One of the cliches of travel, and there are many, is to “get off the beaten track”. The phrase is all too often used without thought and in relation to places whose tracks are as well beaten as eggs for an omelette. But here we look at a couple of holiday destinations that might not immediately spring to mind and yet offer some of the best, most spectacular cycling and walking on the planet.
Of course, the places that many people know and love – the beaten track if you will – are popular for good reason. They invariably offer breathtaking scenery, warm and courteous hospitality, a wide variety of flora and fauna as well as food and drink of the highest order. However, more often than not, one of the reasons such places are popular is because they are, for want of a better word, easy. Or, to use a better word, safe.
The classic walking and cycling tours of Italy, Spain, France and the like are undeniably relaxing and invigorating, but equally as undeniable is the fact that they are hardly the most adventurous destinations in which to spend a week or two. Whilst holiday “Top Trumps” has a degree of childishness about it, what better way to shut the Joneses up (sorry to any Joneses out there) during their two-hour slide show of their week in Provence than by announcing your intention to cycle round Jordan or do a walking tour of the Galapagos Islands?
The most popular destinations may have the best quality hotels, the smoothest tracks and the most convenient transport connections. They can often be more economical and offer the best food. However, if you dare to be different and dare to put up with a little inconvenience here and the occasional deviation from schedule there (surely all part of the fun?) your rewards can be disproportionately good. You will have to change planes at least once to get to the Galapagos, for example, but once there will see the most amazing, unique and varied wildlife in the world.
So, let “other people” jump on a short flight and enjoy their holiday, whilst we tempt you with a little more effort, but a lot more fun and adventure, and a feeling of exhilaration you just won’t get in France.
The first of our options for those looking for somewhere different is Jordan. There are direct flights from the UK to Amman, the capital, and within a little over five hours you can be transported to a different world. Jordan ticks so many boxes it is amazing how under-visited it still is. The famed hospitality of the Bedouins is found all over the country whilst the delicately spiced grilled meats and dips and flat breads are as good food as there is.
In terms of sites to see, how about the Nabatean city of Petra? The rock-hewn rose-red city is one of the Seven (new – well, newer) Wonders of the World, whilst the soaring dunes of Wadi Rum can let you bring to life all your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies (though you might have to swap your bike for a camel at this point). And how about Jerash, home to some of the best-preserved Roman ruins outside Rome itself?
The cycling routes are pretty good, with most companies offering support for the tough ascents and schedules that break the travel down into very manageable chunks of 20-30 miles per day. If your muscles do ache, what better way to ease them than the magical healing – well, very salty – waters of the Dead Sea? If it doesn’t work, at least you’ll be able to get the iconic photograph of you reading the paper in the sea. Aching muscles will pass but that shot should keep the neighbours envious for some time!
And so to the Galapagos Islands. An archipelago of such natural importance in terms of the uniqueness of the species of flora and fauna, it almost makes you want to leave it to its own devices. Almost.
This naturalist’s paradise is such a haven of biodiversity it really is difficult to know where to start. From the iconic fauna such as the giant tortoises and the Galapagos fur seals and sea lions, to a richness of floral intensity that makes the mind boggle, a trip here is what dreams are made of.
Add to that the intriguing array of iguanas and lizards, the plethora of interesting marine life and the unique and numerous species of land, sea and shore birds that would make any twitcher shake with excitement, and – frankly – the Galapagos is more than worth the minor hassle of the journey.
In order to protect the pristine but vulnerable ecosystems of the Galapagos, you can’t just turn up unannounced, at least not to the vast majority of islands in the archipelago. There are so many great (and not so great) companies with whom you can visit this paradise, but choose wisely. The last thing you want is to have your trip of a lifetime compromised by poor organisation, bad food or guides who are not experts in their fields.
There is so much to see in terms of the wildlife and scenery, the walking tends to play second fiddle as you flit from one amazing scene to the next, not noticing the occasional hill or section of difficult terrain. Such is the proximity of the wildlife, being in the Galapagos really is like being an extra in a David Attenborough nature documentary. And while it will certainly cost you a fair amount of effort and a chunk of cash to get there, it is more than worth it. Charles Darwin described the Galapagos Islands as ‘a little world within itself’, and what a world it is.