30 great active adventures for 2021, to shake off your post-lockdown cobwebs

Sarah Baxter
·19 min read
sri lanka coast - Getty
sri lanka coast - Getty

Adventure? What’s that again? After what seems like a lifetime spent essentially in lockdown, the concept has been somewhat redefined. Where it might once have suggested scaling mighty mountains, off-roading across endless savannah or cruising through iceberg-crusted seas, now… not so much. 

The most adventurous activities many of us got up to in 2020 involved erecting a dusty old tent in the back garden, finding a slightly new way to walk to the shops or wearing our safari clobber on the sofa while binge-watching Netflix (well, why not?). With greater restrictions enforced across the UK earlier this week, our horizons have shrunk yet again, along with our opportunities. Our sense of adventure has been dampened, stifled; could it be in danger of being lost? We must act fast (or, at least, as fast as rules and common sense allow).

We cannot – must not – let our dreams be forever reduced, our curiosity permanently curtailed. As the world starts to reopen to travellers – as we all hope and pray it will soon thanks to vaccines – we need to think boldly, rekindle our desires to roam far and wild, reflect on what we’ve missed most during this horrible hiatus and use this forced time out to plot those big trips we really, really want to take, to the countries we’re truly yearning to see. 

Even though the immediate travel landscape might look bleak, advance planning is vital on a practical level, too: with so many bookings carried over from 2020, availability this year will be more limited than you might think. So we’ve sought out some of the best adventures to remind you what’s out there, waiting, in 2021. The greatest journeys, deepest immersions, wildest escapades.

When we can explore once more, these are some of the hikes, bikes, rail rides, flights, cruises, canters and overlanders we most want to take… 

Active Adventures

Cross a continent

Costa Rica

costa rica - Getty
costa rica - Getty

After a year of being restricted to small journeys, start thinking big: like traversing a continent. In helpfully slender Costa Rica, it’s possible to cross from Pacific coast to Caribbean entirely under your own steam in less than two weeks by means of trekking, cycling in the jungly highlands, a wild two-day raft down a whitewater river and one day of kayaking to the sea. Expect to encounter indigenous communities and abundant wildlife en route.

A 12-day small-group Costa Rica Traverse costs from £2,240pp excluding flights; Jan-May,  Sept-Dec  2021 (0800 0744 135; worldexpeditions.co.uk). See our guide to best hotels in Costa Rica.

Master a massif

Nepal

Trek a new bucket-list contender this year. With the classic Annapurna Circuit now marred by roads at both ends, the Annapurna Traverse offers a wilder, quieter, unspoilt alternative. This long, strenuous but spectacular route crosses the range from its eastern foothills to the remote town of Jomsom, via rhododendron forests, snow leopard paw-prints, lofty lakes, prayer flags, close-ups of snow-capped summits and three high passes (topping out at the 17,400ft Kang La) – but few other trekkers.

A 27-day small-group Grand ­Annapurna Traverse trip costs from £3,755pp excluding flights; Sept 25 2021 (01453 844400; mountainkingdoms.com). See our guide to the best hotels in Nepal.

Pace your peaks

UK

ben nevis - Getty
ben nevis - Getty

Still prefer to staycation? Then tick off a close-to-home classic, at a leisurely pace. Many people race to climb the UK’s three peaks – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Snowdon – in 24 hours; HF Holidays’s new itinerary allows seven days, so you can combine bragging-rights hikes up the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales with extra walks in the Highlands, Lakes and Snowdonia, plus ample recuperation time at cosy country-house hotels.

A seven-night small-group UK Three Peaks Plus Guided Trail trip costs from £1,299pp excluding flights; July 14, Aug 11 2021 (020 3974 8865; hfholidays.co.uk).

Raft the river wild

Peru

Feel like a proper pioneer in deepest, darkest Peru. KE Adventure’s Descent of the Rio Tambopata trip was new for 2020 – but, thanks to you-know-what, was never attempted. This means you can still be one of the first to join this rafting expedition from Andes to Amazon. Put in near the Tambopata’s source, high in the mountains, and paddle down into the jungle, via wildlife-filled rainforest, river beaches (ideal for wild camping) and exhilarating rapids.

A 14-day small-group Descent of the Rio Tambopata trip costs from £3,695pp excluding flights; July 3 2021 (01768 773966; keadventure.com).  See our guide to the best hotels in Peru.

