy any adrenaline junkie.
Certain sections were harder than others, and we went over numerous segments with wide sharp turns, steep declines, huff-inducing inclines and huge rocks that that morning I never would have believed I could do. At one point we reached a particularly precious looking turn that I just can’t bring myself to do — literally stopping short at the top each time I tried — and ended up walking my bike around it, instantly feeling angry at myself for giving up.
Luckily, I got one more shot with a second turn. There, I gave myself a head start with pedaling, taking a deep breath, uttering a “you can do this” mantra and … going, easily making it around the scary curve unscathed and with a smile.
After that my confidence shot through the roof and I felt invincible, simply because I’d successfully tackled something I wasn’t quite sure I could master. It was an amazing rush.
8. Zorbing (Rotorua, New Zealand)
New Zealand is chock full of adventure activities, though zorbing in Rotorua was hands down my favorite, mostly because it’s so unique. To start, you propel yourself into a giant beach ball containing soapy water. You can choose to either go down a straight path or a zig-zag path. You can also choose to go down alone or with friends. My suggestion? Do both! I went down alone on the straight path, then got some friends to go the zig-sag with me. We ended up laughing uncontrollably (and choking on soapy water) and slid all over, getting tangled up in each other. It was a pretty chilly day, and none of us minded being in wet shorts and t-shirts because we were having so much fun.
9. Bungee Jumping (Interlaken, Switzerland)
Extreme sports are a must in Interlaken, as this is what the town is known for. I personally did the Canyon Swing. It wasn’t my first bungee jump, but I felt the scenery here was a thrill all on its own. Just imagine jumping from a wooden plank off of the edge of the Swiss Alps, into a rock-jutted canyon where rapids and stones meet you at the bottom. As you free fall from high up in the mountains, you cannot help but let out a scream as you get closer to hitting Earth and water; however, just when you think you’re not going to make it, the bungee cord becomes a giant swing, gracefully swaying you back and forth through the canyon. Now that you have survived, you can take in the breathtaking scenery and really appreciate it!
To get a better idea, visit Outdoor Interlaken.
10. Paragliding (Medellin, Colombia)
Would you go to Medellin to hurl yourself over a cliffside? I did. And it was terrifying as hell.
Luckily, my guide, or at least the guy attached to me on the paraglide, Antonio, played house music to distract me, and helped me practice my Spanish. Once I settled down, we lifted higher into the clouds. The trees, which seemed so tall on the ground, looked like the broccoli on a dinner plate from above. Actually, a dinner bowl, with the city’s surrounding greenery resting on the edges, gently swooping down into the base where houses resemble multi-colored beans. Wavy mountain and hill textures enhance the scene.
At times, the clouds enveloped me so I couldn’t even see the rainbow bright parachute. At other times, the swing seat wiggled — sometimes even tilting so much I was sure I’d fall out. In my mind the straps didn’t feel tight enough or the swing secure enough. But, in the end I had a thrilling (and safe!) adventure.
I booked this through Casa Kiwi Hostel.
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1000 Ultimate Adventures by Lonely Planet [Great Reads]
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