Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.
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Welcome to the 2016 Viator Travel Awards: Adventure Activities Edition, your indispensable guide to adrenaline-pumping (some might say fear-inducing), heart-pounding activities around the world. The following list represents the most popular adventure activities offered around the world, with tips on where you can do each one both near and far from home.
1. Exploring the Grand Canyon
Accessible from Arizona, Nevada and Utah, the Grand Canyon not only has breathtaking scenery and undeniable history, it’s also an adventure addict’s playland, with so many activities for all levels of ability. If you’re simply looking to get an overview of this geological masterpiece, a Grand Canyon South Rim Bus Tour is probably your best bet. From Phoenix there’s the Grand Canyon via Sedona and Navajo Reservation, and from Las Vegas you can take the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam Day Trip. If you want to get down and dirty, then a Grand Canyon in a Day: Hummer Tour from Las Vegas is probably more your speed – or take to the skies with a Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour from Las Vegas.
The ultimate in back-to-nature eco-friendly activities, there’s no better way to fully experience a landscape than by trekking through it, and the world is teeming with photo-worthy hiking routes. You can escape the neon with a Red Rock Canyon Hiking Tour from Las Vegas. And if you’re a bit more adventurous, try Heli Hiking Franz Josef. Work off all that pasta and pizza with a Cinque Terre Hiking Day Trip from Florence, or make it a part of your day with a Tuscany Hiking Tour from Florence Including Wine Tasting and Lunch. For an urban hiking experience in the City of Angels, sign up for a Hollywood Hills Hiking Tour in Los Angeles.
3. Day Trips
Day trips from your main destination don’t have to invoke memories of schlepping around on a school field trip. In fact, getting away for a day is a great way to get some adventure into a trip that otherwise can be full of culture or relaxation. A Key West Day Trip can include parasailing; snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef is on the agenda during a Fitzroy Island Day Trip from Cairns. Back on land, a Southern Lanzarote Day Trip includes a camel ride on the volcanic Fire Mountains as well as a lunch and wine tasting. A Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Trip is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure among these ancient giants.
4. Rain Forest Adventures
Visiting a country’s rain forest is an excellent way to combine history, nature and adventure into a sightseeing activity – and in many parts of the world, you don’t even have to travel far to discover these near-miraculous ecosystems. Swim in clear natural pools under waterfalls on an El Yunque Rain Forest Adventure Off the Beaten Path from San Juan, or learn about the fragile environment through a El Yunque Rainforest Half-Day Trip from San Juan. Feel a surge of adrenaline while taking a Daintree Rainforest Zipline and Wildlife Habitat Day Trip. Encounter monkeys, birds and butterflies when you book a Tijuca Rain Forest Jeep Tour from Rio de Janeiro. Get in touch with the sacred history on the Bali Monkey Forest, Mengwi Temple and Tanah Lot Afternoon Tour.
5. Exploring Australia
You could easily spend a lifetime discovering the treasures of Australia. But if you don’t have that kind of time – and you want a bit of adventure while you travel around this bountiful country – then adventure tours are the way to go! On a Fraser Island 4WD Tour from Hervey Bay you can explore both land and sea, and even see a shipwreck. A Blue Mountains Nature and Wildlife Day Tour from Sydney not only takes you to the land of kangaroos and koalas, but you also learn about rural life with visits to Leura and Katoomba. If you want even more animal encounters, then the Savannah Walkabout Australian Animals Eco Tour from Melbourne is just the ticket. Literally immerse yourself in adventure with a Great Barrier Reef Day Cruise to Reefworld. For a bit of letting loose with some family fun, try the Gold Coast Theme Park Pass: Movie World, Sea World and Wet n Wild!
6. Ancient Action
Adventure experiences may seem like a fairly new phenomenon that has become more popular as modern advances allow for safe, adrenaline-pumping fun. But centuries before the bungy cord changed adventure forever, people were living on the edge of excitement – and even intrigue! A tunic is your uniform when you attend the Roman Gladiator School: Learn How to Become a Gladiator on the Appian Way. But it’s face coverings and all black at Ninja School: Ninja for a Day. Or try another Tokyo Experience: Samurai for a Day. If sport is more your style, then check out a Tokyo Sumo Wrestling Tournament, or hoot and holler for your heroes while watching Mexican Wrestling: Experience Lucha Libre in Mexico City.
