Our “Sustainable Travel“ series is sponsored by Global Basecamps. Global Basecamps is specialty travel company that helps independent travelers research and book locally owned boutique hotels, off-the-beaten path lodges and multi-day excursions all over the world. Whether hiking the Inca Trail, experiencing a traditional Japanese Ryokan, or relaxing on the beaches of Thailand, Global Basecamps specializes in designing completely customized itineraries to meet each travelers specific priorities and match their travel style.
Think extreme activities are all about hurtling down mountain verges on quad bikes or catapulting yourself out of moving airplanes? Think again – now there’s a whole host of eco friendly ways to get your kicks. Whether they get your adrenaline levels soaring or simply offer a unique way to explore the sights, these 10 adventure activities offer mind-boggling heights and break-neck speeds without a drop of fuel in sight.
The closest mere mortals will come to flying and with plenty of stomach-flipping descents, paragliding is one of few sports where your life is at the mercy of the wind (or more specifically, the giant fabric wing billowing above you). Thankfully, the experience is more tranquil than terrifying, and the gentle swaying as you hang suspended in the harness is truly like floating on air. If admiring the views isn’t enough for you, try a longer flight where an experienced pilot can guide you to heights of a few thousand meters, or duck and dive amongst the skyscrapers to get your blood pumping.
The world is full of paragliding hotspots, most of them taking advantage of high coastal winds and elevated take off points. In the USA, Utah is one of the best renowned locations where you can take sunset rides over Salt Lake City, or in Europe, head to the Dune du Pyla in France, the continent’s largest sand dune at 3km long and over 100m high. Lima, Peru is another surprising destination for paragliders, with the sport even capturing the hearts of local politicians and an abundance of scenic views from the urban city sprawl to the vast beaches of Costa Verde.
Ziplining has come a long way from the swinging tires strung up between trees in the local playground, and these days, it’s faster, higher, and a whole heap more exhilarating. Canopy tours have become popular ways to explore the countryside, offering both incredible views and the chance to get up close and personal with exotic wildlife without disturbing their natural habitats. Erecting platforms and lines in forested areas is a popular choice for eco-tourism initiatives thanks to the simplicity of the setup and the minimal impact on the environment (if done carefully).
Many zipline routes are run hand in hand with preservation efforts, like the Gibbon Experience, an innovative conservation-meets-tourism project in Northern Laos that takes guests on a multi-day quest for the elusive gibbon including sleeping in treehouse huts at night and ziplining through the forest in the day. Bucket listers might prefer a trip to the world’s longest and fastest zipline, the Unreal Zip 2000 in South Africa’s Sun City resort, where you can hurtle downhill at speeds of up to 120km/h, all without so much as a rev of a motor. If you’re happy to swap extremities for scenery, some of the best canopy tours are in the depths of the cloud forests in Costa Rica or Panama where you’ll get to soar through the jungle like a modern-day Tarzan.
If scaling cliff edges sounds like too much hard work, why not try descending them instead? Rappelling (or abseiling) is just that – lowering yourself down cliff faces, waterfalls, and canyons, with a little support from a harness and rope, and the experience can be as easy or extreme as you wish. There are some incredible rappelling spots in the U.S, but when it comes to extreme activities, few countries can beat the enthusiasm of the New Zealanders. In fact, the two pint-sized islands cram in so many death-defying downhill descents that it’s hard to know where to start. On the North Island, Waitomo is the place to be, where you can undertake a series of abseils (often combined with rock climbing, spider-walking and cave jumps), explore the magical glowworm caves, and finish off with an awesome plunge down a 98-foot waterfall. The fun doesn’t stop there though – there are ever more challenging routes around the country, including the chance to undertake night canyoning expeditions.
4. White water rafting
Hurtling downstream by the sheer force of nature’s most powerful element, white water rafting is surely one of the most fun and adrenaline pumping ways to get wet. Navigating rough waters and rapids from the seat of an inflatable raft offers plenty of thrills, and nature has carved some incredible routes around the world. Notable destinations to enjoy the ride include Turkey’s Çoruh river, one of the world’s fastest flowing rivers carved into the incredible Kaçkar Mountains, and the Zambezi River below the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe with its break-neck rapids and brutal waves.
Rafting has had a few conflicts with the environmentalists of late, thanks to a few less-than-cautious operators dredging riverbeds and altering natural water features to improve their rafting routes, but there are still plenty of eco-conscious operators around (look out for those that regulate their rafting trips and undertake conservation efforts). If it all sounds a bit too hair-raising, you can always hop in an inner tube and float downstream instead.
Kitesurfing – propelling yourself along the water on a surfboard attached to a kite – is rapidly gaining popularity all over Europe, and each year new kitesurfing hotspots are springing up around the world. While beginners might stick to learning basic manoeuvres and catching a few waves, the pros can reach wind-powered speeds of 50 miles per hour (80km per hour) and perform mind-blowing stunts up to 130 feet (40m) in the air. Kitesurfing course racing has even been added to the 2016 Rio Olympics bill.
