After a few years of being quarantined and cooped up, people are ready to travel more than ever. In fact, one common theme I have heard during the pandemic is that people feel like they have a new urgency to do the things they’ve always wanted to do. We can no longer take those epic trips we want to take ‘someday’ for granted, who knows what will happen next year, or in the next 5 years.
I have always taken that view of ‘life is too short to wait’. It’s probably why I’ve done so many epic trips in my 40’s and 50’s; you never know what will happen with your health, or the world.
From the beginning months of the quarantine, I knew deep in my heart that when I was able to travel internationally again safely that I wanted to do something epic. I sat in my little apartment yearning for a real journey through a country and it’s culture; travel that is close to the ground and meaningful – dare I say life changing.
I’ve taken many of those trips in the past; Mongol Rally, Camino de Santiago, Rickshaw Run, Cami de Ronda Hike, Annapurna Circuit, Antarctica, Greenland, and so many more. I longed for that epic journey again taking me deeper into far off lands than a typical week long vacation.
If you are one of those people who had a wake up call during the pandemic and are now looking at your Epic bucket list trips and thinking now is the time, here’s a few things to know about timing of bookings, and some overall ideas on where to go based on my past epic travels!
When Should You Book Your Epic Trip Post COVID
I talked to my friends at World Expeditions about what they are seeing with bookings in 2021 and 2022. World Expeditions specializes in those swoon worthy epic trips all over the world. I’ve went on a few trips with them in the past, and have my eye on many of their other expansive itinerary of epic trips all over the world!
“Epic adventures are not the type of trips travelers are usually planning last minute. It is often a long-life dream to achieve these challenging expeditions, and adventurous spirits tend to be more resistant to changes. Between people rebooking their postponed travel plans, limited availability in remote destinations, business running with lower capacity, numerous factors make it essential to plan ahead for the next adventure.”
Many Epic Trips are Sold Out Already
World Expeditions has noticed a strong interest in their more challenging, remote, epic journeys. They aren’t alone, I’ve heard stories of high Antarctica demand for 2022 season. Intrepid Travel, another favorite company of mine has released its 2022/23 (!) polar season early after seeing a significant uplift in interest for their Antarctica expeditions. The decision to launch the season three months ahead of schedule came after September saw record bookings for Intrepid’s inaugural 2021/22 season on the Ocean Endeavor. Intrepid has also seen a 70% increase globally in searches to its Antarctica pages.
And in the Epic hiking realm (which I love!), World Expeditions was the first to have offered the supported trek to the full traverse of Nepal’s Great Himalaya Trail in 2011. I’ve had my eye on this epic Nepal trek since it’s inception. I’ve still yet to pull the trigger on it as it is a pretty big 3 month commitment. When I asked them about booking on this trek they told me that 2022 will be the first year that the GHT – Nepal – The Full Traverse, a 150-day trip walking the entire length of Nepal’s Great Himalaya Trail in one continuous trek, is sold out.
What? Looks like I’m not the only one who is itching to do something epic after the pandemic.
Great Canadian Trails told me that most self-guided trekking itineraries should be booked sooner than later, especially if someone’s looking for this summer (2021). Their treks tend to visit small communities with limited accommodations, and some might not be opening this year at all, which reduces further the capacity. I used did the epic East Coast Trail with Great Canadian Trails in 2019.
So it seems that the answer is plan your trip sooner rather than later.
New Cancellation Policies for Post Pandemic Travel
Yes, there’s always the possibility that the pandemic variants or some other unforeseen event could effect our plans. However, many operators of these epic, high cost trips are starting to offer new cancellation policies to help people pull the trigger without risk.
For example, World Expeditions has a zero deposit offer that helps people feel confident to reserve their spot now with little risk. Intrepid Travel offers flexible bookings that account for changes to your travel plans at least 21 days before your scheduled departure.
13 Epic Trips You Should Consider Booking Sooner Rather than Later
These are all trips I have personally taken and can speak to. I believe to write about travel, you need to have experienced it yourself.
