Top 10 tough walking vacations


When is a walk categorised as tough, and when does it become a trek? Of course, anything that is on two feet is categorised as a walk, or indeed a hike. They usually become treks when they go into landscapes that are otherwise inaccessible other than on foot. Then there are climbs, with plenty of iconic summits out there to please the peak seekers.
But it is the journey through these landscapes that really attracts the serious walker, with overnights under canvas, in hiking huts, remote lodges or homestays. Walking with guides from the local communities is often a feature of tough trekking routes, which not only generates income but also helps you gain a greater understanding of local culture and their love of landscape.
For many long distance walkers, the tougher or longer the better, especially if the route covers a wide variety of terrain. The most iconic ones vary both topographically and geographically, such as Bhutan’s Snowman Trek which takes a month to complete – and possibly a lot longer to muster the courage. Or the Via Ferrata in Italy’s Dolomites, which may take up less of your time but still stretch you physically and mentally.

Here are ten of our tough trekking trails. They may have challenging moments, but they’ll also take you across some of the world’s most terrific trekking terrain.

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

This possibly wins the crown of circumnavigations, covering 125km around all things Himalayan, including not only spectacular passes such as Thorong La at over 5,000m, but also huge swatches of alpine forest with subtropical jungles such as the Marsyangdi Valley thrown in. The jewel in the crown is the Annapurna mother massif in the middle. Taking you through Nepalese and Tibetan villages, the cultural trail is as uplifting as the natural one. Depending on the route and the speed, it takes 16-25 days to complete. Read our guide on the Annapurna Circuit

Waitukubuli Walking Trail, Dominica

On the lusciously green and ludicrously gorgeous volcanic island of Dominica, this is the Caribbean’s first long distance walking trail, covering 185km of the island. Created by the local community to bring tourists into the mountains and small communities, using trails that have been used by Dominicans for centuries, it is divided into 14 sections, and takes two weeks to complete. Hikers start in Scott’s Head in the south and hike all the way to Cabrits National Park in the north, although many walking vacations dip in and out of it, as some segments are much tougher than others, especially given the Caribbean climate. Highlights include the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, with the eponymous volcano, a lava heated lake and dramatic valleys. Read more on the Waitukubuli Walking Trail

Via Ferrata,
Dolomites, Italy

For those people who get excited by the words like ‘scrambling’ and ‘iron chains’ on their walking vacations, the Via Ferrata is like walking porn. Located in the jagged peaks of the Dolomites, it translates literally as ‘iron way’, thanks to the system of iron cables that cling to the mountainside so that walkers, not just rock climbers, can take on the craggy challenges. Clamber up ridges and rock faces, clipped on to cables, climbing up iron ladders and steps up to dramatic peaks, in a landscape that has 600 iron segments, some dating back to the early 1900s. Not one for vertigo sufferers really, although you are securely clipped on, so people from eight to 80 do the Ferrata. See our Via Ferrata walking vacation

Kokoda Track,
Papua New Guinea

100km of trekking at its most tropical, through rainforests and mountain trails of Papua New Guinea, where local guides and porters help you take on this extraordinary route. A tough trail not only in terms of its topography, as you trek through dense forest and over rivers, Bear Grylls style, but also its tough history. During WW2 this was the terrain of a very bloody battle between the Japanese and the Allied Forces, mostly Australian. No blood there today, but there will be plenty of sweat and possibly even tears. Although these should be of joy, as you swap stories and share the journey with local porters and guides who are totally devoted to sharing this natural nirvana with visitors. See our Kokoda Track vacations

GR20 walking trail,
Corsica, France

GR stands for Grande Randonnée, and there is a wonderful network of these ‘big walks’ throughout France. This terrific to many, terrifying to others, number 20 is in Corsica, and at 200km long takes a good week to complete. It is considered by many passionate promeneurs to be the toughest GR in France, as you stay in mountain huts and cross the island’s interior of granite mountains, snow-capped peaks, dramatic gorges, pine forests, plateaus and plains. The GR20 is divided into two sections, with some vacations only taking on one at a time. The northern one is the trickiest in terms of steepness from Calenzana to Vizzavona, yet stunning. The southern section is to Conca which is easier to (sorry) conquer, with more open plateaus, alpine meadows and generally softer underfoot.

