The most extreme adventures on Earth

CNN  — 

It’s easy to travel the world and feel oddly at home, particularly if you’re in one of the planet’s 24,000 Starbucks.

But it’s still possible to break loose from the rut and go to destinations that are beyond the ordinary. (Indeed, some of these are arguably insane.)

Spanning multiple continents and oceans, these adventures will make you feel alive – albeit in some cases terrified you might not be among the living much longer.

Running of the bulls: Spain

Every July, Pamplona offers an exciting chance to get gored.

While deaths at this event in Spain are relatively rare, the risk of getting injured is very real, with 35 people hurt in 2019.

How: Bull Run Pamplona

Less extreme alternative: Share the street with thousands of sheep during Madrid’s annual Transhumance Festival.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race: Alaska

Mushers race through 1,000 miles of beautiful Alaskan landscape in the annual Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

It takes at least eight days to complete the 1,000-mile journey which generally features falling snow, high winds and temperatures dropping to -50 C (-58 F).

For the canines completing it, never has “Good dog!” been so earned.

How: Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

Less extreme alternative: Have a pint of beer while rubbing the bellies of these London pub dogs.

Chernobyl tours: Ukraine

The site of the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster has become an unexpected tourist attraction.

Bizarrely, one of its chief pulls is a chance to see an array of wild animals ignoring the after-effects of nuclear fallout to thrive in humanity’s absence.

How: Chernobyl tours

Less extreme alternative: Visit Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in the Philippines, which was built more than 30 years ago but has never been used. You even get to see a reactor without the radiation.

The Door to Hell: Turkmenistan

Also known as the Gates of Hell or, less colorfully, the Darvaza crater. You won’t find anything else like it in Central Asia (or anywhere else on Earth for that matter).

It was created more than 40 years ago when the ground collapsed in the desert during a Soviet drilling mishap. Then scientists set the gas cavern on fire.

Decades later, it still burns like … let’s just say the name is apt.

How: Karakum desert adventure tour

Less extreme alternative: Visit the Crater of Diamonds – an Arkansas state park where you can dream of finding something as eternal and more sparkly instead.

Extreme surfing: Teahupo’o, Tahiti

A must-surf for any brave wave riders.

Considered to be home to both the world’s heaviest and deadliest waves, it’s the ultimate in high-risk, high-reward surfing.

To ride these waves is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but to fail is to risk a truly horrific wipeout.

How: Teahupo’o Adventure Tours

Less extreme alternative: Brush up your surf skill at Wales’ Surf Snowdonia, an inland wave pool where there are waves for all levels of surfers.

Extreme heat: Death Valley, California

If you insist, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” this may put your belief to the test.

While there is debate over the authenticity of Death Valley’s alleged record high of 56.7 C (134 F), this California desert also holds the record among temperatures that are generally accepted as legitimate at 54 C (129.2 F).

Which is frankly warm enough.

How: Visit Death Valley National Park

Less extreme alternative: A Finnish sauna session in Helsinki allows you to shake off the heat by walking into the cold, or vice versa.

Extreme cold: Oymyakon, Russia

Once you’ve handled the heat, why not try the other end of the spectrum? Five hundred incredibly hardy residents make this Siberian destination the coldest community on Earth – it averages -50 C (-58 F) in winter and has reached -67.8 C (-90 F).

And yes, this is the place to make the Iditarod seem balmy by comparison.

Less extreme alternative: Any of the Icebars around the world. But the best one is the world’s original Icebar inside the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden.

Inga Rapids on the Congo River: Democratic Republic of Congo

It’s the world’s largest rapids, so dangerous that kayaker Steve Fisher was named one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year just for attempting them.

Nat Geo describes them as a “50-mile section of waterfalls, whirlpools and kayak-eating hydraulics.”

How: Steve Fisher’s Inga Project

Less extreme alternative: Try one of these world’s scariest – but tamed – water slides.

Extreme rain: Mawsynram, India

Mawsynram receives about 20 times more rainfall than London annually.

This village in Meghalaya is the world’s wettest place, averaging 467 inches of rain annually.

It’s made all the more intense by the fact the rain isn’t evenly spaced out, with the result that villagers have experienced more than 5 feet of rain in just 24 hours.

How: Exploring India’s abode of the clouds

Less extreme alternative: Soak into the turquoise geothermal water of Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

Chevé Cave: Mexico

The United States Deep Caving Team (USDCT) is carrying out another expedition to Chevé Cave in 2017.

While still being explored, it’s believed this cave in Oaxaca is your chance to go more than 1.5 miles underground.

If you suffer from claustrophobia or a fear of the dark, head elsewhere. Spelunking, since you ask, is the exploration of caves.

