Switchback Travel’s popular Top 10 Adventure Destinations are back. This time, three of the destinations—Iceland, Brazil, and Slovenia—were voted in by a poll taken by hundreds of adventure enthusiasts. From iceberg watching in the Arctic to surfing near the Sahara Desert, below are the Top 10 Adventure Destinations for 2013!
Iceland beckons the adventure traveler, a dramatic and storied island of active volcanoes, steaming geysers, glaciers, thundering waterfalls, and deep fjords. The country landed on the travel map years ago when airlines starting offering free stopovers on the way to mainland Europe. Nowadays, Rekjavik is hip and increasingly cosmopolitan, but within driving distance from the capital city are wide-open spaces and wild Icelandic terrain.
Best time to visit Iceland: June–September for summer activities; January–March for winter activities and northern lights
Patagonia still has an almost mythical status. The wind-swept region at the tip of South America straddling Chile and Argentina is extremely vast, rugged, and hard to access. It is home to tall granite monoliths, massive glaciers, turquoise lakes and rivers, and the rolling hills of Tierra del Fuego down to the bottom of the continent. Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares are two of Patagonia’s most visited parks, but they merely scratch the surface of an area equal in size to Texas and California combined. Keep an eye on the new Patagonia National Park, scheduled to open in 2015.
Best time to visit Patagonia: December–March
Morocco’s natural wonders include four distinct mountain ranges—the High Atlas, Middle Atlas, Anti-Atlas, and Rif—long stretches of Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline, and the Sahara Desert. For hikers, the mountains will feel devoid of tourists compared to those in Europe and North America (Toubkal National Park is a great place to start.) Along the way you will pass through timeless Berber villages dotting the valleys and hillsides. For surfers, Morocco is an up-and-coming surf destination with some of the best waves located around Taghazout.
Best time to visit Morocco: May–September for hiking in the mountains, October–March for surfing
From the Aleutian Islands up to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska is home to some of wildest terrain on earth. This doesn’t mean, however, that “The Last Frontier” should feel uninviting for travelers. In addition to popular Denali National Park, the Kenai Peninsula, a scenic drive from Anchorage, offers quintessential Alaska in a relatively compact and accessible area. There you can watch whales, bears, and other wildlife, see glaciers, hike, mountain bike, kayak, fish for halibut and salmon, and do just about every other outdoor activity imaginable.
Best time to visit Alaska: May–September
Brazil is most often associated with Rio de Janiero and the famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. Yet the fifth largest country in the world offers much more, including the mighty Amazon River, the far-reaching rainforests of the Amazon Basin, powerful Iguaçu Falls, and the Pantanal, a tropical wetland ten times larger than the Florida Everglades. With increased infrastructure and safety measures resulting from the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, now is a great time to make the trip.
Best time to visit Brazil: Year-round, depending on location. July–November is dry season in the Amazon; May–September is dry season in the Pantanal
There just aren’t many places where you can sit peacefully and watch massive icebergs float by. Greenland is the third largest “country” in North America (technically Greenland is a self-governing state within the Kingdom of Denmark,) and with a total population of only 56,000 people, is the least densely populated on earth. An emerging adventure scene is making the wilds of Greenland accessible, and with a changing climate its Arctic landscapes are more relevant than ever. Flights to Greenland are available through Reykjavik, Iceland, the top spot on this list.
Best time to visit Greenland: July–September for summer activities; January–March for dog sledding and northern lights
One of the world’s most popular destinations has many more layers than the urban areas that garner most of the attention. To start, the legendary Tour de Mont Blanc alpine hiking route passes through Italy, France, and Switzerland. The Dolomites of Northern Italy are supremely beautiful and the southern island of Sicily is an off-the-beaten-path adventure destination for hiking and cycling. Of course, Italy’s adventure activities go hand-in-hand with the culture, food, and wine that have won the world over.
Best time to visit Italy: Year-round, depending on location. Italy gets very hot during the peak of summer, particularly the south
8. South Africa
From iconic Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town, one of the best viewpoints in Africa, to safari in Kruger National Park and its nearly 150 species of mammals, South Africa has it all. Apart from the most popular parks, adventure seekers can get away the crowds at places like De Hoop Nature Reserve on the Western Cape, prime for whale watching. South Africa also makes an ideal launching point for trips to neighboring and more remote Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Best time to visit South Africa: Year-round, depending on location. June–August is best for safaris when the most animals are visible
Norway is the only destination to make this list in back-to-back years, and deservedly so. This incredibly varied country is home to famous fjords, the highest mountains in northern Europe (Jotunheimen), and the stunning Lofoten Islands located 100 kilometers above the Arctic Circle. Throw in the world’s best public huts, excellent trails, liberal free-camping rules, and a true ethic for the outdoors, and Norway will be a veritable adventure capital for years to come.
Best time to visit Norway: June–September for summer activities, February–March for skiing and northern lights
The tiny European country of Slovenia is a powerhouse for those who love the outdoors. A highlight of traveling to this central European country is hut-to-hut hiking in the Julian Alps, a rugged limestone mountain range stretching from Italy that reaches a crescendo in Triglav National Park. Slovenia also has emerald-colored lakes and rivers (including the Emerald River, known for rafting) and a prime stretch of the Adriatic Coast between Italy and Croatia.
Best time to visit Slovenia: June–September