While snowshoeing on Half Moon Island last November, I started chatting with a couple from the UK. They were in their early thirties and on the last leg of an around-the-world trip that ended in one of the most remote places possible: Antarctica. “It’s our last continent, but that’s not why we decided on a cruise to Antarctica,” they explained. “We’ve been looking forward to the more adventurous side of the trip doing treks like this just as much as Antarctica itself.”
Reports from experts like Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel agencies, predict that adventure travel will be one of the dominate trends in the market this year, with twenty- and thirty-somethings leading the way. I already see it within my own circle. Friends have visited landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Colosseum, they’ve tasted their way through Italy’s pastas and pizzas, and indulged in Spain’s tapas and sangria. Now the sites they’re after are just as scenic, but there’s another element involved in their travel plans: fitness.
Whether it’s trekking Machu Picchu or Mount Kilimanjaro, the adventurous side of the destination is what helps determine where they’ll jet off to next. For a while, baby boomer-style light hiking and biking trips through classically beautiful terrain like Tuscany’s olive groves and Provence’s lavender fields dominated the fit-focused tour operating business. But lately, travel has expanded into more expedition-style trips to spots from Romania to Rwanda.
The 30-year-old active travel tour operator REI Adventures is the perfect example. After seeing a growth of 60 percent in female travelers over the past six years, the company decided to roll out a new collection this year with 19 women’s adventure trips across Europe, Africa, Latin America, New Zealand and North America, focusing just as much on the expedition side of the trip as the operator’s signature skill-building experiences.
Image: courtesy of BodyHoliday
While speaking to women at an event last year in Reno, the team at REI Adventures found that while women still want to learn a life skill like climbing or preparing for a backpacking trek, they’re just as curious to explore a great place. “Women are really looking to learn something new about the place that they’re visiting from other women who are there,” explained general manager Cynthia Dunbar during a recent phone conversation. “The new programs are cultural in nature and designed specifically for women to offer inspiration for their outdoor life and give them confidence in trying or stretching themselves in an area they haven’t participated in before.”
In Canada, for example, female guides lead the way on mountain bike trails around Whistler’s peaks, glacial lakes and volcanoes, with chalet stays adding a bit of glam to balance out the grittier part of the trip.
For something on the more rugged side, the 15-year-old Tour d’Afrique stretches from north to south passing through 11 African countries on a four month cycling trip. The 7,456-mile ride starts in Cairo and ends in Cape Town, cruising along the Nile and past Victoria Falls, with 90 days of cycling in total. The cross-continent tour is no frills, meaning nights are spent camping, and meals are prepared fresh at the campsite and lunches taken along the road. While the tour holds the Guinness World Record for fastest human powered crossing of Africa, the goal here isn’t speed, it’s to soak up scenery like the Sphinx and Serengeti, pausing for safaris during rest days along the way.
Wellness retreats are a common way to take a holistic-inspired getaway practicing yoga or meditation, but now some of these programs are adding more dynamic forms of fitness to the menu.
“The retreat business is definitely booming and has grown over the last few years from simply being yoga- and meditation-themed to now including combinations of fitness activities, such as boxing, surfing and boot camp, as well as HIIT-focused classes, alongside Pilates and running,” explains Rebecca Kordecki, a celebrity fitness trainer and wellness expert who leads programs like Retreats Unlimited’s Booty Bootcamp in Costa Rica. “It’s a wonderful way to recharge and get a fitness boost while meeting new friends and being in a gorgeous environment. The added benefit is they go home with new tools and ideas to help them stay focused and inspired where their fitness and health is concerned, as opposed to going home feeling like they need to detox from all the overindulgences in the less-than-healthy options on their vacation.”
Image: courtesy of BodyHoliday
On the five-day mountain retreat in San Isidro del General, travelers stay in the boutique Hacienda AltaGracia, reached via private three- or eight-seater plane, in luxe casitas or suites showing off panoramic views over the valley. Kordecki leads two core- and butt-strengthening workouts per day (derived from her signature Booty Slide workout that’s earned her the title of “Booty Guru”), in addition to sharing meal planning and diet tips for the full wellness-inspired experience, inside and out.
Another retreat with a similar mentality is BodyHoliday in Saint Lucia, whose motto is “Give us your body for a week and we’ll give you back your mind.”
“When travelers come to BodyHoliday Saint Lucia, they are looking for an experience that treats both their body and their mind,” says the resort’s head of activities, Daune Mondesir. “Whether the person is here to get in shape, keep up with their fitness goals, relax on the beach, or rejuvenate in the Wellness Center, we cater to [everyone’s needs].”
Image: courtesy of BodyHoliday
Nestled along the northwest tip of the island on Cariblue Beach, the all-inclusive resort offers a customized experience that revolves entirely around activities of your choosing, from water skiing and kayaking to spinning, boxing and BeachFit classes led by Olympians. Smoothies are made with fruit hand-picked from the organic garden and menus at the five on-site restaurants feature health-focused food options from Indian-inspired Ayurvedic cuisine to yoga-fueled dishes. The resort also makes the most of its locale, transforming the island’s natural landscape into a fitness playground with challenging mountain bike treks through tropical forests, sea kayaking along the north coast, and cliffside runs that lead into abseiling down to BodyHoliday’s beach below.
Lane Nieset is a freelance travel writer based out of Miami, Florida.