Just to clarify that statement, when I say “real” adventure traveler, I’m describing a niche group of people who, like me, thrive on things like “firsts.” By that, I mean first contact, first ascent, descent, and/or places so remote, even Google Earth lacks adequate satellite mapping. That said, I’m not disparaging different kinds of travel.
On the contrary, I actually enjoy many types of travel. Even the occasional bougie 5-star resort. Though despite being a multipotentialite in this realm, my true passion is old school, dyed in the wool adventure.
So if your idea of an authentic escapade is similar to my own, here are a few places you should avoid (and recommended substitutions), lest your disappointment end up weighing more than your backpack.
Yes, the whole country. After living there and traveling the entire country from border to border (Ecuador to Bolivia), I saw many gorgeous places, met wonderful people, and saw incredibly famous ruins.
Along with ten thousand other gringos doing the exact same thing.
Thanks to an impressive international marketing campaign on part of their department of tourism (seriously, they should give those people a raise), thousands come from all over the world to enjoy Peru’s visually stunning tourist destinations. Even the remote parts of their Amazon are carpet-bombed by Ayahuasca and wildlife-seeking travelers, and volunteers. The drawback, for the die-hard adventurers, is that very little about traveling here feels authentic.
Even remote mountain treks like Huayhuash (Cordillera Blanca), or the lesser-known, but equally impressive alternative to Machu Picchu, Choquequirao, puts you in the footsteps of tons of other travelers.
Go to Peru for the beauty, nice people, and interesting food, but it’s a total bore for the hard-core crowd.
Best alternative: Bolivia
With some of the most well-preserved Amazonian and Andean wilderness left on earth, along with a multi-faceted cultural heritage, you can customize your expedition. Bolivians are great at improvising and you can literally roll up in just about any no-name town and say, “I need someone to take me where no gringo has ever been,” and they’ll make it happen. I’ve personally been to villages, ruins, and areas of the Amazon where foreign travelers have never set foot. This is the best-kept adventure excursion secret in South America! No one realizes how much exists outside the well traveled Salar de Uyuni.
Ok, let me preface this by saying I LOOOOOVE Morocco and can’t wait to go back some day. It’s an incredibly beautiful country, easy to navigate, and has amazing, mouth-watering food! On the flip side, it’s WAY too touristy, even in the remote Sahara Desert and Atlas mountains, to be considered a legit expedition. However, if you want to get your feet wet in desert trekking (pun intended), this is a great place to start! It’s also a very wallet-friendly destination.
Best alternative: Tunisia
With a similar cultural flair, natural beauty, and a welcoming attitude toward foreigners, this is a great option for customizing a Sahara Desert adventure that won’t leave you in a traffic jam with other camel trains bearing loads of like-minded travelers.
I can literally feel people hissing at me like an angry cat for this one (LOL). Yet, thanks to the country’s amazing infrastructure, tight national park regulations, and booming outdoor tourism industry, you won’t be alone in that beautiful wilderness. However, this is an obvious and recommended choice for any nature lovers that crave a PNW (Pacific North West) vibe with a southern hemisphere twist. They have legendary awesome locals to boot.
Best alternative: Tasmania
Surprised? Well, I was too until I got to Australia and talk to dozens of locals who couldn’t stop gushing about “Tazzy.” Despite its relatively small size (just under 70K square km) and a population of over half a million, Tasmania is still the go-to spot for in-the-know Aussies who prefer to skip the NZ outdoor crowds. It carries the moniker, “the New Zealand of Australia.” In fact, there is SO much unexplored, and in some places, nearly inaccessible wilderness, Tas carries a disturbingly high percentage of missing hikers. Don’t underestimate this down under gem and get to planning!
As a bonus, here are 5 places at the tipping point of becoming too mainstream for the die-hards. Better hurry!
- Kazakhstan – Its celebrated natural beauty is becoming internet stock footage fast. Get there before the “gram” crowd does!
- Botswana – An established alternative to the more traditional wildlife safari hot spots in East and South Africa, this gem crouched at the edge of the Kalahari Desert is gaining popularity fast. Hurry before the hordes arrive!
- Iran – Despite the logistical challenges involved with getting in, the secret is out when it comes to this country’s stunning landscapes, historic architecture, and friendly locals.
- The Philippines – Despite having over 7,000 islands (yes you read that right), this visually idyllic nation known for its pristine wilderness, flawless beaches, and epic diving is drawing more and more tourists every year.
- Tierra del Fuego – No, I don’t mean Ushuaia. There is much wild beauty to behold and explore in this southernmost chunk of land, but more people are catching on and skipping the crowded and pricey cruises to Antarctica for the lesser known penguin colonies and rugged wilderness of this “land of fire.”