Make like Tarzan and take on one of these truly original rainforest adventures. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures.
Battlefield crossing, Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea
Pacifists shouldn’t be put off the Kokoda Track, site of bloody battles in WWII, though those in questionable physical shape who aren’t sure they can hack hiking a 96km undulating trail in hot, humid conditions surely should be. The trek is the only route over the Owen Stanley Range, which divides the north and south of the island. Hiking the track usually takes nine days and includes river crossings, knee-deep mud and regular downpours, though the awesome vast valleys and jungle scenery provide a welcome diversion.
The best time to do the trek is from April to November. A faster six-day trek is also available for the ultrahardy. Visit www.kotrek.com.
Zip-lining, Cape Tribulation, Queensland, Australia
Ancient rainforests are best viewed from the perspective of a bird soaring through the canopy layer; it’s achievable through zip-lining, albeit as a bird travelling at warp speed. While you fly through this dense World Heritage–listed tropical rainforest, which borders the Daintree Cape Tribulation National Park, you’ll catch glimpses of the ocean and Great Barrier Reef, plus butterflies, birds and insects. To truly get to know the jungle’s wildlife, which includes rainforest dragons (yes, dragons!), bats, possums, spiders and snakes, tack a two-hour night walk on to your trip.
Mountain biking, Chi Phat, Cambodia
Touring a jungle by bike doesn’t just allow you to cover far more leaf-cushioned ground than you would ordinarily be able to but it also makes the scenery whoosh past in a dreamy kind of way. The Chi Pat eco-tourism site offers a range of rides on rugged rainforest trails to a backdrop of mountains, mangroves, waterfalls and, if you’re lucky, grazing elephants. Situated in the Krâvanh Mountains, Southeast Asia’s largest remaining tract of rainforest, it was established by the NGO Wildlife Alliance in 2007 with a view to giving local families a sustainable income promoting the region’s natural wonders.
The rides vary from an easy 12km to a more serious, sweat-inducing 42km. Some include camping in the jungle and cool-offs in the natural waterfall-fed pools. Visit www.ecoadventurecambodia.com.
Surfing, G-Land, Alas Purwo, Indonesia
Surfers are no strangers to blazing a trail through the jungle in search of the best breaks and Java’s G-Land, off Indonesia’s biggest national park, Alas Purwo, was one such find. The expert-only peeling lefthander was discovered by surfers in the 1970s. The name is from a nearby stretch of rainforest which always looks green, hence the ‘G’. Aside from surfers and white-sand beaches, the park is also home to Hindu temples, meditation caves, turtles, panthers, wild pigs, leaf monkeys and several unique species of bamboo.
The break is best reached by boat charter from Bali (in around half a day) and best surfed March to November. G-Land Surf Camp (www.surfadventuretours.com/g-land-surf-camp.php) is located just 100m from the wave.
Tiger scouting, Chitwan National Park, Nepal
If you want to see a tiger that isn’t shuffling about in a zoo or on the front of a cereal packet, head for Chitwan National Park in the Nepalese jungle, where there’s a 75 percent likelihood of a sighting. There are also night tours to further help you glimpse this nocturnal beast. But even if you don’t, it’s still the perfect place to channel your inner Mowgli, with heaps of other wildlife on view, such as leopards, sloths and water buffalo. Travel is via a mixture of elephant back, canoe, jeep and foot.
Responsible Travel Tiger safaris (www.responsibletravel.com) are accompanied by a zoologist and local naturalist guides. Jeep tours and on-foot tracking tours are available, best taken late November to early May.
Tribal touring, Fouta Djallon, Guinea
With its fine-looking waterfalls, lush jungle and rare tropical dry forests, Fouta Djallon offers some of the best, horde-free hiking in West Africa. But it is not for the average ambler – most treks average six hours of walking per day on terrain ranging from mellow, rolling grasslands to single-track forest trails and vine bridges. There are also maze-like rock gorges, one of which presumably isn’t called ‘Indiana Jones World’ for nothing. Alongside the sublime nature are isolated villages with traditional Fouta huts that are home to the friendly Fulbe people.
Fouta Trekking (www.foutatrekking.org) works with the Fulbe and channels funding back into local projects, such as farming initiatives. The best time to go is January to October.
Gorilla tracking, Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, Central African Republic
When a trip promises ‘long and uncomfortable journeys’ by plane, jeep and canoe, there had better be a super-bright light at the end of the tunnel. In the case of the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, there certainly is – it’s one of the few places where tourists can track the majestic but critically endangered western lowland gorillas. Fewer than 2000 westerners are thought to have visited this stunning jungle region, which is also home to forest elephants, buffalo, crocodiles and red river hogs, and the local Ba’Aka pygmy tribe, who help with the gorilla tracking.
It can take three to eight hours to track the gorillas, after which you’ll move with the group or sit as they groom. See www.worldprimatesafaris.com.
Mayan temple trekking, Tikal, Guatemala
The Mayans might have been wrong about the apocalypse but their one-time capital Tikal shows they knew a thing or two about building grand temples that poke above the jungle canopy with views dramatic enough to give you goosebumps. Just ask George Lucas, who chose it as the setting for the rebel base in the original Star Wars. Tikal has been a World Heritage–listed site since 1979, and the status protects not just the ruins but the unique flora and fauna that call this tropical rainforest ecosystem home. These include spider monkeys, jaguars, crocodiles, toucans, and parrots.
Martsam Travel (www.jungletoursguatemala.com) organises hikes within the archaeological site with an indigenous guide; combine them with a hike to a bat cave at El Zotz.
Volcano hiking, Arenal, Costa Rica
The Mirador El Silencio Reserve is a rich primary rainforest, which includes many old-growth trees such as the Ceiba, trumpet tree and Guarumo. It’s also just 5km from Arenal, Costa Rica’s youngest and most active volcano located in a high-risk zone where all new construction is banned. Though it’s been ‘on a break’ since 2010, Arenal’s looming presence in your eye line as you hike through the thick jungle serves to remind you that it can blow its top at any time, as it did in 1968, obliterating three villages in the process. Unwind in the nearby hot springs post-hike.
Anywhere Costa Rica (www.anywherecostarica.com) runs twice-daily, two-hour tours along the nature reserve’s hiking trails with a naturalist guide.
Whitewater rafting, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
No jungle list is complete without the daddy of them all – the Amazon rainforest. And the best way to truly appreciate this vast lushness is to take a boat through its inner core, starting with a white-water raft on the rapids of the upper river and moving on to more mellow motorised dug-out canoes as you get deeper downstream. You can also visit a rehabilitation centre for rainforest animals for close-up views of species you’ll have heard of, like monkeys and snakes, and ones you won’t, such as tapirs and ocelots.