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Five up-and-coming adventure travel destinations

You’ve trekked through Nepal, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, toured the rainforests of Costa Rica, and walked on glaciers in Alaska—so now what? Former adventure destinations don’t seem so adventurous when everyone from your hairdresser to your next-door neighbor has been there.

If you’re looking for the next up-and-coming adventure travel destination, we’ve got five for you to choose from. These regions have been overlooked, either by adventure seekers or tourists in general, but with the press they’re getting, they’ll soon be overrun. You’ll need to go now if you want to claim that you kayaked/trekked/rafted/hiked there first.

Croatia

Croatia is no longer the war-torn country it once was. Now “there’s a real resurgence of Europeans going there,” says Mark Kirby, associate editor of National Geographic Adventure Magazine. “You know that the Americans will be going in about two years because the Germans are there now.” And the Europeans are definitely on to something because Croatia offers almost any adventure activity imaginable, including diving, rafting, hiking, kayaking, biking, and caving.

The coastal regions of Istria and Kvarner are notable for diving opportunities. The waters of the Istrian peninsula are the final resting place of numerous sunken ships, while underwater reefs and caves abound around the islands of Kvarner. Croatia’s many rivers make it an ideal place for canoeing, kayaking, and rafting trips. You’ll float on clear green-hued water past forests and mountains and through canyons.

On land, you’ll find hiking, biking, and mountain climbing opportunities in Croatia’s eight national parks and 10 nature parks. One recommended trek is the Premuzic trail through the Northern Velebit National Park, which offers views of the coast, islands, and mountains. The national parks of Mljet and Brijuni Archipelago are the perfect setting for island cycling, and the Istrian peninsula’s network of old tracks and paths attracts beginner mountain bikers and off-road riders.

Croatia is more reasonably priced than the rest of Europe, but “people are catching on and everything is booked and prices are higher [than they were],” warns Leslie Weeden, travel director for Outside Magazine. If you want to save money and put together your own trip, the Croatian National Tourist Board can provide helpful brochures on the country’s adventure travel opportunities. If you want someone else to do the legwork, local company Huck Finn Adventure Travel runs rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and biking trips, while the U.K.-based Saddle Skedaddle offers mountain biking and cycling adventures.

China’s Yunnan Province

Leslie Weeden calls Yunnan the “adventure epicenter of China.” With four major rivers and 18,000-foot-high mountains packed into a space the size of West Virginia, it’s no wonder that thrill seekers are coming to this southwestern province now that China is encouraging foreign tourism.

Most visitors come for trekking with a cultural twist. Many treks depart from Lijang, where you can visit the local villages of the Naxi people before you hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge or up the slopes of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Or, you can choose to hike the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail, and visit with the Bai people. Wherever you go, you’ll find spectacular scenery and cultural diversity.

In the Yunnan province, you can also choose to blend adventure travel with eco-travel. Mountain Travel Sobek runs a rafting trip on the Great Bend of the Yangtze River where the proceeds benefit the Nature Conservancy’s Yunnan Great Rivers Project. The two companies are sponsoring river guide training programs to local residents as an alternative livelihood to logging. If you’d prefer to trek, the Wenhai Ecolodge is a community-operated mountain lodge using sustainable energy systems that provides a convenient base for trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge. Another community-run program, the Lashihai Ecotourism Company, runs walking, canoeing, and biking tours.

You can find a range of tours to fit your budget, timeframe, and activity interests. Operators offering tours to the Yunnan include Mountain Travel Sobek, G.A.P Adventures, and WildChina.

India

Why is everyone talking about India? Three reasons, according to Brad Atwal, regional manager, the Americas, for World Expeditions. “It’s India’s turn in the cycle. It was popular for a while, then it wasn’t anymore,” he says. “But you also have to give the India tourism people credit for their up-to-date ad campaigns.” Top a cyclical upswing and great marketing with instability in nearby Nepal and Tibet, and India is the place to be. “India now has an excellent infrastructure,” adds Atwal. “It’s got itself together.”

A wide range of activity options doesn’t hurt, either. India provides adventurous spirits with opportunities for trekking, rappelling, rock climbing, river rafting, kayaking, wildlife viewing, skiing, and cycling. You can learn to dive in Goa, white-water raft in Rishikesh and Darjeeling, and go for a backwaters cruise in Cochin.

Two trekking hubs are Ladakh in northern India and Sikkim, located between Bhutan and Nepal in the east. Atwal refers to these locations as “Little Tibet” and “the new Nepal,” respectively. Ladakh is one of the few places where you can see authentic Tibetan Buddhist culture, and it’s considered safe, despite being in the troubled Kashmir region. And its Himalayan location provides many opportunities for hiking and exploring. From the mountain trails of Sikkim, you can catch glimpses of Kanchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world.

