The world is a fascinating place and when you step away from your usual beach, sun and city breaks, you can find some hostile yet exciting environments. In the modern age, the world is truly your oyster and there is so much more on offer than the brochures of old would have you know.
The most extreme places in the world can be found at the peaks of mountains, in the driest deserts and in the coldest climates. Why be a tourist when you can be an adventurer?
After all, we’ve been trapped in the malaise of the day to day for a while now owing to the pandemic, making a bit of exultation all the more vital to inject a touch of adrenaline into our sparse calendars. As the intrepid Andre Gide once said: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore”.
The pandemic undoubtedly opened up the power of the outdoors for many of us and now that the world is hopefully reopening, neighbour expeditions are set to go global. More and more people are flocking to far-flung corners of the globe in search of something new.
These days, it is more clear than ever before, that soaking in the sun is not the only break that we need. The writer Marcel Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” and the mind-broadening appeal of travel has never been more apparent.
Here, Far Out explore some of the best and most extreme areas on the globe that you should be adding to your bucket list.
The 10 most extreme travel adventures in the world:
Death Valley, California
Known as one of the hottest places in the world, Death Valley is definitely an extreme environment to visit. At its hottest in 1913, it clocked a sweltering 56.6°C which is the hottest temperature ever recorded. However, the soaring mercury in this mystic land is only part of the lure for those looking to venture into the wild side of western America.
With a landmass only slightly smaller than the entirety of Northern Ireland and narrow valleys that prevent air circulation, it is easy to see why this place has earned the title “the hottest place on earth”. Its crooked lunar landscape is a dry, sweltering test for any traveller, but the rewards are bountiful.
In this landscape, Jim Morrison of The Doors roved around and proclaimed that somewhere in the parched land was the timeless heart of America through eternities. Those same winding roads he weaved along remain untouched adding credence to his view. There are tours aplenty in this wilderness and caves, archaeological sights and goldrush museums to visit, but perhaps the greatest lure comes in the sense of freedom that the sprawling hills offer to the foolhardy few who brave them.
From the hottest to the coldest place on earth. This small Russian town, Oymyakon, has a population of only 500. Its average winter temperatures are around -50°C, which can have serious effects on the body and the stark mountains prove just as daunting.
However, when we recently spoke to the Japanese photographer, Ikuru Kuwajima, he declare that there is a munificent harvest in these wild lands for those who choose to venture. He opined that settlements like Oymyakon represent the “midpoint between nomadic and settled lifestyles — tradition vs modernity”.
In short, it might seem like the ultimate act of escapism to visit Oymyakon, however, if anything, these remote freckles of civilisation hold a mirror to our own ways of life and offer a space for reflection. It might take some tracking to get to “the coldest city on earth” but once you’re there, it is well worth the many miles covered.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Formed around 40,000 years ago, the Salar de Uyuni was used by NASA for figuring the positioning of its satellites, as it was exceptionally flat. Known as the largest salt flat land in the world. It contains 10 billion tons of salt across an area of 10,582 kilometres.
Located in Southwest Bolivia and is home to 70% of the world’s Lithium reserves, this remarkable area is a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes and welcomes the most creative tourists each year, and it has festivals like Thunupa to prove it.
This alien world of pink flamingos on rising mountains might seem like it is a land confined to the National Geographic channel, but with bus tours running from Bolivia’s biggest cities, the Salar de Uyuni is now an attainable destination. Ancient art, mindful yoga and a slew of other activities are on offer, but they all find themselves merely compliments to a monolithic landscape unlike anywhere on earth.
Mount Everest, China–Nepal border
At 8848 metres above sea level, Everest is the highest mountain in the world. Altitudes above 8000m are considered ‘death zones’ because humans struggle to survive. The harsh conditions mean animals and plants can’t survive here.
Fortunately, for those who wouldn’t class themselves as mountaineers, the base camp is still an awe-inspiring sight to behold without as many inherent dangers and endeavours of attempting to scale the summit. Most treks from Kathmandu to the base camp take 11 to 14 days, with the journey itself proving an adventure. However, it is a journey all about the reward of gazing up at the heights point in the world.
Travel is most certainly not about ticking boxes, but when it comes to Everest, the anecdotes thereafter are inevitable. The basecamp trip lives and breathes on the same spirit that George Mallory declared when he was asked why he was going to climb it, “because it’s there”.
Mt. Kilauea, Hawaii
Known for being the most active volcano on earth, Kilauea is a shield volcano, which is typically broader in shape, but no less dramatic than the view we usually picture when we think of our fire-breathing friends.