Those hoping to try their hand at the sport won’t have to look far around Europe’s coastal stretches, although Tarifa, Spain reigns on as the wind sport’s mecca. Maui, Hawaii and the Dominican Republic (home to the aptly named “Hot Spots Kite Beach”) are equally popular locations, with year round action and tropical climates, and Egypt is also emerging as a prime windsurfing and kitesurfing destination, with a number of beaches around the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba offering kitesurfing packages.
The tour brochures might have coined the term “coasteering,” but this wild and wet activity is best described as “jumping off cliffs.” Sure, coasteering includes navigating rocky coastlines on foot, swimming through rockpools, and scrambling up rocky outcrops, but the most exciting part is the descent – jumping off the cliff edge into high waters. Initially, tours started up along the coastal cliffs of Pembrokeshire in Wales, but today there are treks available along much of the UK’s rocky coastline – the perfect antidote to the island’s lack of tropical beaches and sunbathing spots – as well some emerging locations in New Zealand, Australia, and the USA. Cornwall, Dorset, and the Scottish isles all offer great spots in the UK, many of them exploring the region’s famous smuggler’s caves, and trips are graded into levels with grade 1 offering plenty of small trial jumps for younger or more cautious participants.
7. Mountain boarding
Mountain boarding, or all terrain boarding (ATB), has been quietly gaining popularity over the last few years, and new tracks are springing up all around the world. The bigger, gnarlier brother of the humble skateboard, mountain boards come equipped with 4 sturdy wheels ready to take on grassy slopes, dirt tracks, and forest paths. Best to start with an introductory course, but there are many incredible locations to test out your skills – Book Shelf Cliffs in Colorado offer miles of rolling dirt tracks, or you can watch the pros in action at Japan’s first purpose-built mountainboard terrain park, Dragon Dirt, near Mount Fuji. Master some skills, buy your own board, and the options are endless.
8. Tree Climbing
A throwback to those childhood afternoons spent hoisting yourself onto the highest branches, recreational tree climbing is now an adult-friendly pastime sure to get your palms sweaty and your blood pumping. Ascending by ropes into the treetops offers an incredible birds eye view of the surrounding landscape, as well as the perfect up-close position for bird watching and wildlife spotting. For some of the best-run expeditions, head to the Isle of Wight, where you can scale heights of 130 feet (40m), enjoy the views from a tree-top hammock, and indulge in some high-energy, childish fun – teetering on the branch ends and swinging upside down from the tree tops. Goodleaf runs specialist tree climbing expeditions with safety equipment and instruction.
9. Bungee Jumping
Such is the popularity of plummeting to the ground at the end of a bungee cord that many seem to forget this extreme activity is actually fuel-free and eco-friendly. Whether or not entrusting your life to a glorified elastic band is for you, there’s no denying that this is one of the most extreme ways to get your kicks.
If height is what you’re after, head for China’s Macau Tower, teetering a whopping 760 feet above ground, where you can take a skyjump over the matchbox city streets below. Otherwise, it’s all about the location – Bloukrans Bridge, the world’s highest single span arch bridge, in South Africa (708 feet) is a good choice, as is the Alta Vila Tower of Nova Lima, Brazil, with it’s beautiful mountain scenery. Adrenaline junkies can enjoy the runway launch from the Ledge Urban site in Queenstown, New Zealand, where you’ll be equipped with special harnesses that allow for mid-air flips and twists.
10. Roller Blading
Well, it might not be the most adrenaline-fuelled activity on the list, but if you’re after some good old-fashioned fun and a twist on the mundane city walking tours, whizzing around the city on 8 wheels can make seeing the sights a whole lot more amusing. Those in possession of skating skills worthy of showing off can indulge in some tricks and grinds along route, or you can simply glide along and enjoy the ride. Tours are few and far between these days, but keep your eyes peeled and you’ll often find that local skating rinks run city tours. The School of Inline Skating in Barcelona offers tailored city tours taking in the city’s most famous barrios and ending with a cruise along the beachfront, and Pari Roller organizes Friday night skate tours around Paris, with the 3-hour routes changing each week.
Read more about ecotourism around the world:
- 6 Ways to Stop the Excuses and & Make Eco-friendly Travel Easy
- 8 of the Best “Live Like a Local” Experiences
- 10 Festivals that Celebrate Local Produce
- Paradise on a Budget: Eco Retreats that Won’t Break the Bank
- 10 Tips for More Eco-Friendly Travel
- How to Plan an Eco-Friendly RTW Trip: 9 Destinations to Go Green
- 6 Things You Didn’t Know About Ecotourism
- 8 Green Ways to Experience Belize
- 10 of Europe’s Most Eco-Friendly Cities
Eco tourism is not just about the destination and the sustainable practices of the lodge you’re staying in, and a bus tour through a highly trafficked city can be easily replaced by any of the above activities. With Global Basecamps sustainable travel contacts throughout the world, we can include a day of zip lining on your Thailand eco tour, or book a Sacred Valley white water rafting adventure after your sustainable Inca Trail trek.