With the colder weather and snow starting to fall, our reaction is often to get on Google and begin the search for warmer winter getaways. While some of us are inclined to kick back on a beach for a couple of weeks and sip margaritas, others are a little more restless and like to take on an adventure trip where they can travel different terrain day-to-day and push boundaries mentally and physically.
Not sure what you’re feeling? We’ve compiled our top 5 list of adventurous destinations based on your preferences for you to dream about while sitting in icy snowstorm traffic.
- For Hikers: The Canadian Rockies. No matter the season, there are incredible hiking trails in Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay National Parks. While more challenging than what’s typical in Ontario, there are both shorter and longer routes that range in technical ability. If you’re a cold weather bear, pack up your snowshoes or cross-country skis and rev up your off-season cardio training by tackling some longer trails for a few hours. Don’t forget the bear spray!
- For Trail Runners: Montenegro. If trail running is your jam, you cannot miss the 1200-mile-long Via Dinarica Trail that runs through six countries from Slovania to Macedonia. The Montenegro portion is arguably the most scenic as it includes both interior and coastal sections. Quickly growing in popularity, this Mediterranean gem is not to miss.
- For History Buffs: Sri Lanka. Recently making its way onto the adventure tourism map, Sri Lanka has been working furiously to improve its infrastructure since the end of the civil war in 2009. This stunning country boasts both road and off-road cycling, whitewater rafting, trail running and hiking, safari trips and surfing. For history buffs, the many ancient ruins and Buddhist temples are perfect destinations for an easier day.
- For Ultra Marathoners: Chile. The Atacama Crossing Ultra Marathon is part of the 4 Deserts series and consists of an unsupported 250 km and 6 stages. If you’re just interested in testing out one segment of the 4 Deserts series (which also includes Gobi March in China, the Sahara Race in Egypt and The Last Desert in Antarctica), this is the part to do. With salt flats, sand dunes, river crossings, packed earth and hard grass, this experience is hard to beat.
- For Cyclists: Morocco. Take on the Sahara in Morocco by bike this winter – Morocco’s pleasant climate through the Canadian winter is a welcome change. One of the most common paths is through the Atlas Mountains to Jebel Sahro with a stop in Marrakech. With a fair amount of climbing, most guided trips are between 7 and 10 days and can accommodate intermediate to advanced riders.
How to Prep for Your Trip.
Remember, your body is great at doing whatever it’s been practicing. If you’re taking on a multi-day trek or tackling a location higher in the mountains, your body is going to need some preparation. We usually recommend giving yourself at least 12 weeks and ideally closer to 16 to allow your heart, lungs, and cardiovascular system to improve efficiency and endurance, and your physical body to improve its strength and resilience to different terrain and to withstand repeated days of activity. It’s important to choose activities at home that closely mimic what you’ll be doing. So for example, if you’re planning on a multi-day hike, you’ll want to be getting out for a few hours on back-to-back days preferably on natural terrain. Alternatively, if you’re going biking in a place that has actual mountains (as opposed to our Ontario “hills”), you’ll want to be doing hill repeats in a place with as big a hill as you can find, or even better hit up a cycling class with a climbing focus. Of course, if you’re travelling to somewhere at altitude, you’ll want to prep your system for performing in conditions with less oxygen as the same amount of work will feel substantially more difficult if you’ve never practiced it before.
Your trip will be much more enjoyable if you’ve properly prepared as you’ll be better equipped to avoid injury and more importantly spend time enjoying your surroundings rather than being so physically taxed that you can’t even lift your head off the handlebars. (Unless, of course, that’s the purpose of your trip!)
Lauren Roberts is a Registered Physiotherapist and Founder of The Running Physio in Toronto. For more information on her team, the clinic, and for more great blog articles, visit www.therunningphysio.ca.
By this point, you’ve likely scrolled past your fair share of social media pics backdropped by the mysterious Peruvian city in the sky—aunts and uncles communing with shaggy llamas, friends clambering up dirt paths, workmates teetering on a stone outcropping, peering down at the ancient city.
Machu Picchu is one of the most visited tourism destinations in the world. On average, it attracts close to 1.2 million visitors a year and was voted one of the new seven wonders of the world in 2007. The site has become so popular that the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, in an attempt to preserve the site, has had to set a limit of 2,500 tourists entering the citadel a day.
