Adventures in Wonderlands: 16 Ways to Raft, Hike, and Climb Your Way Into Earth’s Beating Heart

Don’t just see the world, seize it. | By Kate Siber  
Sơn Đoòng Cave Vietnam
Soaking in the view while exploring Vietnam’s vast Sơn Đoòng Cave. In some chambers, the ceiling is 600ft-high. Photo: Ryan Deboodt/Aurora Photos/Corbis/Imagelibrary

Go Deep

Outsize encounters in the oceans and under the Earth.

whale shark california

Up close with a whale shark in the Sea of Cortez, off Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. A whale shark weighs 20 tonnes on average. Photo: Brandon Cole

Swim with whale sharks, Mexico Goosebumps. That’s what snorkelling near a bus-size shark can give you. Floating on the surface of the Sea of Cortez, off the coast of Baja California in Mexico, you see nothing but shades of aquamarine water below. Then, a shadow emerges from the deep, and the outline of a huge whale shark looms into view: the unmistakable dorsal and pectoral fins, the square head, and the powerful crescent-shaped tail. Even though these ancient fish are plankton eaters, your skin still prickles as they approach. Swim as fast as you can as the largest fish in the sea, graced with unique patterns of stripes and dots, glides by. In a matter of moments, it disappears back into the deep blue.

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Dive in Sipadan, Malaysia Off the coast of Sabah in East Malaysia, the blue waters around the small, protected island of Sipadan are dense with marine life. Hover over immense schools of fish and beautiful turtles, and swim alongside hammerhead and whale sharks. Not surprisingly, it’s ranked among the top diving sites in the world.

Explore Sơn Đoòng Cave, Vietnam Hike through the dense jungles of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, where Vietnam’s famous, and the world’s largest cave is located. Scale its exquisite limestone formations, examine the unusual flora that thrives here, and camp near the water bodies inside. Sơn Đoòng’s biggest chamber is tall enough to fit a 40-storey skyscraper and wide enough to hold a Boeing 747 airplane.

Hike the Zion Narrows, U.S.A. The Zion Narrows in Utah is often dubbed a natural cathedral, for its soaring red-sandstone cliffs and the almost spiritual reverence its voluptuous curves inspire. Most visitors walk up the canyon a couple of kilometres, experiencing sections as narrow as 20 feet, and then turn around. For a more secluded experience, start at the top of the canyon and hike the whole 26-kilometre stretch in one or two days.


Range Far

Long-distance challenges to get the blood pumping.

Pacific Crest Trail California Lake Tahoe

Side trip off the Pacific Crest Trail to South Lake Tahoe, California. It takes 5 months to walk the entire PCT. Photo: Justin Bailie/Aurora Photos

Go wild in the Pacific Crest Trail, U.S.A. The PCT is revelling in the spotlight, thanks to the memoir of one devoted long-distance hiker, bestselling author of Wild, Cheryl Strayed (and the film starring Reese Witherspoon that followed). But there’s only so much a book—or movie—can reveal about a 4,265-kilometre route that stretches from Mexico to Canada and beelines straight through some of Western America’s most bewitching landscapes. Passing rolling desert, granite peaks in the Sierra Nevada, glass-still lakes in Oregon, and Washington’s rounded volcanoes, hikers gain a visceral sense of scale. “You go back to the simplest form of living, and you realise that everything you thought you needed to survive, you don’t,” says April Sylva, another long-distance hiker who completed the trail. “You start to see the world and humanity in a different way—with a whole new appreciation.”

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Bicycle Circuit, Iceland Along the 1,336-kilometre Ring Road that circumnavigates Iceland, cyclists encounter all of this country’s spectacular extremes, from glaciers to geysers; immense black-rock moonscapes to booming waterfalls; and glacial pools bobbing with blue icebergs to wilderness hot springs just big enough for two.

Horseback Ride, Mongolia On a trip through the Mongolian steppes, horseback riders meet nomadic herders, visit a 16th-century monastery, and listen to the sound of traditional Mongolian throat singing.

