Wilderness travel guide

Wilderness areas are virtually unmodified from their natural state by human interference. They’re where wildlife – including large predators – roams freely and where the precious biodiversity that we all depend on is at its strongest. Wilderness vacations are for those looking to find space, serenity and a break from the pressures of the modern world. But they’re not for everyone. You need to be prepared for more basic conditions, and to be aware of your responsibility for keeping these landscapes as pristine as you found them.
Wilderness doesn’t mean no one lives there. Indigenous people have looked after many wilderness areas for hundreds of generations. They’re already expert conservationists.
The need to protect nature has never been more urgent. Besides satisfying our own call of the wild, wilderness vacations can help convince governments and local communities that there is value in saving these places rather than letting them be destroyed by rapacious industries. Find out how your trip can make a positive difference in our wilderness vacations travel guide.

Wilderness vacations are...

a bit down and dirty, up close and personal. Swipe right if you like that sort of thing. Go on, go wild.

Wilderness vacations aren't...

all long haul. You can find pristine landscapes within Europe, from Montenegro to Finland. Think of wilderness as the EU’s fifth freedom.

What we rate & what we don’t

Underrated

Wildlife safaris in the UK

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, often driven by intensive farming. A fight back is underway, led by rewilding pioneers such as the Knepp Estate in West Sussex. Wildlife safaris here track nightingales, butterflies and Eurasian beavers. In Scotland you can go on wildlife safaris in the majestic Cairngorms National Park, camping and watching for reindeer, pine martens and red squirrel.

Accessibility & inclusivity

There’s a growing drive to make nature more inclusive, such as the John Muir Trust partnering with Boots & Beards, an organisation that aims to help more people from ethnic minorities experience natural settings. Accessibility is trickier – wilderness areas are such because they have no, or virtually no, human infrastructure. But there is much that could be done, such as by improving interpretation for people with sight or hearing problems, and better signposting of accessible routes.

Cultural awareness

Many wilderness areas are inhabited by Indigenous groups whose ancestors have cared for these places for centuries. Mountains, rock formations, trees and rivers can hold immense spiritual significance for these communities. Minimising your impact isn’t just about allowing litter or campfires to despoil the environment – it’s also about respecting the stewards of these lands and their beliefs.
Rated

Expert guides

Wilderness areas rarely have much in the way of signage, and trails can often be unclear. With unpredictable weather and the odd wild animal too, exploring these places is best done in the company of someone who knows them well. Expert guides can also expand your understanding about everything from medicinal plants to animal tracks and survival skills.

The recall of the wild

It’s maddening that species such as wolves, bears and beavers have been wiped out, in many instances to make life easier for the farming industry. Thankfully, attitudes are shifting and we’re now seeing many rewilding projects around the globe. Done well, these can mitigate the concerns of local people and have significant positive effects on ecosystems that have had a missing piece for too long.

Wilderness accommodation

Does it protect you from the elements? Is it provided by local people so that their communities benefit financially? Does it blend in with its natural environment? From aurora cabins in Finland to luxury tented camps in Botswana, and remote rainforest villages, the accommodation on wilderness vacations can be one of the highlights of your trip.
Overrated

Man vs Nature

We don’t think it’s helpful to think of wilderness areas as innately threatening, but instead places where it pays to be prepared. It’s better to see them as places that humans belong, but in harmony with nature rather than opposition to it. And to see the benefits that we can gain from being there.

Ignoring what’s on your own doorstep

It’s easy to forget how close we are to the wilderness. You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to lose yourself in nature. In fact, you may not even need to board a flight at all. In Europe, we have wilderness vacations in countries as varied as Poland, Scotland, Sweden, Finnish Lapland, Armenia, Iceland, Norway and Italy.