Bike the Highlands

Scotland

No need to go far for a really wild ride: a new traverse of the Scottish Highlands, from west to east, packs in two-wheeled thrills aplenty. Pedal through the country’s highest and most majestic mountains around Glencoe and the Cairngorms, top rarely ridden passes and descend into hidden valleys, sleep out in a loch-side hut, follow little-known singletracks beside the River Spey and nip between the ancient trees in Ballochbuie Forest, looking out for stags lurking nearby.

A six-night small-group Wild Highland Trail trip costs from £1,795pp excluding flights; Sept 18 2021 (01479 420020; wildernessscotland.com). See our guide to the best hotels in Scotland.

Feel at home on the range

United States 

Riding out into southern Colorado and learning to herd bison, wrangle cattle and live the cowboy way, is the antithesis of life in lockdown. To mix big space and a sustainable ethos, head to Zapata Ranch, on the edge of Great Sand Dunes National Park; owned by the Nature Conservancy, Zapata works to preserve ranching heritage while focusing on conservation. Stay in the 19th-century homestead (now an upscale lodge) and get stuck in on the farm, then relax with massages, hot tub soaks, birding, yoga and gourmet meals.

A six-night stay at Zapata Ranch costs from £2,510pp excluding flights (01509 618811; ranchrider.com). See our guide to the best hotels in Colorado.

Wild Encounters

Take time with the tigers

India

Ranthambore National Park tiger - Getty
Ranthambore National Park tiger - Getty

Always wanted to track India’s big cats? Then don’t rush the experience once you’re finally allowed to tick it off your list. Make an extended stay in Ranthambore National Park to work alongside Tiger Watch; join the NGO on its monitoring patrols, help record tiger movements and take part in community engagement programmes, which help highlight the benefits of ecotourism to local people. You will also explore Ranthambore’s more remote sections and stay at a boutique homestay run by the family of the founder of Tiger Watch.

A 13-day tailor-made Golden Triangle & Tigers trip costs from £3,300pp including flights (0203 880 8585; yonder.co.uk). See our guide to the best hotels in India.

Get lost with the family

Canada

Enjoyed a back-to-nature staycation last summer holidays? Up the ante in 2021 by taking the family to Canada: the country excels in innately socially distanced adventures in the great outdoors. Take Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park, where the whole brood can go lake canoeing, forest hiking, wild swimming, moose-spotting and wolf-howling, as well as sleeping in log cabins and camping under the stars. Combine this with kayaking around the 1,000 Islands and a jolly good soaking at Niagara Falls.

A 17-day, tailor-made Lakes, Falls & Cities of Ontario trip costs from £1,750pp excluding flights (01728 752751; stubbornmuletravel.com). See our guide to the best hotels in Ontario.

Go (re)wild

Slovakia

There’s a great deal of buzz around “regenerative travel” right now – that is, travel that seeks to improve the condition of the destination. It’s an ethos at the heart of new company Wild Europe, which specialises in flight-free, low-carbon breaks to rewilding projects on the continent. Its Slovakia expedition includes learning about wolf conservation in offbeat Poloniny National Park, visiting a raptor rescue centre in the High Tatras and e-biking with a naturalist who knows the best way to observe bears.

A 10-day tailor-made Slovakia trip costs from £5,800pp including train travel (0117 427 0129; wildeuropetravel.com).

Get under the skin

Rwanda & Uganda

gorilla - Getty
gorilla - Getty

Travelling deeper rather than more is another hot trend, and Rainbow Tours’ new two-country African immersion seeks to do just that. In Rwanda, stay in Akagera National Park, which was badly hit during the genocide but is now a conservation success; spot the reintroduced Big Five and go behind the scenes with the rangers. In Uganda, enjoy an authentic encounter with the Batwa people before tracking golden monkeys in Mgahinga and making a once-in-a-lifetime trek to meet Bwindi’s mountain gorillas.

A 10-day, tailor-made Immersive Rwanda & Uganda trip costs from £6,995pp including flights (020 7666 1266; rainbowtours.co.uk). 

