Cruises and all-inclusive resorts are nice, but some tenacious travelers love to hit the high road for trips that might make others crave a vacation when they return. If you’re physically fit and up for an active adventure with an itinerary that could include anything from hiking and biking, to kayaking and snorkeling, consider visiting these dozen destinations — listed in no particular order — well before you’re ready for a relaxing retirement.
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
- Average cost of flights to Cusco, Peru: $985.33
- Average cost of hotel: $28 per night
- Machu Picchu is generally safe, but TripAdvisor recommended watching out for pickpockets in crowds and sticking with registered cabs in the cities of Lima and Cusco.
This ancient complex of palaces, plazas, temples and homes sits on the eastern slopes of the Andes and overlooks the Urubamba River below. Although there are easier ways to get there today, hiking the 26-mile Inca Trail is a must for those who are able, according to National Geographic. Give yourself ample time to adjust to Peru’s high altitudes before beginning the trek.
Visitors have to travel with a permit-holding tour company to hike the trail, according to TripAdvisor. Permits were introduced to help protect Machu Picchu, a World Heritage site. G Adventures offers an eight-day Inca Discovery package that includes a four-day guided trek of the Inca Trail with a small group. Tour prices start at $1,599 and exclude international airfare.
2. New Bern, N.C
- Average cost of flights: $349.67
- Average cost of hotel: $92.33 per night
- Violent and property crimes in New Bern are slightly higher than the national median, according to crime statistics on BestPlaces.net.
New Bern abounds with affordable kayaking, hiking and biking opportunities. One of many outfitters, Bear Town Adventure Co., has guided tours and offers full-day bike rentals for $28 and kayak and SUP daily rental rates of $60. Visitors can also take in some history at the Tryon Palace center or the drugstore where Pepsi was invented.
“Home to the first state capitol, New Bern is North Carolina’s second-oldest city,” said travel blogger Linda Tancs. “Tryon Palace in New Bern captures the town’s status as the first permanent state capitol. It is a complex of seven major buildings, three galleries and 14 acres of gardens.” A one-day pass for all of the Palace’s attractions is $20.
3. Harpers Ferry, W.V
- Average cost of flights to Washington, D.C.: $182
- Average cost of hotel: $99.33 per night
- Crime statistics in Harpers Ferry is well below the national median, according to NeighborhoodScout.com. On the Appalachian Trail, be aware of your situation, eliminate opportunities for theft by keeping an eye on your belongings, and leave your hiking plans with someone at home to help track you down in an emergency.
Harpers Ferry is a 19th-century village bordered by the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers at the eastern tip of West Virginia. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park features historical attractions, hiking and biking trails within easy walking distance of the village. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail travels through the heart of town.
Although West Virginia hosts only four miles of the 2,178-mile trail and its section is ranked as easy to moderate, Harpers Ferry marks the midpoint and is home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the trail’s headquarters. Thus, it’s a good spot to get a taste of the trail for those considering a long-haul hike. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park also offers more challenging hiking options in the area.
4. Interlaken, Switzerland
- Average cost of flights to Bern, Switzerland: $3,683.67
- Average cost of hotel: $39.33 per night
Crime levels in Switzerland as a whole are low, and problems with violent crime are very low, according to Numbeo. Visiting Interlaken, your biggest safety concern is probably injury on the slopes.
At the heart of the Jungfrau region in the Swiss Alps, Interlaken is on the Aare River and tucked between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, a spot that offers unparalleled views. In the winter, visitors can ski, skate or sledge down toboggan runs. Summer offers activities including river rafting, and outfitters schedule paragliding and sky diving excursions year-round.
The fitter the traveler, the more alpine activities are accessible to them, and there are plenty to choose from. For example, the tour company Outdoor Interlaken offers several river rafting excursions and ski packages, among other options. Its Lütschine River rafting trip gives you about two hours on the water and starts at about $107.
