Somewhere between a beachy leisure holiday and a high-stakes mountaineering trek, there’s a middle ground that’s become much more appealing to the middle-aged traveler. A soft adventure is a more moderate choice for those who want to stay moving on vacation but don’t feel the need to go to physical extremes. It often blends in new or non-traditional destinations and can focus on eco-tourism, culture, and even scientific expeditions.
I recently had the chance to take a soft adventure journey through the Colombian countryside and I found it to be a terrific travel experience. It was challenging, enriching, and rewarding; I can’t wait to have a similar outing again soon! Here are a few reasons why you should consider a soft adventure for your next vacation.
Active But Not Olympic-Level
I’m far past the point in my life where I need to bungee jump or go downhill mountain biking at breakneck speeds. But I do like to stay active and experience new things when I’m checking another country off my travel list. And I’m not alone. At 10Adventures, a Canadian-based travel company, 90 percent of customers lean into soft adventures.
“There is so much to be gained by a traveler embarking on a soft adventure,” said Nadine Gravis, trekking and cycling product lead for 10Adventures. “Anyone can do it! You don’t have to be an expert, or possess a certain skill set, all you need is a desire to experience a meaningful and impactful travel experience, and the rest is easy!”
Soft adventure itineraries make the most of your vacation time. A quality tour operator will work with you before you go, listen to your vacation goals, and make corresponding plans. You’ll likely be off the beaten path and spend quite a bit of time outdoors. And while you’ll get physical, you don’t need to be an Olympic-level athlete to enjoy a schedule that might include smooth biking, light hiking, and kayaking or canoeing without the white-water rapids. You’ll feel great about getting out there without running the risk of injury, exhaustion, or overload.
Immersion In A New Place And Culture
Another critical component of soft adventure: throwing yourself fully into a new place through personal interactions and hands-on experiences. While in Colombia, I got big, satisfying cultural boosts. My group visited an organic coffee farm, got a personal tour from the owner and his son, and learned first hand about the seed-to-sip process. Our guides led us on a hike to the spectacular and mysterious San Agustin Archeological Park, we enjoyed a lesson in black pottery-making from a master artist in La Chamba, we shared an incredible traditional Colombian meal of lechona, and we got to experience first hand the country’s rich cumbia folk music and dance traditions.
“You walk away with a storehouse of memories made through unique and fascinating travel experiences,” added Gravis. “The traveler doesn’t just ‘visit’ a destination, they experience it.”
Taking In Natural Wonders
Very often, soft adventure focuses on Mother Nature and a place’s natural beauty. That was certainly the case for me, and if you’re in a country as ecologically diverse as Colombia, you’re going to be in for a trip that will truly stick with you. From hiking the rainforest near San Agustin, biking the strange sand formations of the Tatacoa Desert, revving up the Mano del Gigante overlook in an open-air truck, and taking an incredible early-morning riverside walk to view dozens of species of beautiful, brightly colored birds, I had outstanding outdoor time. Our group also marveled at the natural wonders we viewed from our bus (often pointed out to us by our terrific drivers): dramatic waterfalls dropping into the iconic Magdalena River, lush hills and valleys planted with coffee bushes and bananas, and magnificent rock formations.
Admittedly, I am not an extreme outdoor enthusiast. And while I traded in my traditional vacation activities — such as museum visits — for more nature-based experiences during my time in Colombia, I found it a refreshing change-up. I was appreciative of the time I got to spend admiring nature’s wonders.
Soft Adventure Doesn’t Mean Roughing It
While soft adventure is designed to push boundaries and expand horizons, it does so with comfort in mind. My days of roughing it are long gone and I certainly prefer my own space while I’m traveling — no more hostels here! While our group covered a lot of ground during the journey by small airplane, bus, bike, and on foot, we always enjoyed incredible meals and comfortable accommodations at the end of each jam-packed day.
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that a hotel or lodge might not be over-the-top seven-star luxe, especially if you’re staying in a remote area. However, your tour operator will work with you to ensure where you’re staying will be clean, safe, and friendly. I delighted in the small lodges where we stayed — hidden gems I never would have known about had it not been for our expert local guides and tour operator.
Remember: It’s Not a Competition!
Last but certainly not least, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re not competing for a gold medal. Modifications can be made before your trip (swapping mountain bikes for e-bikes or requesting easy hikes, for example) and/or during the experience.
“Soft adventure leaves room for how you’re feeling that day, what you’re interested in seeing and doing that day — in short, it allows you to go with the flow,” said Gravis. “You can enjoy structure on a soft adventure without being bogged down by mandatory commitments. For guests enjoying a walking or cycling trip, this can look like van support, combining public transport to shorten routes, or even riding with the luggage carrier if you don’t feel up to completing a given day’s route.”
That’s exactly what I did in the Tatacoa Desert. I consider myself to be fairly fit, but during our mountain bike outing, the sun was so hot and the route so hilly, I decided to complete half the ride and hitched back with the support crew’s truck. No shame in that game!
The Bottom Line
I gained an enormous amount during my soft itinerary trek though Colombia. I stayed active, both mentally and physically, made some incredible memories, and came away feeling a bit more confident in my overall travel skills. I wrapped up the week having had an immersive look at a tremendous culture that hadn’t previously been on my radar. The end result was an expansive stretch of my worldview, one I’m incredibly grateful for.