Explore the jungle with Kate Humble

Colombia

Seek rare primates in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Colombia is home to nearly 2,000 species of bird and more than 400 types of mammal; this one-of-a-kind trip explores the jungly lowlands and Caribbean coast in search of the country’s 41 primate species – from ornate titi and Brumback’s night monkey to variegated spider monkey and cotton-top tamarin – in the company of Colombia-phile TV presenter Kate Humble and local expert guides.

A 12-night, small-group Colombia’s Rare Primates with Kate Humble trip costs from £6,795pp including flights; November 11 2021 (01962 302086; wildlifeworldwide.com). See our guide to the best hotels in Colombia.

Embark on an Indian Ocean odyssey

Sri Lanka & Maldives

Double the faunal fun by combining two super, sun-soaked specks in the Indian Ocean. Start with southern Sri Lanka, where the national parks and dazzling coastline offer excellent opportunities for spotting leopards and sloth bears, blue whales and a flurry of bird species. Then hop across to the Maldives to stay in a local guesthouse on the Ari Atoll and dive some of the most astonishing waters in the world – encounters here might include turtles, manta rays and whale sharks.

A 15-day, tailor-made Sri Lanka & Maldives trip costs from £3,500pp excluding flights (0117 325 7898; travellocal.com).

Joyful Journeys

Hit the roads

Iceland

road in iceland - Getty
road in iceland - Getty

Be among the first to try two new driving routes, launched in Iceland in late 2020. A new tunnel at Dyrafjorour fjord has made it far easier to follow the Westfjords Way, a 590-mile circular drive through one of Iceland’s most remote reaches – a region of bird-flocked cliffs, islands and skerries, and untamed wilderness. Combine this with the 250km Diamond Circle, which links the highlights of the northeast, including Lake Myvatn, thunderous Dettifoss and Husavik, the country’s whale-watching capital.

A 14-night Road Less Travelled self-drive costs from £1,912pp excluding flights (01737 214250; discover-the-world.com). See our guide to the best hotels in Iceland.

Tick off a fab five

Central America

Make up for a lost year of travel by fitting five countries into one trip. Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama sit in a nice compact cluster, offering high variety in a smallish space. In a fast-paced, pack-it-all-in adventure, travelling by buses, ferries and planes, zip between huffing volcanoes and hot springs, brilliantly biodiverse jungle, Caribbean cayes and beaches, teeming coral reefs, highland lakes, a continent-slicing canal, colonial cities and magnificent Mayan sites.

A 25-day, small-group Central American Explorer trip costs from £2,999pp excluding flights; Nov 3 2021 (01252 883957; explore.co.uk).

Trace the Silk Road

Uzbekistan

Kalyan Mosque at dusk in Bukhara, Uzbekistan - Getty
Kalyan Mosque at dusk in Bukhara, Uzbekistan - Getty

Back before Covid, rail adventures were on the rise and the Silk Road countries were among the hottest tickets. So it stands to reason that, when we’re free to move again, Uzbekistan by train will be about as on-trend as trips come. Surge across the continent – via Vienna, Lviv and Moscow – before exploring Kazakhstan (from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to the eerie eco-disaster that is the Aral Sea) and finishing in the legendary cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand.

A 25-day tailor-made Uzbekistan by Rail trip costs from £5,350pp excluding flights (0191 296 2674; undiscovered-destinations.com).

Voyage like a Viking

Norway-Canada

Around 1,000 years after Leif Eriksson became the first European to set foot in North America, trace his epic route across the Atlantic. From the Norwegian port of Bergen, set sail for the Shetlands and Faroes, both rich in Viking history. Make a stop in Iceland, where Leif was born. Delve into Greenland’s rich Norse, Inuit and seafaring heritage before sailing the Newfoundland coast to visit the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. Finish in cosmopolitan Montreal.

A 15-day In the Wake of the Vikings cruise costs from £7,040pp including flights; Aug 23 2021 (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk).

Go offbeat Down Under

Australia

When off-limits Australia opens up, think big. Like a trip along the Savannah Way, which stretches 2,300 miles across the country from Cairns to Broome. Perhaps start with the Queensland section, which delves deep into the less-visited Gulf Country. Here, explore the Atherton Tablelands, stop in historic outposts such as Herberton, cruise the Gulf of Carpentaria, traverse cattle country aboard the Savannahlander train, visit the site of the northernmost camp of the Burke and Wills expedition, walk through the Undara Lava Tubes and canoe in Lawn Hill National Park.

