07/03/2014 01:21 pm ET Updated Sep 02, 2014

Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014 (PHOTOS)

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.

--Peter Koch

See All of the Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014

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Best Adventure Travel Destinations 2014