If you’ve ever been on the fence about a hiking trip, there are a few things you should know: you don’t need to be in Olympic-athlete-level shape; you don’t need to take off months at a time; and you definitely don’t need to dip into your emergency savings. Hiking is one of the most sustainable hobbies you can take up and helps renew your appreciation for your environment. Ready to take the leap? These three unique hiking trips are the perfect way to spend your vacation days.
1. Jordan and Israel
Hiking is so physically demanding that having a tour operator to take care of logistics like lodging, transportation and some meals takes some much-needed proverbial weight off your shoulders. Contiki offers the Jordan & Israel Uncovered trip for hikers of all levels to experience some of the best that the Middle East has to offer through its historic sites, spiritual landmarks and lush nature.
The tour begins with a hike up the Mountain of Olives in Jerusalem — a long ridge serving as a landmark of peace in Judaism, Christianity and Islam — where you can take in sweeping views of both the city and the desert. A few days later, the tour touches down in Petra, Jordan, one of the Seven Wonders of the World featuring jaw-dropping archeological digs like Pharaoh’s Castle, the Triumphal Arc and the Monastery.
According to Adam Cooper, president of Contiki travelers visit the notable town of Wadi Musa and partake in a section of the trek to Petra to discover the ruins of the ancient city that was once a bustling center of trade.
Then, zip back around to Israel where a late afternoon hike up the Red Canyon in Eilat offers panoramic views. Before cooling off in the Dead Sea, hike up the biblical ancient fortress of Masada. The Snake Path up the mountain is relatively challenging (especially under the hot sun), but you can always opt to ascend via the gondola.
History, nature and adrenaline intersect in Cuba’s Sierra del Rosario Mountains in the Aspiro Village (a one-and-a-half-hour drive from the capital Havana) for the perfect hiking experience. ViaHero offers the Explore Magical Mountain Trails trip advertised through Airbnb, which is a hiking tour adapted to guests’ conditions, experience and expectations.
“We take people to this area providing information about the locality and its people, and take the guests to the farm of a local,” said Joel Suárez Orozco, Cuba expert at ViaHero. “Here, we try the local coffee, fruits and the flavor of real Cuban countryside cuisine.”
The real action starts when you enter Serrano’s Cave, where your guide will teach you how to “read” a cave through basic geology techniques. Then, you’ll head down to the waterfall, and descend by rappelling. After trekking another two miles, you’ll enter the Alter Cave. “That’s a blast,” said Suárez Orozco. “Just imagine swimming inside a 28-meter-high ceiling cave, all this time with only the light of your headlamps and surrounded by thousands of bats.”
Without a guide, Suárez Orozco said not to expect the type of hiking experience that caters to tourists with colorful signs. Part of the thrill lies in maybe, potentially, getting a little lost.
“This is real nature and real mountains, so we are talking about something authentic, far from the Viñales or Las Terrazas [picturesque Cuban towns] portraits,” said Suárez Orozco. “So, these are hiking trails in their purest form.”
He noted that some of these caves and trails have already been well-documented, while others have been virtually untouched.
“Most require lot of expertise and guts,” he said.
3. Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka should be a bucket list destination for its hiking opportunities alone. “Once off limits to travelers, Sri Lanka is quickly becoming the hottest destination to visit this year,” said Darshika Jones, regional director, North America, for Intrepid Travel. “Away from the busyness of [the capital] Colombo, this destination is paradise for travelers who want to get active while experiencing a country with unique culture and history.”
On Intrepid Travel’s Sri Lanka: Hike, Bike & Kayak trip, travelers start with a trek through the Knuckles Mountain Range, aptly named since it resembles a clenched fist from certain vantage points. On your way down catch a glimpse of abandoned villages and the dramatic peaks and valleys of Corberts Gap. Then, you’ll explore the historic city of Kandy, which nests on a plateau filled with biodiverse rainforests and tea plantations. Most notably, it’s home to Buddha’s tooth — yes, you read that right. You’ll hike toward the Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of the most sacred places of worship in Buddhism. At the end of the trip, you can soothe sore muscles in the Colombo suburb of Mount Lavinia, known for its “Golden Mile” of beaches and home of the annual Gay Pride and Rainbow Kite festivals.
All accommodations on the trip are locally owned and operated.