I have kind of a funny story from a trek I did once. The first day, during the meet and greet, a man introduced himself as "Jungle Man." That's it. It was, "Hi, my name is Ashley," and, "Hi, I'm Emma," and then there was him. Jungle Man. No other name.
Of course, Jungle Man wasn't his 'real' name, but who cares? He owned the Jungle Man personality big time. For the next five days, we hiked the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu. Jungle Man didn't wear shoes unless the terrain absolutely demanded it. He ate with his bare hands. He told everyone he was an expert in Thai yoga massage and ran workshops all over the world. He even had a business card touting his credentials, one that listed a website. The dude was not kidding. In the Thai yoga massage world, he was a big deal.
Jungle Man soon became one of my favorite people ever. I speak of him to this day as though he were a character out of myth or fantasy. He would point at animal droppings on the ground and tell everyone whether or not that animal was healthy. He howled from his tent in the middle of the night. He was, in a sense, from another planet. He was also insanely kind, never shared any judgment he might have passed, and once called me a "Jungle Woman" because I was able to keep up with him while hiking.
The hike itself was wonderful. I've never seen such incredible views of such a majestic mountain. Machu Picchu was unspeakably cool. But whenever I think about that hike, I think of Jungle Man and what a unique person he was. The experience reinforced the old cliche that it's not about where you go but who you meet. And what a memorable guy he was! Anyway, the hike was so cool that even without Jungle Man, I would have had a ball. So with that out of the way, here's twelve, Jungle Man-worthy hikes from around the world. Shoes recommended but hey, do your thing.
1. The Inca Trail (Peru)
Length: 26 miles (43 km) Duration: 3-5 days Elevation Gain: 4,200m
This epic trek spans 26 miles (43 km) and includes gorgeous mountain scenery, subtropical jungle, and idyllic cloud forest. Most notably, this Cusco to Aguas Calientes hike ends in the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu. It typically takes four days to complete, with hikers arriving at Machu Picchu's Sun Gate on the sunrise of day four.
Pro tip: arrive at Cusco early, ideally 3-5 days before your journey, to acclimatize to the altitude before beginning the hike. I knew a few people on the Salkantay Trek, the Inca Trail's lesser-known cousin, who got quite ill on the hike. As someone from a small town in North Carolina, elevation 102 feet, hiking at around 2500 meters was no joke. Lots of heavy breathing, I'll put it that way. Gulping for air at such an altitude, while hiking through some very steep sections of the trail, felt like a near-death experience for me at times. Arrive early, breath easy (or easier, I should say).
Finally, you'll likely need to plan for the Inca Trail hike in advance. There are a limited number of permits to hike the Inca Trail every year, and some recommend booking at least eight months in advance. Also, it's expensive. Expect to pay anywhere between $700-$2000 for an all-inclusive trek. For my fellow budget travelers out there, I highly recommend Salkantay!
2. El Camino De Santiago (Spain)
Northern Route Length: 515 Miles(830 km) Duration: 4-6 weeks Elevation Gain: 18,666m
Known in English as "The Way of St. James," is a network of pilgrimage trails that lead to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, located in northwestern Spain. According to tradition, the remains of St. James are buried there. It stretches over 500 miles and typically takes 35 days for hikers to cross its hilly terrain. It's frequented by hiking enthusiasts, but many also follow "the Way" to fulfill a spiritual journey, as it was one of the most significant Christian pilgrimages in the Middle Ages.
In fact, its popularity was in decline until Francisco Franco's government supported the revival of El Camino. The scallop shells that line the coast of Galicia have long been the symbol of this pilgrimage, as many take them as souvenirs. Scallops have a variety of meanings and significance for the Way, much in the way El Camino holds different meanings for those who hike its trails.
And speaking of trails, there are many. The most popular "Way" begins in France, but there are a variety of different paths to take to complete the Camino. Camino del Norte, along the coast, is arguably the most popular, including plenty of beaches and foodie hotspots like San Sebastian. Don't miss this hike's breathtaking geology—towering limestone peaks and formations like the Naranjo de Bulnes—an 8,264-foot tower with a large, flat top.
3. Everest Base Camp (Nepal)
Length: 81 miles (130 km) Duration: 9-14 days Elevation Gain: 400-800m per day
Reaching the top of Mt. Everest has been a definite no-go for me ever since I saw Into Thin Air. I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who takes on this feat, but I'm not that adventurous. For the slightly (or maybe way less) adventurous, hiking to Everest Base Camp is a happy medium. Base Camp sits at 5600 meters on the Khumbu Glacier at the foot of Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. The trek can take anywhere from nine days to two weeks on average, allowing for necessary rest days to acclimatize to the extreme altitude.
