Hailed as “truly extraordinary” by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and “Britain’s most intrepid hero since Scott of the Antarctic” , adventurer Ed Stafford hit the record books after becoming the first man to walk the Amazon. The deadly journey took two and half years and, now a Discovery Channel documentary, ignited a career in solo adventure. Ed continues to travel and film all over the world, surviving in some of the most hostile environments on Earth, for TV shows Naked and Marooned and Left For Dead to his upcoming series First Man Out.
This is Ed Stafford’s Flash Pack column, written once a month from somewhere remote and halfway across the planet. Probably. Over to Ed now, enjoy the read…
Over the years, adventure travel has been a huge part of my life – often carried out as a solo traveller.
Whether that be to Afghanistan on a UN jet that, unbeknownst to me, decided to do evasive manoeuvres (crazy flying to avoid bazookas) as it came in to land or to Argentine Patagonia to set up a conservation expedition base for a charity; there has always been a bit of me that is slightly scared to go travelling alone.
Equally, I know that there’s an unwritten indulgence to it too, with only one set of rules to stick to (or break!) and one agreed pace of travel.
But, trust me when I say this, solo adventure travel can be utterly incredible.
Just come out of the mangroves. What an episode this is going to be. Neither @aldokane nor I had ever operated for a week in mangrove swamp and the race was one of the hardest I can remember. The result, as ever, is under wraps until TX on @discoverychannel later in the year but my respect for my mate and opponent has never been higher. #survival #adventure #firstmanout @discovery_uk @vivobarefoot @nuzest_europe @discoverybrasil @discovery_nl @discovery_seasia
I’ve been fortunate enough to find this out first-hand, travelling alone in many, many amazing countries across the globe. So, to pass on this experience, below you’ll find a list of my top six countries in the world to travel solo and why.
I’ve added some stories, advice and some interesting ways to stretch your limits whilst you’re there. I hope they provide you with the inspiration and motivation to take action and book a trip or simply buy that plane ticket…
The jungles (and cayes) of Belize
I feel like Belize is a country that changed my life. I was a captain in the army and, like many people in work, I was stressed and unsatisfied so I decided to leave in search of something more fun. I took a very spurious job leading expeditions for gap year travellers in the jungles of Belize and it offered about 5% of my salary in the army. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Belize is in Central America and, as an ex-British colony, is all English speaking which is really handy if you’re a Brit. It was my first time in the jungle and I took to it like a duck to water, sleeping in hammocks and washing in rivers.
I just started smiling more and more.
This makes me sound like a hippy but I shed years of tension simply by being there and embracing the positive power of the jungle. It’s tricky to explain until you’ve been there but walking through the palms and vines of the jungle feels like coming home, at a very primal level. It’s adventure travel at it’s best.
Australia’s sunshine coast (and it’s lesser known rainforest)
In the famous words of Robbie Williams, “You can’t argue with popularity – well you could, but you’d be wrong”.
The sunshine coast has so much going for it and its popularity just makes it more fun. This part of Australia is super relaxed and outdoorsy, so it’s a no-brainer for a solo traveller wanting a bit of both.
But it’s not all surfer’s paradise – head north of Cairns and there is a stunning rainforest called the Daintree. There I have spent a lot of time with old aboriginal Australian mates, both learning bush craft and working on life stuff (and drinking beer!).
The land in Australia feels ancient and taking time out to come inland and swim in a watering hole is a must if you’re interested in travelling the real Australia.
Stretch Your Limits: You eat ants?! Green ants are delicious and taste of lemon sherbet. You can even mix them with water to make a refreshing drink.
Moroccan mountain trekking
As a young subaltern in the British Army, I decided to join three other young officers on an adventure to go windsurfing in Morocco. I didn’t know the others that well – it was more a case of we all kind of had the same idea on our own and it was easier to do it together.
Our main aim of the trip was to climb Mount Toubkal (Morocco’s highest mountain at 4,167m), which we did whilst taking the mickey out of all the hikers that were using trekking poles.
“Where’s your skis mate?” I would jest, only to get a self-conscious half-smile in return. In later years, I had to eat humble pie as I realised that they were a bloody good idea, even if they warranted the risk of having the Michael taken out of you.
As Africa goes, Morocco is very hospitable and accessible for solo travellers. It’s got such a distinct cultural flare too that it’s become one of my favourite places to get any from it all, in terms of a place that’s not that far away. If you don’t like it you could almost swim to Spain.