5. Whitehorse, Canada
- Average cost of flights: $658.33
- Average cost of hotel: $66 per night
- Before a wilderness trip, leave a travel plan with a trusted friend at home in case of emergency. While in the backcountry, observe all bear safety and water safety guidelines to minimize the risk of emergencies and injuries.
The Yukon offers hiking, mountain biking, hunting, fishing and backcountry skiing, among other outdoor adventures. The Yukon’s Department of Tourism and Culture suggested an itinerary that begins in Whitehorse and entails eight days of paddling on remote rivers. You can also explore Kluane National Park and Reserve, which includes opportunities for strenuous hikes and serious mountaineering.
If you’re going to take on such a hardcore backcountry activity, be sure you’re physically fit enough for the challenge. Overnight backcountry and mountaineering permits are about $7.50 per person in Kluane, with additional fees for campsites and other activities and amenities.
6. Chiang Rai, Thailand
- Average cost of flights: $1,356.67
- Average cost of hotel: $18.67 per night
- Crime levels in Chiang Rai are low, according to Numbeo, which indicates walking alone in daylight hours is very safe and walking alone at night is safe.
Chiang Rai is Thailand’s northern-most province, and borders both Laos and Myanmar. The city of Chiang Rai is about a 10-hour drive due north of Bangkok. Activities include boat rides, trekking, river rafting, elephant riding, cycling and visiting hill tribe villages. There are also a number of golf courses in the vicinity, including the well-known Santiburi Golf Club.
If you’re looking to burn some calories on vacation, the Active Thailand tour company offers a four-day, three-night mountain biking tour between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The itinerary includes up to 60 kilometers, or more than 37 miles, of cycling a day, with some of that distance being done off-road. The tour starts at about $473 a day and includes a guide, gear, a support vehicle, accommodations and water and snacks throughout the day.
7. Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
- Average cost of flights: $939.33
- Average cost of hotel: $25 per night
- Crime is not considered a threat to safety in the Galapagos Islands, according to USA Today. However be sure to stick with reputable tour companies and consider travel insurance. The U.S. State Department recommends purchasing travel insurance with an air evacuation policy.
Dating to 1959, the Galapagos National Park is the oldest national Park in Ecuador and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Roughly 97 percent of the area of the Galapagos Islands are uninhabited and part of the national park system. All tourists who visit the islands on a cruise or take daily tours must be accompanied by a certified guide. The Galapagos National Park also collects a $100 per person entrance fee from those who visit the park and marine reserve.
Top activities include wildlife watching, hiking to active volcano Sierra Negra, scuba diving and snorkeling. Several operators offer multi-day diving tours, including Dive the Galapagos. The company offers Liveaboard cruises, starting at around $4,000 per person, that explore the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin for eight days or more.
8. Kauai, Hawaii
- Average cost of flights: $756
- Average cost of hotel: $98 per night
- Tourist areas are generally safe, but Frommer’s advises avoiding deserted areas and keeping an eye on your possessions.
Hawaii’s fourth-largest island, lush Kauai is sometimes called the “Garden Isle,” according to the Hawaiian Tourism Authority. Outdoor activities include hiking, kayaking, zip line tours, tubing trips through the mountains and horseback riding or biking along the shoreline.
“The newly opened Kapaa Bike Path, known as Ke Ala Hele Makalae, or ‘the path that goes by the coast,’ offers breathtaking coastline views,” said Angelina Zeppieri, a travel writer and publicist. “A great place for sunsets and whale watching, it’s free for the public to enjoy.”
Kauai Shores hotel has bikes its guests can borrow and offers easy access to the path. Nightly room rates start at $99, excluding a $15 nightly hospitality fee. It also offers guests free outdoor yoga sessions to help warm up for the day. Some activities, like hiking the challenging sections of the Kalalau Trail can be strenuous, so be sure to keep your personal fitness level in mind when planning.
9. Boulder, Colo
- Average cost of flights to Denver, Colo.: $105
- Average cost of hotel: $104 per night
- Violent crime rates in Boulder are lower than the national and state medians, according to NeighborhoodScout. Safety concerns on hiking trails include the possibility of encountering mountain lions, black bears and rattlesnakes, so be aware of your surroundings in the outdoors.