4. The Great Wall (China)
Length: 13,000 miles (20,921 km) Duration: 3 months to 2 years Elevation Gain: 1,439m (highest point)
Paul Simon says there are fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are many more ways to hike the Great Wall of China, which spans over 13,000 miles if accounting for all sections of the wall (built during different dynasties). The mainline of wall from the Ming Dynasty takes around 3-5 months to hike, but hiking the entire wall can take around eighteen months for the average hiker and up to several years for someone taking it slow.
It can absolutely be done quicker, but better you than me my friend! Fun fact: the first person to hike the entire Great Wall did so in 1908 when William Edgar Geil and his crew from the US finished the who thing from Shanhaiguan to Jiayuguan in five months.
5. Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
Length: 46.2 miles (74 km) Duration: 5-10 days Elevation Gain: 4,066m
The highest mountain in Africa seems like a walk in the park compared to some of these other treks, but that's not to say it's easy. Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro, stands at 19,340 feet (5,895 meters). Luckily, for strict walkers like me, there's no technical experience required to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it is strenuous. The Marangu route is popular because it's one of the shortest paths to the peak and the most comfortable–the only one to offer accommodation. This 46.2-mile route is typically conquered in 5-10 days.
6. GR 20 (Corsica, France)
Length: 112 miles (180 km) Duration: 11-12 days Elevation Gain: 12,000m
This incredible trail covers the Mediterranean island of Corsica's mountainous center. It includes breathtaking vistas, diverse flora and fauna, and wine if you're into that–all with no risk of altitude sickness like some of the other treks on this list. Fun fact! In June 2016, François D'Haene set the fastest known time in 31 hours and 6 minutes. Again, better you than me my friend!
7. Torres del Paine (Chile)
W Trek Length: 46 miles (74 km) Duration: 4-5 days Elevation Gain: 400-800m/day
O Circuit Length: 68 miles (110 km) Duration: 6-10 days Elevation Gain: 400-800m/day
Patagonia is a big-ticket bucket list item for sure. It is for me, anyway. The W Trek and O Circuit hikes provide some of the best views in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park. Experts recommend only going for these treks if you're in shape–no mountaineering skills required, thankfully–and prepared to hike up to eight hours per day for several days. You'll see the most iconic highlights of the national park: Valle Francés, Base of the Towers, and Glacier Grey.
8. Annapurna Circuit (Nepal)
Length: 100-145 miles (160–230 km) Duration: 15-20 days Elevation Gain: 10,107m
I know I've already included a hike from Nepal on the list, but this was too epic not to include! This 100-145 mile trek (160–230 km) trek forges a path through Nepal's central mountain ranges. It's been voted the best long-distance trek in the world several times over, rich with a variety of climates, cultures, and landscapes to encounter along the path. The hike lasts for around 15-20 days and leaves from Kathmandu, which is also where many hikes to Everest Base Camp leave from!
Maybe go for a double-hitter, if you're up for it?
Length: 106 miles (170 km) Duration: 8-11 days Elevation Gain: 9997m
You know what I'm surprised I haven't mentioned yet? Food. I don't tend to associate multi-day treks with awesome cuisine, but the Tour du Mont Blanc is here to shake up expectations. The TMB circles the Mont Blanc massif and covers approximately 106 miles (170 kilometers), passing through parts of Switzerland, Italy, and France. According to this source, "Think big snowy peaks, huge glaciers, wild rivers, and green valleys; and that’s just day one." Also included: delicious food at the many towns along the way! Italian, French, and Swiss. Oh my!
10. Pacific Crest Trail (United States)
Length: 2,650 miles (4,265 km) Duration: 5 months Elevation Gain: 96,012m
It was tough choosing between the PCT and the Appalachian Trail, aka the AT. It's the second-longest trail in the US (behind the AT), stretching from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington State. I'm a little partial to the PCT after reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild, and the idea of such a variety of terrain is really appealing to me. The PCT ranges from deserts to mountains, with scenery that's mostly brown, green, grey, snowy, you get the idea. The AT, not so much, but who am I kidding? Both are gorgeous.
11. Cinque Terre (Italy)
Length: 6.8 miles (11 km) Duration: 6-8 hours Elevation Gain: 500m
This string of old villages along the Italian coast is a sight to behold. The hike itself isn't necessarily epic, but the views sure are! It only takes about six hours to walk through all of the villages, which are inaccessible any other way.
12. Nā Pali Coast State Park (Hawaii)
Kalalau Trail Length: 11 miles (4,265 km) Duration: 3-5 days Elevation Gain: 1,524m
Calling this trail along the coast of Kauai 'scenic' is an understatement. It's packed with waterfalls, dangerous cliffs (epic), and canyons galore. What's more, there's something secretive about this hike, as it provides the only land access to the rugged Na Pali coast. If you want to really get out in nature, far away from the hustle and bustle, I can't think of a more magical, secluded place.
Which of these epic trails would you most like to hike? Let us know!