Enter the mud volcano as a 50-year-old. Leave the mud volcano as a 30-year-old.
That was the rumor Robin Esrock, a travel writer and television host, heard about the "Volcano of Youth" while on assignment in Cartagena, Colombia. "It was purportedly a good hangover cure as well," he says.
And so, one morning after a night of too much local rum, Esrock boarded a bus toward Volcan de Lodo, a spewing cone of mineral mud propped improbably on barren land by the Caribbean. Soon, Esrock was standing on the crater's edge, staring at a vat of milk chocolate mud below, ready to make the leap.
Adventure-travel writers like Esrock—a 33-year-old South African freelance writer and host of "Word Travels" on the National Geographic Channel—get paid to travel and explore the planet. A dream job, many people would call it. But talk to any veteran travel writer and tales emerge of trips that transcend the workaday beat—not always with the expected results.
But then, destinations will surface in a conversation so good that they may be reluctant to tell more.
For this story, we polled nine top adventure-travel writers to discover destinations and adventures not often featured in print. These are the places travel writers will go when not on assignment—personal top adventure picks culled from hundreds of assignments and years on the road.
For Esrock, who's toured more than 70 countries, destinations like Vancouver Island's remote West Coast Trail stand as top experiences. Of this 46-mile seaside route, Esrock paints a scene thick with trees and fog, visibility limited just beyond the path, with bears, cougars and wolves roaming a still woods nearby. "As you hike, these three animals sit at the forefront of your imagination."
At Volcan de Lodo, which Esrock did chronicle for his syndicated newspaper column, there was no fountain-of-youth effect. His hangover, however, dissipated in minutes. Submerged in a bubbling brew of geo-excreted liquids, Esrock's headache dissolved. His skin perked up as a local volcano worker administered a rejuvenating exfoliation scrub. "Suspended in mud, it's what we imagine it must be like to sleep on a cloud," he says.
Another travel writer, Seth Sherwood, a Paris-based freelance correspondent for the New York Times, cites Palmyra, a remote ruin site and a little-known archaeological adventure in the desert of Syria. Sherwood, 38, made a side trip to Palmyra while on assignment for the Times' Travel section in 2007.
Palmyra was for centuries an important caravan stopover for travelers and merchants moving between Damascus, the Euphrates River and other ancient Persian locations. Sherwood hiked Palmyra's endless ruins for a day, exploring what he described as "an ocean of timeworn pinkish stones, date palms, blocky half-collapsed buildings, ranks of high columns, rows of soaring arches, cracked amphitheaters, monolithic carved blocks, crumbled statues and hillside tombs."
For Kate Siber, a Durango, Colo., contributor to Outside magazine, mountain adventures take top billing. In 2006, Siber spent five days on skis crossing the wilds of Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. The Wapta Traverse, a route that connects a series of mountain huts, includes thousands of feet of climbing a day, roped glacier ascents and hour-long downhill sessions through miles of untouched backcountry terrain.
Says Siber, "The rewards are vistas of expansive white glaciers and craggy granite peaks, fun ski descents through perfect untracked snow, and not another person in sight."
Greg Breining picked a different kind of Canadian preserve: Pukaskwa National Park, on the north shore of Lake Superior, is a remote coastal park best seen from the seat of a sea kayak. Breining, a 55-year-old author from St. Paul, Minn., traveled around Superior in the 1990s, writing a book, "Wild Shore," on his multi-month epic.
But Pukaskwa, with its rugged cliffs along the water, spruce forests, and hidden sandy beaches, is Breining's favorite stretch on what is the world's largest lake by surface area. "Pukaskwa is the most elemental, remote, and sublime coastline on the entire lake," he says.
The other writers from our survey—including David Farley, Frank Bures, Berne Broudy, Bill Becher, Will Gadd and Rolf Potts—picked far flung escapes from Christmas Island to the Czech Republic. Read on to discover where the people who travel for a living choose to go when an editorial board is out of the picture and a deadline for the story does not exist.