- Anapurna Circuit
- Rafting the Grand Canyon
- Faroe Islands
- Mongol Rally
- South Africa Safari
- Antarctica Ross Sea
- Churchill Polar Bears
- Reindeer Migration Inuvik Canada
- Arctic Expedition Cruise
- Northern Lights Alaska
- Kumano Kodo
- Camino de Santiago
1. Hike the Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit is a thru-hike within the mountain ranges of central Nepal. Opened in 1977, the hike circles the world’s tenth highest mountain! The hike crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna Massif. This means the views are incredible at all times. The trail will take you through a variety of different landscapes, from humid, lush rice terraces, to the forests, and then into those beautiful high-altitude views. It really does have it all, but you have to work for it.
This is a serious thru hike with altitudes not to be taken lightly. The path reaches its highest point at Thorung La pass at 17,769 ft.
As you hike, you’ll get exposed to daily life of the Nepalese. We came across many locals out doing harvesting carrying large bundles of hay for their animals. The basic rule was, if you could walk, then you could carry hay. I saw so many kids carrying huge haystacks on their backs. We saw people cutting up lumber, thrashing millet, plowing fields; everyone was working hard on the cold fall days.
If you want to immerse yourself in the majestic Himalayas and also be immersed in the small village culture and agriculture – this is the trek to do.
Read about my trip
Everything You Need to Know About Hiking the Annapurna Circuit
Best time to Hike the Annapurna Circuit
The best times for thru-hiking the Annapurna Circuit are October to early December and late February to April. These are the best times to be able to cross the high-altitude pass. It can be really dicey and often closed at other times. Also, if you go before October you run the risk of monsoon season and muddier trails with mudslides.
One of the bridges we crossed looked as if it were made of toothpicks and was put up a few hours before we arrived there. I watched others cross over the low bridge slowly; it looked easy enough. I waited my turn and gingerly took steps onto the bamboo poles which creaked and flexed with each step. All I could hear was the water rushing below me as I tried to balance on the 3 bamboo poles; rejoicing silently when I stepped on solid ground again.
How You Can Go and Costs
I went with a local outfitter who helped me organize transportation, permits, and a porter and guide. However other great operators like Intrepid Travel do this trip too for prices starting around $1,480. You can also organize it all independently.
2. Rafting the Grand Canyon
I have always believed rafting through the Grand Canyon is one of the most epic journeys one can take in the in the United States. It’s one of the most popular national parks and tourist spots in the US, but few people go beyond its rim. And even fewer float through it. For those lucky people, they get to see what I think is the real beauty of the canyon – the Colorado River.
This powerful river takes you on a ride through some of the least visited parts of the United States. It’s a literal journey as you float through a slice of the earth, cut a mile deep into its core.
Most rivers around the world use a class rating system from 1 to 6. However, in the Grand Canyon, the classes are more specific as they use a 1 – 10 rating scale. A 10 rating in the canyon is roughly equivalent to a Class V in the standard river scale. The rapids are spread out and at times the pools in between the rapids are several miles long. This gives you lots of time to recover and enjoy the canyon walls surrounding you. And it also conveniently gives you just enough time to dry off and feel hot again before you get to the next rapid!
Read about my trip: My 10 Days Rafting in the Grand Canyon
Best time to go Rafting in the Grand Canyon
Early in the season (April/May) and late in the season (Oct) are the best times with the least demand. These times also offer fewer crowds, more mild temperatures, and ideal conditions for afternoon hiking and evening campfires.
I will never forget the roar of the first approaching rapid we did. It sounded huge and powerful in the distance, yet I couldn’t even see it. My nervous adrenaline took over as my grip on the rope in front tightened. I slid to the front of my seat and leaned forward as our guide directed us. And then you see it – the smooth, beautiful tongue of the rapid. It looks like poetry, so clear and smooth like glass. Yet that poetry propels you downward into the largest water chaos I had ever encountered.
How You can Go and Costs
I went with OARS Rafting – a leading raft company in the US and a long time favorite in the Grand Canyon. They have various trips from a few days to 16 days for the entire canyon. I did the 10 day trip. Their trip prices range from $2,799 to $6,299.
