If your idea of an active vacation is walking from the tour bus into a restaurant, you may want to rethink the concept. Walking leisurely while sightseeing may be active if you’re normally sedentary – and it’s definitely a step up from snoozing on a beach – however you may be missing out on a different type of adventure if you dismiss the idea of active travel. With active travel, you don’t need to squeeze in exercise or feel guilty; physical activities are a core component of the itinerary.
There are numerous types of active vacations such as those that focus on cycling or hiking. You can take these trips on your own or with an organized tour, on a budget or the sky’s the limit. It helps to know what to look for so that you choose a trip that’s well suited to your interests and abilities.
To celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to scratch two destinations off of our bucket list during our summer vacation: the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, and Machu Picchu, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, in Peru. My expectation was nothing more than to see the famous blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises and beautiful scenery. What I got were some mind-blowing and life-changing experiences.
Many organized trips such as our Galapagos cruise offer several levels of physical difficulty. For example, our daily options included a short, gentle walk on the beach versus a moderately challenging hike on terrain that ranged from uneven and rocky to slippery lava fields and uphill hiking.
To get from ship to shore, we had to travel back and forth twice daily in a 16-passenger motorized zodiac, then climb over the side of the raft into water or onto land. A few of the older passengers skipped some excursions due to the physical demands of the disembarkment. The zodiac trips were sometimes wet and wild – exhilarating for most of us, but not for people who suffer from seasickness. On a couple of days, our small ship rocked, and walking on the deck felt more like surfing.
Our daily offerings also included snorkelling in shallow or deep water. On one occasion, the sea was so rough that I – not the best of swimmers – had to surrender to the elements and climb back into the zodiac.
Strength, balance and flexibility were definitely a plus for this sort of trip, as was an adventurous spirit. On one snorkelling excursion, I had the unexpected thrill of a lifetime when I swam for several minutes with a Galapagos sea turtle. Though I sometimes feel uneasy in the ocean, I was able to overcome my negative thoughts and enjoy a magical feeling of being at one with nature.
Something else to consider when choosing an active vacation is fear of heights. The bus ride up to Machu Picchu was thrilling – but not for everyone as the bus zig-zagged along a windy, narrow road with death-defying curves.
Altitude sickness in Peru affected most of us in some way. I found myself unusually out of breath and having heart palpitations when I walked uphill. I also had a mild headache for two days. Some people had nosebleeds and vomiting from the altitude. It’s impossible to predict how you’ll feel.
There were no washroom facilities on most of the Galapagos Islands and very limited availability and unsanitary conditions at Machu Picchu. This definitely can be a deterrent if you have a medical condition and cannot go without a washroom for hours at a time.
If you have mobility issues or are out of shape, activities that require stamina may be difficult or unpleasant. However, if you’re willing to train and get in shape well in advance of your departure, it will put you in a better position.
On our second day at Machu Picchu, we hiked up the iconic mountain, Huayna Picchu. The steep trail, carved into the rocks by Incas, has hundreds of uneven steps known as “death stairs.” The hike seemed daunting, but, when I finally stood at the summit at an elevation of 2,720 metres and looked down at the literally breath-taking view of Machu Picchu, I felt a sense of accomplishment and wonder.
Now that you’re aware of some considerations and possible gotchas, all you have to do is plan your active vacation with them and workarounds in mind and prepare for the experience of a lifetime. Google “active vacations” for more ideas.