13 Incredible Adventure Destinations for 2013
At the Family Adventure Project we’re always on the lookout for good adventure destinations offering options for outdoor action, learning about the world and getting closer to nature. We’d love to visit them all; but unfortunately the demands of work and school and the constraints of our budget preclude this. But they don’t stop us planning and dreaming.
Europe, Asia, Africa and The Americas; options for adventure trips have never been so many nor so attractive. Pioneering eco-adventures, exciting desert experiences, holidays that immerse you in sport and culture, the list is endless. There are many countries I’ve had to leave out of this list that I’d like to include like Georgia, Bhutan and Jordan. But this is a top 13 for 2013, so number 14 was never an option. Anyway, here’s our selection of our 13 incredible adventure destinations for 2013…
1 South Africa – Family Adventure Destination
From what I’m picking up on the travel grapevine, South Africa is the new New Zealand for adventure tourism. But it’s not all about adult hedonism, there are some seriously unique family adventures to be had here. From cage diving with sharks to abseiling down Table Mountain. From bungee swings to cable gorge swings. From pro surfing to white water rafting. And when you’ve finished scaring the wits out of yourselves and the kids, you can calm it all down by visiting the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, or taking in the sights of Cape Town. And it doesn’t have to be five star hotels all the way; you can sleep in everything from budget hostels to tree houses. Of course, you can’t visit without going on safari; the stars of the South African national parks are the lions, elephants, zebras and giraffes, but there are also hundreds of species of birds and smaller mammals to spot. Kruger National Park alone covers almost two million hectares. We hope to get out there next summer, so watch this space. For more ideas, information and inspiration check out the South African Tourist Board’s site.
2 Slovenia – The Country Small Enough to Go Electric
Slovenia is a relatively small country with all regions easily accessible from its capital Ljubljana. It’s blessed with rivers, caves, mountain biking tracks and ski trails galore, and there are only 2 million inhabitants sharing its bright green paradise. (To put this in perspective, the English Lake District has more than 10 million day trippers alone every year.) The Adriatic Sea provides the water sports, the Mediterranean climate provides the sunshine, and for this year only, The European Basketball Championship for men provides the testosterone. But that’s not the big draw for me. (honestly!) I’m up for trying out one of their new electric cars. With the newly launched Egozero project, Slovenia is the first country in the world to promote itself as being entirely in range of one of these neat green machines. Responsible tourism that’s fun for all the family…and you can even take Granny along for the ride!
3 Japan – Skiing and Culture in Asia’s Adventure Playground
Tired of the same old, same old when it comes to skiing holidays? Fancy immersing yourself in a totally different culture? It doesn’t get more different than Japan. Japan specialists Samuraisnow.com recommend three resorts for family skiing; Hakuba, Myoko and the hidden gem of Niseko. A traditional ski town; attracting plenty of English speaking tourists and guides, the main draw is the powder. But there are plenty of natural volcanic hot springs for a family to relax in at the end of a hard day’s outdoor fun. “Skiing in Japan is a level up even from skiing in Canada,” says Samurai Snow’s Kelvin Shaikh. “Whistler is enormous but crowded, and while it’s comfortable, you always know what to expect. A ski holiday in Japan is about immersing yourself in a totally different experience.” Getting there from Tokyo is easy on the bullet train, or an internal flight, and one thing is for sure; you’ll be guaranteed an adventure.
4 Argentina – Pack your Ski Boots and Dancing Shoes
Ok, so Japan is a culture too far for you. Then how about skiing in Argentina, South America? Cerro Catedral, in Argentina’s Lake District is the largest winter playground for skiiers in South America; with 1200 kilometres of skiing and 3000m of mountains on tap. The South American ski season coincides with Western summer holidays and if you go in August, you’re going off peak as well as off piste. The tourist board recommends a two week cultural adventure with a mix and match of nights in up to eight different ski resorts. And you can begin or end your Latin adventure in Buenos Aires. Argentina’s capital city only truly comes alive at night, so save some energy for dancing. We took a tango lesson which was supposed to spice up our romance but ended in a row when Stuart was better at it than me.
