I love to travel internationally and explore landscapes that are off the beaten path, so you can always count on me having a bucketlist that is far too long to be practical. In an effort to be moderately more realistic, this year I’ve set my sights on just a handful of active escapes that would satisfy my thirst for adrenaline, culture and natural beauty. Here are the adventures that have me itching to book a flight, or four!
#1 DESERT DUNES AND ANIMAL CONSERVATION IN NAMIBIA
I’ve never been to any African countries and 2018 will be the year I change that with a trip to Namibia. This southeastern country is known for its incredible coast and wildlife, especially big cats, rhinos and giraffes which thrive in the country’s vast protected lands (nearly 50% is under conservation management). My first stop will be to the eerie and massive sand dunes that line the Skeleton Coast. This is where intense Atlantic waters crash into a desolate and unforgiving desert comprised of some of the world’s largest sand dunes. It seems like the best (and safest) way to explore this natural wonder is by flight, so I’ll opt for an “air safari” before heading inland for time with animals at the renowned Etosha National Park. This national park is huge and home to hundreds of beautiful species thanks to its diversity of landscape (grasslands, dense bush, watering holes, etc). Aside from the natural wonders, accommodations at Etosha are raved about too! Guests can stay at any of the five lodges which all offer something different; some are camping like experiences where you’re super close to the wildlife, while others are more luxurious with spas and the whole nine yards. I’m especially excited to wrap up the trip with a real experience of wildlife conservation made possible by connecting with field biologists at the Giraffe Conservation Center. Giraffes are some of my favorite animals and their populations are dwindling. Visitors to Giraffe Conservation Center locations can accompany biologists for two days as they educate you on these beautiful mammals and track and tag them with GPS satellite collars to help protect and preserve their populations.
# 2 SCUBA DIVE IN CUBA
I love to snorkel and think that it’d be awesome to step up my game with a scuba diving certification this year. If I manage to make that happen the first place I’ll go is Jardines de la Reina – a 367-square-mile national park just off the Havana coast that is described as a one of the last healthy underwater marvels. The park is actually a cluster of small islands and mangrove forests where you can go and still find flourishing reefs, or get your blood pumping with shark and crocodile sightings. This area has not been inundated with tourist for decades (hello, politics) so they ecosystems are quite healthy, making it a real treat for snorkelers and scuba divers who’ve been dismayed by visits to dying reefs. I think I need to spend about a month in Cuba so I can appropriately soak in the food, music and dance scene, before dipping to the park for a swim with the squids and sharks. Who’s game to join?
#3 HIKE THROUGH THE FRENCH PYRENEES
As someone who grew up backpacking through the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I assumed that you had to suffer through long days of backpacking to experience breathtaking mountains. So you can imagine that it was a little bittersweet to learn how gracefully the French make mountaineering in the ever impressive Pyrenees. This spectacular 300 mile long mountain range stretches between Spain and France while offering up snow capped mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, dense forests and crystalline lakes. Better still is that you can fill each day with spectacular and strenuous hiking but sleep in quaint mountain villages brimming with delicious food and all the medieval charm you could ask for. Oui oui!
#4 SKIIING IN JAPAN
I’ve heard only amazing stories about skiing in Japan, so figure it’s really time to check it out for myself! Most Japanese ski resorts get between 35 to 60 feet of snow per season, which sounds like absolute heaven after so many years of little snow in California. The snow in Japan is said to be very unique because many of the country’s resorts are near the sea, so the powder skiers enjoy is very light, and the rules on going off trail are more relaxed so there are tons of untouched powder runs to smash down. I’m a self proclaimed powhound, which led me to Rusutsu in Northern Japan. Aside from winning multiple international awards for best resort, Rusutsu caught my eye for its nickname, “the white room”. Known for ample and super dry powder snow that envelopes every skier in an airy cloud, visitors to Rusutsu enjoy short lines (AKA no crowds), insanely fun tree runs, epic views and a luxury spa at the end of the day. So really it’s just a matter of when I go, not if!