Transformative adventure might be a new term for some, but it traces back to Stoicism and Greek philosophy. Stoics believed practicing good virtues is enough to achieve eudaimonia- a life well lived.
Adventures are the shortest path to certain virtues, such as courage, temperance, and living in accordance with nature. If they take you outside your comfort zone or give you new perspectives, that’s even better.
Our list of the world’s best transformative adventures spans the globe, with varying levels of luxury, risk, and physicality. The common factor is that these adventures can change your perspective on the world and let you find hidden lessons that you may overlook in everyday life.
Ananda Spa, India
The Ananda Spa is what people imagine when they think of transformative travel. It is the world’s most renowned holistic wellness retreat, winning Conde Nast Traveler’s Best Destination Spa in 2019 and 2020. The 100-acre grounds are a tranquil haven tucked away in the foothills of the majestic Himalayan in North India. You’ll find world-class wellness facilities and a chance to return to the peaceful solitude of nature.
This region is the birthplace of Ayurveda, attracting wellness seekers from around the world to Ananda on an annual pilgrimage. Ananda integrates traditional Ayurveda with yoga and meditation to raise spiritual awareness and restore balance.
Canyon Samadhi, Springville Utah
Samadhi is a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation, regarded as the union with the divine. Canyon Samadhi is a five-day active retreat into nature in the stunning backdrop of Zion National Park.
This retreat is an offering from Zion Guru, the company to pioneer dry-suit canyoneering in Zion Narrows. Founder Jonathan Zambella says — “The human experience is a qualitative assembly of incredible moments.” You will combine yoga, qigong, meditation, hiking, and mantra while immersing yourself in the mountain and canyon spirits and perhaps get a glimpse of the divine.
Casa Alternavida, Rio Grande Puerto Rico
Casa Alternavida is a boutique wellness retreat center offering a guided retreat experience for the curious and growth-minded. Their approach is getting people out of their heads and into their bodies. They use nature as a metaphor for common obstacles and reconnect you to body-based wisdom.
For example, as you walk through the Puerto Rican rainforest, you come to a flat, muddy spot while hiking. Casa Alternavida founder and trained forest therapy guide Yancy Wright would ask – “How do you typically move through muddy situations in life?” Many approaches range from avoidance to plowing right through the thickest part. However, a barely recognizable trail that avoids the mess could metaphorize missed opportunities when you’re stuck in old patterns.
Desert Island Survival
Being stranded on a desert island is the crux of many thought exercises, but what happens when you do it in real life? Desert Island Survival lets you try an authentic survival experience for yourself.
Per Desert Island Survival- “You will be on the desert island for eight nights; the first five will be with the instructors and the group, and the final three will be without the instructors but with the group.”
Participants say this physically and mentally challenging experience gives them a new appreciation for the world. Founder Tom Wiliams believes – “We need that adversity and challenge to stay sharper and to be healthier.”
Miraval Tucson, Tucson, Arizona
You don’t have to travel to the ends of the world to find transformative adventures. Back in the United States, the award-winning Miraval Resort offers an immersive and experiential approach to wellness.
Guests can choose from Sonoran Desert adventures like hiking and mountain biking, zip lines, and equine programs. They can also participate in more traditional offerings like meditation and wellness classes. The two can even be combined in exciting ways, such as aerial yoga.
Grand Canyon Rafting, Arizona
The Colorado River runs 277 miles through the 4,000′ deep Grand Canyon, the world’s largest canyon! Rafting this magnificent canyon is a way to see 250 million years of geologic history with a side of adventure rafting on class IV rapids.
Arguably, the greatest Grand Canyon Adventure of all time was Major John Wesley Powell’s expedition through the canyon on wooden boats in 1869. After WWII, rubber rafts almost entirely replaced wooden boats for whitewater, but not at Grand Canyon Expeditions. Their 14-day and 16-day Dory trips allow passengers to “feel each nuance of the riffles and can rocket off the top of some of the greatest waves in the canyon” in “the adventure of a lifetime.”