Learn more: The United States Deep Caving Team’s 2017 Sistema Chevé Expedition

Less extreme alternative: Physically demanding but accessible, Hang Son Doong in Vietnam is the world’s largest cave.

Formula Rossa Roller Coaster: Abu Dhabi

Speeds on the Formula Rossa Roller Coaster fall just short of 150 mph, clocking in at 149. Riders are whipped around a 1.3-mile course in a mere 92 seconds.

How: Ferrari World Abu Dhabi

Less extreme alternative: If you try hard enough, Disneyland’s spinning teacups can cause light-headedness, too.

Cheese-rolling at Coopers Hill: Gloucestershire, England

Thousands gather to watch a group chase a cheese as it rolls down the hill, continuing a tradition that’s lasted 200 years.

OK, not as glamorous as some events on this list, but that’s a lot of history and it’s both unexpectedly exciting and dangerous.

Indeed, it was canceled over safety concerns in 2010 before resuming.

How: Gloucestershire cheese-rolling

Less extreme alternative: You don’t have to risk breaking your neck for some Parmigiano-Reggiano in Modena.

Al Marmoom camel-racing with robots: Dubai

The race between camel-riding robot jockeys is a highlight at Al Marmoom Camel Racing.

Camel-racing is big business in the Middle East, with winners commanding prizes in the millions. Even so, it’s more about the experience than the stakes.

Some races feature robot jockeys riding the camels. (When activated by remote control, they whip their mounts.)

Even in races with humans, it’s a revelation when you realize the camels’ trainers and owners are speeding along next to them in 4x4s, yelling at them to go faster.

How: Visit Dubai

Less extreme alternative: The camel market in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, is also packed with action … of the bargaining and trading variety.

The Superclásico: Argentina

River Plate players were pepper-sprayed by Boca Junior supporters in a game in 2015.

It’s more than a game when two legendary teams from Buenos Aires, Boca Juniors and River Plate, play. (Their alumni include Diego Maradona and Alfredo Di Stéfano, two of the greatest players ever.)

You don’t watch so much as live it, as the rivalry can cross the line between thrilling and unnerving: Fans have been known to pepper-spray players.

On a personal note, a friend attended one installment and had a great time until he realized a man in the upper tier was urinating on rival fans below.

How: Superclásico tickets

Less extreme alternative: You may get a sense of the rivalry by joining a tour to both stadiums.

The Contra (Verzasca) Dam 007 Bungee Jump: Switzerland

Your opportunity to plummet 220 meters (over 720 feet) in Ticino, much like Mr. Bond did in “GoldenEye.” You, however, will probably not end up with Famke Janssen, who played Xenia Onatopp in the film.

How: Jump like James Bond

Less extreme alternative: Take a ride on the world’s fastest elevator – 20.5 meters per second – in the Shanghai Tower, the world’s second-tallest building.

Hang gliding: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

You’re already used to seeing aerial views of this remarkable city, watched over by the statue of Christ the Redeemer. What better way to experience it personally?

How: Hang gliding in Rio

Less extreme alternative: If you’re more comfortable on terra firma, here are a few scenic day tours from Rio.

The King’s Cup Elephant Polo: Thailand

The elephant is at the core of Thai identity. (Example: The hit Thai film “The Protector” revolves around Tony Jaa avenging his personal elephant.)

While this sport is not without controversy, it does provide a novel alternative to the horse version. If you’re in Bangkok, check it out.

How: Elephant polo

Less extreme alternative: This luxury tented camp helps you to make friends with one of the rescued elephants in residence.

Great white shark diving: Gansbaai, South Africa

Chris Fallows shark_00003427.jpg
Cage diving with great white sharks
02:07 - Source: CNN

It fully blurs the gap between a dream and a nightmare, as you sit in a cage underwater – which, when you think about it, is fairly terrifying itself – and then Great Whites enter the picture.

How: Dive with sharks

Less extreme alternative: Swimming with gentle manatees

Dune bashing: Qatar

The stunts from “The Fast and the Furious?” Picture those done in the dirt.

That’s off-roading in the desert, as drivers leap dunes or sometimes fishtail down them.

You can try yourself, though with the high risk of flipping it’s probably best to take at least one run as a passenger first to get a sense of what’s possible on the Inland Sea.

How: Sand dune-bashing in Qatar

Less extreme alternative: Participate in a sandcastle competition. California’s Sun & Sea Festival and the Netherlands’ Sand Sculpture Festival are two of the largest.

Sean Cunningham has written for and served as an editor for a variety of publications and websites and conducted interviews with everyone from Oscar winners to Wu-Tang Clan rappers while occasionally appearing on radio and television shows.