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 36 and 27 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 sat down with some of these inspiring adventurers to get their picks for the best adventure travel spots around the world. With a combined 95 years of guiding experience, 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, 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.”
“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,” so getting there isn’t as far-fetched as it feels.
A guide for G Adventures, Mailin Plagge says her stateside go-to is the Sierra Nevada range. But for international outdoor play, the southwestern African nation of Namibia, where she lived for three years, is near to her heart. “When people think of outdoor adventure, they think mountains, they think forests, they think rivers. But the desert is something special.” And Namibia has a lot of them, including one of the oldest coastal deserts in the world. Many may wonder what to do in such a landscape, but Plagge assures there’s plenty: sand boarding, skydiving, mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing. And the continent is more accessible than many travelers believe. “A lot of people think they can’t do Africa, that it’s not set up for solo travel,” says Plagge. “But from what I’ve seen that’s totally untrue—and Namibia is so amazing.”
“Historically, this region doesn’t come with the best press,” concedes Nicole Wineland-Thomson, the director of programming for AdventureWomen. “It has totally overshadowed the beautiful things in Colombia. But because it was kind of hidden from tourism, a lot of places, like the little bodegas and the coffee plantations, have stayed really traditional. You feel like it’s Costa Rica from decades ago.” Although the U.S. Department of State recently upgraded the country’s advisory to “exercise increased caution” when a ceasefire agreement between the government and the National Liberation Army ended, the tourist trail is still quite secure (especially for group travel). Cities like Cartagena are filled with colorful colonial architecture and vibrant gastronomical culture, and there’s plenty of adventuring to be had too—with the highest coastal mountains in the world to explore, white-water river to raft, and more than 10,000 acres of protected cloud forests to hike. As long as travelers exercise caution, the South American country has a lot going for it.
Morocco is another of Wineland-Thomson’s favorites. “[It] has always been one of those destinations that people are unsure about because of the news,” she says. “But it is such an incredible place with a deep-rooted culture and a fascinating history.” Another plus is that Morocco caters to so many types of travelers. Searching for delicious cuisine? Want to bask in architectural beauty? Wish to ride over sand dunes and sleep under a starry sky? Yup, yup, yup. In short—there’s a reason all AdventureWomen’s Morocco trips are sold out.
“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.”
When Annie Van Dinther, an Arctic guide at Natural Habitat Adventures with 19 years of experience under her belt, 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. “For weekend camping trips, we take a boat across the bay to our favorite spot at Halibut Cove Lagoon. It’s often cliff jumping in wetsuits for my kiddos.”
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 36-year veteran guide who works with Wilderness Travel, “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.