South American Surfing, Arica Chile
Greenland’s endless winters leave some yearning for an Endless Summer experience. Of course, we’re talking about the 1966 surf documentary classic that followed a group of Southern California surfers around the globe looking for the best local breaks. Only, they never made it to Arica tackle El Grinko – AKA the Chilean Pipeline.
Even if you’re not ready for the totally tubular experience of El Grinko, Soul Rider Camp offers week-long surf camps with overnights at their famous surf house. Chile is considered one of the world’s largest surfing zones, with year-long quality waves for all levels. It’s a chance to experience surf culture with a distinctly Southern flair.
Jordan Trail, Jordan
The Jordan Trail is a journey through history and an opportunity to encounter diverse cultures. You can travel 420 miles across the entire county as you peel through the cultures and tastes of this ancient land. It takes 40 days to through-hike the whole trail, but Spice Roads lets you mountain bike the best parts in only eight days.
You bike along the ancient caravan routes followed by Roman Emperor Hadrian, the Prophet Moses, and Lawrence of Arabia. Starting in the highlands of Amman, you drop down to the lowest place on Earth, the Dead Sea, before passing through the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra and the endless desert skies of Wadi Rum. One of the most remarkable parts of the Jordan Trail is the opportunity to meet the Bedouin people, some of whom still live in the caves surrounding Petra that they’ve inhabited for thousands of years.
Sami Homestay Under the Northern Lights, Norway
Homestays with indigenous people are one of the most powerful ways to change your perspective of the world, which often leads to transformative adventures. The Sami are nomadic tribes who have inhabited northern Scandinavia for thousands of years and have learned how to live and thrive in one of the harshest environments on Earth.
Not only do you get a cultural experience during a Sami homestay, but you can challenge the extremes of the Arctic tundra. You’ll arrive by snowmobile under a cotton candy winter sky when the sun never rises and spend the night hundreds of miles from the nearest city with northern lights illuminating the heavens. You’ll also learn to keep out the bitter cold without high-tech gear using only natural furs and fibers.
Mongolia Eagle Hunting Tour, Bayan-Ulgii Province, Mongolia
The Mongol Altai mountains dominate the Bayan-Ulgii landscape, with glacier-covered peaks rising over lush green valleys. Small communities of nomadic families dot these valleys. They live a simple rustic life as master horsemen with a remarkable tradition of hunting with eagles, which they’ve trained and raised from birth.
Mongolian Eagle Tours let you experience this life for yourself with long rides across pastoral fields and of course, hunting with eagles. You’ll taste the traditional oven-baked flatbread and “beshbarmak” – a traditional dish consisting of boiled horse or mutton.
Working Cattle Drive, Lovell, WY
You don’t have to travel to the farthest reaches of Asia to experience life on the plains. The American West lives on at Dryhead Ranch, where they’ve raised and driven cattle for over 60 years. The new West is dotted with dude ranches that will gladly put you up in a deluxe suite with room service and tiny bars of soap; Dryhead Ranch is not that kind of place.
Unlike dude ranches, they allow guests to work alongside ranch hands and experience authentic cowboy life. When you leave Dryhead Ranch, you will have significantly increased your riding skills and earned the honorary ranch hand title.
Joining a working cattle ranch vacation lets you encounter Montana’s raw and rustic beauty uniquely and naturally. The tasks on a working ranch surround you with nature at its finest and fill you with a sense of purpose and camaraderie. After spending a week on a cattle drive, you will have learned six months’ worth of riding lessons and see Montana in a new way, like your own real-life Yellowstone episode with a lot less violence.
Costa Rica Animal Sanctuary, San Ramon Costa Rica
If you have a beef with the cattle industry, the Lands In Love Vegan Hotel might be for you. It’s located in the heart of a beautiful cloud forest. At Lands in Love, veganism is not just a diet. It is a way of life. They offer a vegan experience combining delicious plant-based gourmet food and adventure activities.
