Petra Jordan

9 Off-The-Beaten Track Experiences To Have In 2020

3 December 2019
Read Time: 8.3 mins

Looking for an adrenaline-fuelled holiday? Here are nine to get the blood pumping! 

Leopard on safari sri lanka

Safari In Sri Lanka

Jed Sale Flight Centre Travel Expert

Flip the script on the traditional safari experience by going wild in Sri Lanka where you’ll find some of the densest concentrations of leopards and elephants in the world.

While Sri Lanka’s north is a lush tropical jungle filled with Asian elephants and sloth bears, in the southeast part of the teardrop-shaped isle the terrain is open and scrubby – similar to the classic African savannah. Yala National Park is a 130,000ha nature reserve of grasslands, forests and lagoons that’s home to 44 mammal species and 215 types of bird. Its most famous, and famously elusive, resident is the Sri Lankan leopard. We’re told it’s quite rare to spot a leopard, but on an early morning safari, we keep an eye out nevertheless.

The well-protected reserve allows a limited of Jeeps in the park each day, and different tracks mean we don’t meet another tour. Sitting high in the open-top Jeep, we see birds as the sun starts to rise, and then lizards walking across the road. Our guide whistles to attract large, beautiful birds and we see crocodiles in lagoons.

Towards the end of the safari, a leopard slowly and nonchalantly crosses in front of the vehicle, not even acknowledging our presence. We stop and fall silent with just the soundtrack of birds as the big cat pads across, leaving paw prints in the dirt. We track the leopard as it settles into a tree, its massive head and eyes staring at us, before it climbs down and walks away again into the bush. It’s such a 'wow' experience, I know now is the time to propose to my girlfriend. I was planning to propose on this trip, I just didn’t know when. Right at the end of our Sri Lanka trip and after witnessing this rare creature together, the moment was right and will forever be in our hearts.

Stay On A Coffee Estancia In Colombia

Cassandra Laffey, Flight Centre Editor

If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the provenance of your morning cuppa, why not travel to the source?

Colombia, the third-largest coffee-producing country in the world, is considered to have the ideal geography for growing our favourite stimulant. The higher the elevation, the better the taste of the bean, so the so-called Coffee Triangle of the lush highlands of the Santa Ana Valley, between Salento and Medellin, is a coffee lover’s nirvana. Staying at Hacienda Venecia coffee estancia (two hours’ drive from Salento) on Intrepid’s Cafe Colombia trip will get your closer to the bean and its connection with the local culture. From the brightly hued fruit on coffee trees to the roasted grounds and, of course, tastings of the different coffee types, you’ll gain an understanding of the complex history of coffee cultivation. Colombians take their coffee black, so make like a local and ask for a tinto to savour the signature rich, mild flavour of these high-quality beans.

RELATED: Trace the ancient Silk Road route

Feel Blue In Morocco

Monica Jankowski, Flight Centre Travel Expert

The city of Chefchaouen was not always blue. It’s believed the distinctive hue dates back to 1492 when the city in northwest Morocco was used as a hiding place for Jews during the Spanish Inquisition.

The blue tone is said to be representative of the colour of the sky and the Jewish faith. Known as the ‘Blue City’, Chefchaouen was my main reason to visit Morocco and the highlight of my Intrepid tour.  From Fes, it’s a four-hour coach ride, but with the beautiful scenery of the Rif Mountains along the way, the journey flew by. The Old Town of Chefchaouen is where the colour is most concentrated with small doorways, decorative windows and narrow staircases painted blue. It’s a destination that may take you out of your comfort zone – full of friendly locals, distinctive souvenirs, fresh spices, handcrafted clothing and homemade meals – but will lodge itself in your memories forever.

sailing in Turkey Image: Desta Cullen

Sail On A Gulet In Turkey

Desta Cullen, Flight Centre Travel Writer

The dawn sky casts a musk-hued velveteen blanket over the jagged horizon; despite the stark geography, my eyes struggle to focus as I ebb between dreams and waking.

The soft waves of the muted-blue Aegean gently lap the side of the gulet, a traditional wooden yacht, creating a rhythmic lull that isn’t helping either. It’s morning three of our sailing adventure along Turkey’s striking Turquoise Coast and I’m dreading waking from this dream when we disembark at the ancient city of Olympos.

And this is certainly the stuff of travel dreams: sleeping on deck under the star- pierced sky, morning swims in the cerulean sea followed by freshly prepared snacks of ripe melon and feta, exploring crumbling ruins (St Nicholas Island) and ghost towns (Kayakoy) hidden among olive shrubs and exploring the sunken city of Kekova. Setting sail from the port city of Fethiye – just a one- hour flight from Istanbul to Dalaman and then 40 minutes to Fethiye by bus – we’ve explored enchanting resort towns such as Oludinez and Kas, moored in picturesque bays to sleep and swim as our crew fish for dinner. The perfect blend of relaxation, culture and adventure, this experience – with its magical sunsets, soft breezes and breathtaking scenery – will leave an indelible mark, beckoning long after I’ve regained my land legs.

RELATED: See the sunrise at Angkor Wat

Petra Jordan

Channel Your Inner Archaeologist At Petra

Charlotte McClay, Flight Centre Travel Expert

Weaving through a mountainous maze of sandstone in the ancient Nabatean city of Petra, Jordan, I could never imagine the hidden surprise awaiting me at the end. Around every corner I was met with a range of incredible sights from a watery oasis decorated with pink flowers to a small cave housing a shop.

My Topdeck guide, Ahmad, led our exploration of Petra, telling stories of the site’s history while pointing out details easily missed by the untrained eye.