3. Drive and Photograph the Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are home to some of the most unique and epic landscapes I’ve ever seen in the world and that’s why they make this list. Couple that with this intriguing local culture, unknown existence, and remote location – it’s definitely a bucket list destination.
The Faroe Islands are actually part of Denmark, however, they are completely self-governing. The 18 islands are situated between Iceland and Norway and are part of what people call the West Nordic Region. It is a remote, yet beautiful part of the world!
The islands are home to only 50,000 people – very hardy people! But don’t forget the sheep that dot the landscape, perch on rooftops, and teeter on the cliffs; they outnumber the locals and are a huge part of the Faroese culture. I think nearly every family had some sheep on the island, which also means there’s a bounty of beautiful hand-knit sweaters too!
This is small town culture at it’s best. You won’t see many people there and there is no rush hour. In fact, there are only 3 stoplights in all of the Faroe Islands and they are all on the same road! You can even find the prime minister’s phone number in the phone book. And to top it off, the jail/detention center has the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen.
The islands are moody, which makes them sort of sexy in a way. The weather is gray and unpredictable and the landscape is volcanic which provides a hint of danger; dramatic peaks, canyons, and cliffs abound. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew this was a dream destination for landscape photographers. However there’s much more to these islands than photography.
Read about my trip: 5 Unique Experiences on the Faroe Islands
Best time to go to the Faroe Islands
I went in mid April, a shoulder season. Some of the hills and roads were still dusted in snow, and the landscape was sort of brown. However the main season is May – September. You’ll see more of those picturesque green hills that they are known for!
The Faroe Islands are notable for having the highest sea cliffs in Europe, and some of the highest in the world. We did a bouncy boat ride out to see the Vestmanna Sea Cliffs in the wild North Atlantic. Home to thousands of sea birds, it’s a site that will make you feel small…and then the waves will make you feel as if you have to throw up. But it’s all worth it!
How You Can Go and Costs
I flew from Iceland via Atlantic Airways, the only Faroe Island airway. Landing there is one of the best landings I’ve ever done! However there are also flights from Europe, so it’s easy to plan your own independent trip there. There are also self drive options like this one that costs around $2400 for 9 days.
4. Do the Mongol Rally – The Ultimate Road Trip
9000 miles (14,500 km)
Countless Flat Tires
1,000 Wrong Turns
Hundreds of Dollars in Bribes
Thousands of Dollars in Equipment and Travel
Yes, I really did this.
This was by far the most epic trip I’ve ever done. The Mongol Rally is an unsupported road rally (for charity) from London, England to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia put on by the Adventurists.
Crossing 10,000 miles over unforgiving deserts, perilous mountain ranges, and non-existent roads, we faced the possibility of bandits, breakdowns, and corruption while navigating our way through 13 countries and 2 continents. Oh yes, and not one of us had any mechanical knowledge.
The rally is not about winning, it’s about surviving doing one of the most epic road trips in the world. When I did the rally in 2011, only half of the cars who started actually made it to the finish line. It took us 4 weeks of driving every day, blood, sweat, tears – but we made it and it will likely always be my most epic story I will ever tell.
Read about my trip: Read the stories of 4 strangers driving from London to Mongolia in an small, inappropriate car from the beginning to the end…Mongol Rally – The Ultimate Road Trip
Best Time to do the Mongol Rally
Well – there’s really only one time and it normally starts in July and ends whenver you make it to the finish line – around 4 to 6 weeks later.
My Mongol Rally Highlight
There may be too many highlights to even mention. Nearly going to jail in Kzakhstan, the fights, the wrong turns, the first time knowing that I was going to make it to Ulanbaatar alive, and the lack of roads (and bridges) in Mongolia.
The the car jerked, swerved, and bounced reminding me the challenge was far from over once we crossed into Mongolia. The challenge now was not directions, routes, or corrupt officials…it was the roads – or lack thereof. Mongolia was ready to chew up and spit out our little inappropriate car. The landscape felt alive – and I felt it was hungry and eying our little rally car as if it might be a nice appetizer, to be followed by a bigger rally ambulance coming behind us, and maybe a little rally motorcycle for dessert.