Unrealistic expectations

Wilderness vacations take place in places almost entirely free of tourism infrastructure. If planning such a trip, you often need to be prepared for very remote places with basic accommodation and amenities, where it can take some time to get in and out again.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Wilderness or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Types of wilderness vacations

Wilderness trekking

The world’s truly wild places are few and far between these days as we humans tend to get everywhere, with plenty of mountainous walking routes where you bump into fellow ramblers. Which is fine, but not always what you are seeking. Wilderness trekking vacations take place where you will meet virtually no other hikers and in locations that are almost raw in their beauty, such as serious trekking in Patagonia, hut to hut hiking in far out Finland, the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea or the Maliau Basin of Borneo.

Wilderness adventure

As well as hiking in wilderness areas, adrenaline seekers may want a little bit more while they are out there in the wilds. Small group vacations that take you mountain biking on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, canoeing in the Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada, on a dog sledding expedition in Spitsbergen, learning survival skills on a desert island in French Polynesia, or wilderness sailing and skiing in the Lofoten Mountains of northern Norway might appeal.
We asked travel writer Dervla Murphy, a big fan of wilderness places, about the best place she has woken up:
In my tent on an uninhabited stretch of high puna in the Peruvian Andes when I woke as the sun was rising over a crenulated 20,000ft summit in the near distance.
Dervla inspires all of us to find the feral within, in her Folks we Love interview.

Wild Taiga

Extending along the Russian border in the east, these thick forests, lakes and rivers – habitat for bears, deer, wolves and moose – are about as epic as it gets within Europe. Wild Taiga is the name given to the ancient, subarctic conifer forest which, particularly in winter, feels utterly frozen in time. Stretching from Kuhmo to Suomussalmi it dominates Finland’s Kainuu region and wilderness experiences include hut to hut hiking in Hossa National Park, snow shoeing in Kylmäluoma Hiking Area or going on a bear watching trek in Oulanka National park.

Desert

If desert landscapes are calling you, then we have a wonderful array of experiences on offer, such as a four-day camel safari in the Moroccan Sahara, or through the ancient lands of Nubia in both Egypt and Sudan. Others adventures are in countries which may be more known for mass tourism, but with deserts well off the beaten track, such as Oman.

Here, the desert folds of Wadi Bani Khalid are well protected by the Bedouin people, who will welcome you with open arms in their camps. Similarly, few things can prepare you for the greatness of Wadi Rum in Jordan when you see it for the first time spread out before you. Same goes for the star filled skies above you at night. Other desert great experiences include the Gobi in Mongolia, the Badain Jaran in China and the Atacama in Chile.
On a trekking vacation in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert, one of our travelers Jill Marquis shares these lovely thoughts: “Half of me wondered whether I would find that huge space of the desert intimidating, but actually I found it so liberating. I thought it was wonderful... We were quite a small group, only five of us, so I didn't feel lost, I didn't feel intimidated, and I was overawed by all that space, but it was liberating. There was just no one else around, apart from the odd jeep in the distance, so essentially we were on our own.” Read more in Jill’s full interview.

Polar

As well as some of the classic routes, such as small ship cruises around Spitsbergen or camping in remote parts of Alaska, those who want to stretch those expedition muscles just that bit more have wonderful options. Unheard of by many, places like the Chukotka coast and Wrangel Island in far eastern Siberia really are a beautiful place to be ‘banished’ to on expedition cruises. See our Arctic and Antarctic guide for more details of our polar wilderness vacations.

Wildlife

Unsurprisingly, in places so little touched by humans, wildlife is often a big feature – such as seeing penguins on New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands, bears in Finland’s Wild Taiga, zebras and giraffes in Namibia, and myriad mammals in Manu National Park in Peru, from elusive jaguars to monkeys. For more details on these wildlife vacations, with naturalist guides, see here.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Eelco Bohtlingk] [Are/Aren't: Maria Vojtovicova] [Underrated: K B] [Rated: Arctic Guesthouse & Igloos] [Overrated: Alex Talmon] [Wilderness trekking: Colby Winfield] [Desert: Sergey Pesterev] [Polar: Daniel Born] [Wildlife: Paul Carroll]