During the day, their adventure center offers a wide range of thrilling activities, including ziplines, adventure cables, superman cables, canyoning, rafting, tubing, hiking, night tours, and wall climbing. At night, you can retire in your comfortable room overlooking the breathtaking view of the cloud forest and the serene atmosphere that allows you to connect with nature. You can sleep soundly knowing that most of the hotel’s profits help fund their huge no-kill rescue center called Animal Love.
Elephant Hills Sanctuary, Khao Sok Thailand
Across the globe from Costa Rica, you’ll find Thailand’s first luxury tented camps in the world’s oldest evergreen rainforest. Like Lands in Love, a significant portion of Elephant Hills‘ proceeds benefit animals — rescued elephants that used to work in Thailand’s logging industry.
Yes, it’s luxury glamping complete with private restrooms, but the experience is authentic. Adventures include jungle trekking, canoeing on the Sok River, sleeping on floating platforms in Cheow Larn Lake, and, of course, feeding Asia’s grand elephants.
Wild Gorilla Tracking, Volcanoes Park Rwanda
There’s no place like Africa to experience animals in the wild. Volcano Park is Africa’s oldest national park, covering 62 sq mi of rainforest and encompassing five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains. It’s home to 178 recorded bird species and the endangered golden monkey, but it’s best known for mountain gorillas.
The park became the base for the American naturalist Dian Fossey to research the gorillas, as told in her autobiography – Gorillas in the Mist. Even a one-day, one-hour gorilla tracking expedition will change your life when you see these gentle giants in the wild.
Walking Safaris, Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe
You’ll notice a pattern amongst transformative adventures– the slower you travel, the more you see. Nowhere is this more true than on Walking Safaris in Africa. Robin Pope Safaris, an industry leader, says-
“A walking safari is the most authentic way to enjoy an African safari. It leaves the roads behind and takes you on paths less travelled. You often may be lucky to spot some of the wildlife that South Luangwa has to offer, but that’s not the main goal of a walking safari. Being on foot allows you to get up close to nature, immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells which are often overlooked when in a vehicle. With South Luangwa being home to the original walking safaris, there is no better place for this experience. In addition to walking as part of daily activities in camp, we offer two specialist walking trails; Luangwa Bush Camping and Mobile Walking Safari.”
Polar Bear Tours, Manitoba Canada
The creation of the Tundra Buggy ignited adventuring amongst polar bears in Churchill more than 30 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I would gladly hop in a specially designed all-terrain vehicle to watch polar bears through the windows any day of the week, but would it be a truly transformative adventure?
Imagine flying over the spectacular Arctic tundra to a remote eco-lodge, walking the wild Hudson Bay coastline in small groups to view polar bears, and returning to your lodge to unwind by a fireplace before dining on delicious fare. That’s the dream polar bear tour from Churchill Wild.
Sea Kayaking in San Juans, San Juan County Washington
Walking isn’t the only way to explore the wild, and unless you’re particularly special, it’s hard to walk on water. That’s why there’s sea kayaking. A 3-day San Juan Island kayak camping tour perfectly blends expedition-style camping and a relaxing vacation.
Discovery Sea Kayak says, “Overnight kayak tours are the best way to step away from the day-to-day grind and listen to the water pass along the hull of your kayak. A diversity of wildlife resides in the San Juans. Seals, sea lions, porpoises, and whales all share the various waterways we travel.
On evenings that present the proper conditions, we will head back out into the darkness to observe the sparkling of bioluminescence.”
Boutique Cruising on the Sea of Cortez, Baja Sur Mexico
If you’re looking to cover more ground (or water as the case may be) you’ll need a slightly bigger boat. Size matters, so don’t go too big. UnCruise offers small ship cruising through the Sea of Cortez that lets you get up close and personal with this amazing location. Baja California’s Sea of Cortez is known as nature’s aquarium because it’s one of Earth’s most biologically diverse bodies of water, and the 66-passenger Safari Voyager is the perfect vessel to take you there.