A nine-day, small-group Gulf Savannah Wanderer trip costs from £1,185pp excluding flights; May-Oct 2021 (020 8225 4220; aatkings.com).

Follow historic footsteps

Greece

meteora - Getty
meteora - Getty

Wild Frontiers’s new trip along the Via Egnatia offers the same cultural immersion and away-from-the-masses feel as the company’s further-flung itineraries – it’s just more accessible, for those who feel like holidaying closer to home. Follow in the steps of Saint Paul and Alexander the Great, roaming across little-visited northern Greece, hiking in Unesco-listed Meteora, tasting under-sung wines, sailing on the Prespa lakes and tracking wild bears in the Pindus Mountains.

A 10-day, small-group Along the Via Egnatia trip costs from £2,695pp excluding flights; May 7 2021 (020 8741 7390; wildfrontierstravel.com). See our guide to the best hotels in Greece.

Cultural Escapades

Have a ‘nice’ time

Kazakhstan

To find out if Kazakhstan is, as Borat would say, “very nice!”, head to the country’s wild west. Here you’ll find it is very nice indeed: visit historic Shymkent, a key stop on the Silk Road; explore the 14th-century Unesco-listed site of Hodja Ahmed Yassawi; spot Soviet relics at Aktau beside the Caspian Sea; drive through the surreal, sci-fi-like landscape of Mangistau, where an underground mosque lies near the Valley of Balls; and expand your locked-down horizons in a place few visitors reach.

A 10-day tailor-made Kazakhstan’s Wild West trip costs from £3,450pp excluding flights (0117 427 0129; silkroad-adventures.com).

Be a pharaoh

Egypt

pyramids - Getty
pyramids - Getty

If this is the year to tick off a classic, why not do it in greater style? Don’t just visit the pyramids, take a private sunrise tour before they open to the masses. Then delve into the Valley of the Kings after hours, to have the tombs to yourself, cruise the Nile on your own bygone-gorgeous dahabiya and take a jeep safari from Siwa oasis into the Great Sand Sea.

A visit to the new Grand Egyptian Museum could be hoped for too; it is due to open in 2021. A six-night tailor-made Egypt trip costs from £4,315pp excluding flights (0207 426 9888; blacktomato.com). See our guide to the best hotels in Egypt.

Escape to island life

Indonesia

For something completely different, plot a pioneering adventure across Sulawesi, one of the world’s most oddly shaped and culturally fascinating islands. From frenetic Makassar, plunge into the highlands to meet the Toraja people – learn about their curious funeral rituals, stay in a Tongkonan house and raft through wilderness. Roam the villages and hills around to Lake Poso, one of the world’s deepest, discover the prehistoric megaliths of the Bada Valley; and sail to the Togean Islands for dazzling reefs.

A 20-day tailor-made Adventure in Sulawesi trip costs from £3,795pp including flights (020 7720 9285; bambootravel.co.uk).  See our guide to the best hotels in Indonesia. 

Hot springs and samurai

Japan

March 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of the terrible Tohoku tsunami. This little-visited region is ideal for a visit come autumn, when the trees blaze on the mountains and in temple gardens and the hot springs are particularly welcome. Ride the bullet train to Sendai, visit the island-studded bay of Matsushima, explore the ancient samurai town of Kakunodate, climb sacred Mount Haguro and sail to Sado Island for a lesson in taiko drumming.

A 14-night self-guided Northern Highlights trip costs from £3,430pp excluding flights (0117 244 3380; insidejapantours.com).

Tracks to Transylvania

Romania

colourful houses - Getty
colourful houses - Getty

If the modern world feels too much right now, head to Transylvania, where time stands still. Explore by road and rail – including a handful of steam-hauled narrow-gauge trains – and watch a bygone world roll by: Saxon villages, wooden churches, horse carts, haystacks. Visit the fortified citadel of Sighisoara (birthplace of Vlad the Impaler), the painted monasteries of Bucovina and the ancient region of Maramures, sleeping in some family-run homestays en route.

A 12-day small-group Rural Romania trip costs from £2,520pp including flights; Sept 1, Oct 6 2021 (01766 512400; ffestiniogtravel.com).

