Leaving the car behind for an adventure on foot is the perfect way to discover the pleasure of slow travel. Having hiked high into the cloud forests of Costa Rica and clambered through the vertiginous ruins of Machu Picchu, I’ve become obsessed with how a simple walk can turn a good holiday into a great one.
Zooming by on four wheels or flying high overhead just doesn’t cut it by comparison.
Whether you relish a slow stroll, stopping to spot local wildlife, or are looking for an all-action, multi-day hike that will take you to new heights, these wonderful walking holidays have got you covered.
A FEAST FOR THE SENSES IN COSTA RICA’S CLOUD FORESTS
Head through the pristine cloud forest of San Gerardo de Dota, where brash and brilliant quetzals take to the skies, before passing the spectacular, water-filled crater of the Irazu Volcano (pictured)
Costa Rica covers just 0.03 per cent of the Earth’s surface, but accounts for an astonishing six per cent of its biodiversity. With a third of the country enjoying national park status and boasting a network of underexplored trails, this epic journey is one for wildlife-lovers who enjoy the heat.
You will head through the pristine cloud forest of San Gerardo de Dota, where brash and brilliant quetzals take to the skies, before passing the spectacular, water-filled crater of the Irazu Volcano. Trek through coffee plantations, learn to make traditional sweets and take a load off in Domini cal, with the chance to spot dolphins and go snorkelling on this dazzling stretch of Pacific coastline.
Boots on for: A walk through some of the world’s most diverse landscapes.
Good for: Those in search of a sensory overload, fit retirees and wildlife-lovers.
How long? 14 days.
Cost: From £3,949pp, including return flights to San Jose, internal flights and transfers, 11 nights’ full board plus two breakfasts, the services of an English-speaking guide and entrance fees (walksworldwide.com).
TAKE A LEISURELY STROLL THROUGH COOL KERALA
Time for tea: Part of a lush plantation in the laid-back Indian state of Kerala
The steamy heat and laid-back vibe of Kerala means that hiking here is all about moving at a stately pace. And that’s all the better for taking in the views, which are particularly special from Kurumbalakotta Hill, close to Wayanad in the Western Ghats. The mist clearing in the morning sunlight reveals a verdant valley that will make your heart sing.
In addition to long walks across India’s highest tea plantation and deep into a sacred Hindu copse, there’s the opportunity to glide along quiet backwaters where the birdlife is legendary. Siberian storks, egrets and herons can all be spotted plying the waters.
Boots on for: An off-the-beaten-track exploration of the state on India’s tropical Malabar Coast.
Good for: Those who want to see India beyond the bustle of cities.
How long? 17 days.
Cost: From £2,899pp, based on 16 nights’ half-board accommodation, return flights, transfers and local transport costs (ramblersholidays.co.uk).
SAVOUR A GLASS OR TWO ON SOUTH AFRICA’S GARDEN ROUTE
The Stellenbosch Wine Trail allows ample opportunity to sample a few glasses before the final push to Cape Town and Table Mountain (pictured)
While South Africa’s Garden Route is renowned as a road-tripper’s paradise, it’s best seen in dusty boots. This two-week jaunt kicks off with a safari in Addo National Park before exploring the verdant forest trails of Tsitsikamma National Park and Plettenberg Bay, where whales can be spotted breaching the churning blue. It’s not all wild animals and ancient woodland, though. The Stellenbosch Wine Trail means there is ample opportunity to sample a few glasses before the final push to Cape Town and Table Mountain.
Boots on for: A chance to see South Africa’s most famous driving route from a different angle.
Good for: Those keen to appreciate the beauty of this corner of Africa.
How long? 16 days.
Cost: From £3,350pp, including flights, transfers, most meals, game drives, entrance fees, the services of a guide and local transport (ramblersholidays.co.uk).
REACH FOR THE STARS IN CHILE’S VALLEY OF THE MOON
Chile is home to starkly different landscapes, from the arid Atacama (pictured) in the north to bubbling thermal pools in its gorgeous lake district
Snow-capped peak: Get fully kitted out for a tough trek to the lava-filled crater of Villarrica volcano
Chile is home to starkly different landscapes, from the arid Atacama in the north to bubbling thermal pools in its gorgeous lake district. The joy of this trip is that you don’t have to choose between the two. The first week is enjoyed in Villarrica National Park, the days spent hiking to the Pichillancahue glacier, exploring Cajon Negro’s ‘Termas Geometricas’ and getting fully kitted out for a tough trek to the lava-filled crater of Villarrica volcano.
Love star-gazing? Then the second week has you covered. Chile’s northerly deserts and the Valley of the Moon are home to some of the world’s clearest night skies, perfect viewing after a day spent on the trail. If you love feeling the enormity of the universe above you, this is the place to be.
Boots on for: A contrasting adventure in one of the world’s most beautiful countries.
Good for: Adventure-lovers and amateur astronomers.
How long? 14 days.
Cost: From £3,949pp, including return flights to Santiago, internal flights and transfers, eight lunches and five dinners, an English-speaking guide and entrance fees (walksworldwide.com).
