WILDERNESS TRIPS

Escapists’ utopia, adventurers’ dream, explorers’ great unknown. Wilderness is a subjective thing. Look it up in a dictionary and it’s blandly written off as a ‘wild uncultivated area’ – more ‘unkempt allotment’ than Mongolian steppe. To a traveller, the word carries far more depth and meaning. Wilderness is one of travel’s ‘tingly’ words, guaranteed to titillate the weariest of globetrotters. It is the promise of remoteness, the challenge of a new frontier, the privilege of glimpsing wildlife that knows no boundaries and of scanning a wide, unblemished horizon.

People will always crave the pristine beauty, spiritual renewal and sense of escape that accompanies a journey somewhere totally removed from the noise, pollution and clutter of everyday life. And, ironic as it may seem, the best way to preserve wilderness is to give people direct experience of it. Only then can they develop the empathy and enthusiasm that’s so vital for ensuring its future.

Wilderness? I didn’t think there was any left.

It’s true that humans have laid claim to the most far-flung places on earth, mapped each one from space and wrought a great deal of environmental havoc, but large swathes of wilderness do still exist. Every continent has wild places full of opportunities for the adventurous traveller.

 

Call me a wimp, but I’m no Ranulph Fiennes. Rope burns and frostbite are not my idea of a holiday.

No one is suggesting you set off solo across the Arctic wastes. There are plenty of operators that specialise in taking small groups into wilderness areas and bringing them out again, fingers and toes intact. Safety is their paramount concern. Just make sure you choose a reputable company that employs expert local guides, uses the best possible equipment and practices environmentally responsible tourism.

 

Will I have to carry my own backpack, eat dry meals and sleep in a coffin-sized tent?

No. On some trips you can play the pampered explorer, staying in luxury wilderness ecolodges and comfortable camps. It’s a matter of taste and budget. Having said that, however, I would urge you, at least once in your life, to set off into the wilds with everything you need carried on your back (or strapped to a horse, stowed in a kayak etc). There is something wonderfully liberating about travelling lightly through a wilderness. Your daily rhythm synchronises with natural cues, such as the passage of the sun, the rise and fall of tides and the movement of wildlife.

 

That’s all very well if you’re Ray Mears... 

You could always learn more about bushcraft by joining one of Ray’s Woodlore courses. Naturally, it’s vital that you know your limitations. Never embark on a wilderness journey unless you are fully prepared for what lies ahead.

 

What if I break my leg in the middle of nowhere?

On an organised trip your group leader should have enough first aid experience (and appropriate kit) to deal with most injuries – at least until some kind of emergency evacuation procedure kicks in. Make sure your travel insurance is comprehensive enough to cover the activities you’ll be doing.

 

Wilderness would be fine if it wasn’t so wild. Tell me I’m not going to be molested by mosquitoes, ransacked by racoons or beaten up by bears.

To be frank, most wilderness travellers who run into trouble with the local wildlife ask for it! If, for example, you are hiking in North American bear country it’s sensible to take precautions like wearing bear bells or clapping your hands (to warn animals of your approach) and suspending your food (and other high odour items) out of reach of a bear on tiptoes. Similarly, venturing into a swampy region without mosquito repellent, long-sleeved clothing and a head net is asking to be bitten. It all comes down to researching your destination, understanding the wildlife and taking appropriate safety measures. Of course, there are several wilderness areas where you’ll find yourself dislodged from the top of the food chain by predators such as big cats and polar bears. While this undoubtedly adds a certain thrill factor to the experience you must treat these creatures with the utmost respect. Read more about dangerous animals.

Wilderness Travel Q&A

What should I take on a wilderness trip?


It’s a jungle out there (or a desert, ice cap, mountain range…). You’ve packed the essentials: sleeping bag, insect repellent, water filter, first aid kit, map, compass, knife, torch and spare batteries, food, clothing and sun protection. Here’s a list of some easily overlooked, but nifty little extras that you should also find room for: Gaffa tape Sticky stuff for weather-resistant repairs. Biodegradable soap Use this if you’re going to wash (but let’s face it, there won’t be many people around to complain if you don’t). Fire starter Making fire is an essential skill for wilderness travel, so take waterproof matches or one of those nifty flint-sparking gizmos. Journal Non-essential, but the wilderness is certain to inspire you and, in any case, you’ll enjoy reading it years later and marvelling at how you survived all those bug bites, blisters and irregular bowel movements.




How do you minimise your imapct on a wilderness trip?


Always choose an operator that sets a stringent code of conduct to minimize environmental impact. Travel in a small group with a local guide. Put something back into the local economy by choosing operators that employ local people. Don’t harass wildlife in pursuit of that ‘perfect’ photo. Instead, savour the encounter from a respectful distance. Leave no trace when camping and, where they are permitted, restrict fires to safe areas. Rubbish takes longer to decompose at high altitude, so be especially vigilant in packing out all your refuse.




Wilderness Travel: Best for Jungle?


Manu Biosphere Reserve, Peru Why? Wildlife. Lots of it. This vast chunk of Amazonian rainforest probably has more species of plants and animals than anywhere else on earth, including 1,000 different birds and 13 varieties of monkey. You will literally be surrounded by thousands of yet-to-be-discovered species. How? Fly in or take the two to three day overland journey from Cuzco, crossing the Andes and delving into cloud forest en route. Once in Manu explore the jungle on foot and by canoe, staying in simple but comfortable lodges. When? Year round, although heavy rains November to January can cause transport problems.




Wilderness Travel: Best for Polar?


Antarctica Why? It’s a wilderness the size of a continent. Say no more. Just go. How? The port of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego is the embarkation point for most Antarctic expeditions. Itineraries vary from 10-day cruises taking in the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands to trips lasting three weeks or more that visit even more far-fl ung places like South Georgia and the Ross Sea. When? November to February.




Wilderness Travel: Best for Mountains?


Pamirs, Tajikistan Why? A tangled knot of peaks, glaciers and wind-scoured plateaux, the Pamirs are one of the world’s least visited mountain ranges – an austere land sparsely inhabited by Tajik tribespeople and home to snow leopard and other rare Asian wildlife. How? Don’t expect teashops or lodges. Apart from scant trails and a few shepherd huts that’s it. Make sure you’re well equipped for some challenging trekking. When? July to September.




Wilderness Travel: Best for Coast?


Skeleton Coast, Namibia Why? Few places have more forbidding or evocative names than the coastal frontier of the Namib. Littered with the remains of ships and whales this vibrant fusion of desert and ocean lures visitors into a spectacular realm of vast dune fields, crowded seal and seabird colonies and the poignant legacy of the San Bushmen. How? Venture out on short forays from the coastal towns of Swakopmund and Ludertiz or join an organized safari, camping along the coast’s stark, yet beautiful hinterland. When? Year round.




Wilderness Travel: Best for Intrepid Explorers?


Brooks Range, Alaska Why? It’s wild in every sense of the word: imposing mountains, vast swathes of tundra, grizzly bears, wolves, swarms of mosquitoes and wild rivers… How? Contact a specialist backcountry outfitter for rafting and kayaking trips in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Gates of the Arctic National Park. You can also hike, but it’s harder going – both on you and the landscape. When? Spring rafting expeditions on the Kongakut River provide excellent viewing of the porcupine caribou herd migration, while autumn trips on the Noatak River coincide with the migration of the western Arctic herd.





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Wildlife Wishlist was founded by zoologist, conservationist and award-winning travel writer and photographer William Gray. Sharing his passion for wildlife and recommendations for responsible travel, Will has spent around 30 years tracking down the world's best wildlife holiday experiences.

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