Are you looking to try something different? Need some inspiration to find an exciting experience? As a long term traveller I frequently get asked what are the best alternative adventures I’ve had, so I thought it was about time I shared some of them with you.
In this post I describe 12 amazing adventures that I have enjoyed since I became an overland adventure tour leader in 2013. Some are quite active while others are more relaxing, but they are all a little unique. So if you are looking for some new adventures from around the world then read on below.
- 1 Riding the Trans-Mongolian Express
- 2 Picnicking in Esfahan’s Imam Square, Iran
- 3 Beating the crowds at Huanglong Scenic Area, China
- 4 Camp on the shores of Lake Sevan, Armenia
- 5 Trek with gorillas in Rwanda
- 6 Taste wine in the country where it was invented – Georgia
- 7 Hike through a lava river cave in Arizona
- 8 Watch bears fish for salmon
- 9 Walk with rhinos in Uganda
- 10 Hike from one side of Grand Canyon to the other
- 11 Visit the snow monkeys in japan
- 12 Get wet underneath Iguazu Falls
In August 2015 I had to relocate from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar to start an overlanding trip around Mongolia. I was looking at flights when a colleague asked if I had considered taking the train. When I thought of the Trans-Mongolian Express I thought of an epic train journey that involved doing the whole route from Moscow to Beijing. I hadn’t really considered doing it as a small section. After a little investigation I discovered that for $20 extra, rather than fly, I could have a bed in a two birth cabin on the train. It was a no brainer for me.
The journey takes a very leisurely 27 hours to travel the 1500 kilometers. Plenty of time to sit back and relax as you leave behind the chaos of Northern China and meander into the vast open space that is Mongolia. The big event on this journey for train enthusiasts is the changing of the bogies. China and Russia have different width train tracks. In 1949 when they began building the track, Mongolia had to decide which country it would align it’s train tracks with and it opted for Russia. Therefore, once the train crosses from China into Mongolia the train has to change it’s wheel width from the narrow tracks of China to the wider ones of Russia. My cabin mate and I quite enjoyed the spectacle, helped along with a few bottles of red.
Iran is a fabulous country that gets a hard time in the media. If all one has to go by is what is seen in the news, then I would understand the desire to never visit Iran. However, this would be a great loss as the Iranian people are the most friendly and hospitable people I have ever come across. The people of Iran want to welcome visitors to their country. And there is no better example of this than at Esfahan square.
Esfahan is a city in Western Iran famous for the truly magnificent square that sits at it’s centre. Around the square there are the Shah and Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosques, the Ali Qapu Palace and the Grand Bazaar. The square really comes to life in the early evenings, particularly during Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan followers of the Muslim faith observe a fast during day light hours. However, as soon as the sunsets the fast is broken and a feast occurs. Plan your visit to Esfahan during this time and you will be welcomed to participate in the feasting with open arms.
China might be famous for a lot of things – the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Warriors and Giant Pandas, to name a few. However, few people have heard of the Huanglong Scenic Area. Huanglong is a geothermal area located in the Sichuan province. The hot springs here rival any you might see at the more famous Yellowstone National park. This UNESCO site is tucked away amongst huge mountains where we wandered along the well marked paths and revelled in the tranquility of it all. To beat the crowds avoid the summer months of July and August and arrive early in the day.
Lake Sevan is a popular location for local Armenians to escape the summer heat. The lakeshore can be reached in just one hour from the capital city, Yerevan. Sitting at 1905m above sea level, Lake Sevan is the largest lake in the Caucasus.
A popular destination on the lake to visit is Sevanavank, an 8th century monastery complex. This monastery is situated on a peninsula on the north west side of Lake Sevan. The peninsula was an island until water levels dropped due to irrigation practices during the Soviet Era. The monastery is still operational and is free to visit.
Travelling around the lake to the north and further around to the east, there are many places to spend the night. During our overland trip from Istanbul to Beijing we spent a night camping next to the beach on the north shore. It was a great spot to sit back and enjoy both sunset and sunrise over the incredible Lake Sevan.
I first learned about the mountain gorillas in Rwanda after watching the movie Gorillas in the Mist. The heartbreaking story of Dian Fossey, who dedicated her life to protecting these beautiful creatures. So when the opportunity arose for me to lead an overland trip to Rwanda I jumped at the chance. I have a whole post dedicated to this fabulous experience so I won’t go into details here. It really is the most magical experience of my life and thoroughly recommend putting at the top of your alternative adventures list.