The site’s popularity, however, significantly underplays the effort it takes to get there. At nearly 8,000 ft. above sea level, Machu Picchu is perched amongst one of Peru’s highest mountain ranges. Meaning whichever route you take to reach the Inca Citadel, you’ll have to deal with some major altitude adjustments.
Before embarking on your Inca adventure, check out these potential pitfalls to ensure you’re prepared for the trip.
The most pressing concern when ascending to high altitude—defined as any height above 8,000 ft.—is altitude sickness. This occurs when the body doesn’t have enough time to adapt to decreased air pressure and oxygen levels. Symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and loss of appetite.
While not everyone who hikes to Machu Picchu will be afflicted by altitude sickness, those who are may see their Inca adventure come to an abrupt end. To prevent this from happening, take Diamox one to two days before starting your hike. The medication helps reduce symptoms and eases the adjustment to altitude.
It’s also a good idea to take the hike slow. Your body needs time to acclimatize to the altitude. To help with the acclimatization process and to make sure you have enough energy, keep yourself well hydrated and fed throughout the hike. The porters cooking your meals should help with this, but it’s still a good idea to throw a hydration pack in your bag and some high calorie snacks.
If you do start to experience symptoms, stop and rest for at least a day. If they don’t go away, it might be time for you to turn around.
Choose a trail, any trail
There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu. The most popular is the Inca Trail, a four-day, three-night hike through lush cloud forests, ancient Inca ruins, and majestic Andean peaks. In 2002, however, the Peruvian Ministry of Culture introduced permits for the trail, limiting the number of people to 500 a day (approximately 300 of those permits are allocated to cooks, porters, and guides, leaving only 200 for tourists).
To hike the Inca Trail, you have to book it months in advance. It isn’t a particularly long hike, spanning only 40 kilometres, but it is straight up some steep Andean paths. The trail hits its peak at Dead Woman’s Pass (named after the crests that resemble a woman’s supine body) standing 13,828 ft. above sea level.
If you weren’t able to secure a permit, don’t worry. There are other options. The Salcantay Route is much easier to book and just as scenic. Taking anywhere between five to eight days, this mule-assisted hike passes by the 20,500 ft. Mount Salcanty, one of the most sacred peaks in Inca religion.
You pass Mount Salcanty at an altitude of 15,000 ft. before plunging into a subtropical cloud forest, eventually passing the ancient Incan ruins of Llactapata, nearly as rewarding a sight as Machu Picchu.
If you’re looking for a more moderate hike—one that involves a train—try The Lares Route. Taking between three to five days, this trek leads you through the Lares Valley, home to Peruvian locals who still practice Inca traditions like raising herds of llamas and weaving cloth. Along the way, you pass by the 18,000 ft. Mount Veronica and a number of high-altitude Lakes. The trail ends near the Ollantaytambo ruins, only a short train ride away from Machu Picchu.
Dress for the weather…all of it
The higher you ascend, the more the air pressure decreases and the further apart the air molecules spread, causing the temperature to drop. Yet, in the case of Machu Picchu, you may also experience a scorching midday sun that has you sweating through your jacket. To deal with the swings in temperature, wear layers. This way you can shed them as you hike.
When you book your trip, be wary of the time of year. End of November to beginning of April is Peru’s rainy season. Many of the trails are closed between these months, but in case you do manage to book a hike during this time of year, bring a waterproof rain jacket and tent fly. You never know when you might get caught in a downpour. Starting each morning’s hike soaking wet is a surefire way to catch a cold.
Get in shape!
This one should be obvious, but if you’re going to attempt a four-day hike at high altitude make sure you’re physically prepared. You don’t want to be the person gasping for breath after the first couple hours. Not only will it ruin the experience but it will hold back the group.
In order to prepare for the hike, focus on cardio exercises like running, walking, and swimming. Try to introduce these exercises into your daily routine a few months before your trip. And if you really want to be prepared, come in for a workout at Altitude. We have cardio classes operating at 6,000 ft., 9,000 ft., and 12,000 ft. Machu Picchu will feel like a walk in the park after working out with us.