How You can Do It and the Cost
All you have to do is sign up for the rally with the Adventurists. And then get ready to have your life changed. Cost varies depending on your route, car, breakdowns, bribes, gas prices, and any other myriad of things. But expect it to be from $3000 to $10,000 for 4 to 6 weeks of insanity.
Note: In doing research for this article, I found out that the Mongol Rally is SOLD OUT for 2021 and 2022. Waiting lists open for both – email [email protected]
5. Take a South African Safari
“This is Zululand not Disneyland. You can’t book animals to show up,” our safari guide Christian reminded us. Safari tours are unpredictable. There are no guarantees when it comes to wildlife, and that’s one of the things I actually like about epic travel – its exciting and unpredictable.
Located in the wilderness of northern KwaZulu Natal, South Africa – Thanda is a luxury Big Five reserve. Of course, Thanda Safari offers your typical wildlife drives in the morning and evening, plus special night drives. The first time we went off-road through the bush following elephant tracks, I giggled with excitement as we bounced around in the Land Rover! On our first drive we saw more animals that I had ever seen on my first safari. The drivers/trackers and guides were incredible at spotting animals and maneuvering us so close I could practically touch them; leaving my heart in my throat at times.
But it was the little touches and other offerings from Thanda that made it much more of an immersive and deeper South Africa safari experience that makes me label it a “trip of a lifetime” – like the Rino conservation and protection we were able to be a part of.
Read about my trip: How to Get the Most Out of Your South Africa Safari
Best time to go on a Safari
I went in April, however you can go at any time of year in South Africa. The best dry season months for wildlife viewing are June, July and August.
Tracking rhinos by foot – I don’t think I realized how big of a deal this was until the jeep pulled away and we were all just standing there – on the ground – with no transportation. My heart raced. As soon as I took a few steps, I realized I had a whole different safari perspective. I sort of felt like what it was to be an animal living in this tall grass – wondering what predator was around the corner. It’s easy to feel safe in a jeep, but on the ground, I really felt exposed.
It was a complete adrenaline rush. As our guide stopped to show us dung, footprints, broken branches, and flattened grass where you could tell animals had been sleeping, I was on high alert. My heart raced and all of my senses heightened, as we bushwhacked through shoulder-high grass. I worried about tics, bees, cape buffalo, and lions – strangely you want to see them and you don’t at the same time. It’s a strange push/pull on your emotions.
How you can do This Trip and Costs
I chose Thanda Safari, a private game reserve, for my South Africa experience. Only a 3-hour drive from the seaside town of Durban, Thanda offers a multitude of experiences that take you deeper than a typical game drive safari and ensures that you get as much out of your South Africa safari experience as you possibly could. And the touches of luxury weren’t too bad either!
Prices range from $600 per night in a tented camp in low season to $4400 per night in the most luxurious lodging at high season. All nightly stays include 2 game drives.
6. Take an Expedition to Visit Antarctica’s Ross Sea
The world of Expedition travel is a niche that serves a few intrepid people who have a thirst for adventure to far flung places and a thick pocketbook. I took a small expedition ship to the eastern side of Antarctica via the Ross Sea. Following the routes of the famous explorers. Approximately 40,000 tourists visit Antarctica each year, and only 500 of them come through the Southern Ocean, the Subantarctic islands, all the way to the Ross Sea. And that’s what makes this an epic journey; this is a place few people get to go.
Journey through the Southern Ocean from New Zealand arriving at historic Cape Adare on East Antarctica; this is the route of the famous explorers. Cook, Ross, Borchgrevink, Mawson, Scott, and Shackleton all made this same journey through the Southern Ocean multiple times to go deeper into Terra Australis incognita – the unknown southern land. And now, you too can follow in their wake, an Antarctica route few people take.
It’s hard, unpredictable, rough, riddled with ice, and the journey simply takes a much longer time – it will take an entire month of your time to get there and back! No matter which way you spin it, you’ll be spending a lot of time on a ship, and it will be a bit unpredictable.