Read about the incredible experience I had Gorilla Trekking here.
When people ask me what is the best place I have visited, I always refuse to name only one place. I don’t mean to be awkward it’s simply that I cannot pick just one country. However, one country that I will always mention as being in my top five is Georgia. Not the state in America, but the former Soviet Union country that sits on the intersection between Europe and Asia.
Georgia is largely covered by the grand Caucasus mountain range. For this reason it is a fabulous place for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. However, Georgia is also a great place for one of my favourite past times – wine tasting. In fact Georgia claims to be the inventor of wine with evidence of wine tasting dating back to 6000BC. On my visits to this great country we always include a wine tasting day in Telavi. Telavi is based in the wine-growing region of Kakheti and is a must visit for any visit to Georgia.
Flagstaff, Arizona is the gateway to the Grand Canyon. It is also famous for having a stretch of Route 66 running through it. But just 14 miles north of Flagstaff nestled in the northern Coconino National Forest, is a little gem of a hike. The cave is open all year around and access is gained from a forestry road, which is closed in the Winter months. The lava river tube was created from ancient volcanic vents. As the lava flowed, the outside hardened to form a tube through which the lava continued to flow until it eventually cooled. Now what remains is a 0.75 mile long lava river cave, which provides a great alternative adventure of boulder scrambling fun!
During the last census in 2000 Hyder, Alaska had a population of 87 people. The only way to access Hyder is by a road from the neighbouring town of Stewart in British Columbia. It’s safe to say that Hyder is a sleepy little American town. However, from late July to September life is sprung into this place as tourists come in hope to witness one of nature’s great spectacles – the salmon run. Ok, maybe not the salmon, but more specifically, bears fishing for the hoards of salmon that are found at Fish Creek during spawning time. Just 3 miles north of the town, the Forestry Service have setup a viewing platform which, for a small fee, you can sit and wait patiently in the hope of seeing bears come out to play. If you’re lucky you might even spot a wolf.
Three of the five species of Rhinos are registered as critically endangered animals. They are beautiful, harmless creatures that unfortunately have something many men find precious. However, in Northern Uganda there is a sanctuary dedicated to the protection and conservation of these gentle giants. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary have a team of Rangers who constantly track the rhinos to ensure their survival. At the sanctuary there is a fenced off area for camping and guided walking tours. During the tour a ranger will walk you in a small group to find a nearby rhino(s), where from a close but safe distance, you can observe this incredible animal.
Going to see the Grand Canyon might not be that alternative. In fact more than 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon every year. Some people fly over it, some people walk along the edge of it and some people even walk a little ways down into it. However, not many people will hike from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other. In 2015, after several days chasing around trying to obtain camping permits, myself and my good friend were finally able to make this alternative adventure happen. 3 days and 29 miles of blood sweat and (almost) tears was all it took to truly appreciate the vastness that is, the Grand Canyon.
I rank it as one of my greatest achievements as well as one of the most beautiful hikes I have done, so if you get the chance I recommend grabbing the opportunity with both hands. Learn about the trials and tribulations of my Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike here.
On the island of Honshu there is a secluded area where you can observe something quite special. During the month I spent in Hakuba, my friend and I headed out to Jigokudani Monkey Park to see something I vividly remembered watching in a wildlife documentary. We went to see snow monkeys bathing in hot springs. At no other place can you observe monkeys doing this and it is so heart warming to see. It is thought that the monkeys originally learned this behaviour by watching local people and it has since been passed down through the generations.
People don’t bath in these springs anymore as it has been designated specifically to the monkeys, but after a short walk from the car park you are able to observe the monkeys as they lay back and enjoy the hot pools. The visit is more special in winter when the ground is covered in snow.
Located on the Argentina/Brazil border, Iguazu Falls is the most spectacular waterfall I have ever seen. During rainy season 450, 000 cubic feet of water flows over the falls every second. It is a mind blowing spectacle to observe.
I recommend spending two days visiting this site. One day can be spent on the Brazilian side and another on the Argentine side. During one visit I took a helicopter ride over the falls and that is a fantastic option to appreciate the scale of the whole water system. However, perhaps the most fun way to see it is to go underneath the falls! From the Argentine side we took a speed boat up river, which literally dunks you underneath the falls. Admittedly, it is only just at the edge of one of the smaller parts of the waterfall, but it is still big enough for you to feel the crushing force of nature at work.
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