EXPLORE CANADA – THEN BREAK FOR THE BORDER
Walking gets serious on Mount Desert Island, where thigh-straining climbs are rewarded with sweeping Atlantic views
This stunning corner of North America is blessed with so much fantastic hiking that it seems a shame to limit yourself to just one country. Handily, this trip crosses the border between Canada and the US, kicking off with a breezy walking tour of Quebec City and a chance to explore its rambling streets and classical architecture.
Crossing over to Maine, the walking gets serious on Mount Desert Island, where thigh-straining climbs are rewarded with sweeping Atlantic views that are catnip for amateur photographers. Before tackling the summit of Vermont’s Mount Hunger, you’ll get to explore the Appalachian Trail, where bears roam the dense woodland, before hopping back to Canada for a less strenuous stroll through Montreal.
Boots on for: Canadian culture and rugged American wilderness.
Good for: Those who love to combine city and countryside.
How long? 13 days.
Cost: From £3,950pp including return flights, transfers, accommodation with most meals and all local transport costs (ramblersholidays.co.uk).
GO COAST TO COAST IN DELIGHTFUL DOMINICA
Those who don’t fancy lounging for days on end will find succour in beautiful Dominica with its lush rainforest
Stretching out on a sunbed with a good book and a delicious cocktail is what the Caribbean is all about, right? Well, not necessarily. Those who don’t fancy lounging for days on end will find succour in beautiful Dominica. The 115-mile coast-to-coast Waitukubuli National Trail, the Caribbean’s only long-distance hiking route, was designed by locals and connects remote villages that are easily missed by those who prefer the beach to the hills. This spectacular trip picks out the best sections, passing through lush rainforest and above deep volcanic craters. There’s the added bonus of a boat ride along the Indian River, where iguanas, land crabs and Carib hummingbirds crowd the banks.
Boots on for: The Caribbean away from white-sand beaches.
Good for: Warm-weather-lovers not afraid to work up a sweat.
How long? 11 days.
Cost: Prices including return flights, transfers, half-board accommodation, a guide and local transport are available on request (ramblersholidays.co.uk).
LEAVING LAS VEGAS FOR SPECTACULAR LANDSCAPES
Spectacular: Take a vertiginous hike through the ethereal rock formations of Bryce Canyon in Utah
This 13-day jaunt is proof that the best thing about Las Vegas is the spectacular desert and canyonlands that surround it. The tour kicks off in Zion National Park’s Narrows Gorge, where the 30ft-wide river is hemmed in by walls 1,000ft high. Leaving the dark passageways behind, there are vertiginous hikes through the ethereal rock formations of Bryce Canyon and time with a Navajo guide trekking to the Pueblo Indian ruins at Mesa Verde Park, before finishing off with a 12-mile hike along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.
Boots on for: Alien rock formations and endless views.
Good for: Wild West fans and those who like their vistas big and bold.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult.
How long? 13 days.
Cost: From £4,050pp including return flights to Las Vegas, transfers, accommodation with breakfast, most meals, all National Park entrance fees and local transport costs (ramblersholidays.co.uk).
FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF INCAS IN DEEPEST PERU
Choquequirao is an ancient site that’s four times larger than the region’s most famous Inca ruin and far less busy
These days, reaching Machu Picchu is a breeze, with trains and buses making the journey easy. But for those keener on a slower pace, this challenging trek is ideal. It all starts at Choquequirao, an ancient site that’s four times larger than the region’s most famous Inca ruin and far less busy. From there, the going gets tough – you’ll spend up to eight hours a day on foot, crossing passes well over 13,000ft. Accommodation is basic, meaning that you’ll be camping out most nights. But that’s all the better for enjoying some of Latin America’s finest night skies. Mercifully, you get to take the train back from Machu Picchu after spending time marvelling at its pioneering architecture.
Boots on for: An unparalleled Incan adventure.
Good for: Fit holidaymakers who want to push themselves.
How long? 13 days.
Cost: From £2,499pp, including return flights to Lima, transfers, five nights in a hotel, seven nights in tented accommodation, full-board on trek and most meals, an English-speaking guide and transport (ramblersholidays.co.uk).
GET CLOSE TO NATURE IN SENSATIONAL SRI LANKA
Head to Sri Lanka for exotic animals, including leopards, Layard’s parakeets and hanging parrots
Catching sight of Sri Lanka’s abundant birdlife and exotic animals doesn’t require overnight mountaintop stays or spending all day on foot. This two-week trip is perfect for those happy to stroll rather than stomp. Starting in the Peradeniya botanic gardens, bird-lovers won’t need to look too hard to see Layard’s parakeets and hanging parrots.
From there it’s on to Nuwara Eliya, the highest town in the country, where birds of prey circle on thermals above tea plantations. If your luck is in, you might just see a rare, endangered Serendib scops owl in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. It’s not just birds, though – you might get to see a leopard in the famous Yala National Park.
Boots on for: Close encounters with some of Asia’s rarest birds.
Good for: Wildlife-lovers who don’t want the exertion of all-day hikes.
How long? 15 days.