4 Small Countries That Pack Very Big Adventures
Don’t judge the size of the adventure by the size of the country. These small nations are overflowing with adventures far larger than their land mass.
Windows down, music up, and miles of empty highway stretching before you. There’s no denying the appeal of an endless road trip. A few weeks of hard driving can take you across America with time to stop at major mountains, rivers and cities in between. The same could be said for Australia, Canada and much of Europe as well. But what if you’re short on time? These small countries pack the same punch as their giant neighbors—with time for you to go coast to coast in each in under a day.
1: Trampoline Caverns and Surfing in Wales
Often overlooked by American travelers to the U.K., Wales packs an incredible amount of adventure into a country that you can cross by car in a day. You wouldn’t want to, however, when excursion options include Victorian mines filled with trampolines, military-class boat rides in the Atlantic, and zip-lining through the Snowdonia mountains.
A $350 flight will get you from Chicago or New York to London, where you can hop a short train to the Welsh capital of Cardiff. There, Cardiff’s Bay Island Voyages will throw you in a rigid inflatable boat—the kind the U.S. Coast Guard uses for intercepting high speed vessels—and take you on a whirlwind ride of Cardiff Bay. From April to July, the boats can also take you to nearby islands to get an up-close view of colorful puffins.
From Cardiff, grab a car and hit the road towards the U.K.’s smallest city at St. David’s, where adrenaline junkies can throw themselves off of towering cliffs into the rolling surf below. After a quick rest in St. David’s, make your way through the mountain peaks of Snowdonia National Park, where an abandoned Victorian-era mine has been repurposed into an adventure park that packs glamping, zip-lining and a subterranean labyrinth filled with trampolines and mood lighting that will terrify, then delight you.
Before you leave: The nearby town of Old Colywyn offers a smattering of pubs serving local gins to wet your whistle, and a medieval church that’s been converted into an Airbnb. It’s also home to the most unexpected adventure in Wales—surfing. Surf Snowdonia is one of the best places in the world to learn how to surf. The park features a timed surfing pool, a stable of patient instructors, and all of the gear you’ll need to surf in the shadow of the Welsh mountains.
Weary travelers can get home via nearby Manchester or by making the trek back to London.
2: Volcanic Hot Springs and Diving in Fiji
The island nation of Fiji occupies just over 7,000 square miles. That’s slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey. Still, travelers who make the overnight flight from Los Angeles will find a world of adventure at their feet.
Though the country is comprised of hundreds of tiny islands, Fiji’s two main islands—Viti Levu and Vanua Levu—are large enough to travel by car. On Viti Levu, adventurers can explore the nearby city of Nadi and the colorful Hindu temple of Sri Siva Subraminiya. An endless line of cab drivers outside of Nadi’s international airport will be more than willing to negotiate a fare to take you into town and explore the temple, as well as the “legendary” Garden fo the Sleeping Giant, an orchid sanctuary with over 2000 species, while en route. Both are worth a stop before hoping a flight to another island, or venturing towards Viti Levu’s interior to hike the 4,300 foot, extinct volcano at Mount Tomanivi.
The U.S. dollar goes about twice as far in Fiji, and that favorable conversion rate comes in handy when taking advantage of the nation’s adventure services. An overnight diving expedition from the Cousteau Dive Center will run you about $100. In certain months, that trip not only includes access to world-class, coral reefs, but also the chance to dive with Jacques Cousteau’s personal expedition leader.
The Cousteau center is part of the all-inclusive, Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort on Fiji’s second island of Vanua Levu. The flight there from Nadi feels like a descent into Jurassic Park, and a few nights under the resort’s thatched roof huts only heighten that sense. There are other ways to see Fiji, but for those seeking a single, adventure headquarters, its confines and staff of knowledgeable guides may be hard to beat.
Before you leave: Ring up Naveria Heights lodge and negotiate a tour to a secret, volcanic hot pool not far from Vanua Levu’s airport.
3: Cultural immersion and Photography in Cuba
Years of American sanctions have surrounded Cuba with a veil of mystery in the minds of U.S. travelers. However, Cuba has remained a popular destination for Europeans for decades.
It’s time to see what you’ve been missing.
Flights to Havana can frequently be found for under $100 from Miami International Airport, and while Americans do still need a visa to visit the country, travel agencies like California’s Coast to Costa have partnered with educational groups within the island country to ensure that their clients can secure the right to visit. Coast to Costa is one of several outfitters operating adventure-oriented tours around Cuba. Packages include photography lessons, horseback riding and tobacco farm tours. Their trip will put you in a guided van and take you outside of the bustling streets of Havana.
It’s important to note that Americans do not need a guide service to visit Cuba. They do, however, need to adhere to travel regulations that ensure their trip is within one of 12 categories allowed by the U.S. government. Those include journalism, religious activities and humanitarian projects; however, the most commonly used for travelers is “support for the Cuban people.”’
Securing a visa will grant you access to one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, a land of colorful buildings, landscapes and cars to photograph; and a sea of culture to swim in.
Before you leave: Take a detour to Havana’s Fabrica de Arte, a former cooking oil plant that’s been converted into a combination art gallery, bar and club. It’s a modern sensory overload in a decidedly vintage country.
4: Jaguars and Jungle Ruins in Belize
Sandwiched on the Caribbean coast between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is an affordable getaway for many Americans. Round-trip flights from Houston can frequently be had for under $500, and a nonstop flight can get you there in under three hours.
30 minutes outside of town, you’ll be able to visit with tapirs, toucans and jaguars at the Belize Zoo. There, you’ll have time to collect yourself before plunging into the home of ancient Mayan death gods in the jungle. ATM Cave is said to be an ancient house of the dead, and it’s littered with archeology relics and skeletons. To see them, you’ll have to swim through an underground lake guarding the entrance to the sacred Mayan site.
Trekking through ATM will immerse you in the Mayan afterlife. But a trek to the massive temples Caracol will soak you in the wonders of its daily life. One of the largest Mayan sites in Central America, Caracol was once home to some 200,000 people, and many of its stone temples still tower above the jungle canopy today.
In Belize, adventurers looking for a journey outside of the jungle can quickly find themselves in some of the most pristine diving waters in the world, including the world’s largest blue hole, a 400 foot deep sinkhole surrounded by shallow reefs. Barrier reefs, sharks and whale sharks await those brave enough to venture under the Caribbean surf.
Before you leave: Take a guided night hike through Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve. At night you’ll have an excellent chance of spotting tracks left by jaguar, ocelots and other wild cats native to Belize. You’ll definitely need a guide; however, as jaguars are said to be one of the most dangerous animals on Earth.