As dawn breaks over the savanna, your guide signals a stop. Through the trees ahead, you see the outline of something very big ambling through the underbrush. When the elephant -- a 10-foot-tall, 12,000-pound bull--finally steps into the clearing and looks your way, your heart races, and for a moment, you remember how small you are. Then the giant continues on its way, and you on yours.
Welcome to a walking safari in Zambia, where your boots stand in for a Land Rover and all that separates you from rhinos, giraffes, lions, and hippos are the thin walls of a canvas tent. Sound rough? Then consider that, at day's end, hot showers, ice-cold drinks, and feather beds await you in a luxurious mobile camp.
This is just one of the trips we've chosen for 2014, and it's indicative of the qualities we believe make for good adventure travel: extraordinary experiences that challenge you without, well, depriving you.
That means a hike through Slovenia's rugged Julian Alps that's punctuated with stops to sip local Cabernets and nibble Bohinj cheese. Or a gear-grinding mountain bike journey through Italy's mountains that pauses for a soak in 2,000-year-old Roman baths.
You might eat your way through Shanghai's bustling food markets and its most renowned chefs' private kitchens, or head to the world's last intact Buddhist kingdom--Bhutan--in search of the elusive snow leopard.
A little intimidating? Perhaps. Life changing? You betcha.
Rates quoted throughout are per person based on double occupancy.
See All of the Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014
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See More of the Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014On the rebound from a quarter-century of civil war and the 2004 tsunami, Sri Lanka is coming into its own as an adventure destination. People have long been drawn here for the rich culture: Sri Lanka has eight unesco World Heritage sites, including the fifth-century city of Sigiriya. Now they’re discovering the incredible wildlife, including some of the world’s best whale-watching. Operators ranging from Abercrombie & Kent to Natural World Safaris showcase tea plantations, religious festivals, leopard tracking, and the annual elephant migration in Minneriya National Park. Nights are spent in stylish hotels. Book It: Abercrombie & Kent; 13 days from $6,195. Natural World Safaris; 14 days from $4,358. Photo: Ian Allen
See More of the Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014A G Adventures catamaran excursion off Turkey’s Aegean coast sails alongside the rock tombs at Dalyan, carved into the cliffs by the Lycians. 10 days from $1,899. Photo: iStockphoto
See More of the Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014Ciclismo Classico taps two of Belgium’s proud traditions—cycling and brewing—on a 326-mile tour that winds past fairy-tale castles, charming canals, and historic breweries, with ample tasting opportunities. Nine days from $4,495. Distance: 41 miles, or four hours, per day. Difficulty: Medium Photo: Adam York
See More of the Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014The Backroads approach to Appalachia balances days pedaling through Southern landscapes—the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway and Transylvania County hill country—with overnights in Asheville and at former pro cyclist George Hincapie’s Hotel Domestique near Greenville, South Carolina. Five days from $2,698. Distance: 27–57 miles, or two to five hours, per day; lots of big, rolling hills. Difficulty: Easy Photo: ExploreAsheville.com
See More of the Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014Spot wildlife, hike the world’s tallest sand dune, and meet Himba tribesmen on a beginner-friendly mountain biking safari from H&I Adventures. You’ll ride to the starkly beautiful Skeleton Coast and inland watering holes frequented by elephants, lions, and endangered black rhinos. 12 days from $3,910. Distance: 28 miles, or three hours, per day on dirt tracks. Difficulty: Easy Photo: Nadia Isakova / Alamy
See More of the Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014Where: Visit coastal fjords, the Western Highlands, and active volcanoes in this island nation where more than 700 languages are spoken. The People: Much of the journey is dedicated to witnessing the everyday life of villagers, including Baining fire-dancers. The Experience: Participate in a moo-moo feast (pig roast); learn about local customs such as mat-making and tribal tattooing. Oceania Expeditions; 11 days from $9,875. Photo: kirklandphotos.com/Courtesy of Oceania Expeditions
See More of the Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014The latest from DuVine Cycling & Adventures is a varied trip, with stops at Marrakesh’s souk, Berber villages in the High Atlas Mountains, and Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot. On the last night, you’ll wheel across the desert to a remote, starlit oasis. Six days from $6,995. Distance: 24–36 miles, or about four hours, per day. Difficulty: Medium Photo: DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co.
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