Forget rolling through country lanes and leisurely pedaling the beachfront – cycling fanatics have plenty of more interesting ways to get their kicks. And nowhere gets your blood pumping more than the streets of a major city. Discover centuries-old secret passages on a Rome City Bike Tour. Finish up a Barcelona Half-Day Bike Tour with a quick dip in the Mediterranean. Channel your inner Amélie on a Paris Bike Tour. Explore the urban jungle with a NYC Central Park Bike Rental. And cover all the ground of the expansive gardens in no time flat by taking a Versailles by Bike Day Tour.
8. Dubai Desert Fun
Off-roading is a popular pastime in the UAE, so you have some options to choose from – a basic 4×4 Dubai Desert Safari includes a pit stop at a traditional camel farm, or you could choose a more extensive 4×4 Abu Dhabi desert safari with a camel ride, dinner, and belly dancing. For a fun 4×4 desert adventure, head into the desert from Dubai for a Desert Safari Including BBQ and Al Hibab Red Dune Bashing. Or, take it up a notch with a Luxury Desert Experience: Camel Safari with Dinner and Emirati Activities with Transport from Dubai. Back in the city, see incredible architecture and innovative urban planning from a Helicopter Flight in Dubai.
9. See the View From the Top
Forget Google Earth – with adventure tours taking you up, up and away, you can get a bird’s eye view of the world while having once-in-a-lifetime experiences! So make your vacation extra-special by getting up on top of it all. Hike up an astonishing 400 feet on a Sydney BridgeClimb for views of the Harbour. See the glittering lights of the Las Vegas Strip with a Las Vegas Tandem Skydive. Go above the clouds to visit the Observatory during a Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small Group Adventure Tour. Swoop from up on high into the depths of the Grand Canyon for a champagne lunch on a Deluxe Grand Canyon All American Helicopter Tour. Combine land, sea and air with a San Francisco Seaplane Flight and Alcatraz Tour.
10. Animal Encounters
There’s no better way to get your heart racing while simultaneously getting up close and personal with nature than during an encounter with a wild animal. Thankfully, there are safe ways to do that when you’re on vacation, so you’ll not only have a thrilling experience – you’ll live to tell the tale. Start off your day right when you have a Singapore Zoo Breakfast with Orangutans, then visit the world’s largest aviary on a Singapore Jurong Bird Park Tour; finish your day with a Singapore Night Safari with optional Buffet Dinner. Start or end your sightseeing itinerary with Uluru Camel Express, Sunrise or Sunset Tours. Head out of Melbourne for the Phillip Island Little Penguins Parade Evening Tour, which is perhaps the cutest thing on the entire planet.
11. Go Adventuring By Boat
With so many of the world’s towns and cities founded near a water source, it’s no wonder that touring a destination by boat gives visitors a unique perspective on the history and daily life of a given place. Discover why the lake is such a big draw during a Geneva City Tour and Boat Cruise. Speaking of lakes, design your own day of boating, fishing, waterskiing and more with a South Lake Tahoe Boat Rental. Explore the secrets of the Big Easy on a Small-Group Bayou Airboat Ride with Transport from New Orleans. Call a catamaran your home for the day on a Na Pali Coast Kauai Snorkel and Sail excursion. And of course, no trip to this city in the sea would be complete without a Venice Grand Canal Boat Tour.
12. 4×4 Adventures
If you want to go off-road and traverse the wilderness, you’ll need an all-terrain vehicle to handle the twist, turns and bumps of the ever-changing terrain. Luckily, you don’t always need the driving skills to handle one. Take a break from working on that tan with a Punta Cana Half-Day Dune Buggy Adventure. See the massive feat of engineering just outside of Las Vegas on a Hoover Dam Hummer Tour. Explore the rock formations of the Southwest during a Broken Arrow Jeep Tour. Combine nature and historic villages with an Aruba ATV Tour. Or mix and match your favorite activities with a Cancun Combo Tour: ATV and Zipline with Cenote Swim.