But the journey can also be exhilarating! When cruising the Antarctic you really don’t know what each day will hold and weather can dictate the route and schedule. I say a bit of unpredictability is well worth it! If you ever dreamed of crossing the Antarctic Circle, being surrounded by 30,000 penguins, and seeing the most beautiful landscape in the whole world, then consider this epic trip now.
Read about my trip: Cruising the Ross Sea in Antarctica
Best Time to Go to the Ross Sea
January and February are really the only times you can make this long month long journey to the Ross Sea and back.
My first experience with the ‘real Antarctica ice’ was arriving at Cape Adare where we had to push through the ice floe for the first time. Ice floe (also called sea ice) are considered flat sheets of sea ice that together comprise pack ice. Some floes may be tens of miles across. When floes are rafted together, or forced edge to edge, they form pressure ridges, which are very hazardous to ships.
I was practically giddy as the ship slowed down to a crawl and we started to play a slow motion game of bumper cars with the pancake ice. I went to the bow, held on, and proceeded to hang over the edge to see the ship breaking through the ice. I focused in on the ice-strewn water. It undulated ever so slowly as if it were breathing. Penguins scurried off of floes, as we passed on by, while seals barely looked up at our ship as we passed by their ice homes of the moment.
There are really too many to mention. Watch my Antarctica YouTube Playlist to see what it was like.
How you can Go and Costs
Heritage Expeditions Tours are the one of the very few expedition cruising companies that takes this route! (tell them Ottsworld sent you!) Costs start at $23,000 for this nearly month long trip. They have 3 expeditions for 2022.
7. See Polar Bears in Churchill Canada
Unlike a zoo where an environment is created for the animal and then the animal is plopped down into it. In Canada’s Churchill Manitoba, you are the one who is plopped down in the middle of their environment! That’s one of the many things that makes viewing polar bears in Churchill so special.
Viewing polar bears in the wild is a pretty standard bucket list item – like seeing the ‘Big 5’ in Africa. However, there are very few places you can actually view polar bears in the wild accessible to people; however, the town of Churchill Canada in Manitoba is one of them.
Of the 25,000 polar bears experts think to be on the planet, this is probably the closest polar bears get to actual civilization. The bears are here because of its proximity to the Hudson Bay coast, it has a great summer off-ice habitat and good denning environment.
Every year as the bears wait around for the ice to form on Hudson Bay, people come north to have a ‘Polar Safari’ and see huge marine mammals roam around on land from the safety of a tundra buggy in the protected Churchill Wildlife Management Area.
Best time to go to Churchill
To see polar bears on the shores of Hudson Bay waiting for the ice to form so they can go hunt, you have to go in Oct/Nov. You can also do trips to see cubs in the spring and you’ll sometimes see bears in the summer – but it’s much more rare.
When we came across the two male bears, it looked like they were two friends just hanging out, they even looked cuddly. However the cuddling turned to nudging, turned into both of them up on their hind legs sparing. It was actually pretty shocking to see. I gasped when the bear stood on their hind legs due to the sheer size of these creatures! After a while the two bears stopped, lay down and astonishingly took a little nap next to each other, nose to nose.
Our guide David explained this was a typical ritual that the males engage in as they get ready to go back out on the ice for hunting. No harm no foul…just practicing!
How you can do this Trip and Costs
Frontiers North is the premier provider of this experience. An experience like mine costs around $5,100.
8. See the Great Reindeer Migration in Arctic Canada
Visit a herd of 3000 reindeer and Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean in Canada’s Northwest Territory. Travel on your very own snowmobile alongside the reindeer herders at this annual event where the herd is moved over the ice road to their spring calving grounds at Richard’s Island.
It’s something special to watch to see how the herders can control 2,000 reindeer and move them to where they need to go. I watched as they went after strays in the distance always getting them turned around. It was an interesting ebb and flow – a process of starting and stopping. The herd moved in unison like a school of fish. It was poetic to see the brown herd move along the white snowy backdrop of the frozen Mackenzie River.