There are many ways to make your way through Petra to the main attraction of the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) based on your preferred level of physical activity. Ahmad assisted those wanting to enter Petra via the traditional entrance of the Siq on horseback or foot, while also guiding the more intrepid travellers tackling the difficult and often unmarked Madras Trail Loop, famously nicknamed the 'Indiana Jones Way' (scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were filmed here).

After walking the route for several hours, Ahmad blindfolded us and guided us to the edge of a rocky clifftop where we would have our first view of the Treasury, an ancient temple carved into the sandstone face. At around 40m high and decorated with towering columns and figures etched into the rock, my first gaze upon the Treasury was one of those magical moments that instantly take your breath away and leave a permanent mental image in your mind.

Go Caving Amid Mayan Ruins In Belize

Danielle Luck, National Campaigns Manager, Flight Centre

It’s not easy to get to, but as with most things, the more difficult the challenge, the greater the reward. Deep in the Belizean jungle, it’s an hour’s ride from San Ignacio and another hour’s light trek on paths and through three rivers just to reach the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave (ATM cave). It’s humid with smatterings of light rain, there’s been a snake sighting and all we can hear are howler monkeys in the trees above us. How, we wonder, did the intrepid archaeologist who discovered the ATM cave in 1989 after more than 1,000 years of them being ‘lost’, even get here?

But our adventure’s not over yet. In fact, it’s just beginning. At the mouth of the ATM cave, we dive into the refreshing water, pristine and cool after the jungle humidity, and climb up a big boulder. With headlamps on our helmets, we wade another kilometre into the cave system, lights shining on rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites.

Without light, it’s pitch black but we follow the instructions of our local Intrepid guide, Jam Jam, and freeclimb a slippery 20m rock wall, squeeze through 30cm gaps and navigate the ‘neck chopper’, an ominous-sounding rock with a really sharp point that you have to angle your head and neck sideways to pass. I feel the rock graze across my neck and wonder, not for the first time, how did the Mayans do this 1,000 years ago, and only with fire for illumination?

The chamber known as the ‘Cathedral’ is where we see the skeletons, remains of human sacrifices to the Mayan rain god, and pottery shards, left just as they were found. Up a tiny ladder to another chamber is a female skeleton, dubbed the ‘Crystal Maiden’. Her bones have fused to the cave minerals and the skeleton glitters under our headlamps, the only light in the chamber as cameras and recording equipment are forbidden in this underground museum.

The only way out is the way in, and as I jump off the boulder back into the clear water, I remember the Mayans believed the cave mouth was the entrance to the underworld. It’s eerie and beautiful, and in the absence of photos, it’s a rare experience you really do have to see it for yourself.

Swim With Whale Sharks In Mexico

Danielle Luck, National Campaigns Manager, Flight Centre

After an hour of boating at high speed on the Caribbean Sea, I see them. We’re so far out there is no land in sight, but I can see whale sharks – at least 58 that we can count. It all happens quickly – we don our goggles, snorkel, life vest and fins and jump off the boat into the water two at a time with our guide. It’s a lifelong ambition of mine to swim with whale sharks and off the Cancun coast is one of the world’s largest populations of these magnificent creatures. The Caribbean and

Gulf of Mexico currents collide here, bringing the whale sharks’ food source of krill and plankton to the surface. My friend jokes that you know you’ve hit the whale shark buffet when you get back on the boat and your swimmers are full of fish caviar (not as gross as it sounds!). While we’re not allowed to touch them, they’re fast: breaching and swimming so quickly I’m out of breath, giddy with the thrill and exertion and proximity to a 14m-long fish. I’m close enough to see the spotted marks of their skin and watch their wild abandon. Looking at the sun dappling the water’s surface, it really doesn’t get much better than this.

Torres del paine patagonia

Trek Torres Del Paine National Park

Laura Daw Flight Centre Travel Expert

On a seven-day walking adventure in what is virtually the end of the Earth in Chile, I trekked next to vast lakes, wooded forest and stark rocky outcrops. I had a view of a different glacier nearly every day, culminating with the giant granite towers the park is named for – three huge stone monoliths that are really worth the steep climb to get to the top. I saw soaring snow-capped mountain peaks and ventured close to magnificent glaciers and striking blue lakes, crossing so many ice-cold mountain streams it was nearly impossible to keep your feet dry.

At the end of the long days of walking, there are cosy Chilean refugios (mountain cabins) waiting for you where you can enjoy a hot chocolate or a pisco sour and sit by the fire while your shoes dry. Torres del Paine National Park is about two hours' drive from the friendly little town of Puerto Natales, which has everything you need to stock up for a few days in the wilderness. At the end of the W Trek, enjoy some downtime at the eco-lodge or luxury lodge with sweeping views over the park.

Hike Kuelap In Northern Peru

Cameron Russell, Flight Centre Travel Expert

High in the clouds of the Andes lies one of the world’s secret wonders in Peru.

Touted as the less-touristy alternative to Machu Picchu, the no- less impressive ruins of Kuelap were built by the Chachapoyas or Cloud Warriors around 600 to 900 years before the famous Incan citadel to the south. I follow the outskirts of the massive fortress walls to the top to take in the stunning view, looking over clouds high in the Andes. Wandering through the round, stone bases of homes and temples scattered throughout the walled city, I close my eyes and feel the history of the site where more than 5,000 people lived on this secluded mountaintop. It’s now easily accessible by cable car and hiking up to the site, but still feels a world away.

Discover the full list of our 50 experiences for 2020 here!


Flight Centre

Flight Centre is committed to providing articles to help inspire your future travels and to keep you up to date with all the happenings around the travelverse.