Before first setting foot on Taiwan’s soil I had certain preconceptions about what to do and see there. I imagined good meals, interesting temples and fast paced cities. What I didn’t realize about Taiwan was that it really is a great destination for those of us who love adventure travel.
What do I mean by adventure travel? Well it of course can include extreme activities like skydiving and bungee jumping, but in general adventure travel also refers to more common adventures like great hikes, interesting bike rides and even snorkeling. To me, adventure travel is any activity that takes you out of your comfort zone and puts in you the middle of an exciting experience. It’s all about getting out there and experiencing the destination firsthand without any barriers to get in the way. (Except safety harnesses, let’s please keep those) It’s also about having fun, and Taiwan delivered all of this in spades. While there are many adrenaline pumping adventure experiences in Taiwan from which to choose, these are a few of my favorites.
Taroko Gorge Hike – Taroko Gorge National Park, located in the center of Taiwan, is one of the world’s great natural treasures and yet few people outside of Taiwan have actually heard of it. It’s only a matter of time before this changes though because the unique combination of ice-blue waters, massive white marble boulders and breathtaking mountain vistas make Taroko a place unlike any other. The best way to get out and see the best of the park is by taking any of the many featured hikes. Since I was light on time, I chose the 4-kilometer Baiyang Waterfall Trail. Taiwan has had a violent geological past, and these powerful forces have played out in the now serene river and mountains that make the island nation a mystical place to visit. Walking along the trail, I couldn’t help but stare down at the rushing river flagged by pure marble boulders; as if a Roman coliseum had fallen into its depths. I began to understand the Taiwanese appreciation for the power of nature, the moments of solitude it affords and how nature can replenish us in both body and soul.
Jungle Trek – Most people probably don’t realize that there are a variety of indigenous ethnic groups in Taiwan who have called the island home for centuries. While their lives have of course changed dramatically over the last 100 years or so, members of these tribes are working diligently to ensure that the unique customs and practices of their people aren’t lost to time. One of these groups is the Bunun people represented by the always interesting Mr. Aliman Madiklan. A few years ago he rescued some land that had at one time belonged to his people and established a living museum to celebrate Bunun customs. Today thousands of visitors every year visit this jungle location for an unusual day in the forest. The most adventurous part of the day is an intense jungle trek led by native guides. This isn’t your average walk in the woods; this is an active, strenuous trek over felled logs, up 20-foot trees and under streams of ivy longer than a football field. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a great afternoon in the jungle and a fun way to learn more about the native peoples of Taiwan.
Biking in Chishang – Chishang sits in the Eastern Rift Valley, a long, fertile plain flanked by the Central Mountain Range to the west and the Coastal Mountain Range to the east and is famous around the country for its verdant green rice paddies. Bike rides can be great, and I’ve discovered some amazing places best seen on two wheels over the last few years, but rides can also be a bear. It all depends on the location, and looking around at the flat valley I felt encouraged for the outing. Chishang has created a series of bike paths around town and through the rice paddies; established roads and sites of interest designed to bring the visitor closer to nature. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before and by the end of the 10-kilometer ride, it became one of the best travel experiences of my life. It may not be what one traditionally considers an adventure travel activity, but I think for the scenery and the trail itself, it more than qualifies. Either way, it’s an amazing experience all visitors should try.
Water sports – Since it’s an island, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are plenty of marine-based activities for the adventurous traveler. What I didn’t realize before visiting was that Taiwan is actually a surfer’s paradise, the South Coast of the island draws surfers from around the world to hang ten. There’s also plenty of fun to be had underwater too, the snorkeling and SCUBA diving is amazing, especially near the coastal resort town Kenting where you can see everything from tropical fish to ship wrecks. My favorite activity though was river rafting and water walking with the Jingpu people. Members of this quickly disappearing ethnic group take visitors out on the water using traditional raft-building methods. More than just a kayaking event, guests also learn how to cast fishing nets and even get a chance to beach their vessels and walk over a sandbar in the middle of the river; truly a beautiful and exciting activity.
These are just a few of the many outdoorsy activities in Taiwan, a country I think is a still relatively unknown adventure travel destination.