Note: Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
Since the first dedicated women’s travel companies took off in the 1970s, ladies looking to adventure have been commanding an increasing share of the market. Women are more empowered than ever to boldly go, and they want to foster and support communities of like-minded travelers while they’re going.
Companies such as AdventureWomen and Wild Women Expeditions, which have been in operation for 38 and 29 years respectively, have been joined by the likes of WHOA Travel (founded in 2013), Damesly (founded in 2016), and a female-driven trips campaign by REI Adventures in 2017 called Force of Nature. But the number of women seeking active vacations isn’t all that has grown—the number of women leading trips has risen, too.
We talked with some of these inspiring adventurers to get their picks for the best adventure travel spots around the world. These intrepid experts weigh in on the best spots for a radical sojourn right now. They’re great places for women to travel, of course, but everyone’s welcome.
The landscape is wild and the climate is unforgiving, but for travelers willing to rise to the challenge, the views as you kayak past glaciers and admire Arctic marine life are unparalleled. “As a guide, what I love most about spending time there is seeing the difference in how I see the wilderness versus how my friends from [Greenland] do,” says Katie Crafts, once a polar expedition guide who works with Natural Habitat Adventures and Lindblad–National Geographic Expeditions. “When I see a beautiful iceberg, they see how the tidal currents interact with the winds and how that might impact the fishing. Greenland has taught me a new way of seeing the natural land.”
Greenland is also a place where the landscape lends itself to gender parity, Crafts says. “In traditional East Greenlandic culture, every individual plays a crucial role for the survivability of the communities: men and women, children and elderly alike. It impacts everything from modern-day beauty standards to leadership positions and more.”
GAdventures’ CEO and tour guide Fabi Cornejo is no stranger to Peru, having grown up in the capital, Lima. She aims to shed light on the versatility of a country often overshadowed by an oft-visited landmark: “Nowadays when someone mentions Peru, one place immediately comes to mind, which is Machu Picchu. I think many travelers don’t know that we have a lot more to show and more to explore than just a single destination.” She assures there is something for every kind of adventurer, from kayaking on Lake Titicaca in Puna to ziplining and rafting to journeying inward via yoga retreats. “Whether you’re interested in hiking, archaeological sites, or wellness, you can find it here. We have it all.” She divulges that one of her biggest joys while traveling is connecting with the people. Having led groups into Cuzco’s Sacred Valley to experience life among local communities, she believes one of the best ways for immersion is through a homestay. Cornejo says, “Little by little we know we have to learn more about the local communities and use that knowledge in a better way than we do now.”
“The Arabia of your imagination doesn’t exist,” says Annie Hawkins, who has been guiding with Wilderness Travel since 1995. “But Oman is a gorgeous country and perfectly safe, including for women.” Not many tourists from outside the region think of it as a tourism destination, she notes, because it feels too far or they have misapprehensions about security. “I go for the culture. There are markets and people still wearing traditional clothing. The locals are very conversant with visitors, and many tour operators organize trips there,” she says, so getting there isn’t as far-fetched as it seems.
The Canadian Rockies
“It’s that quintessential activity adventure option,” says Nicole Wineland-Thomson, the director of programming for AdventureWomen. “The guides there are out of this world. The hiking in the region is unbelievable. And the turquoise blue water matched with the mirrored lakes and the beautiful landscape, the entire nation’s parks, the mountains. It is such a perfect adventure destination for women.” Every season is ripe with opportunities, from skiing and snowshoeing across glaciers to horseback riding and even scuba diving in Banff National Park. For an extra dose of exhilaration, she suggests spelunking in the ancient limestone cave systems glistening with calcite crystal formations. But Wineland-Thomson encourages visitors to look beyond the glimmering lakes and snow-capped peaks and visit the towns, too. “I think people walk away really surprised by the local people and by quaint little villages that are tucked in the mountains,” she says.
Bhutan is another of Wineland-Thomson’s favorites. “It really is a Himalayan jewel. It’s like this hidden gem that not many people go to,” partly due to a selective entry process. The small, isolated kingdom tucked in the edge of the eastern Himalayas is committed to environmental and sustainable tourism, barring independent travelers. Visits need to be “prearranged and pre-registered” and “go through a vetted known partner in Bhutan.”
Wineland-Thomson says the effort is worth the chance to hike the Himalayas, interact with the women of a Buddhist nunnery, gape at historic temples and UNESCO World Heritage sites, camp in a secluded valley overlooking a river, and trek to the sacred temple complex of Paro Taktsang—also known as “Tiger’s Nest”—perched on the edge of a cliff. But a myriad of activities isn’t what makes Bhutan unique. In a nation that governs by a philosophy of gross domestic happiness, the locals alone are a reason to visit. “They’re just genuinely nice people,” Wineland-Thomson says. “They believe in giving, they believe in being generous and being kind as a way of supporting one another.”
“The culture in India is so diverse,” says Sana Jinah, a Mumbai-born tour leader for Intrepid Travel. “The different cities and states throughout each has its own distinct personality.” Her top contenders there are Rajasthan, Ladakh, and Madhya Pradesh. “Leh Ladakh is in northern India, ideal for women who are interested in mountains, treks, and hiking.” For an urban adventure, head to Mumbai, “a very modern and developed side of India.”
Alaska Annie Van Dinther, an Arctic guide at Natural Habitat Adventures, has more than 20 years of experience under her belt. When she is not braving the infamously volatile waters of Drake Passage or kayaking in Baja, she and her family are enjoying the Alaskan wilderness they call home. “Kachemak Bay State Park is my playground,” she says.
Seeing Alaskan wildlife up close is a thrill for travelers of all ages, even for Van Dinther, who often takes groups in the front country where travelers might see 800-pound grizzlies. “It’s safe because we know what we’re doing as bear guides, and they’re habituated to humans,” she says. “But it’s a head trip to be just a few feet from something that can eat you.”
“It’s the mountains that bring people to Nepal,” says Leila Thompson, a veteran guide who has worked with Wilderness Travel since the early 1990s, “and it’s the people that bring them back. It’s such a welcoming place.” Western culture has yet to touch much of the country, especially places like Mustang or Dolpo, and Thompson finds it special to connect with locals living in traditional ways. “I think it’s important to travel without making attachments to your own culture—not saying, ‘Look how they live compared to how I live,’ but to engage with people on a human level. Share a cup of tea with them. Sit down with the nomadic herders and talk with them.” You’ve already traveled halfway around the world to meet them—stay awhile.
This article originally appeared online on March 5, 2018; it was updated on April 22, 2020, to include current information.