7 life-changing challenges to take on in 2016

Diving with sharks? Snorkelling between tectonic plates? Bagging a rare wildlife encounter? These travel challenges will raise the bar in 2016

6 mins

Snorkel between tectonic plates, Iceland

A mini geography lesson for you. Iceland straddles the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates – it's their friction and fiery relationship that makes the country's volcanoes and geysers so excitable. Þingvellir National Park is perched right on the fault line, and amidst towering waterfalls, steaming hot springs and sulphurous mud pools you'll find Þingvallavatn Lake – a serene stretch of water gathered from glacial run-off.

Diving at Silfra (Shutterstock)
Diving at Silfra (Shutterstock)

Here in its icy depths you can snorkel or dive between those tectonic plates, gazing deep down into the fissure below. Visibility is astounding (up to 200 metres) and tangles of fluorescent green seaweed beckon you deeper into the dramatic caverns – float over the edge of 'The Cathedral', a vast drop-off that appears out of nowhere, for a heart-in-your-mouth Superman experience.  

Fancy taking the plunge? Try Discover the World's Around Iceland trip, which offers a Silfra Diving/Snorkelling add-on

Spy wild tigers in India

It might not sound like much of a challenge, but tracking down wild tigers in India is trickier than you think. India is home to just 2,200 tigers, and they're very well camouflaged in its 48 national parks. That's 38,000 square kilometres of national parkland – and not many tigers at all.

Tiger in India (Shutterstock)
Tiger in India (Shutterstock)

So, where is the best place to seek them out? It's impossible for any safari operator to guarantee tiger sightings, but if you choose the right location you'll certainly up your chances. India's best national parks for seeing tigers are (in order): Bandhavgarh, Ranthambore, Kanha, Pench, Satpura and Corbett.  There are good populations of tigers in the Sunderbans but they’re difficult to see.

Want to track wild tigers? Try Corbett National Park with Wildlife Trails (you'll get to stay inside the park). Exodus's Tigers in Focus takes you  to Tadoba, which has few western visitors but a stable population of tigers.

A weekend with great white sharks

Are your weekends lacking excitement? A couple of days cage diving with great white sharks will vamp up your watercooler chat. Whether you literally fly to South Africa for the weekend (it can be done!) or plan it as part of a longer trip, cage diving is the ultimate rebellion against your survival instincts – and probably the scariest thing you've ever done on a weekend.

Great white shark, South Africa (Shutterstock)

Feeling brave? Dive Worldwide's Great White Diving Weekend includes two days of shark diving plus scuba tuition. All doable in a long weekend!

Say 'yes' in New Zealand

NZ is chock full of adrenaline activities and high altitude hi jinx – skydiving, trekking, volcano climbing, glacier hiking... If it makes your pulse quicken and your palms sweat, chances are you'll find it here. We challenge you to do it all: this is the place to say 'yes' to every prospect, take a deep breath, and jump right out of your comfort zone. You'll be glad you did.

Paragliding New Zealand (Shutterstock)
Paragliding New Zealand (Shutterstock)

KE Adventure Travel's whopping 19-day New Zealand North to South trip does exactly what it says on the tin – with a smorgasbord of adventures included.

Touch the top of the world – almost

Reaching Everest Base Camp in Nepal might sound like a pipe dream – and way out of your climbing ability – but (shhhh) it's not as out-of-reach as you might think. Yes, it's a high-altitude spot, reached only by trekking or a seat-of-your-pants drive through the mountains – but if you acclimatise carefully and are relatively fit, you too could reach this hallowed spot.

Everest Base Camp (Shutterstock)
Everest Base Camp (Shutterstock)

Of course, this marvellous mountainous region isn't just about Base Camp. Far-flung villages, glided palaces and crumbling monasteries are just begging to be explored; you can feast on dal and dumplings, haggle for prayer wheels and hang out with monks. And you'll have major bragging rights when you get home. “Oh, Everest Base Camp? Yeah, I've been there...”

Intrepid's Tibet Unplugged trip has got all the highlights covered.  

Climb Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

The beauty of climbing Kilimanjaro is that it can be as tough or as easy (well, relatively speaking) as you fancy. Want to test yourself but take it easy on acclimatisation? Try the Machame route. Fancy a less busy trail with impossibly scenic views? Lemosho route could be for you. A tough challenge that few people can boast they've completed? The Northern Circuit of Umbwe could be for you.

Climber of Kilimanjaro (Shutterstock)
Climber on Kilimanjaro (Shutterstock)

Whether you take on Kilimanjaro as a charity climb, a long weekend challenge or a gruelling expedition to the 'Roof of Africa', you'd be crazy not to enjoy Tanzania's plentiful natural treasures while you recover. Spot the Big Five in its plentiful national parks, sail into Kenya and Uganda across whopping Lake Victoria, or simply kick back on the sugar-white sands of Zanzibar, You deserve it.

Liking the sound of Lemosho? Check out Explore's 10-day Kilimanjaro Trek trip.

Travel the iconic Silk Road

You could say that the Silk Route was the first ever overlanding trip. Stretching for ‎6,400km between China and the Mediterranean Sea, from 1070BC until the 14th century it was the world's greatest trading route. Today its spice and silkworm traders have long gone, but the magic remains – in China's eerily empty plains, Istanbul's busy bazaars, Uzbekistan's Persian treasures, Kyrgyzstan's mountain trails and the ancient Buddhist caves of Yungang.

Old Silk Route, India (Shutterstock)
Old Silk Route, India (Shutterstock)

What better way to immerse yourself in its legacy than by traversing it on an overlanding mega-trip? Sure, you can tackle bitesize chunks in a couple of weeks, but we challenge you to go the whole hog.

We've got our eye on a 96-day trip with Dragoman, between Istanbul and Beijing. Go on – take the plunge...

Main image: New Zealand (Shutterstock)

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