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Destinations for Outdoor Exploration

Getting away from it all is one of the most rewarding benefits of travel.  Grand panoramas, soft sandy beaches, and the sounds of nature surrounding us.  Travelers mistakenly think that they will need to venture great distances to fully disconnect and get into the outdoors but that isn’t always the case.

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San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, is practically made for exploring the natural environment. Patagonia and the Torres del Paine may be the most famous attraction in Chile, but for those that find the idea of traveling to the extreme ends of the Earth and the need to go shopping to prepare for it less than ideal, the Atacama Desert region of northern Chile may be the perfect alternative. Parts of the Atacama Desert have experienced little measurable precipitation in centuries.  Visitors to this high-altitude desert plateau will find themselves based in the small town of San Pedro de Atacama with the spine of the Andes just to the east.  Lunar landscapes and rock formations, vast expanses of salt flats and resident flamingos, colorful mineral filled lakes, alpine villages and steaming geysers are some of the attractions easily visited.  What could be the most memorable part though, are the incredible azure skies and the clarity of the stars at night.

 

Jericoacoara, Brazil Distances in Brazil are vast and continental in scale. But the journey to Jericoacoara, which bills itself as “Brazil’s Paradise”, is worth the effort. The distinguishing feature of Brazil’s northeastern coast are the dunes.  Flying over the region you will see vast tracts of sandy dunes and ribbons of green snaking through the barren brown hued dunes all meeting the deep blue of the Atlantic.  Back on the ground, leave the small town of Jijoca in the back of a large pick up that has installed a series of benches, you enter into the Jericoacoara National Park and after crossing many small rivulets and past small oases and towering dunes, you arrive into the small town of Jericoacoara (Jeri, for short). This small former hippie escape, while not undiscovered, is remote.  With plenty of small eateries lining the sandy streets and fronting a tidal flat, diverse options abound while those looking for a bit of fun in the evenings.  Kitesurfing, hiking into the dunes or to beaches and rock formations before ending the day atop “Sunset Dune” are popular.   Hiring a dune buggy to drive you out into the dunes is a mildly adrenaline filled experience.  Spend the day racing up and down the tracks of the dunes, rollercoaster style. Zip lining and splashing down into lagoons or lunch of a freshly caught grilled fish are another. Follow up your lunch in a hammock suspended in the water to relax!  Horseback riding or ATV’s more of your style?  You’re covered.  Rather spend a day doing absolutely nothing underneath a classic Brazilian barraca (beach hut) with a caipirinha?  Don’t worry, this is still Brazil after all!

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Salento, Colombia is another country full of accessible outdoor but Salento is a great way to explore. This small colorful town in the Coffee Axis (Eje Cafetero) is surrounded by nature!  The architecture of the small town is vivid and represents a particular style that arrived from Antioquia Province.

With white flat front walls, all the wooden balconies and balustrades, eaves, window trim, shutters and doors are painted in patterns and colors that stand out amidst not just the white walls but the surrounding green mountains too. Getting around the region itself is also a full experience in a “Willy’s”. These jeeps became a fixture in the coffee country after WWII  and remain so on farms and as a means of public transport.  So iconic is this “Coffee Landscape” it has even garnered UNESCO status. But one of the main reasons to come here is to visit the Cocora Valley and do some hiking in the national park. Adjacent to the park visitors continue their hike among one of the world’s tallest species of trees, the wax palm, known to reach nearly 30 floors in height. Following one of the main routes into the park leads across several farms and grazing pastures with the towering mountains all around.  Once into the park you can do a circuit around the park or an up and back.  The trail, while clear, involves uneven stones, narrow bridges or some simple climbing.  Within the park the sounds of a small rushing river fill the air underneath the dense forest canopy, if here early enough, visitors will be surrounded by an orchestra of birdsong! Stopping in for a hearty lunch of fried trout at a local fishery makes for a perfect rest between hikes. Iceland Iceland is a destination where nature and the landscape are the star attractions. Getting out of the capital city is a must here to fully appreciate the destination and its remarkable setting.

 

One route to start your trip with could be the “Golden Circle” which heads due east out of the capital, Reykjavik.  Geysers and waterfalls on this route are perfect for exploring.  Heading to the south coast near Vik, in addition to waterfalls that you can even walk behind, you can visit the black sand beach and the unique rock formations nearby. To the north, follow main road to Akureyri and Husavik where perhaps a trip to Myvatn Nature Baths or a whale watch can be added to the itinerary. With a little luck and a visit at the right time of the year, perhaps the Northern Lights will greet you as well. If you are looking to kick back in the Icelandic countryside and do some short hikes or want some spa treatments or want to find yourself in a pastoral setting, you’ll have plenty of options for combining nature and the outdoors, too.  What kind of traveler can visit these places?  The answer may be, almost everyone. Some outdoor oriented destinations may require extra time to reach, or they could require special planning and consideration in time requirements, but you don’t always have to “rough it” or spending large sums of money on specific gear to get away.