Its rumblings have not been as deadly as other volcanoes from around the world and, being a shield volcano, it means that the lava is relatively fluid and less volatile. So, although it is the most active, it isn’t as risky as deadly stratovolcanoes.
Even the reluctant round-headed traveller Karl Pilkington, from the travel documentary series An Idiot Abroad, was awed by the natural awe of seeing the world in motion when gazing at the magnificence of a volcano. Alas, with surf, sea and hula bars only a three-hour drive away, Hawaii has pretty much everything on offer for thrills and reclining alike.
Atacama Desert, Chile
Known as the driest place in the world, from October 1903 to January 1918, this desert did not see one drop of rain, making it the longest rainless period in the world’s recorded history.
It is sparsely populated with several hotels to choose from for tourists who want to attempt to explore the land. According to NASA and National Geographic, this land phenomenon has comparable soil to Mars making it one of the most unique sights on earth where otherworldliness is palpable.
Speaking of otherworldliness, the vistas of the desert by day are a force to behold but come nightfall, there really is nowhere to watch the stars quite like it. In our murky clouded cities we are sheltered from the lustre of the uncloaked night sky, but out in the Atacama, simply looking upwards is a maddeningly beautiful treat. What’s more with a road trip possible from the Chilean capital of Santiago to the desert, this awe-inspiring wonder is even possible on your own terms.
Mount Thor, Nunavut, Canada
At 5,495 feet tall, Mount Thor is not the world’s highest peak, but it is the steepest. It is the most famous summit in Canada and is made of pure granite. Mount Thor has a 4,101ft vertical drop, at an average angle of about 105 degrees making it a gulp inducing sight to behold.
Despite the fact the mountain is in a remote area, it’s a popular destination for avid mountain climbers who have set up various tours and lodgings in the area to allow others to boldly follow their trail. Thus, if taking on the peak is too much for you to handle, you can also visit the site and camp out instead.
Looking like something from a sci-fi movie, Mount Thor provides a view that cannot be matched anywhere on earth. Jack Kerouac may once have said, “because, in the end, you won’t remember your time working in the office or mowing your lawn, climb that goddamn mountain,” however, marvelling at the foot of Mount Thor is just as exultant.
Angel Falls, Venezuela
Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world and is situated in the Venezuelan jungle. It is the sort of iconic geographical sight that you will have seen in textbooks and on TV screens all your life, but either from the air, by boat trip up the river through Devil’s Canyon, or by a short hike to the viewpoint, you can witness the wonder with your own eye.
Often dubbed “The Lost World”, there is something prehistoric about this magnificent landscape. With greenery crawling up the sides of the fall and giant birds swirling and hawking overhead, the boat ride to the Falls feels like one that moves back through time.
Visiting the Falls is not the easiest trip and requires shuttle flights from Puerto Ordaz or Ciudad Bolivar, but that all adds to the experience and the sense of escape. After all, if travel is an adventure, then this dart back into primitive beauty is an astonishing one.
Standing at 20,000 feet high, Mount Chimborazo is the farthest point from the Earth’s centre. Although it has glaciers at its peak it is possible to venture up and gaze on down at the world sprawled out below.
However, for those hoping to witness a natural wonder with a spot of civility, the massive mountain can be seen from the stunning coastal city of Guayaquil. Here quirky Latin architecture and centuries of unfurling cultural history dine out under the watchful gaze of the mountain that presides over the quaint city.
There aren’t many places on earth where you can part the curtains of your chic almost-Alsace looking holiday apartment and be greeted with the sight of a snow-capped behemoth rising in the distance. City and mountain alike have a natural dreamy wonder to them, ideal for a casual break with a solid pinch of drama.
Fraser Island, Australia
Located just off Queensland, backpackers have been frequenting the natural beauty of Fraser Island with goon sacks under their arms for joyous decades. With picture post-card beauty and the added drama of dashing wild dingos and driving jeeps around the white sands, the island is one of the most amazing natural beauties on earth.
In fact, the white sands in question are apparently so dazzlingly pure that your guide will probably tell you that the local authorities are forever chasing off companies desperate to smuggle a sample of it away to their factories. However, for the rest of us, the magnificence of the place is enough of a token.
With a short ferry ride from the mainland, this is an oasis that proves remarkably easy to reach considering how well maintained it has remained. Within literally half an hour, you can find yourself in a place that seems to have been edited by the unrealistic eye of a brochure maker, and there are plenty of adventures to be had therein.