5 London – Beyond the Olympics
No one who saw The Olympics could argue that 2012 was London’s year. But I wouldn’t write England’s capital off for 2013. February sees the opening of a pricey but stylish new attraction The Shard. You can whizz up to the top of Western Europe’s highest building in a high speed lift and see the whole of London stretching out before you. I had a sneak preview at World Travel Market and loved playing ‘spot the iconic landmark.’ If you get a taste for seeing London from high in the air, you may also enjoy walking over London’s 02 entertainment complex. You literally put on your boots and climb the domed roof. You can follow that up with a ride over the Thames in the Emirates Airline Cable Cars. In July the Olympic Park will become London’s newest destination, reopening as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. You can relive your summer of sport and even have a swim in the Aquatics Centre if the fancy takes you. Or take a trip up the Orbit for another view of London from above.
6 Mongolia – It’s More than a Car Rally
We want to do the Mongol Rally. We so want to do it. We even have the rubbish car. But we wouldn’t want to finish with the end of this crazy race, because Mongolia is so much more than the last stop in a car rally. Bordered by Russia and China and less than 40km from the tip of Kazakhstan (a good fact for a pub quiz?), Mongolia is rich in natural beauty. For the active family it offers endless opportunity for trekking in unpaved, car free remote landscape, including walks through the incredible Terelj National Park. (easily accessible from the capital Ulaanbaatar.) Mongolian horses are part of the national culture and folklore, and you can hire one for a day or a week and go trekking deep into the mountains with a guide or trek to Lake Khovsgol – The Blue Pearl of Mongolia. Mongolia offers great white water rafting as well as canoe and kayak trips, and paddlers of any ability can have a crack at the Kherlen river in the East. If mountains are your thing, you can head to the Altai range in the West, where the snow leopard and Golden Eagle rule. The Altai Tavan Bogd (Five Holy Peaks of Altai) is a cluster of five stunning glaciated peaks, but you can also get your fix of holiness at one of Mongolia’s atmospheric monasteries, set in peaceful and beautiful grounds. Or you can join a desert camp and go camel trekking. It’s a smellier alternative, but an experience you and the kids aren’t likely to forget!
7 Germany – Celebrating Two Cultural Icons in 2013
Germany is a first class European family destination with a policy of being accessible to all, as I discovered on a visit to Rhineland last year. It also has two big anniversaries coming up this year; one marking a birth and the other, two deaths. A calendar of events will celebrate the work of the composer Wagner on the 200th anniversary of his birth. There’s a new Wagner Tour and events will be staged in Bayreuth, Leipzig and other towns and cities. Meanwhile there are many activities marking the 150th anniversary of the death of Brothers Grimm. If you like a literary tour you can follow the ‘Fairytale’ holiday route which runs from Hanau in central Germany to Bremen in the north. Tourist attractions along the route are focussed around the brothers and their fantastical tales, including places where they lived and worked at various stages in their life and locations that were in their tales. We are going out to Berlin in a few weeks to follow a Grimm Brothers’ trail of crumbs and find out the dark and light sides of this charismatic city where they lived, wrote and died.
8 West Sweden – Made for Paddling and Pedalling
West Sweden has a coastline with 8000 islands. It also has fishing villages, a marine national park, and a lake district. If you like being on the water, you’ll love Sweden. We did a canoe trip when the children were little and plan to return now they are old enough to put some power into their paddling. If you prefer to cycle, you can cruise around castles and countryside. Or take a trolley tour on old railway tracks. Gothenberg acts as a gateway to West Sweden and the nearby Liseberg Park is the biggest fairground in Scandinavia.
9 Abu Dhabi – Ferrari World meets Water World
This destination wasn’t even on my radar for family holidays before this year. But Abu Dhabi is currently building up a bank of exciting attractions; perhaps made even more exciting because they are in the middle of the desert. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Emirates and the second largest city and its huge oil exports protect it from recession in a way that Europe can only dream of. Keen to attract cruise liner tourists, Abu Dhabi has plans for a Louvre and a Guggenheim, and at the end of January the biggest water park in the region will open its slides to holidaymakers. Yas Waterworld has 43 rides and attractions, including the Liwa Loop, the only looping waterslide in the Arabian Gulf. Next door, an indoor theme park dedicated to Ferrari has the live show RED which celebrates racing and the glamour of 1960’s Italy. In the sporting spotlight along with F1 (staged annually) will be January’s PGA Golf Championship, where the high and mighty of golf will compete for the Falcon Trophy, and a share of the US $2.7 million prize money.
Wildlife lovers will enjoy the award-winning Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital which treats more than 6,000 birds of prey a year, and if you want to take your family out into the wild, you can sleep under the stars in the desert.