And if you are looking for real authentic arctic experiences, Canada’s Arctic is stunning and culturally rich to visit. Not only can you herd reindeer, but you will also learn how to build a real igloo and then you can take pride in your work and sleep it in overnight in the Arctic; a truly epic (and cold) experience! Meet locals, drive on ice roads, and try tour this fascinating arctic community!
Read about my trip: Forget Cruising and Take a Real Arctic Adventure
Best time to go to Inuvik
To see and participate in the reindeer migration, you’ll have to go in late March or early April. It’s still freezing there in April, but it’s at least do-able then.
“Wait, you’re telling me we are driving on the Arctic Ocean?” I exclaimed in disbelief as my stomach fluttered with butterflies. We had just gone to a whole new level in this winter adventure in the Canadian Arctic by driving on the Arctic Ocean.
It seemed so normal to be speeding down the road, the familiar rhythm of the tires going over road seams lulling you into your sleepy place. But it wasn’t actually a road, it was ice. And the sound wasn’t driving over seams – it was cracks and abnormalities in the ice that created the rhythm. And as long as I was driving on ice on the Arctic Ocean – there was no way I was getting lulled to sleep!
How you can Take this Trip and Costs
Tundra North Tours is an incredible company operating out of Inuvik and will show you this authentic arctic experience. Prices start at $5,200
9. Take an Arctic Expedition Cruise Across the Top of the World
One small step for man and one giant step for mankind is what danced in my head as I set foot on the Wrangel Island tundra and the earth beneath me moved. It was like walking on a sponge, soft and light; almost delicate feeling. However the tundra was anything but delicate.
This expedition cruise took me cruising across the top of the world, through the Bering Strait, around the Russian Far East, well above the Arctic Circle to where few people have ever gone before – Wrangel Island. Actually fewer people make it to Wrangel Island each year than Antarctica.
Wrangel Island is a part of Russia’s Far East. It sits above the Arctic Circle about 87 miles north of Russia. It is home to an extraordinary amount of animal and plant diversity, the greatest in the high Arctic. It’s referred to as the Polar Bear Maternity Ward because it had the largest density of denning of polar bears anywhere in the world, averaging between 300-350 maternity dens each year on the island, and even more on Herald Island.
Read about my trip: Travel to Wrangel Island
Best time to take an Arctic Expedition Cruise
Lat July and August is really the only time boats can get to the Arctic. It’s when the ice receeds enough to get through some of the northern passages.
He raises his nose in the air and sniffs at the air, trying to get our scent, but the wind isn’t cooperating with him. He knows we are there, but what we are is a mystery. Just as I’ve never seen a polar bear before, this polar bear has most likely never seen a human before. Since the polar bear’s eyesight isn’t great, they rely on their sense of smell to assess a new situation.
He stares right at us, curiosity in his expressions; could we be lunch, should we be feared, or are we harmless. He comes a bit closer; we drift a bit closer. We are now only 15 feet apart – us in a zodiac, him on land.
Suddenly he catches it and he has what he wants – our scent. He promptly turns and runs away. This was the beginning of many epic animals experiences in the Arctic encounters around Wrangel Island!
How you can Take This Trip and Costs
The only company that will take you to Wrangel Island is Heritage Expeditions. This is not a luxury cruise – it’s an expedition cruise so be prepared for a few hardships while you do this extreme travel! (tell them Ottsworld sent you!) Costs start at $9,350.
10. View the Northern Lights
While Alaska is a popular dream destination in the summer, it gets little respect in the winter. The fear of frigid temperatures, lack of light, and heavy snow scare off most people. However, Alaska is one of the best places to view the northern lights!
Located just below the Arctic Circle, lots of clear nights, and near a couple of international airports, makes Alaska the perfect recipe for northern lights.
And while a northern lights trip may have brought you to Alaska, there are plenty of other things to do which makes Alaska the perfect spot for an winter adventure!
Best time to View the Northern Lights in Alaska
Northern lights viewing in Alaska runs from Augst 21st to April 21st. The best months to experience the auroa is March and September.
