This article was first published by our friends at Much Better Adventures, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their Grapevine blog.
You’ve seen them flocking together at every major tourist site: groups of travellers in bright Hawaiian shirts escorted by their tour guides, who lead them around like herds of cattle. Lumbering off buses, they brush sleep from their eyes for a 10- to 15-minute glimpse of whatever natural or manmade wonder they happen to see before them – a thunderous waterfall perhaps, or the crumbling pillars of an ancient civilisation. Then, still snapping photos with their brand-new cameras, they’re wrangled back on the bus.
One hopes that one day these folk will realise this is no way to see the world, watching the landscapes whirr by instead of savouring the journey. The typical big-hits packaged tour – characterised by buses speeding from one highlight attraction to the next – misses out on the unexpected pleasures of slower travel. Why not linger a little while to experience landscape from up close? What better way to get to know a place than to interact with the locals who live there? Group sightseeing by bus is a sleepwalker’s holiday. You need to get off the tourist coach for some real adventure.
Get Wet and Wild in Estonia
Known as the “land of the bogs,” Estonia reveals its natural splendour inside Soomaa National Park. Special footwear is required for “bog-shoeing” across this vast wet tract of land known for its abundant wildlife that includes numerous types of bird, wild boar and brown bear, all common residents of the peat bogs and flooded grasslands. The famous late-March ‘fifth season’ of floods is an ideal time for fully exploring the area’s damp landscapes and raging rivers, as well as the nearby Baltic Sea and the Estonia Islands just offshore. Spot seals, beavers, lynx and more on a sea kayaking or river canoeing adventure, with time spent both in Soomaa and in the Hiiumaa Islets Landscape Reserve.
Take off by Toboggan in Madeira, Portugal
Visitors to Portugal’s Madeira Island have long been enjoying the high-speed trip from the hilltop resort town of Monte to the island’s low-lying capital city of Funchal. This easy commute requires no gas-guzzling vehicles, however – just a 10-minute ride via an old-fashioned toboggan. Steered by two men in traditional straw hats who use their rubber-soled boots as breaks, the toboggan ride has been a means of local transport on the island since as far back as 1850. During the two-kilometre trip, speeds can reach up to 48 kilometres per hour.
Horse Around in Mongolia
Since as far back as the days of Genghis Khan, horses in Mongolia have had a unique influence over the country’s history and culture. Mongol riders once ruled much of Eurasia, and horses remain central to the traditions of Mongolia’s nomadic tribes. In fact, the country today is home to approximately 20 million steeds, while the number of Mongolians is barely 2.8 million. It’s little wonder why riding is still so popular throughout Mongolia, especially as the beauty of country’s vast steppes is best discovered on horseback. Departing from the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, a horseback adventure to the legendary White Lake lets visitors take in sights that include ancient Mongol Empire ruins, petrified forests and rolling sand dunes – all while sleeping under the stars in a traditional yurt-style Mongolian ‘ger’ camp.
Cycle Away in South Africa
Two wheels are an ideal way to see the sights in the legendary Soweto district of Johannesburg, South Africa – the colourful and vibrant neighborhood which helped usher in the end of the turbulent era of Apartheid. On Urban Adventures’ Cycle Soweto tour, visitors explore the most famous landmarks and streets recalling the days of Apartheid. The seven- to eight-hour leisurely pedal passes Vilakazi Street, where Nelson Mandela once lived, and encounters many noteworthy sights from the historic 1976 student uprisings. Rounding out the trip is a pause for umqombothi (traditional grain-brewed beer) at a local shebeen (bar).
Sled Through Sweden – by Reindeer
In the far north of Swedish Lapland, one local travel operator had the ingenious insight to combine reindeer husbandry with community-based tourism. Based in the village of Jukkasjärvi (which is also home to the legendary IceHotel), Nutti Sámi Siida arranges first-rate ecotourism trips that showcase the environment and culture of the region’s indigenous Sámi people. On a reindeer sledding tour, riders learn how to handle their own reindeer while driving a sled through Sweden’s snow-covered tundra. Along the way, time is taken to taste traditional Sámi food, learn how to throw a lasso and become better acquainted with the four-footed companions. Why take the bus, when you can caravan above the Arctic Circle?