Want to boost your fitness levels? Join the queue. But getting a sweat on doesn’t have to mean pounding muddy pavements in the unflinching chill of a winter’s evening. Why not climb a mountain in the Andes, or canyon through a Middle Eastern gorge instead?
Travel challenges have a way of stretching your physical stamina without the residue pain/boredom of your average cardio workout. You’re so absorbed by what you’re doing, and where you are, you barely notice that you’re undergoing a major workout at the same time.
With that in mind, we’ve picked out ten epic fitness challenges to get your heart racing and your adrenaline levels pumping. Ramp up your willpower and say hello to a fitter, bolder you with these adventures of a lifetime:
Climb Rainbow Mountain in Peru
It might look pretty, but a trek to the summit of Rainbow Mountain is no mean feat. You’ll need the support of fellow Flashpackers every step of the way, as you tackle the 5,035-metre ascent up through the breath-taking Cusco region of the Peruvian Andes. You and your crew will camp overnight at 4,000 metres, but don’t expect to get much sleep; the altitude makes everything harder. Make an early start for the final summit push, and watch in awe as the extraordinary dome of “Winicunca” comes into sight. You’ll never look at a stairmaster in the same way again.
Ice hike a Norwegian glacier
Jostedalsbreen glacier in western Norway is the largest of its kind in mainland Europe: a mighty giant of ice towers, caves and deep blue crevasses. Hiking here in the summer months is a dreamy experience, with incredible views of fjord country stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s also a fair old sweat; you’ll need ropes and crampons to navigate your way around natural steps in the ice, pausing now and again to drink in a vast panorama of glacial lakes and icy peaks.
“I’m afraid of heights, and we had to cross a rope bridge to get to the glacier in Norway,” says Erin, who ranks the glacier hike as one of her trip highlights with Flash Pack. “It was really scary in the moment, but I’m so glad I powered through.”
Go canyoning in Jordan's Wadi Mujib
Flashpackers are thrown right into the deep end on our Jordan trip, with an exhilarating climb through the gorges of the Wadi Mujib. You’ll need your wits about you as you navigate river crevices and giant slippery rocks that lie in the shadow of towering sandstone canyons. “It was kind of quite dangerous and we were all helping each other,” says Victoria, who signed on for the challenge a few years ago. “And it was our first day, so we were all thrown into this environment where we were hauling each other up rocks and stuff like that.”
Paddleboard Lake Bled in Slovenia
Paddleboarding is a great, all-body workout that strengthens your core while burning a ton of calories. It’s also the very definition of slow travel, allowing you to slow down and immerse yourself in the feel of the wild outdoors. Slovenia’s Lake Bled is a great place to start, with calm waters and postcard-perfect scenery. Once you’ve got your balance (something that’s easier than it looks), take a moment to look up at the ancient fairytale-like castle on the rim of the lake, or the pretty island at its centre.
Trek through the Himalayan foothills
Your average hike pales in comparison to this spectacular and demanding high-altitude route along/ beyond the Everest trail in Nepal. Granted, you won’t be climbing Everest itself – quite – but you will be ticking off the 5,000-metre mark from the viewpoint at Farak Ri. This nine-day expedition takes us through the remote foothills of the Himalayas, as we climb steadily higher (acclimatizing along the way) through tiny Sherpa villages, in a world of fluttering prayer flags, stupas and valleys coated in thick rhododendron forest. The final push begins at one of the world’s highest lodges, with views that spread across the entire Khumbu Valley, including four of the world’s six highest peaks: Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu. It sure beats tussling over a free treadmill at the gym…
Learn to surf in Morocco
Who needs spinning classes when you can surf off the coast of Morocco? The surf paradise of Taghazout, with its powerful Atlantic waves and laid-back atmosphere, is a great spot to learn how to glide the waves – with instructors to suit all levels. Trust us, between staying balanced (if only for second) and fending off “noodle arms”, you’ll get an all-body training session that is as tough as it is exhilarating. But with the incredible thrill of surfing in the mix, not to mention the hazy ocean views, who’s really complaining? Plus there’s pool-side yoga after, to soothe those weary muscles.
Try white water rafting in Chile
If you’ve never tried white water rafting before, you’re in for a spin like no other. Our Chilean expedition unfolds on the wild waterways of Petrohué River, in the south of the country. Hold on tight, as you and your fellow gang of Flashpackers face off against class II and IV rapids. This adrenaline-fuelled mission takes place against the backdrop of the jaw-dropping Osorno volcano, and the volcanic landscape means the water isn’t as cold as you might think. To amp things up a level, you could even make like Bear Grylls and jump off cliffs into the river (y’know, if the prospect of churning rapids isn’t taxing enough for you).
Abseil down Cape Town's Table Mountain
Does inching your way off a precipice 1,086 metres above sea level shout “awesome experience” to you? Be our guest. Our Cape Town stint at abseiling is not for the fainthearted but boy, does it deliver in the thrill stakes. One of the world’s highest commercial abseils begins with a steep hike up to the top of Table Mountain, one of the region’s most iconic landmarks. Once at the top, you’ll have a bit of time to soak in the views of Cape Town below (either against clear blue skies, or a “tablecloth” of moody clouds) before abseiling your way back down. Terrifying? A bit. Physically demanding? You betcha. A workout you’ll remember for the rest of your life? 100%.
Kayak like a pro in Croatia
Your upper body workout just got fun thanks to sea kayaking off Croatia’s Adriatic coast. The route from Dubrovnik to Lokrum Island is plenty enough to get those biceps pumping, before you arrive on the island for an extra spot of exercise. Lokrum is steeped in folklore (along with a colony of peacocks) that you can learn all about as you follow walking trails through the lush pine forest that scatters the island. There are some lovely wild swimming spots here, too, so make time for a quick dip before heading back to Dubrovnik, making the most of your unique vantage point over its famous terracotta rooftops and medieval city walls.
Learn to cross-country ski in Finland
While traditional skiing gets all the glamour plaudits, cross-country or Nordic skiing is its tougher, more challenging cousin. This is for people who really want to crank up that heart rate, with every major muscle in the upper and lower body pulling its weight. Cross-country skiing is all about strength, balance and endurance: and Finnish Lapland provides the most sublime backdrop you can imagine for getting in shape. Look out to the dazzling Arctic snowscape, with a horizon that spools out for miles, and put your body to work.
Images: Flash Pack, Shutterstock