As I walked outside the yurt I saw it. “Holy crap, “ I said with my mouth agape. There it was, a bright green glowing streak in the sky right above all of the dog kennels. I was about brought to tears; after 3 previous viewings, this scientific wonder finally looked as I had expected it to look – bright green and dancing in the sky.
We spent the next 90 minutes running around outside watching as the lights grew in intensity and start to move and flow like a wave in the sky. This was the substorms I had heard about; streaks of light dancing upwards right above our heads. At that point I just watched in awe. I didn’t actually take many pictures that night, because I was mesmerized just watching it with my eyes. The night was cold, but perfect. We sat by the fire, had hot chocolate, took pictures, but mostly we just enjoyed the show.
How you Can do this Trip and Costs
You can go to Anchorage and take a tour with Alaska Photo Treks which costs from $250 to $500 depending on how many nights you go. Or you can go to Fairbanks and take a tour with Aurora Bear which costs from $115 to $179 for a night of aurora viewing. NOte – these tours don’t include the other trip costs, only aurora viewing.
11. Take an Ancient Pilgrimage in Japan
Over the past ten centuries, people from all levels of society have journeyed to the tranquil Kii Mountains in Japan, following many pilgrimage routes to the revered Kumano Sanzan Shrines. The various paths are known collectively as the Kumano Kodo. The 3 shrines collectively known as Kumano Sanzan, are Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine, Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine, and Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine.
In the 11th century Japanese emperors and their court would traverse the Kumano Kodo paths starting from the empirical city of Kyoto. They hiked into the forests of the Kii Peninsula to arrive at the 3 temples. These journeys would take 30 to 40 days and were considered spiritual journeys as they searched for heaven on earth.
Throughout time, the feudal system collapsed as did the routes. However, in the 1990s people started walking these trails again and from that point on they have been growing in popularity.
I hiked a portion of the 44 mile Nakahechi Route solo. I spent 5 days covering 33.6 tough miles from Takajiri-Oji to Nachi Temple and waterfall. In addition, I spent a day hiking with a Yamabushi monk near Hongu in the mountains.
Trees, Trees, Trees. You’ll hike underneath the shade of forests of giant Japanese cedar trees. If you just hike the Kumano Kodo trail you are going to miss out. You have to take the time to stop, sit, and listen to the stillness. You’ll hear the birds, the leaves blowing in the breeze, and the bugs – it will sound like nature’s symphony. I only met about 10 groups of people hiking – mainly couples hiking together. So most of the time I felt like I had the whole forest to myself. This is exactly what I was looking for out of the Kumano Kodo.
Read about my trip: Everything You Need to Know About Hiking the Kumano Kodo in Japan
Best time to Hike the Kumano Kodo
The trail is open year-round. There is occasional snow in the winter. The best times to go are probably April to November. Note that in June the rainy season starts and it’s likely you’ll run into more rain in June/July.
The hiking was great – but the food…
Tonight I sat with 18 small dishes in front of me really only knowing what was on about 5 of them! The dinners I’ve had at Ryokans I stayed at on the Kumano Kodo have been incredible – and plentiful. It’s quite an experience not knowing what you are eating at all or even how to eat half of the stuff put in front of you – but if you approach it with curiosity and an open mind it’s pretty damn fun. I looked forward to dinner every night as I had no idea what to expect!
How you can Do this Trip and Costs
I did a self guided trip through Oku Japan, They offer 4 day to 11 day trips ranging from $975 to $2270. This includes lodging, breakfast, dinners, maps, roundtrip train from Kyoto or Osaka, and support while you are on the trail if you have issues.
12. Climb Kilimanjaro
The highest peak in Africa was no walk in the park, but it was worth it. The summit stands at 19,340 feet – in extreme altitude. At over 10,000 feet, more than 75% of climbers will experience at least some form of mild Acute Mountain Sickness.
I chose to do the Machame route which takes about 7 or 8 days and the longer you take to summit, the better your chances of making it to the top. The days were hard – up, up, up – and my stomach seemed to be on pins and needles all day wondering if I could make it at these altitudes.
