Where to go on your next trip? So many choices, no? Well, the Adventure Travel Trade Association is out with its newest survey of adventure travel destinations. Some of them, particularly in the developing world, may surprise you. The Adventure Travel Development Index (ATDI) defines adventure travel as interaction with nature, interaction with culture and a physical activity – at least two and preferably all three in the same trip.
Researchers polled over 315 tour operators, travel writers, assorted tourism officials and hospitality industry experts and ranked countries on 10 factors including sustainable development, safety and security, health, natural resources, cultural resources and infrastructure. Here’s the list they came up with of nations in the developing world. As a bonus, most are relatively reasonably priced for these tough economic times. You’ll find the – less surprising but no less enticing – top 10 adventure travel destinations of the developed world at the end of the slide show.
#10 – Latvia
Tiny Latvia boasts some 350 miles of coastline. Near Jurmala, which claims to be the most popular seaside resort in the Baltic region, the dense forests of Kemeri National Park (pictured) are famous for bird watching from observation towers, above marshes crisscrossed by wooden walkways. In the capital, Riga, cultural tourists will want to visit the Latvian Open-Air Ethnographic Museum, one of Europe’s oldest and largest with some 118 historic structures and activities from ice-fishing to bread-making.
#9 – Romania
Romania may have emerged from the Eastern Bloc as in economic ruins, but tourism is breathing in life and much needed cash. Visitors come for camping and hiking in the Carpathian Mountains, to explore the Painted Monasteries of northern Moldavia and to experience medieval cities surrounded by traditional villages. The Danube River finishes its nearly 1,800-mile trek from Germany here, and its delta offers 2,200 square miles of canals, marshes, lakes and islands. Romania is also where you’ll find Transylvania, of Dracula legend, and many of the sites in the stories can be visited – although, the tourist authority points out, author Bram Stoker never actually set foot in Romania. Photo: Romania on Horseback. Bike Hike Adventures
#8 – Jordan
The gem of Jordanian tourism is Petra, an entire city carved out of a stone canyon hidden in the southern desert, estimated to have been built in the 6th century BC by the Nabateans, an ancient Arab civilization. Northern Jerash and the capital city of Amman boast numerous Roman ruins. Nature reserves comprise gorges and desert lowlands, including the reserve at Mujib, the world’s lowest at 410 meters below sea level, near the Dead Sea and home to some 300 plant species. Photo: Treasury at Petra. Boundless Journeys.
#7 – Slovenia
Part of the former Yugoslavia, this nation of just over 2 million stretches from the Alps to the Mediterranean, Italy to Croatia. In addition to hiking, cycling and water sports (such as river rafting, pictured), Slovenia sits atop some 8,000 caves. Visitors can hire a guide to explore the otherworldly,
worldly formations on foot or even by bike. Cultural tourists can experience architecture including some early churches throughout the countryside.
To spend the night, sure, you could stay in a hotel or campground, but an overnight on a farm sounds much more adventurous, don’t you think?
#6 – Bulgaria
Winters skiing and summers on the Black Sea draw tourism from all over Europe, and its mountainous terrain is great for hiking and climbing (such as Mt. Pirin, pictured).
Bulgaria also hosts a 1,200km endurance bike race through the mountains. Historical artifacts from as far back as the Thracians and Romans bring in cultural tourism, and new museums are being built to show them off.
Photo: Ascending Mt.Vihren Pirin. Popiordanov Odysseia
#5 – Czech Republic
The Czech capital, Prague, became an “it” city shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, and now visitors are discovering the rest of the country. Other highlights include skiing (downhill and cross-country), nature reserves, and wineries in the Moravian region. Český Krumlov (pictured), in South Bohemia, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and famous for its architecture and castle. The ATDI also cites a Czech government rural development program, which “supports tourism in non-urban areas or adventure tourism– helping tourist dollars reach poorer people.”
#4 – Estonia
Visitors Walking on Bog Nature Trail in Soomaa National Park, Estonia
Smaller than the combined area of Vermont and New Hampshire, Estonia had more tourists in 2010 than it has people (1.6 million vs. 1.35 million). This low-lying country on the Baltic Sea is an easy ferry ride from Finland, source of a large share of its visitors.
Nearly 50 percent of Estonia is forested, with nature-filled hiking trails, marshes, lakes and rivers in national parks – and free state-run campsites. Coastal Estonia boasts often secluded beaches, limestone cliffs and over 1,500 islands. Plus, its location at the far north of Europe means long summer nights.
Businesspeople like Estonia too. The study notes that it has the 5th freest economy in Europe. Not bad for a country that 20 years ago was part of the Soviet Union.
#3 – Chile
Flanking the southwestern coast of South America – at 2,880 miles it’s longer than the distance from Boston to Los Angeles – Chile is abundant in natural resources, relatively in small population and features a variety of landscapes from the high Atacama desert to the famous fjords, mountains and lakes of Patagonia, home of the Torres del Paine National Park (pictured).
Among Chile’s far-flung territories is Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui), almost 2,200 miles west in the South Pacific and, apart from the Moai (massive statues of stone heads), one of the world’s least inhabited places.
The ATDI also scored Chile high for sustainable travel. “Since 2007, all tourism projects have been subject to environmental impact assessments,” the study says.
#2 – Slovakia
The Slovak Republic, the other half of the former Czechoslovakia, sits near the crossroads of Eastern Europe. Slovakia’s tourism slogan,“Little Big Country,” refers chiefly to the Carpathian Mountains in the country’s north. Most visitors come from the neighboring countries of the Czech Republic, Poland and Austria. Slovakia scores high in tourism infrastructure, health and hygiene. The survey notes, though, that flying can be less comfortable than elsewhere, as Slovakia ranks less well in airport infrastructure. Photo: Youths in Poprad. Country Walkers
#1 – Israel
Israel has been a place of pilgrimage for millennia, but in recent years adventure travelers are also making the pilgrimage. In fact, the survey notes an overall decline in religious tourism to Israel and a rise in general tourism. Outdoor activities span hiking Masada and the Galilee, floating on the salt water of the Dead Sea and water sports on Mediterranean beaches of Tel Aviv (where, if you need a break from adventure travel you can also find hopping nightlife). If you thought part of the “adventure” of Israel might include worrying about your personal security, the survey says not to. “Despite the volatile security situation, Israel is not considered unsafe by adventure travel experts.” A new “100 Years of Green” campaign highlights the fact that, quoting ATDI, “Israel is one of two countries that has more trees today than it had 100 years ago.” Photo: Cycling in the Judean desert. Israel Ministry of Tourism