13. Horseback Riding
Going for a horseback ride through beautiful natural scenery gives you a chance to get in touch with nature in a new way. Get a good start before hitting the tables with a Morning Maverick Horseback Ride with Breakfast in Las Vegas. If you prefer sleeping in, the Wild West Sunset Horseback Ride with Dinner out of Vegas is a real treat. And speaking of meals along with your adventure, try a Horse Riding in Chianti Day Trip from Florence. Down in Punta Cana you have your choice for horseback riding – a romantic seaside Horseback Riding Day Trip from Punta Cana, or a more adventurous Punta Cana River Horseback Riding and Zipline Tour through a cigar plantation.
14. Winter Activities
For many, winter is a time to curl up indoors and hibernate until the weather improves. But adventurers know that a bit of snow and chill is simply an invitation to a whole host of new experiences. For those who love the city life, there is Central Park Ice Skating at Wollman Rink. Fantastic winter Alps adventures abound in Switzerland, such as the Mt. Pilatus Winter Day Trip from Lucerne and the Mount Rigi Winter Day Trip from Zurich. Conquer the ice on a Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk. See nature’s glorious light show on an Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk.
15. Discover Down Below
While not one for the claustrophobic, if crawling through narrow rock crevices, swimming in eerily-lit underground pools and scrambling through pitch black caves sounds like your idea of an adventure, grab a headlamp and a crash hat, and head underground. Caving is not only a challenge, but a chance to discover some otherworldly scenery. Let the lights of thousands of glow worms enchant you during a Springbrook National Park Discovery Full-Day Bushwalk including Glow Worm Tour. Explore the many levels of chambers underneath residential areas during a Small-Group Budapest Caving Tour, and an ecological reserve on a La Jolla Sea Caves Kayak Tour. Experience a national park in a whole new way with a Canoe Cave Explorer Phang Nga Bay Tour from Phuket; the Cancun Underwater Museum, meanwhile, may be the only museum that requires a snorkel to visit!
Remember careening through the playground on a swinging tire as a kid? Well, ziplining has had a bit of a makeover since then – these days treetop ziplines reach dizzying heights and you can zoom through the air at break-neck speeds, all while securely attached to a safety harness. Get the ultimate adrenaline rush on a Bootleg Canyon zipline tour. Scream it out on a Cancun Extreme zipline canopy tour. Soar over the treetops of Ka’a’awa Valley with a Kualoa Ranch Zipline Tour. Ride through a tropical paradise during a Punta Cana Zipline Canopy Adventure. Get your zip kicks with the VooDoo Zip Line at The Rio Hotel and Casino, which includes a return zipline trip.
17. Explore the Everglades
The largest subtropical wilderness in the US is a treasure trove of nature, fun and adventure. On a Small-Group Tour: Everglades Adventure Day Trip from Ft Lauderdale you will travel by boat, van, foot and airboat to discover a dizzying array of flora and fauna. Get up close to alligators during a Florida Everglades Airboat Tour and Alligator Show from Fort Lauderdale, or pose for a photo op with one on a Florida Everglades Airboat Tour and Alligator Encounter! The Sawgrass Recreation Park is the setting of the Florida Everglades Airboat Adventure and Wildlife Encounter, complete with an airboat ride. With a Miami Super Saver: Everglades Airboat Adventure and Miami City Tour, you can combine the Everglades with a tour of hot, sultry Miami.
18. Get Wet
Being on the water is a great joy for adventurers, but nothing gets the blood pumping more than being IN the water. Interact with the world’s most majestic animals on a Elephant Safari Park and White-Water Rafting Adventure. Make new sea friends when you Swim with Manatees at Crystal River (plus an Everglades Airboat Adventure!). Go off the beaten track during a East Maui Waterfalls and Rainforest Hike. Defy the wisdom of TLC and chase waterfalls on an Off-Road Tour of Kauai Waterfalls. For a more structured day of fun, visit the Hoyo Azul Cenote at Scape Park from Punta Cana.
