Extreme Vacations

How to find adventure and excitement on holiday

by Elizabeth Olson

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A tropical getaway or leisurely day at a spa satisfies people who crave R&R, but few thrill seekers are content with extended downtime. Indeed, an increasing number of travelers are seeking out vacations that offer adventure and excitement. As a result, the extreme tourism industry has boomed in the 21st century. Below are some ideas for adrenaline pumping, non-leisure leisure activities.

Climb a volcano

One of the most fascinating of Earth's formations, volcanoes are vents or fissures in the Earth's crust through which gases, lava, and solid fragments are discharged. Adventure seekers can climb the steep concave sides of Mt. St. Helens in Washington state, the gently sloping large shield cones of the Hawaiian Islands, and the steep slopes of cinder cones made of cinder-like materials such as Parícutin in Mexico.

Heli-skiing

Heli-skiing provides serious extremists access to untouched slopes, challenging terrain, and wilderness solitude. The helicopter's maneuverability and ability to land and take off in small areas has been adopted for a wide range of services, including air-sea rescue, fire fighting, traffic control, and now access to otherwise inaccessible peaks such as the Chugach mountain range in Alaska and the Andes mountains in South America.

Climb to the top of the world

At 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) high, on the border of Tibet and Nepal, in the central Himalayas, Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. Called Chomo-Lungma (Mother Goddess of the Land) by Tibetans, it is named in English for the surveyor Sir George Everest. Though thousands have summated the peak since it was first climbed in 1953, it's still considered the holy grail of mountain climbing and an achievement of a lifetime. Attempting Everest is not for the feint of heart due to its dangers, including avalanches, crevasses, ferocious winds up to 125 mph, sudden storms, temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, and oxygen deprivation.

Sandboarding

Get a rush by riding down sand dunes on a Formica board in the surreal desert landscapes of exotic destinations such as Algeria, Arabia, New Zealand, Oman, or South Africa. Closer to home is Nevada's Sand Mountain with 4,795 acres of sandboarding terrain. A year-round extreme sport, sandboarding provides a similar adrenaline-pumping experience as snowboarding. The world's tallest sand dune resides in Cerro Blanco near the Andes mountain range in Peru.

Shark diving

Become an underwater explorer by diving in warm waters, where sharks are most abundant, and try to catch a glimpse of the much feared predator. There are about 250 types of sharks from the two feet (60 cm) pygmy shark to 50 foot (15 m) giants. With ears that can hear sounds more than 700 feet away and a nose that smell a distance of 1,600 feet, chances of meeting a shark are good. Locations such as Cape Point, South Africa, Fiji, and Guadalupe Island promise an exhilarating swim with Mako, Blue, Tiger, or Great White sharks with little between you and their rows of teeth.

Space exploration

If you dreamed of being a Moon-walking astronaut as a kid and love adventure, the new cutting edge space exploration voyages may be your ideal vacation. Travel to the International Space Station, space walk, and orbit Earth. View the billions of stars and neighboring planets 24 hours a day without the atmosphere diminishing their luminescence. Space travel isn't cheap, however, with seats starting at $20 million.

Canyoning

Canyoning is an exciting outdoor activity that involves hiking, climbing, and rappelling through canyons of waterfalls, limestone walls, and pools of water. Wetsuit wearing canyoners often have to climb challenging boulders and tube through narrow underground cave rivers. The unearthly Waitomo cave system in New Zealand is well-known for its underground rapids. With a mix of climbing, rappelling, and cave tubing, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico is a challenging adventure with an interesting twist: the 300 caves were carved out by limestone-dissolving sulfuric acid rather than by rivers and waterfalls.

White water rafting

White-water rafting is a thrilling and challenging adventure that can vary in intensity depending on the river. Using a raft, passengers navigate rapids and whitewater using paddles and body weight. Rapids are categorized from Class 1 to 6, according to their intensity, required skill level, and level of dange. Class 1 are very small rapids and Class 6 are extremely dangerous and largely unsafe to navigate. Zimbabwe's Zambezi River, below Victoria Falls, is acclaimed as being the wildest river in the world with long and violent rapids, steep gradients, and big drops.

Dogsledding

Dogsledding gives mushers access to the most majestic Arctic locations in their natural state and the opportunity to see rare species, such as the majestic bald eagle and snowy owls, herds of caribou and moose, seals and otters, grouse, wolves, mink, and more. Traveling over some of the toughest ice and snow-covered landscapes in the world on a sled pulled by a team of dogs in bitter cold temperatures takes skill, physical endurance, and mental toughness. Those who are up to the challenge can experience dogsledding in the rugged wilderness of Alaska, Sweden, Canada, Siberia, and other destinations.

Mountain biking

Whichever type of terrain—cross country, freeride, or off-roading—mountain biking is an exciting vacation activity that requires endurance, self-reliance, bike handling, and maintenance skills. Although typically performed far from civilization, mountain biking can be done anywhere from a backyard or nearby gravel road to trails winding through forests, mountains, deserts, or fields. For more extreme riding, head for the Austrian or Swiss Alps, Chile's Patagonia, or Morocco's Kasbah trail.

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

Did you know?
Contrary to popular belief, only 30% of the Sahara is made up of sand.

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