10 adventurous destinations for newbie explorers

January 19, 2016                 5m read time
Ailsa Ross


Traveling to new places can be as scary as it is exciting, but generally, the world is a friendly and welcoming place. From tropical jungles to soaring geysers, here are 10 of our favorite adventurous destinations from around the world. Best of all? These spots are totally accessible to newbie travelers, too, proving that you don’t have to be a seasoned jet setter to see the world.

1. Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air balloons over Cappadocia in Turkey  Patrick Down

Hot air balloons over Cappadocia in Turkey 

Patrick Down

 

Sleep like a rock inside a boutique cave hotel in Cappadocia. Located in central Turkey, the region is known for its moonlike landscape and the ancient network of settlements carved into the area’s soft pink stone. For more than a thousand years, people have lived and worked in these underground caverns—and you can too in one of the area’s boutique cave hotels. After emerging from a rock solid sleep, climb into a hot air balloon to watch the sun rise over rose-colored hoodoos, or “fairy chimneys,” unique pinnacles sculpted from tuff and ash. Back on the ground, wander through Ottoman bazaars to find the best local pottery, explore warrens of troglodyte dwellings, or head out for hike through the nearby desert valleys.

2. Ko Tao, Thailand

Ko Tao in Thailand think4photop

Ko Tao in Thailand

think4photop

 

If you’d like to try scuba diving but have never done it before, paddle those fins on over to the Thai island of Ko Tao. Thanks to cheap prices and ridiculously clear water, the island is the world’s second most popular place (after Cairns in Australia) for taking that initial PADI Open Water Diving course (the world’s most popular and most recognized scuba certificate class). Ko Tao means Turtle Island, and you'll see plenty of 4-feet-long leatherback turtles year-round here while you dive among the colorful coral, seahorses, and batfish.

3. Fez, Morocco

Fez in Morocco nathalie_r

Fez in Morocco

nathalie_r

 

Just an hour’s ferry ride from Spain, why not polish off your high school French in Morocco? From the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara, Morocco’s geography is incredibly diverse. You can indulge your inner Kerouac in Tangiers, an old Beatnik hangout; head into the Atlas Mountains for world-class hiking; learn to surf in Taghazout; or go camel-trekking in the Sahara.

Our favorite spot is the medieval city of Fez. More than 1,000 years old, it's one of the world's oldest Islamic capitals. You could spend days wandering through the lively alleys of the Medina (old city), taking in the sights and sounds of the bazaars, mosques, and peaceful riads (courtyard gardens). Or, you know, you could just hang out at a hole-in-the-wall cafe, sipping mint tea and dipping flatbread into saffron-infused tagine stews all day, every day.

4. Moab, Utah

Moab in Utah  Dean Fikar

Moab in Utah 

Dean Fikar

 

Utah’s deserts prove you don’t need to leave the country for a taste of adventure. Whether you fancy rafting, hiking, or perfecting your photography among the red rocks of southwest Utah, the old mining town of Moab is the perfect jumping off point to two of the state's sweetest spots: Arches and Canyonlands national parks—areas filled with red earth, pinnacles, and twisted ravines. Follow Primitive Trail in Devil’s Garden to leave the crowds behind in Arches. Cyclists should check out the 13-mile Slickrock Bike Trail just outside town. For strong riders only, the path shoots out across petrified sand dunes and steep hills. Said to be the most popular biking trail in the world, it sees more than 100,000 riders a year.

5. Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara in Nepal natalia_maroz

Pokhara in Nepal

natalia_maroz

 

When most people think of Nepal, they envision the Himalayas’ forbidding peaks. But there’s way more to the "Roof of the World" than mountains, snow, and Everest. Around the traveler-friendly city of Pokhara in the south, it’s all tropical jungle stuffed with rhinos, tigers, and elephants. A number of respected tour operators can take you into the Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you can get up close with the majestic mammals.

6. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Fjordland National Park in New Zealand fw42

Fjordland National Park in New Zealand

fw42

 

Whether you choose to see South Island (the largest of New Zealand’s two major islands) by campervan or tour bus, it's super easy to get around. If you’re in Fiordland National Park, our pick is a guided hike (or "tramp," in the local lingo) through the rainforest along the 33-mile Milford Track, a four-day trip that’s said to the the "finest walk in the world." Along the way, there are comfortable lodges where you can get a hot shower and a hearty dinner. The hike ends at the stunning Milford Sound which is home to 1,000-yard coastal peaks, waterfalls, and dolphins and seals playing in glittering waters. Cheers to that!

7. Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik in Iceland Jamen Percy

Reykjavik in Iceland

Jamen Percy

 

Perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland may have chilly temps, but the people are warm and welcoming to travelers. Explore Reykjavik’s rocking boutiques and bars, or head out into the wild. Here in the Land of Fire and Ice, you can hike glaciers, take a dip in milky blue hot springs (we love Reykjadalur), wander black basalt beaches, and walk under the Midnight Sun. Come anytime in winter for the chance to see the Aurora Borealis burst across the sky. 

8. Kruger National Park, South Africa

Kruger National Park in South Africa Michael Jansen

Kruger National Park in South Africa

Michael Jansen

 

Kruger National Park covers 7,523 square miles, and it’s the perfect place to glimpse the Big Five: lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinoceros. We love Kruger because there’s no need to join a huge tour group on safari here. Self-driving and self-catering is totally legit. If it’s your first time in the bush, though, it’s a good idea to go on a guided safari, not least because your guides will know the best places for animal watching. There are several camps throughout Kruger, one of the most beautiful is Letaba. Listen out for roaring lions while you sleep!

9. The Inca Trail, Peru

The Inca Trail in Peru Jenny Villone

The Inca Trail in Peru

Jenny Villone

 

We can’t even begin to imagine how many travelers have The Inca Trail at the top of their bucket lists. And sure, you could have a leisurely breakfast in Cusco and take the train over to Machu Picchu in about four hours, but life’s about the journey not the destination, and the ancient road to Machu Picchu is some journey. On the five-day trail through the Andes, you’ll pass through cloud forests, alpine tundra, Inca ruins, and Peruvian villages. To go, plan to book your trek a year in advance. 

10. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Turtles in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador Luiz Felipe V. Patel

Turtles in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador

Luiz Felipe V. Patel

 

It’s pretty strange to think that a sinking bunch of 13 volcanic islands changed the world forever, but when Darwin first caught sight of the world’s biggest tortoises and the world’s tiniest penguins on the Galapagos Islands in 1835, it sparked his revolutionary theory of evolution. Follow in the great scientist's footsteps with a seven-night trip through the Galapagos Islands aboard an expedition yacht with Ecoventura. Disembark at stops around the islands to explore an ecosystem like none other. Say hello to reptilian friends including tortoises and marine iguanas, and try not to run afoul of the birds that call the Galapagos home—from penguins to petrels and boobies of both the red- and blue-footed varieties.

For plenty of creature comforts while on land, stay in the developed town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. We recommend the upscale Finch Bay Eco Hotel, which is just steps from the beach.

Ailsa Ross

Special projects editor for Matador Network and a contributor to National Geographic online, Nerve, and Thought Catalog, Ailsa is a Scottish writer focusing on travel, nature, women adventurers, and indigenous culture.

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