From the islands of Hawaii to the sand dunes of Morocco, these vacations are sure to get your heart pumping in 2018.
Alongside a renewed commitment to healthy living, the quest to travel more is a popular New Year's resolution. If you're looking for a way to combine both fitness and globetrotting, adventure travel – defined by the Adventure Travel Trade Association as a trip that includes physical activity, natural environment and cultural immersion – may help you fulfill more than one resolution. U.S. News talked with adventure travel tour companies for their take on this year's top destinations. From the bush plains of South Africa to the lush islands of Hawaii, these seven trips are sure to ignite your wanderlust and help you honor your pledge to travel more in 2018.
Hawaii, with its active volcanoes, world-famous waves and soaring waterfalls, has always been a prime getaway for the adventure-seeking traveler. In fact, the islands welcomed nearly 9 million visitors in 2016, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. But 2018 will be the first year tour operator G Adventures offers itineraries to the Aloha State. Steve Lima, G Adventures' U.S. marketing manager, credits this addition in part to an initiative by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which granted $3.5 million to more than 100 local tourism and conservation programs that promote Hawaiian culture, protect natural resources and showcase community events in 2018. Trips offered by G Adventures, which range from eight to 15 days (from $2,799), include excursions to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park and traditional luaus.
Despite political and civil unrest in the region, the Middle East has seen a growth in tourism, according to a 2017 report by the World Tourism Organization. Lima echoes this finding, citing a 36 percent increase in G Adventures bookings to the Middle East between 2016 and 2017. G Adventures added Oman to its 2018 offerings in response to customer demand, made easier by the Omani government's decision in 2017 to extend tourist visas for up to one month. Highlights of the Oman tour include a visit to Wadi Nakhr, also known as the Grand Canyon of Oman, and Jabrin Castle. Meanwhile, adventure tour operator Intrepid Travel added seven new Middle East tours in 2018. Among its offerings are a 15-day Oman and Jordan tour that features a stop in ancient Petra. Trips start at $3,855.
Once a fixture in the news for its gang-controlled streets and bureaucratic instability, Nicaragua is shedding its troubled past and welcoming travelers to its verdant rainforests and bubbling volcanoes. "Nicaragua is one of the safest places to travel in Central America," says Nancy Schumacher, National Geographic Partners' head of travel and tour operations. She also adds that Central American hot spots, including Belize and Costa Rica, can be easy-to-reach destinations for residents in the southern U.S. who don't want to travel far for an adventure. National Geographic Expeditions added a new 10-day active trip this year to Nicaragua (from $5,795) that includes a visit to the Masaya Volcano, a hike to the San Ramon waterfall and a conservationist-led walk in Zapatera National Park.
"Portugal is emerging out of Spain's shadow," Lima says, crediting Portugal's amazing food, increased safety and lack of crowds as the chief reasons G Adventures decided to add a new seven-day itinerary to the country, which includes stops in Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto. Other tour operators, such as Intrepid Travel, are looking to Portugal as an alternative to some of Europe's more overcrowded destinations, such as Iceland, Ireland and Eastern Europe, where trip prices have increased due to overwhelming demand. Intrepid Travel's 10-day Portugal itinerary (from $3,180), includes a hike to Pico de Pedro, the highest point in Portugal, and several days in São Miguel, the largest island in the Azores archipelago.
According to a 2017 survey conducted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association, South Africa is expected to see an increase in traveler demand in 2018. What's more, a new South African Tourism initiative is aiming to attract 5 million more visitors over the next five years. According to Lima, South Africa is among G Adventures' top five growing destinations for American travelers in 2018. Along with its natural wonders, South Africa will also be hosting Nelson Mandela centenary celebrations throughout 2018. Companies like G Adventures, Intrepid Travel and National Geographic Expeditions all offer trips to the region, ranging from three to 64 days.
Home to lively spice markets, the towering Atlas Mountains and otherworldly sand dunes, Morocco has the ability to fulfill all your "Lawrence of Arabia" fantasies. "Morocco offers a safer Middle Eastern-feel and can be a great alternative to Egypt or Jordan," Lima says. In 2017, Americans traveling to Morocco increased by 32 percent compared to 2016, while the number of Chinese travelers visiting Morocco tripled, according to Morocco's Tourism Observatory. G Adventures offers 10 trips to Morocco, including several geared toward 18-year-olds to 30-somethings, which are created with the active, budget traveler in mind. Intrepid Travel also added several Morocco itineraries for 2018, including a seven-day, $950 hiking, biking and horseback riding trip through Marrakech, Aroumd and Essaouira.
A national park
The term adventure travel often conjures images of far-flung locales, but you don't have to stray far from home for a memorable getaway. "There is so much in North America that would surprise people who have the idea that adventure is always a long-haul plane ride away," says Casey Hanisko, vice president of marketing and communications for the Adventure Travel Trade Association. Both Lima and Schumacher point to domestic national parks as great adventure travel vacations. National Geographic Expeditions offers an eight-day hiking trip through Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Meanwhile, G Adventures offers several itineraries in partnership with National Geographic Journeys, including a 16-day trek through the national parks of the American West.