8 Jaw-Dropping Experiential Adventure Travel Hotspots
By: Mandy Espey
Does waking up next to a boulder, making coffee over an open fire and nailing a 5.13 climb sound like “a pretty chill morning?”
Is your surfboard always in your car in case the last sales call of the day takes you close to the shore?
Do customs agents struggle to find an empty spot for a passport stamp?
If so, experiential adventure travel is probably up your alley.
Some people love to see the sights and follow the dotted line on the map—not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s the beauty of incentive travel—it’s a huge intrinsic and extrinsic motivator, sure to delight everyone on your team, even if they see travel a little differently.
If your people are looking for the best in experiential adventure travel, here are eight of the hottest adventure travel ideas sure to wow even your most ambitious participant.
1. Whistler, B.C.
Whistler is synonymous with winter wonderland. It’s a skier’s paradise, with twin peaks—Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains—and plenty of incredible double-black-diamond runs to make your hair stand on end. But that doesn’t mean the summer months put the city in a slump. There’s plenty to do after the snow melts.
Zip lining is a popular summer activity, and it’s a great way to check out the local ecology and wildlife while speeding through the sky. Back on land, a whitewater rafting trip down the Green, Squamish or Cheakamus Rivers is a fast-paced thrill.
Or, if the mountain still calls (even in the summer), the Peak 2 Peak Gondola is a must-see. With a record-breaking 1.8 mile span that connects the peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb, this gondola offers breathtaking 360-degree views.
2. Vancouver, B.C.
About two hours south of Whistler is Vancouver, one of Canada’s largest cities. While there’s a lot more people than Whistler, that doesn’t mean it’s any less wild.
As it’s right on the Strait of Georgia, which borders the mainland coast of British Columbia and northern Washington, there’s a lot of fun to have on the water. A whale-watching trip is a have-to—Orca, Humpback and Gray whales are all common sights just south of Vancouver, near the San Juan Islands. While you’re out on the water, the fishing is primo. Salmon and halibut are plentiful in the area.
Struggling to get a pic of Shamu or your monster catch? Try a wildlife photography workshop to learn the finer points of photography, get out in the wild and unleash your artistic side.
3. Banff, Alberta
Right in the shadow of Mt. Rundle, Banff is a sleepy resort town not far from mountains, water and so much scenery. In other words, it’s one of the adventure travel capitals of the continent.
Banff National Park, over 2,000 square miles of untamed wilderness, is the jewel of the Canadian National Park system. With dense forest, alpine landscapes and the picturesque Lake Moraine, there are countless incredible places to set camp and stay for a night.
Don’t forget your climbing gear—the area is a rock and ice climbing hub, with plenty of easy and aggressive routes, each replete with unforgettable scenery. The area is also a mecca for scrambling, a cross between hiking and rock climbing, with plenty of steep, rocky trails.
Afterward, head out to Banff Upper Hot Springs. As Banff National Park’s only hot spring and the highest in Canada (5,200 feet), you’ll bask in nature and relax in a unique way.
4. Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown bills itself as the “adventure capital of the world” (look it up!), so you’re hard-pressed to find any bored visitors. From morning to night, around every corner is another cool adventure.
Bikes are fun, and so is wine. Why not mix the two together and go on a bike tour of New Zealand’s famed wineries? Go for a spin, enjoy a glass of the local sauvignon blanc or merlot and take in the scenery on two wheels.
Ben Lomond, the 5,000-foot mountain just northwest of town, is a hotspot for downhill mountain biking. With more than 30 world-class trails and a gondola-assisted mountain bike lift, shredding the snowless slopes is easier than ever.
Or, if two wheels aren’t your speed, the same mountain also features the Skyline Luge, a thrilling ride down the mountain—like a gravity-powered go-kart that can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour.
5. Kauai, HI
Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first: Jurassic Park was filmed here. If that’s not enough reason to visit Kauai, the (arguably) most scenic of the Hawaiian Islands, we’re not sure what is.
First on any visitor’s list should be Waimea Canyon State Park. Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” this 10-mile long, half-mile deep chasm makes for a picturesque hike and one of the most breathtaking views the island can offer.
While you’ve got your hiking boots on, take a short three-mile hike from Waimea Canyon to check out Waipoo Falls. This 800-foot cascading waterfall is one of the state’s largest and features a refreshing swimming hole at the bottom.
Freediving, a form of diving without scuba gear, is a popular activity in the crystal-blue waters just off the island’s shore. Try a freediving class and master the basics of this thrilling underwater sport during your next incentive travel adventure.
Related: Check out this list of top incentive travel destinations sure to delight your whole team.
6. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is very upfront about its beauty and capacity for adventure. With a name that translates to “Rich Coast,” everyone’s aware of the scenic splendor of this Central American country.
With 5% of the world’s biodiversity—but only .03% of the planet’s surface—you’re bound to see some animals you’ve never seen before while walking through the country’s vast rainforests, including monkeys, toucans, rare butterflies and other natural wonders.
Away from the rainforest, the country’s 700+ miles of shoreline on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans make this country a surfer’s paradise. Hit the shores of Jaco, the tourist hotspot, for expert surfing lessons. Advanced wave riders might want to check out more remote shores on the north or south ends of the country.
Further inland, Costa Rica offers more than 121 volcanic formations and 7 active volcanoes. And after a hard day’s hike, there’s nothing more relaxing than a dip in the Arenal Hot Springs, a geothermal pool heated by the volcano.
7. South Africa Game Camps
Shadowed by the other enormous African countries, it’s easy to forget how big South Africa is—about twice the size of Texas—with much of its population located in urban settings. That makes for a lot of empty, wild land. For wildlife fans, that’s an incredible opportunity.
The country’s numerous game reserves offer an up-close-and-personal perspective of elephants, rhino, lions, buffalo and more. Seeing big game is always exhilarating, but birding enthusiasts will love the 350+ species of birds the country offers.
And these aren’t rustic shacks, either. Many game camps offer spas, luxury accommodations, pools and more.
Iceland is tiny (about the size of Ohio) but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on in this Nordic nation. There may not be a lot of plants and biodiversity—it’s really cold and remote, and has only one native tree species—but if you’re up for a chilly adventure, Iceland’s just the place.
City-dwelling locals love to get out of the city. When they do, they head out to remote areas and stay in cottages—charming small cabins usually located on the edge of picturesque natural vistas—that are perfect for couples, families or groups traveling together.
Fun fact: Iceland is home to some of the world’s largest puffin colonies. Hop aboard a birdwatching cruise to see these adorable birds up close. Or, for an adventure closer to land, you must try dog sledding. Take off around the country’s Golden Circle for a puppy-powered experience of Land of Fire and Ice. (Warning: belly rubs are non-negotiable.)
Everyone approaches travel in their own way, whether that’s living in the lap of luxury, roughing it in the wilderness or something in between. And giving your people the same choice should be a top priority for your incentive travel program as well.
If you’re looking to create an incentive travel program that challenges the limits of your people’s ability, you’ll need an unbelievable, awe-inspiring adventure to motivate them. Check out our full list of the top incentive travel destinations of all time for more inspiration.