Bus tours of Europe are fine for some, but many people in their 50s and beyond are looking for a little more adventure and immersion in nature — trips that include hiking, biking or kayaking, or that take them to remote corners of the world.
In fact, adventure travel is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry and boomers make up more than half the market for commercial tour companies, according to a study by the Adventure Travel Trade Association.
Organized adventure trips range from bare bones to luxury, but there are plenty of moderately priced options — and, of course, self-guided tours are less expensive. But when looking at prices for multiday guided trips, consider that they typically include all activities and lodging, and most meals.
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Also note that you don't need to be super fit for all of these trips: ElderTreks and Road Scholar are two tour operators that allow you to search trips by activity level — from easy to challenging.
Here are some examples of vacations for adventuresome travelers (prices based on double occupancy; transportation to the destination not included).
Paddle and Pedal Quebec
Road Scholar's “Hike, Bike and Kayak Quebec” tour combines outdoor fun and indoor culture along the southern border, with dips into Vermont. Explore rural back roads, with stops at wineries, museums and even a monastery along the way. Ride through the renowned green forests of Quebec's Route Verte (which means “green” in French). Lace up your boots and walk on the Long Trail, a historic path first blazed by European settlers, or hike up Vermont's Mount Pisgah. Kayak the quiet waters of Lake Memphremagog. Evenings might be reserved for relaxing music recitals or history lectures. $1,149 for six days.
Southern African Safari
You'll have to forgo a shower or two and sleep under the stars, but this rugged “participatory camping” group trip is an adventure of a lifetime. Intrepid Travel's guided “Okavango Experience” takes you to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Travel by foot and dugout canoe through the lush lagoons of the Okavango Delta, visit the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, stop in at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary (the only place in Botswana where black and white rhinos remain) and spot elephants at Chobe National Park. Another highlight: a visit to thundering Victoria Falls. $1,207 for 10 days.
Thrills in Costa Rica's Rain Forest
On ElderTrek's guided Central American expedition, “Costa Rica: Rainforest Adventure,” you'll travel by boat through the creeks of the sprawling Tortuguero National Park and peer up at toucans, parrots and exotic birds, then visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest and the Tilaran Mountains, a reserve with six ecological life zones that are home to miniature orchids and white-faced monkeys. The trip also includes river rafting, swimming next to waterfalls, zip-lining through the green forest and walking across the Arenal Hanging Bridges at treetop level on the slopes of an active volcano. $3,695 for 15 days.
Cycle Washington's Puget Sound
If you're not into group trips, Macs Adventure offers a go-at-your-own-pace self-guided cycling tour in the Pacific Northwest. You'll ride through two of Puget Sound's San Juan Islands, navigating with a GPS map app (or old-fashioned paper map). Ride a loop around Lopez Island, passing by picturesque farmland and learning about the seafaring cultures of Anacortes, Lopez Village and Fisherman Bay Preserve. A ferry transports you to San Juan Island, where you can visit art galleries and dine at Friday Harbor before riding along the coastline. Just bring a daypack or saddlebag with layers, rain gear, lunch and snacks, and you're off on your day's ride. Your luggage will be waiting for you at your next location. $1,665 for six days, including accommodations at family-run boutique inns, bike rental and 24-hour phone support but not meals.
Cultural Immersion in Mongolia
Experience Mongolia's nomadic culture by becoming a nomad — literally. Live with three different nomadic host families while exploring this rugged land, sometimes on horseback, with G Adventures’ “Local Living Mongolia” guided tour. Take in the expansive pastures of the Orkhon Valley and view the ruins of Karakorum, the ancient capital during the days of Genghis Khan. Hike the green mountains and visit the Aryabal Meditation Temple at Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Along the way, sleep in traditional Mongolian gers (yurts or tents), drink milk tea with host families and their neighbors, and even try your hand at archery, vodka making or sewing traditional garments. $1,349 for 10 days.