UnCruise is designed to get you off the boat and into the wild. You’ll board small boats to see gray whales in their birthing lagoons, kayak in remote bays, and swim with baby sea lions. Once you get back on board, you’ll be treated to gourmet cooking and fall asleep in a remote, sheltered cove.
Overwater Bungalow, Maldives
Overwater bungalows have been getting bad press lately as some companies are building them over fragile coral reefs. What if you could get that luxury in a sleek, eco-conscious design? Kudadoo Maldives is the only fully solar-powered private island in the Maldives. Luxury – yes, including a personal butler. Sustainable – yes, they won the prestigious 2019 hospitality design award in the ‘Sustainability Resort’ category. Certainly transformative, but is it adventurous too?
A turquoise playground awaits you with unlimited watersports, including a jet ski safari to Manta Point, dolphin expeditions, and encounters with the largest community of green sea turtles in the Maldives. Of course, your personal butler can arrange snorkeling or scuba diving and even an underwater scooter tour if you wish.
Climbing Kilimanjaro, Machame Tanzania
The Umbwe Route up Mount Kilimanjaro is a challenging goal for experienced climbers seeking transformational adventures. There are easier routes, like Lemosho with its high-altitude drop-off, but Umbwe is a short, steep climb through all the climate zones from tropical rainforest to eternal ice until you’re standing on top of the highest freestanding volcano in the world and looking into a 1.6 mile-wide caldera.
If you’re climbing Kili, you should go with the best. Altezza Travel was ranked #1 on Tripadvisor, with more than 300 yearly trips up the mountain and safaris across Tanzania.
Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
Jack Kerouac can attest to the transformation power of the road, and he didn’t take the longest-defined coastal routes in the world. The Wild Atlantic Way winds 1600 miles along the Irish west coast from the Inishowen Peninsula in the north down to the picturesque town of Kinsale in the south.
Of course, you can find uniquely Irish adventures along the way, like surfing “Cold Water Hawaii” or hiking the Burren that inspired JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. But for more than 30 million Americans who identify as Irish, these adventures are a window to your heritage and history. As Little Jack says, “The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view.”
Great American Rail-Trail, Across the United States
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy asks you to, “Picture yourself … pedaling across the entire country on a safe, seamless and scenic pathway—or walking a local trail that connects along historic routes.” That’s the dream of the incomparable experience of exploring America’s heritage by trail. A dream that is rapidly becoming a reality.
RTC states, “The Great American Rail-Trail® is the nation’s first cross-country multiuse trail, stretching more than 3,700 miles between Washington, D.C., and Washington State. This trail is an iconic piece of American infrastructure that will connect thousands of miles of rail-trails and other multiuse trails, serving tens of millions of people living along the route as well as those who visit the trail from around the country and the world.”
As of 2023, there are more than 2000 miles of completed trails. You can travel from D.C. to Ohio and only cross two gaps with less than 15 miles of off-trail riding and traverse Idaho with only one 10.5-mile gap. There’s still work to do, like 492 gap miles in Wyoming, but we’re over halfway there with plenty of great riding along the way.
Nile River Cruise, Egypt
The Nile is the cradle of civilization, with antiquities dating back over 4,500 years, including the only remaining traditional “Wonder of the Ancient World.” A Nile River cruise can transport you back to the edges of recorded history, but only with an experienced guide.
Innovative Travel has been helping international travelers experience the wonders of the Ancient Kingdoms for more than 30 years. They lead luxury trips with unparalleled knowledge and connections, including carefully crafted one-day plane tours to Abu Simbel.
Final Thoughts on Transformative Adventures
Transformative adventures can be rugged or luxurious, strenuous or serene. They’re not necessarily a dopamine drip or adrenaline shot; they’re an opportunity to see the world with a new perspective and experience something you’ve only dreamed about. Adventure is the catalyst, which a chemist will tell you increases the reaction rate and allows you to create substances that would otherwise be prohibitively difficult to achieve.