Top Ten Adventure Trips of a Lifetime

Must-see adventure tours

By Charmian Christie

The Sistine Chapel, Taj Mahal and St. Peter's Basilica are architectural marvels you won't want to miss. But when touring urban wonders, your biggest challenge will be fighting for elbow room, not battling the elements. With the outdoors in mind, Nomadik Fanatik Travel Expert, Charmian Christie offered her top adventure tour picks.

Galapagos Islands

The animals inhabiting these remote islands off South America inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. While the landscape is sparse, you'll see flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. To get the most out of your trip, visit during the wet season (January to May).

Strange as it may sound, the wet season is warmer and offers bluer skies than the dry season. Also, consider shunning the standard cruises and charter a boat for a week. Not only will you be save time sailing in and out from the port city every day, you'll be in charge of your own itinerary.

Nile Cruise

It's a bit of a stretch to call cruising the Nile in comfort an adventure tour, but we couldn't resist a voyage that includes the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Valley of the Kings. While the Nile poses many boating dangers, your tour company will know what sections are safe for rafting. And when you must stick to shore, you can always ride sandy waves on a ship of the desert.

Great Wall of China

While you can't possibly trek all 4,000 miles of the Great Wall, hiking the Simatai section will make you feel like you did. Unlike the popular Badaling, this stretch of China's greatest architectural achievement isn't overrun with tourists, and for good reason. Some of its steep inclines force climbers to crawl. Other portions cling dangerously to the mountain ridge, threatening to toss tourists to their death. For the fittest tourists only, the spectacular scenery makes this trek worth the sore muscles.

Norway 's Fjords

Monty Python's blue parrot isn't the only one "pining for the fjords." Once you visit the spectacular snow-capped mountains emerging from pristine waters, you'll want to return again and again. While most tourists visit by boat, you don't have to board a giant cruise ship to see the views. For an unforgettable sea-level view, catch one of the ferries that hop between coastal towns. Then hike the trails and enjoy breathtaking panoramas.

Great Barrier Reef

The world's largest coral reef, this natural wonder stretches for 1,200 miles along Australia's northeast coast. While you can view the colorful tropical fish, giant clams and other ocean life from the safety of a glass-bottomed boat, most tourists choose to scuba dive or snorkel. If you want to spend more time in the water than on it, find a tour that caters to your sporting needs.

Amazon Rain Forest

This ever-shrinking marvel provides 20 percent of the earth's oxygen, a fifth of our planet's fresh water and most of our modern medicines. Brazil hosts two thirds of the current rainforest, while Peru is home to most of the remaining real estate. Despite its impressive geography, cruising the Amazon gets dull quickly since the scenery doesn't change for days. The most memorable tours investigate tributaries and offer land excursions. Another option is to stay in a lodge along the small Amazon offshoot streams and explore the jungle trails and waterways from there.

Grand Canyon

While its size alone makes the Grand Canyon worth seeing, it's more than just a hole in the ground. Cameras fail to capture the full impact of the rugged contours, amazing colors and spectacular peaks. While mules can take you to the canyon floor, the adventurous prefer to hike. If you plan to trek in on foot, slot a full day to descend and another full day to climb back up. You'll need a permit to camp overnight, but it's worth the time and planning - providing you aren't afraid of heights. For those with vertigo, ride the river on inflatable rafts or fly the length of the canyon in a helicopter.

The Sahara Desert

Roughly the size the mainland U.S., the Sahara Desert is still expanding. But it's more than endless miles of shifting sand. Algeria, Tunisia and Libya are popular desert destinations with volcanic mountain ranges and lush oases. Tour companies regularly take nomad wannabes on camel treks or four-by-four tours through what is more than lifeless landscape. If an otherworldly mix of moonscapes and ancient cultures intrigues you, an exotic desert tour might be for you.

Iceland

Don't let the name put you off. Iceland is actually warmer in January than New York. With nature only minutes from a bustling urban center, you can bike through hills, climb glaciers or ride the range on horseback. With uncluttered landscapes and pristine seashores, Iceland is an outdoor paradise that most tourists have yet to discover.

Mount Everest

Don't assume that a trip to the world's tallest mountain means scaling to the very top. Every year thousands of well-conditioned hikers climb to (reasonably) low-altitude vantage points to see the spectacular view of the Himalayan Mountains. If you're a serious mountaineer, don't scratch reaching the top of Everest off your list. Instead, draw inspiration from knowing the peak has been scaled by people ranging from 15 years of age to 70. Even being blind or one-legged hasn't stopped some from reaching the summit. If you have the time and determination to train, Everest is the ultimate extreme adventure.

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