10 Derry/Londonderry – The City with the Arts Craic
Cities don’t come more cultural than Derry-Londonderry in 2013. This atmospheric Northern Irish City beat Birmingham, Norwich and Sheffield to win the title of the UK’s City of Cultur2 2013, and all manner of treats have been lined up for all the family. Like a three day water based performance based on the warrior monk who founded the city; written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who scripted the London Olympics opening ceremony. The Turner Prize will be held outside England for the first time, and staged in a former military barracks in the city. Music will include a celebration of punk and a world premier by the London Symphony Orchestra. In fact whatever your family is interested in, from biking to scouting to ballet to wrestling to the undead, you’ll probably find it in Derry this year, along with a frothy pint of Guinness and the satisfaction of getting the kids away from the TV. After our Titanic themed trip to Belfast last year, we’re keen to get back to Ireland and sample more of the craic and hospitality.
11 Florida – A Paradise of Shelling
I’m not a big fan of theme parks, with their sneakily disguised queues, their unimaginative rides, their plastic food and their claims of being a ‘magical’ experience. I’ve seen more magic in my son’s botched card tricks so I’m not recommending you go to straight to Disneyland without passing go. But don’t rule out a family holiday in Florida. Celebrating its 500th year, Florida offers some interesting experiences for all the family. In Orlando you can swim with dolphins, learn about turtle conservation and ride bicycles in the treetops. Or you can have tea with an astronaut at the Kennedy Space Centre. Or head sown to South West Florida where more than 100 barrier and coastal islands lie adjacent to the shoreline. Around Sanibel and Fort Myers you can enjoy 50 miles of white sandy beaches and an immediate addiction to shelling (finding pretty shells if you aren’t familiar with the beach terminology.) There are up to 400 species of multi-coloured seashells on the beaches of Sanibel, from the commonplace scallop to the ‘once in a lifetime’ brown speckled junonia. But it’s not all sand, sea and surf, there’s cypress forest, wetland, rivers and wildlife refuges galore. Southwest Florida has more than a million acres of nature sanctuaries including the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the Everglades National Park. Hike, bike or canoe? The choice is yours. But it kind of depends on how many shells are in your pockets.
12 Iceland – An Adventure Like No Other
This is the second year that Iceland has made it onto our ‘best of’ list. After visiting in both spring and summer last year we were beguiled by this country of extremes. The Children’s Cultural Festival in April is a great way to get the family involved in art, classical music and drama. But it’s the countryside that really does it for us. On a short visit you can pack in The Golden Circle; a classic combination of rainbow framed waterfall, spouting geyser and Atlantic Rift, and still have time for a wander round quirky Reykjavik and a bath in the atmospheric sulphur filled Blue Lagoon. On a longer visit, the choice of natural wonders is endless; from the tourist magnets of icy Jokulsarlon in the south and the whale watching capital Husavik in the north, to the wild eastern and western edges, where even in peak times you might get the place to yourself. Families can choose from a massive range of activities including white water rafting, glacier hiking, horseriding and biking. We did them all, and still wanted more. If the weather’s cold, (which of course it is a lot-the clue is in the title), every town has a hot tub or strange museum to entertain the troops. And the campsites have free hot water, and occasionally a free washing machine. Doesn’t get much better than that does it?
13 The Faroe Islands – Unspoilt Authentic Island Beauty
The Faroe Islands have been called the most authentic, unspoilt islands in the world by National Geographic Traveller, and on our visit last year we saw something of what they meant. Many people still live in houses with grass roofs and the average family pet is a sheep. (Faroe means sheep). The main attraction of the 18 islands is that there are no attractions, and if you’re looking for night-life then you might want to push on to Iceland. But for nature and birdwatching these islands are a real find. The Faroes are set in the middle of the North Atlantic, and it’s great fun getting around, island hopping then exploring the tiny villages and brooding clifftops on foot. Transport in the Faroe Islands isn’t quite as traditional as the buildings; local people use the heavily subsidised helicopters like buses. We took a thrilling chopper ride to the ruggedly beautiful island of Mykines where the handful of residents are far outnumbered by the puffins and gannets. Is there a cuter critter on earth than the puffin? If there is I’ve yet to meet it. And then we took a speedboat back to help get us back to the capital. It was SO James Bond.
What’s on your list?
So that’s our top 13 adventure destination ideas for 2013.
Now, what’s on your list? We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions.