There’s nothing like a good walk when you’re traveling to let you unwind and get to know a place. Of course, there are walks and then there are walks. Or, rather, hikes.
Here is a list of ten of the best hikes in the world – treks that can make your lungs seem empty, your quads burn, and leave your eyes thrilled by the scenery.
(With this list, I’ve specifically tried to keep you in the realm of “hiking” rather than “mountain climbing” so we’ve left out Everest, Kilamajaro and Fuji. But there are some pretty significant altitude changes ahead.)
So, in no particular order:
- The North Drakensberg Traverse, South Africa. This is a 40 mile trek across several borders through the heart of what was one Zulu territory. There is no clearly-marked trail, so most travelers book guides, and you probably should too. You start in Mont-aux-Sources by climbing rope ladders up to a plateau. You’ll see caves, rock formations, views from spectacular cliffs, and some of the world’s grandest waterfalls and the huts of the Sotho herdsman — before arriving back in civilization at Cathedral Peak.
- Pays Dogon, Mali. This is an opportunity to experience a traditional, ancient western African culture. The highlight is certainly the opportunity to walk along the cliffs of the Bandiagara Escarpment, with ancient cliff dwellings built into the side of the this tribal burial ground. You can take as big a bite of this hike as you want – anywhere from two to ten days.
- Inca Trail, Peru. This is a two-day, 26 mile hike along an ancient trail blazed by the Incas from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. You wind your way through mountain passes through ancient ruins, snow-capped mountain peaks and a high altitude forest. This is consider by most to be South America’s most famous trail.
- Cinque Terre, Italy. Most of these trails require vigorous exercise and will leave you in better shape at the end of them. However, this hike along the northern Italian coast tests that because it’s a foodie’s dream. You’ll hike through vineyards and have the chance to enjoy great seafood restaurants for every meal. The trail links five quaint fishing villages and is a great way to experience the Italian Riviera.
- GR20, France. This is a full two-week vacation; a 104-mile trail that basically runs the length of the Mediterranean island of Corsica and features a wide array of landscapes – forests, peat bogs, stark granite terrain, glacial lakes, snow-capped peaks and more. It is not an easy hike; the trail can be steep and rocky and is for experienced hikers only.
- The Haute Route, France and Switzerland. This is a 12-day trek through the Alps across 11 glacier systems and 10 alpine passes. And yet, this is not mountain climbing – you never climb above 10,000 feet as you hike past the Matterhorn and other famous peaks.
- Overland Track, Australia. This is a five day walk through the seemingly prehistoric wilderness of Tasmania. And if a five day hike can be called a beginner trail, this one fits; there are even boardwalks in places. You see a wide variety of landscapes and ecosystems as you walk through the bush.
- Routeburn Track, New Zealand. This is a three day hike through the Southern Alps that passes through two national parks. From the Harris Saddle and Conical Hill, you can see the waves breaking on the distant ocean. Book this way ahead of time; there are only a limited number of hikers allowed on the trail at any given time.
- Mount Kailash, Tibet. I agreed not to send you up Everest, but we are in the Himalayas on this hike. It’s worth it, and not nearly at the stratospheric elevations of the Himalayas’ higher peaks; additionally, we’re not climbing it, although this walk is at significant altitude. The “kora” is a sacred walk around Mt. Kailash that typically takes two or three days. Mt. Kailash is a sacred place for four religions, and some Tibetans, Hindus and Buddhists will save for years to make the pilgrimage. Even if you’re not a believer, you’ll be thrilled by this hike.
- Petra, Jordan. This is one of the most spectacular places in the world, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a true biblical landscape. If you’re into pop culture more than the Old Testament, this is where Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail. A great way to hike Petra is to make the 50-mile trek from the Dana Reserve.