So many adventure tour companies offer trips to India that you’ll be hard pressed to choose just one. Mountain Travel Sobek, World Expeditions, KE Adventure Travel, and Intrepid Travel run trekking and other adventure tours in India. Aquaterra Adventures and Snow Leopard Adventures focus solely on India travel and also offer a wide range of trips including rafting, trekking, fishing, and wildlife safaris. For even more options, you can request a copy of the “Adventure Sports Directory” from the India’s Ministry of Tourism.

Nicaragua

Central America is hot but Costa Rica and Belize are now well-established destinations. Next up: Nicaragua. “So many expats are moving there,” explains Weeden, “and everything is still cheap and not homogenized.” Between the Caribbean and the mountains, the country presents a plethora of adventure activities in a somewhat untouched setting, and the growing infrastructure provides a safe way for Americans to take advantage of the offerings.

Adventure lovers can get the thrill of hiking across active volcanoes, and Tours Nicaragua offers a seven-day, 21-volcano trek through the Maribios Volcanoes. Or, you can ocean kayak in the Juan Venado mangrove estuary reserve, take a canopy tour in the cloud forest of the dormant Mombacho Volcano, or mountain bike on Ometepe Island to see pre-Columbian petroglyphs. Little Corn Island is the place to go for snorkeling and diving, and San Juan del Sur provides a haven for surfers.

Although Nicaragua’s tourism infrastructure is growing, it’s still a good idea to plan your vacation with a tour company. Tours Nicaragua and Nicaragua Adventures are two companies that can provide day, overnight, and package trips. For a more relaxed adventure, Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge offers luxury bungalow accommodations, meals from organic and locally grown food, and a range of activities from kayaking to fishing, nature walks, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Nevada

Most people think of gambling or nightlife when they think of Nevada, but in the past few years, adventure travel has been added to that list. The most mountainous state in the U.S. with 314 ranges, Nevada is finally gaining popularity as a vacation destination for outdoors enthusiasts. To drive the point home, in the next few years, three of the biggest outdoor gear and sporting good outfitters will come to Reno: Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, and Scheels.

The beauty of Nevada is that you have a choice of staying in the casino-hotels or roughing it in tents on your active vacation. “Day trips are really big,” says Bethany Drysdale, spokesperson for the Nevada Commission on Tourism. “People come to Reno or Las Vegas and do their gambling and partying at night. Then they go out and get all dirty during the day.” From the huge Vegas resorts, you can explore the Red Rock Canyon or Valley of Fire. You’ll find hiking, rock climbing, and wildlife opportunities not far from the Strip.

Lake Tahoe is half in Nevada, and the area is an outdoors center with opportunities for skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and backpacking in the mountains, plus kayaking, canoeing, and even SCUBA diving in the lake itself. Highway 50—also known as the Loneliest Road in America—between Fallon and Ely is an adventure corridor. You can stop at Sand Mountain for ATV riding, Austin for mountain biking, and Ely for a connection to Great Basin National Park and the hiking and climbing opportunities there. In northeast Nevada, Elko provides an extensive trail network for hiking and biking.

You can easily plan a Nevada adventure trip yourself, the cheapest and most accessible destination on our list. You can often find fare sales from Southwest, JetBlue, and other carriers, with prices starting under $100 before taxes. If you do want to plan your activities through an adventure outfitter, get the Nevada Commission on Tourism’s handy Nevada Adventure Guide for tour company contact information.

Why so many tour providers?

With the exception of Nevada, the up-and-coming travel destinations discussed here are still strengthening and fine-tuning their tourism infrastructures. You’d be wise to employ the services of a tour operator, if not for your entire trip, then for the adventure portion of it, to ensure that your trip is safe, hassle-free, and fun. If you’re on a tight budget, you can certainly make your own arrangements and probably spend less. But the services of a tour provider can be invaluable in getting you to off-the-beaten-path locations and arranging cultural experiences you couldn’t plan on your own.

If you do book a tour, you have a wide range of companies and price ranges from which to choose. You might want to seek recommendations from a friend or reputable travel publication. In any case, you should ask how long a company has been running tours, what kind of training guides must have, and how they maintain their equipment, such as vans, kayaks, and bikes.

You should also inquire about meals, accommodations, and general level of service. You don’t want to be eating PB&Js on the trail when you were expecting gourmet cuisine. Nor do you want to sign up for a long trek and learn on day one that you have to carry your own pack. Ask about the ages of fellow group members and whether they’re couples, families, or singles—some people wouldn’t want to be the only single or under-40 member of a group tour.

We’ve listed some tour providers here to get you started, but our list is by no means definitive. With a little resourcefulness and good judgment, you can find a travel destination and itinerary that is guaranteed to impress even your most adventurous friends and relatives.

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