19. Underwater Fun
There’s fun on the water, fun in the water, and then for the true adrenaline junkies, there’s fun under the water. In Hawaii, try the Oahu Submarine Scooter Adventure, where you dive under the surface while riding your own self-propelled, electric underwater scooter. Watch marine life up close on a Hanauma Bay Snorkeling Adventure Half-Day Tour, with an inner reef option for families and beginners, and outer reef adventures for the more experienced. If you’re not afraid of the dark, swim alongside manta rays on a Manta Ray Night Snorkel from Kona. Add whale sharks and turtles to the list in Mexico when you swim with Whale Sharks in Cancun on a small-group snorkeling tour. Back in Hawaii, try the ultimate test of nerves as you enter an underwater cage for an Oahu Shark Dive.
20. Built For Speed
Do you feel the need – the need for speed? Of course you do, because you’re addicted to adventure! No longer will a regular boat or mere hydrofoil cut it for you. Combine all of your seafaring activities on a Punta Cana Combo Tour: Speedboat Ride, Snuba and Snorkeling. Maximize your time in a secluded Ko Phi Phi beach when you go from Phuket to Phi Phi Islands by Speedboat. Wear a bathing suit and bring a change of clothes for this wet and wild Niagara Falls Open Jet Boat Tour. Take sightseeing up a notch with a San Francisco RocketBoat Ride, or a Circle Line: Beast Speedboat Ride.
21. Race Car Driving
Whether you fancy making like James Bond in a vintage Aston Martin or tearing up the tarmac in a made-for-speed race-car, why not live out your motoring fantasies in style on your next vacation? Choose from a Exotic Car Driving Experience Power Package in Las Vegas, or learn the tricks of the trade with a race car driving experience at Cancun Speedway. You can also get behind the wheel of a sports car, in Europe with a Ferrari Sports Car Experience from Nice, Rome, or Monaco.
When the most beautiful places in the world are only accessible by boat. Kayaking into secret caves and coves has become popular worldwide, giving you a chance to see places you never could before. Explore Brazilian wildlife with a Kayaking Adventure in Paraty. Take a leisurely Tongass Wildlife Kayaking Adventure from Juneau. Head out from the Layou River in Saint Joseph, Dominica on a River to Ocean Kayaking Adventure. Try your skill at hands-free kayaking among seals with a Kayaking Adventure in Kaikoura, and have close encounters with wildlife on a Mount Maunganui Kayaking Adventure.
While snorkeling might technically be considered an adventure sport, and it’s also the happy medium for couples and groups with different abilities and interests. So chances are, there are going to be lots of snorkeling adventures on your itinerary. Hawaii is a natural fit for snorkeling – start with a Molokini and Kealewai Snorkel Cruise. Imagine life in the big blue a for a day with a Nassau Snorkel Bahamas Adventure, which includes shark feeding, or with a Fantasia Snorkel Sea Safari in Freeport. Have an underwater adventure on the other side of the world with a Moorea Snorkeling Safari. Even Egypt has snorkeling opportunities, with a Red Sea Snorkeling tour that takes you to three sites.
24. Extreme Experiences
If everything we’ve listed here doesn’t make your pulse race, then these tours are for you. Tackle the longest circuit in North America on a Cancun Extreme zipline canopy tour. Pull out all the stops for a thrilling Extreme Mountain Bike Adventure from Bogotá. When you’ve mastered that, move on to a Hidden Valley and Primm Extreme Dirt Bike Tour. Tap into your inner Superman with a day of Extreme Flyboarding from Queenstown. Navigate narrow passages and jump into unseen waters while Extreme Canyoning from Porto.
If you’ve always envied the tanned surfers waxing their boards and spouting surf lingo, now’s the time to learn to catch some waves for yourself. In a country where over half the population lives near the beach, surfing is a national pastime in Australia, so what better place to learn the ropes than with Surfing Lessons in Sydney, including Surfing Lessons on Bondi Beach? You can extend your time in the water with a 2-Day Sydney Surf Camp Adventure to Seal Rocks. Of course, Hawaii is no stranger to surfing experts, either – try Maui Surf School Surfing Lessons. But even Europe has its fair share of waves, so head to Portugal for a Surf Experience in Porto.
—Viator Travel Team