Traveling has been a passion of mine since my first vacation to Bermuda as a high school graduate. Since then I have visited over 80 countries and have many more to see. On my bucket list are a series of walks which I have heard incredible things about and I’ve summarized here.
Camino de Santiago, Spain
Hikers and cyclists of all faiths and non-faiths hike the Camino de Santiago every year to the town of Santiago de Compostela in the Northwest of Spain. Legend has it that the remains of Saint James are kept in the town’s Cathedral, and for over 1,000 years people have walked from all over Europe to pay homage. The trail winds through Spanish hillsides, forests, beaches, villages, cities, and mountains (depending on which trail you choose) and is marked by yellow arrows the entire route. The most popular route is through the north of Spain and stretches about 500 miles, but the map above shows the many trails that lead to Santiago. In Spain the Camino is well organized so that travelers can eat and sleep along the way on a small budget (the rest of Europe hasn’t quite caught up yet). Guidebooks help hikers, referred to as pilgrims, plan each day’s route based on how far they want to walk, which typically ranges from 10-25 miles based on skill level, weather, and motivation. The routes are known for their natural beauty, accessibility, and the feeling of camaraderie among pilgrims from all over the world.
Appalachian Trail, United States
This is the longest hiking-only path in the world, spanning the United States from Georgia up to Maine, for a total of 2,190 miles over 14 states. It attracts over 3 million hikers every year who choose some variety of day hiking, multi-day hiking, or thru-hiking, the last of which takes you across the entire trail in one go, which typically takes 5 1/2 to 7 months. Whichever path you choose, you can start accumulating miles towards that coveted title of the “2000-miler.” The trail is marked by rectangles of white paint, or “blazes,” which appear on trees, rocks and posts every quarter-mile or so. The over 250 shelters and various side trails are marked with blue blazes.
Otter Trail, South Africa
This 26-mile trail is the oldest in South Africa, turning 50 years old in 2018. Celebrate its anniversary by trying this five-day hike, which begins at Storms River Mouth in the Garden Route National Park. The journey will take you along cliff tops, across forests, and through beaches on your way to Groot River Estuary in Nature’s Valley. Experts recommend going in with some hiking experience as there are steep hills and river crossings involved.
The Inca Trail
This Peruvian trail is considered by many to be one of the five best hiking paths in the world. Some of that is credited to the variety of views it offers; it takes hikers past mountains, forests, jungles, and Incan ruins, ending in Machu Picchu, or the “Lost City of the Incas.” The classic version of the trip can be hiked in four days, while modified versions of the path offer abbreviated or extended versions, the latter of which adds a walk beneath the snowy Salkantay mountains.
The Shikoku Pilgrimage
Encircling Japan’s southern island of Shikoku, this path leads you past 88 main temples and 20 additional temples on an 800-mile walk. Though Buddhists have been making this pilgrimage for over 1,100 years, it is still relatively unknown to international travelers. Join their ranks by following one of the recommended itineraries, or by forging a path entirely your own. The trail is most beautiful during cherry blossom season (usually early April) or during autumn.
The Great Ocean Walk
The full 64 1/2 mile-long walking trail off the south-west coast of Victoria, Australia takes approximately eight days to complete. You’ll cross seashores, forests, creeks and cliff-tops, as well as landmarks like Australia’s Twelve Apostles. If you don’t feel like committing to a full eight-day journey, you can try a mapped-out one day or several-day long version of various difficulty levels. Guided tours are also available and all walkers must preregister with Parks Victoria and reserve campsites. Seven campsites are located every three to six miles along the trail. Hikers have reported seeing everything from koalas to wallabies and kangaroos to penguins.
The Shackleton Hike
This two-to-three-day-long, 22 mile hike in Antarctica will take you from King Haakon Bay to Stromness, based on the path taken by explorer Ernest Shackleton after abandoning his ship. Along the way, you’ll travel over crevasse-covered glaciers and pass black-sand beaches covered with penguins, elephant seals, and birds like the sooty albatross and arctic tern. If glacier travel makes you nervous, you can instead try the abbreviated version, called the “Shackleton Walk”, which spans approximately three-and-a-half miles and only takes a half-day. Regardless of which path you take, it’s best to hire experts from outfitters like Oceanwide Expeditions or Aurora Expeditions to lead you. The best time to try this hike is from December 20 to March 20.