Get new neighbours

Ecuador

Swap your same-old surroundings for a wooden hut in the Amazon jungle. Spend a week off-grid with the Quechua, gaining an insight into their lives and providing income for the community. Take walks to search for medicinal plants, canoe to an animal rescue centre, get hands-on at a cacao culinary class, pamper yourself with a natural mud face mask, try blow-piping and join a shamanic healing ceremony. 

A seven-night small-group Local Living Ecuador Amazon trip costs from £407pp excluding flights; year-round (0207 313 6953; gadventures.com).

Expert views on adventure travel in 2021
Expert views on adventure travel in 2021

The Path Less Travelled

Cruise off course

West Africa

Pundits reckon river cruising – with its smaller vessels and more time ashore – is set to become more popular than oceangoing in 2021. To test this at its most exotic extreme, sail from Senegal down into Gambia aboard a 50-berth yacht. Drop anchor to explore the marine-life-rich Saloum Delta, get up close to chimpanzees, visit the ancient Wassu Stone Circles, listen to live music in lively Banjul and absorb riverside life.

An eight-day Rivers of West Africa cruise costs from £1,745pp; Dec 22 2021 (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com).

Pave a new way

Afghanistan

Think keeping two metres apart is social distancing? This remote trip brings new meaning to the term: a pioneering three-week trek along the Wakhan Corridor, the narrow panhandle that stretches out from Afghanistan’s north-eastern corner, bordered by Tajikistan and Pakistan. This is tough stuff, with rugged terrain, high altitudes and wild camping, but the pay-offs are worth it. Walk through the isolated Little and Big Pamir Mountains, meet Wakhi and Kyrgyz nomads, and be one of the few to traverse a landscape little changed since the times of Alexander the Great.

A 22-day small-group Wakhan Expedition costs from £3,999pp excluding flights; July 12 2021 (020 7096 8428; secretcompass.com).

Break the ice

Arctic

Don’t just re-embrace travel – let loose your inner polar explorer. Sail to the North Pole aboard the I/B 50 Years of Victory, the most powerful icebreaker ever built, which can reach more areas of this fickle wilderness. Venture to Franz Josef Land, looking out for walruses, whales and polar bears. Make excursions by Zodiac and helicopter. And disembark at exactly 90°N, to raise a glass of champagne to being at the top of the earth.

A 12-night North Pole Expedition costs from £22,980pp excluding flights; July 10 & 21, Aug 1 2021 (020 7666 1244; regent-holidays.co.uk). 

Circumnavigate a wild isle

Madagascar

lemur - Getty
lemur - Getty

With more than 80 per cent of its species existing nowhere else on earth, Madagascar is often known as the Eighth Continent. Pretty special, then, to circumnavigate the whole place on an intimate and elegant 100-passenger vessel – especially as limited infrastructure can make overland travel here a challenge. On your voyage you’ll anchor off reef-fringed islands, tropical forests, fishing villages and national parks, where the on-board ornithologists, botanists and marine biologists will help you spot Madagascar’s cast of charismatic creatures.

A 19-night Madagascar cruise costs from £9,995pp including flights; Dec 16 2021 (0808 274 5111; noble- caledonia.co.uk). See our guide to the best hotels in Madagascar.

Raft your way out

Canada

For a real leap out of your all-too-familiar comfort zone, catch a floatplane to back-of-beyond Québec and spend a week rafting and wild camping your way back out. Paddle through the boreal forest, tackle wild white water, portage around thunderous falls, swim off river beaches, stand-up paddle-board along peaceful channels, catch your own supper, pitch your tent on isolated islets and look out for wolves, moose and bears.

A seven-night small-group Canadian Wilderness Expedition costs from £2,200pp excluding flights; July 10 & 24, Aug 1, Sept 11 2021 (0203 966 7597; muchbetteradventures.com). See our guide to the best hotels in Quebec.

Dream big

Worldwide

The best adventure for 2021 is to go everywhere, with a man in the know. Take a private jet with Geoffrey Kent (founder of luxe travel company Abercrombie & Kent) to his favourite spots for unique experiences, such as an authentic voodoo ceremony in Benin, dinner in a 400-year-old samurai fortress, a party with a celebrity chef in Hanoi, adventures in Brazil’s Lencois Maranhenses National Park and Mardi Gras-style fun in New Orleans.

A 26-day Around the World with Geoffrey Kent trip costs from £130,000pp including flights; Oct 14 2021 (01242 386500;  abercrombiekent.co.uk).