Luxury adventure travel is my preferred way to experience the world; it’s just what I enjoy the most. The term seems to confuse a lot of folks though, and with good reason I think. At first blush they are seemingly incongruous terms, but once you start to delve a little deeper you see that they aren’t just complementary, but symbiotic. I’ve been privileged enough to enjoy quite a few amazing adventures around the world, but when it comes to luxury adventure I have to list these six as my favorite ultimate travel experiences and styles that I think everyone should try at least once in their lives.
1. Great exploration – Even though many of us like to think that we’re following in the footsteps of yesteryear’s great explorers, that is rarely the case. Ease of transportation has made many formally inaccessible regions of the world relatively easy to get to, fully serviced by hotels and restaurants. There are still a few spots on the globe though where you can forget about everything and trek to beyond the beyond and chief amongst them is Antarctica. One of the least accessible spots on Earth, only about 40,000 tourists a year visit the 7th continent, a drop in the bucket when compared to the mighty tourism centers around the world. But the experience of getting to Antarctica and then trekking around it, is an adventure worthy of Shackleton himself.
Most tourists visit in the Austral Summer when temperatures are more reasonable, via companies that operate out of either southern Chile or Argentina. There are plenty of different ways to see Antarctica, from a traditional crossing of the Drake Passage to the increasingly more common fly-cruise directly to the icy continent itself. No matter how you choose to get there though, a visit at least once in a lifetime is a must for any luxury adventure traveler. Cruising along the icy waters, spying giant seals from the corner of your eye and seeing endless icy horizons in person are life experiences so extreme, unique and beautiful that they simply have to be experienced to be believed.
2. Epic train ride – I don’t think enough people consider an epic train ride to be a bucket list worthy experience, but for me it was. Granted, the opportunity to embark on an old-school, classic journey on board a train is shrinking in number, but there are still a few around the world that combine the luxury of another era with adventurous exploration, like the one I embarked on in Australia. The Indian-Pacific rail service onboard the Great Southern Rail explores the width of Australia in the most comfortable way possible. Crossing the mighty red continent from Perth to Sydney (or the reverse) takes several days and along the way passengers get to experience one of the few truly trans-continental train experiences in the world. We traveled in Platinum class, complete with a private cabin for our trip from Perth to Adelaide, the midway point for the service. Along the way we stopped at ghost towns and gold mining communities, not to mention the miles upon miles of beautiful Australian Outback in between. While the stops and views were great, chatting with our fellow passengers was perhaps the most entertaining part of the trip. It takes a special traveler to embark on such an epic train ride and their stories were all as unique as the train journey itself. There are several other great train routes around the world, so you don’t necessarily have to travel to Australia but like most things on this continent, it is the most extreme.
3. Cruise to adventure – Cruising I think gets a bad reputation. It’s a travel style I’ve tried many times in many different ways and I have always had a great experience. For this list though we need to look beyond the Western Caribbean and instead towards more adventurous ways of trolling the waters. The Antarctica cruise I mentioned first is a great example, but so is a cruise around the Galapagos archipelago. Made famous by Darwin onboard the Beagle, the Galapagos is mecca for those of us with a passion for wildlife and natural exploration. Cruises are a must; they are the best way to see and understand the width and breadth of the different islands that make up the strange and incredibly isolated island chain. Along the way though the animals you’ll get to see and approach are unlike anything else on the planet – literally. A significant percentage of the Galapagos wildlife are endemic, they are found nowhere else on the planet. To cruise around these beautiful islands is to glimpse a different world and is a special privilege for those of us with a fiercely curious mind about the natural world around us.
4. City life at its best – Not all epic travel experiences take place in the middle of nowhere, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the ultimate in luxurious travel experiences while being in the middle of a bustling city. Urban luxury adventure experiences are many times dependent on the hotel, like in Hong Kong when I stayed at the InterContinental. One of the best hotels in the city, the entire hotel is of course amazing, but their massive Presidential Suite takes things to an entirely different level. Living in 7,000 square feet with amazing views of the city, the Suite may not be in everyone’s budget, but it can’t be denied that it is the ultimate way to experience the city. For something a little more affordable, considerable a European river cruise. Once thought to be only for the over-90 set, more and more people are embarking on this fun way to see a different side of Europe. With the added bonus of unpacking only once, a typical European river cruise will take you through several different cities, offering up beautiful scenery along the way. No matter how you decide to experience the ultimate in urban travel, be sure to add it to your travel bucket list.
5. Amazing wildlife encounters – This may just be my own personal opinion, but epic wildlife experiences I think have to be on this list – they’re just that special. The Galapagos and Antarctica are definitely included, but so is a classic African safari – of the photographic variety of course. Brought to American pop culture by Theodore Roosevelt, the concept of safari has long been entrenched on the rolls of luxurious adventure experiences. While pith helmets and sherpas may be a thing of the past, there are many great opportunities throughout Africa to combine exciting wildlife experiences with the best luxury offerings in the world.
One of my favorites is a little unique – the Zambezi Queen riverboat in Namibia. Actually located on the Chobe River where four countries meet (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia) the luxury I found onboard this intimate ship is on a level all of its own. Add to that the best seat in the world for animal viewing and it’s a match made in heaven. Imagine sitting on the deck, glass of wine in hand as you watch a herd of elephants romp and play a few meters away. Look below you and a few feet away are massive hippos, a little grumpy but no less beautiful. And those are the passive experiences everyone sees just by staying on the ship. Add in the many land-based safaris the staff lead around the river and into Chobe National Park, and the diversity of wildlife sightings may just be the best in the world.
6. Relaxation with an edge – I’m a pretty active traveler and this list reflects that natural inclination. I do like to relax once in a while though and believe me, there are many luxurious opportunities to do that all around the world. But to add in that adventurous spirit as well, I can think of no better place than the Hawaiian Islands. Each island offers something a little bit different, from big cities to quiet hamlets. Adventure is built into almost any exploration of Hawaii, but you’ll find some of the best on Maui. Start off by hitting the Road to Hana as soon as you arrive; exploring the many stops and beautiful viewpoints that make this windy road one of the most picturesque in the world. Waiting for you at the end of the road is one of my favorite hotels and a place where luxury and adventure are endlessly intertwined – the Travaasa Hana. Occupying a stunning position on the coast, the private bungalows at the Travaasa are what I call Paradise Chic. Big fans, broad open doors to capture the breezes and views that just don’t quit. This is a getaway though, so you won’t find a TV in your room, but you will find peace of mind. Travaasa is an active place as well, whether it’s the holistic exercises on property or exploring the beautiful parks nearby, you won’t be bored – just not possible.
These are some of my favorite types of experiences around the world that combine luxury with a certain spirit of adventure and exploration. It’s how I love most to travel and I may be biased, but I think it’s the best way to experience the world around us.
What are some of your favorite luxury adventure travel experiences?