Boulder’s Chautauqua Park offers access to hiking trails that present a range of difficulty, distances and elevation gain — including everything from the easy 6-mile Mesa Trail, to the challenging Green Mountain Trail, a 3.3-mile, one-way hike to the top of 8,100-foot Green Mountain. Be sure to match your hike to your fitness level. Additionally, some visitors are affected by altitude sickness, so take time to acclimate yourself before hitting the hiking trails.
Access to Chautauqua Park is free, so you might opt to splurge on a meal at The Kitchen, which offers a family-style tasting menu served to the entire table for $48 per person. The current tasting menu offers seasonal selections, including a spinach salad with greens provided by nearby Cure Farm.
10. Madison, Wisc
- Average cost of flights: $302
- Average cost of hotel: $66.33 per night
- Madison’s violent crime rate is lower than the national median, according to NeighborhoodScout.
With more than 200 miles of scenic trails in the area, Madison offers everything from easy to difficult hikes and bike rides. Hop Head brewery offers monthly Madison brewery bike tours for $73, including bike rental, or $50 if you bring your bike. There are also opportunities to canoe or kayak right in the city, at Lake Wingra and Lake Monona, said Andrew Scott, who operates the travel writing website Authentic Traveling.
“This is a personal favorite of mine,” he said. “Nothing compares to the view of the city one gets from the water. Thankfully, the lakes are rarely choppy, so even the most novice boater will have no trouble getting around.”
11. Jaco Beach, Costa Rica
- Average cost of flights to San Jose, Costa Rica: $347.67
- Average cost of hotel: $29 per night
- Areas of Jaco on the Pacific coast are increasingly dangerous at night for tourists because of an upswing in drug and prostitution activity, according to the U.S. State Department, which recommends avoiding isolated areas and consulting with a trustworthy local — such as a concierge or tour guide — about precautions or concerns.
Jaco, about an 80-minute drive from the San Jose airport, is the most developed beach town in Costa Rica and is on the western coast. Outdoor activities include snorkeling, kayaking on the sea and the river, and horseback riding, among others. It’s important to choose an activity that suits your abilities and interests.
For example, Anywhere Inc. offers a Naranjo River excursion that includes class III and IV rapids. So the tour, which starts at $75 per person, is intended for experienced paddlers who are “physically fit and ready for adventure.” In contrast, it also offers an easy-going horseback ride, starting at $69 per person, that includes a dip in a natural pool fed by the waterfalls of Quebrada Arroyo.
12. Queenstown, New Zealand
- Average cost of flights: $1,459.67
- Average cost of hotel: $17 per night
- Crime levels in New Zealand as a whole are moderate, according to Numbeo, but problems with violent crime are low. Queenstown is generally safe since police are intolerant of disorderly behavior, according to Wikitravel.
On the shores of Lake Wakatipu in southern New Zealand, Queenstown offers skiing, snowboarding, hiking and biking, among other outdoor activities. The city, the birthplace of bungee jumping, still bills itself as the bungee capital of the world, boasting the world’s highest “swing,” as well as the world’s biggest swing.
“The strength of the U.S. dollar makes this a good year to set out for a real travel adventure,” said Cheapflights.com editor Amanda Festa. “The current exchange rate makes New Zealand a great value once travelers are on the ground. With affordable bus fares — as low as $1 — and stiff competition among airlines keeping domestic airfares low, you can cover a lot of ground without busting your budget.”
Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed travel-related information for 12 destinations, including the following factors: (1) Popular activities/safety/health requirements — sourced from different travel, tourism and city websites; (2) average hotel cost, 2 stars and up, average of 3 cheapest, 5 miles or less to city center, for 1 room with 2 adults, no dates specified — sourced from TripAdvisor.com on May 2, 2016; (3) average cost of flights from ATL, LAX and ORD to the destination, fares reflect starting prices for round-trip tickets — sourced from Google Flights on May 2, 2016.