Sea Kayak, Canada It’s impressive to see the old-growth rainforests, ragged granite shorelines, and clear shallows of British Columbia’s sparsely populated coast from the vantage point of a kayak. But it’s hard to beat the moment when you lock eyes with a curious orca emerging within feet of your kayak and disappearing into the water as gracefully as it came.


Get High

You’re on top of the world and you know it (and you feel fine).

Mount Stromboli Sicily’s Aeolian Islands Italy

Hike up the ever active Mount Stromboli in Sicily’s Aeolian Islands. Scientists estimate that Stromboli has been erupting continuously for 2,000 years. Photo: Saffo Alessandro/Sime/Estock Photo

Climb Stromboli, Italy Only rarely does the fiery inner soul of the planet reveal itself—except on Stromboli, one of Sicily’s Aeolian Islands that spews lava almost constantly. Just before sunset, hikers pant up over 3,000 vertical feet of heather, fragrant herbs, and black ash to a perch right above the crater. There, amid the swirling green gases, the volcano bursts into action every two minutes to two hours with an explosion of hot glowing lava that, at times, arcs over 1,200 feet into the air. “You cannot believe what you are seeing,” says Lorenzo Russo, a guide for Magmatrek, a hiking outfitter. “It is one of the most incredible natural spectacles. People are speechless, then they all say ‘Wooooooooooow.’ ” After the fireworks, skid down soft black ash as the light fades over the Mediterranean.

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Dayara Bugyal to Dodital Trek, Uttarakhand, India The stunning high-altitude meadow of Dayara Bugyal is cradled by snow-capped Himalayan peaks. To reach this grassland, trekkers must traverse lakes and dense forests, and are treated to breathtaking panoramas and vivid skies along the way. Though the more popular route is a six-day trek that starts and ends in Barsu, Uttarkashi, plan an alternative route, which is more challenging and adds three days, ending in Dodital instead.

Trek the Salkantay Route, Peru Every year, thousands hike the Inca Trail to see Machu Picchu, but only a few choose the newer alternative route: the Salkantay. Wind 63 kilometres around 20,000-foot peaks, cloud forests, and coffee plantations for views of the storied mountain ruins shrouded in mist.

Tread on a Glacier, New Zealand On a three-day Ball Pass Crossing trek in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, hikers manoeuvre scree and meadows to see Tasman Glacier up close. An easy shortcut: Take a helicopter or ski-plane.


Be Thrilled

That roaring sound? It’s the rush of adrenaline.

Zambezi River Zambia Rafting

Rafting Class 5 rapids along the Zambezi River in Zambia. Photo: Ignacio Aronovich/Lost Art

Raft the Zambezi, Zambia There’s at least one thing more exciting than feeling the rumble of the 355-foot Victoria Falls: riding all of that water as it funnels into a gorge studded with boulders and menaced by drops. This stretch of the Zambezi River, on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, is considered some of the best white water in the world. “It’s an amazing journey for some, a life-changing event to be in wilderness like this,” says Matt Gontram, a raft guide and owner of outfitter Global Descents. Over six days, catapult into wave trains that top 30 feet and rush churning pools of white and green. Watch as wild animals—hippos, crocs, baboons, and vervet monkeys—parade by in the water and on the shores, and giant basalt cliffs tower into the sky.

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Snowboarding, Kashmir Gulmarg is as popular with honeymooning couples in the summer as it is with sports enthusiasts in the peak of winter. Find your balance with snowboarding first-timers or whizz down the dizzying slopes with professionals, some of whom even come from countries like Switzerland.

Canyon Swing, Nepal At The Last Resort, close to the Tibetan border in Nepal, a canyon swing involves leaping off a platform on a suspension bridge 160 metres above the Bhote Kosi River. After the free fall is arrested, jumpers swing back and forth in the gorge as if they were a pendulum. Even adrenaline junkies have been known to get cold feet.

Witness the Northern Lights, Norway In the wilds beyond Tromso, cross-country ski or ride in a reindeer-pulled sled to watch arcs, curtains, and bands of greenish light tango across the sky.


Appeared in the September 2015 issue as “Adventures in Wonderlands”.

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