Everest Base Camp, Nepal

You may have heard of this one. It’s the Oscar of the trekking world, following in the footsteps of super skilled sherpas and mountaineers, but not having to do the whole scaling-the-heights thing. You are enveloped by the Himalayas on this iconic trek, and before you even start walking you need to take a plane from Kathmandu to Lukla. From there you trek slowly to Base Camp, which is over halfway up Everest at 5,364m, with some serious acclimatising to manage along the way.
Rough trekking for sure, staying in shared dorms with basic facilities, so there are no red carpets for this Oscar. But it is also wins most dramatic long distance trek in the world, taking a good couple of weeks if not more. Wild wanderlust takes work, but the result is right up there in terms of expedition ecstasy. Read our guide on Everest Base Camp

Markha Valley
Trek, Ladakh

Ladakh, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is in the Himalayas, and proffers a wonderful, long distance walking alternative to Everest Base Camp. The trek still takes you through mountain passes at elevations of over 6,000m, but they aren’t as crowded as Everest, and also they don’t require alpinism skills. You just need to be trekking trained, so that you can sustain an eight-day trek through this valley that is enveloped by the Stok, Matho and Zanskar Himalayan ranges. Heart stopping more by beauty than burden, as you follow the course of the Markha River with its traditional villages and ancient monasteries but also a few mountain passes thrown in, just to get the blood pumping. See our Markha Valley trek vacation

Concordia and K2 trekking, Pakistan

Concordia is also known as the Karakoram Range, and long distance trekking here is dominated by the presence of K2, the second highest mountain in the world. You can follow a circuit of giant peaks, taking 20 days to complete a route that starts in Askole, goes through the Bradlu Gorge, past Baltoro Glacier with a final climb to K2 Base Camp. Start in Skardu, the capital of the Baltistan region and gateway to the Karakorams, a region where Balti people live traditional lifestyles influenced by Tibetan roots which you can see in the local culture. One of the most extraordinary spots is at the confluence of the Gilgit and Indus Rivers, and where the Karakorum, Himalaya and Hindu Kush mountains also meet. Now that is what you call a three for the price of one.

High Tatras
Mountains, Poland

The High Tatras Mountains are one of Europe’s best kept secrets when it comes to long distance, hut to hut mountain trekking, with more than 250km of trails through spectacular limestone gorges such as the Koscieliska Valley and dramatic landscapes including the Valley of Five Lakes. You can get a good mix of gradients, taking on some of Poland’s highest peaks such as Mounts Rysy and Ciemniak, but also trekking through ancient beech and fir forests and discovering the limestone cave systems of Tatra National Park which protects much of this region. See our Poland walking vacation in the High Tatras

Cordillera Huayhuash mountains, Peru

Although many people flock to the rightfully celebrated Inca Trail, few tourists know about this wonderful mountain range which is 30km long but very high, with some of the country’s top peaks. There are in fact seven peaks over 6,000m, one of which is Siula at 6,344m, notorious for its central role in the book and film Touching the Void. You don’t have to climb to the clouds to enjoy these mountains, however, where the snowline is at 4,800m, and the only villages found well below that.
You can spend at least 10 days trekking here, walking through utter wilderness surrounded by white peaks, trekking through high altitude grasslands and dramatic mountain passes, past glacial lakes and solid glaciers. And wild camping by all of them, with porters and muleteers to help. When the snows melt you can even go rafting on the River Santa, a favourite thing to do while spending time acclimatising to the elevation. Find Peru walking vacations
Photo credits: [Top box: Topich] [Annapurna Circuit: Bijaya2043] [Waitukubuli walking trail: Aneil Lutchman] [Via Ferrata, Dolomites, Italy: Antti Virolainen] [Kokoda track, Papua New Guinea: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] [GR20 walking trail, Corsica, France: Guillaume Baviere] [Everest Base Camp: Rick McCharles] [Markha Valley Trek, Ladakh: SlartibErtfass der bertige] [Concordia and K2, Pakistan: Stefanos Nikologianis] [High Tatras Mountains, Poland: Traveltipy] [Cordillera Huayhuash mountains, Peru: Paulo Tomaz]
Written by Catherine Mack
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