Most days I was more mentally exhausted than physical exhausted. Kilimanjaro, and the lack of oxygen, puts your mind and body on a roller coaster. You turn so fast you get whiplash – one minute your great and the next your stomach is in knots and your brain can’t form a complete sentence or thought.
But being a part of this epic journey, challenging yourself to go highter than you ever have before is worth every challenge Kilimanjaro throws at you.
Read about my trip: Things They Don’t Tell You About Climbing Kilimanjaro
Best time to Hike Kilimanjaro
In terms of weather – the best time to climb Kilimanjaro is during the warmest and driest times of year, from December to mid-March and mid-June to the end of October.
This is more like an epic lowlight really – I didn’t make it to the summit due to altitude sickness. I made it to high camp over 17,000 feet, but had to go down without the ‘prize’. As Gudluk, the porter, and I left the high camp perched above the clouds at sunset I heard a tent full of porters singing “How Great Though Art” in Swahili. This is one of my favorite songs and every time I hear it I think of my Grandfather’s funeral. I was in tears stumbling down the rocks trying to follow Gudluk I went through so much hardship and to not make it. But it was the right decision, a decision that saved my life.
How to take this trip and costs
World Expeditions operates an extensive range of adventures in Tanzania from climbs on Kili, to technical climbs designed for the serious mountaineer, to easy walks that can be enjoyed by anyone. Costs start at $3500. Intrepid Travel also runs group trips to Kilimanjaro with prices starting around $3900
13. Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage
El Camino de Santiago, also referred to as “The Way of Saint James,” is a 500-mile hike across northwestern Spain, where legend has it the remains of Jesus’s apostle Saint James lie. It is a pilgrimage deeply rooted in Christianity and deeply routed in epicness.
In essence, it is a long-distance thru-hike where you stay in hostels/albergues/hotels each night. Some people still do it for religious reasons, but many just do it to take on the challenge and enjoy the benefits of stepping away from the stress of the modern world (that’s why I was doing it).
I walked anywhere from 14 to 20 miles a day depending on weather and where the next town was. It took me 5 weeks total. The one thing to realize about such a physical, long distance challenge is that it’s 50% physical and 50% mental. Your mind will get you through many hardships and the mind is the most powerful and integral muscle in your body. It tells my achy limbs to keep going no matter what, and it provides me with lucid thoughts to get me through the times where I want to just give up.
This was a complete vacation for my mind – it was free to roam in and out of memories, ideas, and emotions. A mind needs this and I am a firm believer that this is the only way to accomplish a vacation for your mind is to actually and get away from all of the day-to-day for a long enough time that it’s free to roam.
Read about my trip: Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage
Best time to hike the Camiono de Santiago
I of course think when I walked it in April/May was the best possible time to do it! Yes, I did get rained on a bit and it was muddy, but I will take those conditions any day over heat and people! Most days were pleasant and cool with clouds and a breeze. But best of all you saw the Spring happen in front of your eyes.
The walk is long enough to get you out of your normal thoughts and routine, and gives you a fresh reboot without all of the other noise of life going on around you. That’s the key to doing this alone – you remove all other noise. Five weeks of solitary, slow walking time provided me plenty of time to reflect. I finished with a new renewed purpose and direction.
How you can do this trip and Costs
There are many companies that offer self guided tours or you can pretty easily do this trip independently. As for cost – you can expect to spend from $30 to 50 euro a day for lodging and food.
More Epic Trip Ideas from World Expeditions and Availability
Our Bhutan Snowman Trek (27-29 days), considered one of the hardest treks in the world, is quite popular at the moment. Our special departure with experienced mountaineer Soren Kruse Ledet in October 2021 has a waitlist. Soren will also lead this trip in October 2022, on which we have only two spots left. As for our regular departures in October 2021, the first one is full, so we’ve added a second date.
Epic exploratory treks in Pakistan: Ultimate K2 Basecamp, Concordia, Gondogoro La (25 days) & Karakoram Exploratory with Tim Macartney-Snape (28 days) have also generated many enquiries, especially for the 2022 departures.
So what are you waiting or , the time is now to start thinking about your next epic trip!