Remember when holidays meant touching down in a foreign airport, checking into a hotel and flopping onto a deck chair by a pool surrounded by fellow holidaymakers who — coincidentally — live in the same three streets near you in Shepherd’s Bush? Now, forget all of that (yes, that includes the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet). Exploring — like, actually exploring — is back in.
Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent is the co-founder of Silk Road Adventures, which specialises in bespoke holidays to central Asia and the Caucasus mountains. She says that “the vast majority of our clients are over 50 and either retired or self-employed. A lot of them own their own businesses.”
Richer clients are searching for authenticity, she says. “They don’t want to stay in a five-star hotel in Cannes; they want to challenge themselves, see something extraordinary, immerse themselves in a completely different culture. Anyone can sit on a beach in the Maldives, but not anyone can ride a horse across the Tien Shan, or camp by a mountain lake below 4000m peaks.”
This is echoed by Jim Mee, Founder of Rat Race, the UK’s largest provider of global adventure challenges. “During and since the pandemic, Rat Race has witnessed a real rise in the number of people looking for authentic challenge-style travelling,” he says. “In 2021, bookings were up 150 per cent on pre-pandemic levels for audacious ‘Bucket List’ adventure trips and that trend has continued into 2022.”
Mee says it’s not just the type of long-haul holiday that is changing, but the destinations, too. “It very much feels like folk are prepared to really look to the fringes of the map to find their adventures now and push the boundaries on the destinations they are seeking; perhaps not totally eschewing but most definitely graduating from more traditional adventure locations such as Machu Picchu and Kilimanjaro, for example.”
Oh, and it’s not just for wealthy couples. Account director Ellie Twigger says she realised she hadn’t taken proper time off in years, so decided to book an “off-grid” solo tour of Cuba with travel company WeRoad. “With no internet and very little electricity, I was able to finally go completely off grid and immerse myself in every single experience that was offered to me, without worrying about what was going on in the office,” she says.
Toes itching yet? From trekking round Icelandic fjords to motorbiking across Tajikistan, here are some of the best adventure holiday package tours.
Follow in Joanna Lumley’s footsteps in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan
This 16-day trip follows the route of Joanna Lumley’s ITV series about the Silk Road. The tour was curated by Bolingbroke-Kent, who produced the central Asian leg of the series. It begins in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and snakes through the desert citadels of Khiva, Samarkand and Bukhara, over the snow-streaked peaks of Kyrgyzstan’s Heavenly Mountains ending in its capital, Bishkek. You’ll wander among the turquoise domes of legendary cities, explore medieval caravan inns, sleep in yurts under the stars and dip your toes in lakes and the Caspian sea. Guests will break bread with nomads, learn the ropes from Kyrgyz eagle hunters and haggle with traders in some of the world’s oldest bazaars.
From £4,320, silkroadadventures.com
Trek to the Northern Lights in Iceland
The ethereal lights of the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights, can be seen between October and March near the Earth’s two magnetic poles, particularly in Iceland. On this eight-day driving tour, explorers start out in the capital, Reykjavik, and fortify themselves with pickled herring and chilled local beer before embarking on an adventure around the country. The tour starts at the Golden Circle with its majestic two-tiered, 32 metre waterfall before heading to the wild Icelandic coast and the black sanded beaches of Reynisfjara. Later you’ll head on to Jokulsarlon lagoon, where the largest glacier in Europe extends from the mountains to the beach and tour-members will see icebergs floating downstream, in a sobering reminder of the ravages of climate change, before finishing back in Reykjavik.
From £1,499, weroad.travel
Race to the Wreck in Namibia like Nick Grimshaw
This trip was chosen by Sports Relief in 2020 for its roster of celebrities to undertake in aid of charity, with Nick Grimshaw describing it as “hands down the best thing I have ever done”. But be warned, it is not for the faint hearted. Tour members will trek 303km across the Namib Desert, ending at the Skeleton Coast and landlocked shipwreck the Eduard Bohlen. The five-day trek can be done by foot or on a fat bike. Despite blistering temperatures and occasional sand storms, you won’t feel like you’re in the next Dune film. In the evenings guests hunker down in luxury tents with hot meals and daily showers.
From £3,296, racetothewreck.com
Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano in Tanzania and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. This 10-day expedition scales the Uhuru peak, following the Rongai route with six full days of walking and climbing skirting the Kenyan border. The trek starts in the village of Nale Moru meandering through maize plantations and pine forests before beginning the ascent to the first peak, where the landscape transforms into moon-like craters and ice fields. Although it’s hard work and tour members should be in relatively good fitness, the euphoria felt at the last snowy stretch to the summit makes the toil and exertion more than worth it. After the descent guests have two days of TLC and recuperation in a hotel in the village of Moshi.
From £4,049, responsibletravel.com
Explore Kerala by boat
Do you love the water and don’t fancy too many blister plasters? This could be the trip for you. The nine-day group tour starts in Kochi, which has attracted merchants from Europe and China since the 13th century and spans several islands across a waterway. The first few days will explore Kochi by boat, visiting the ancient Jewish synagogue and watching a performance of Kathakali, a traditional Indian dance. Tour members will then drive to the Munnar and Thekkady, lands of spice and tea plantations before heading further afield to the Periyar National Park, home to the Periyar tiger reserve. You’ll trek through the jungle in search of wild boar, giant malabar, porcupines and flying squirrels, before returning to the coast and staying with families in the village and being fed home-cooked curry. The highlight of the trip is cruising down the Keralan backwaters and taking in the thick jungle from the deck.
From £920, explore.co.uk
Descend 100km in 24 hours
Ex-SAS troopers, reality TV stars, tech founders: clients of all shapes, sizes, ages, religions, sexes and fitness levels are encouraged to take part in Benji Philipson’s non-profit adventure series, which involves a 100km descent through different terrains, using multiple disciplines, in 24 hours. It’s all in the name of charity and the next one will be revealed at The Electric Cinema in Notting Hill on December 3. It’s invitation-only, but you can register your interest at the Final Descents website. The last expedition took place in the Slovenian Alps and raised £50,000 for charity and Philipson says he hopes to raise five times that amount - £250,000 – at the next one.
From £2,800, finaldescents.com