Stretch Your Limits: Ever ridden a camel into the Saharan sunset? If it’s just you in control of the animal this one is actually quite scary.
The best of everything in amazing Argentina
Apart from being right at the end of the earth, Argentina is one of the coolest countries I’ve ever had the joy of living in and travelling solo.
Best red wine in the world? Argentina. Most dramatic landscapes in the world? Argentina. Best steak in the world? Most similar humour to British humour (surprisingly) in the world? It goes on and on…
After I stopped working with the UN in Afghanistan, I was tasked with going to this far away land and scouting conservation projects to assist with, whilst setting up an expedition base camp for a UK charity.
Quite a cool job brief if ever I had one.
I ended up working with a scientist called Sergio, who was one of the world’s leading experts on Andean condors. We would literally sleep in a cave full of goat shit, high up in the Andes, to watch the condors on the other side of the canyon in the morning through huge telescopes. Money cannot buy this sort of stuff.
Peru, Peru, Peru…
Why do I keep going back to Peru?
I’ve spent about a year-and-a-half of my adult life in this deepest, darkest country, if you add all my trips together. One of the places that the Peruvian Consulate didn’t want me to go through was the “Red Zone”.
This is because it’s the only place in the country where they can’t really guarantee your safety, as it’s fairly lawless and involves quite a bit of activity surrounding cocaine production. Annoyingly for me (as a man wanting to walk the Amazon), the headwaters of the Amazon pass straight through this infamous area.
The rest of Peru may be safer but it’s no less exciting for adventure. Whether that be drinking ayahuasca in a spiritual ceremony in Puerto Maldonado or visiting a Shipebo village near Iquitos, Peru has so much diversity to offer. Over 30 official languages show how many tribes and clans there are and why things stay intriguing.
There’s Machuu Pichu, if you must, but for me it’s the unknown waterfalls, undiscovered villages and encounters with locals that makes this country utterly unique for adventure travel.
Stretch Your Limits: Hire a local guide to take you into the jungle alone. Not on an organised trip – just two of you. Suddenly things start to get more intense.
Stunning Sri Lanka never gets old
When you pass out of Sandhurst, the Ministry of Defence gives you a grant to buy your uniform as an officer. It’s a couple grand (or used to be) because each uniform is bespoke and tailored. I bought mine second-hand off a bloke (quite a lot smaller than me) and went on an all inclusive trip to Sri Lanka with the change.
My first recommendation is to buy second-hand clothes off people with a similar stature to you.
My second piece of advice is to avoid “all inclusive” package holidays like the plague. Whilst I could have eaten the same tepid curry three times a day and washed it down with the bizarrely sweet beer, that was also unattractively free, I ended up having to hire a car to escape the madness and see the country.
And thank goodness I did. Climbing to the summit of the iconic Sigiriya Rock Fortress at sunset is something that will be etched in the “coolest things I have ever done” folder in my brain. And being amongst the sheer volume of elephants in the orphanage at Pinnawala is a memory that is definitely pushing for a place in the same folder.
Stretch Your Limits: Take an iconic train ride through the mountains. In my view, it’s the only way to soar through these mountains and soak up all that is magical about Sri Lanka.
Ed Stafford is back next month with another column based on his experiences as one of modern Britain’s boldest and most popular adventurers. We’ll see you back here then.
Where will your next adventure take you?
We’ve cherry-picked three trips that will hit the spot if you’ve got the adventure travel bug:
From climbing an active volcano to swimming with sharks on the Belize Barrier Reef and kayaking across the blue waters of Lake Atitlan, this isn’t for the fairweather traveller who wants to fly-and-flop. However, those looking for the ultimate, adrenaline-filled, jaw-dropping adventure travel trip of a lifetime, this is for you.
And if you do want to fly-and-flop, this might hit the spot but has some adventure thrown in, too. You’ll go island-hopping and arrive at a private beach by VIP speedboat for glamping under the stars. On the flip, you’ll also explore the legendary Chocolate Hills on a fleet of quad bikes and paddle-board down the Loboc River amid jungle wilderness. The perfect mix.
Experience some of the same challenging environments Ed trekked through during his Walking the Amazon expedition on our trip to Peru. We stay in boutique Amazonian lodges and head out on jungle treks packed with wildlife and stunning canopies. We also take on Rainbow Mountain, at 5,000 metres, in the Peruvian Andes. Conquer this and you won’t believe how beautiful it is at the summit.
Photos by @ed_stafford and Flash Pack