If you click through travel Web sites and flip through adventure brochures, well-known tourist destinations seem to be about the same things: sightseeing, shopping, dining and taking photos. But if you're looking for more of a challenge, these 10 landmarks will get your blood pumping. Even if you're not overweight, and even if you eat a fairly nutritious diet and hit the gym a few times a week, you'll need to train specifically to achieve the physical and mental fitness it will take to reach the destinations on the next pages.
Lace up those hiking boots and make your way to the next page.
The Great Wall of China is a well-known landmark, but what you may not know is that 99 percent of it is off-limits to tourists. Just 1 percent of the 4,000-mile-long (6,437 kilometers), centuries-old structure is open to visitors [source: de Bruxelles]. In 2006, an American couple and another duo from Great Britain gained permission from the Chinese government to embark on separate journeys to walk the length of the Great Wall.
If this is your dream, then it's never too early to start conditioning. You'll likely log an average of 30 miles (48 kilometers) a day for more than a year, hiking through varied terrain spanning stretches of mountain regions and marshes. What's more, much of the wall is completely eroded. In other areas, the wall is extremely narrow. Although it can be as wide as 30 feet (9 meters) at its base, the path across the top of the wall narrows to less than 12 feet (3.65 meters) in some spots. Then there's the issue of food and shelter. Sure you can carry your tent and sleeping bag, but who can carry a year's worth of food and water-sanitizing tablets? Even in top shape, you could get dehydrated, come down with a gastrointestinal disorder or have to take a few days to rest due to spine compression (as did one of the young adventurers who eventually completed the trek back in 2007).
But, of course, you don't have to travel to China to find a long, tough, trail.
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,175-mile (3,500 kilometers)path that spans a mountain range along the eastern side of the United States, from Maine to Georgia [source: NPS]. This landmark is part of the U.S. National Park Service, so you could easily say you visited the trail by driving to one of the numerous public access points in any of the 14 states that this footpath spans. But if you want to brag that you actually walked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, you'll need to prepare for an adventure that will last months. Hoofing it 30 miles (48.23 meters) a day, it will take you two and half months; a more casual pace of 10 miles (16 kilometers) a day will take you more than six months. Depending on how soon you want to complete this feat will determine whether you need a moderate or high level of physical conditioning. You can also break the trail into chunks over a period of years instead of attempting a thru-hike.
Looking for a shorter, but still challenging tour of nature?
You won't just stumble upon Kronotsky Nature Preserve. Located in eastern Russia, this remote wildlife sanctuary lies in the Kamchatka Peninsula -- between the Northern Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea on its eastern shores and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west.
If you do get to take on this adventure, count yourself among a rare number of people. Harsh weather during the winter months pretty much rules out visits during November through April. Typically, travel companies offer guided tours that involve more than 14 days of hiking and camping, so you better be at nearly peak performance to consider an excursion here. During this outdoor adventure, you can expect to see bears, foxes and more than 200 species of birds, as well as active geysers. The payoff for trekking an uninterrupted nine hours a day -- much of it at high altitude -- is a dip or two in the hot springs located throughout this mountainous region.
Before we head to our next destination, you'll need to grab a parka.
Make way Santa and Rudolph! These days, visiting the North Pole isn't limited to Christmas dreams or sophisticated expedition teams. You can book an airplane, helicopter, hot air balloon, a ski trip or cruise ship to the North Pole. You can even take a two month dogsled tour! Additionally, there are 100-percent-foot-powered trips available in March and April. Organizers regularly host festivals at the North Pole and some couples choose this landmark as their honeymoon vacation destination.
Traveling via skis or on foot are the two most physically demanding modes of reaching the North Pole. You'll be exposed to extremely cold temperatures for days at a time and you'll need to be up for long days of physical exertion minus the comforts of home. Most tour operators will require you to get clearance from your doctor that you're healthy enough to make it through the trip -- whether by aircraft, watercraft or muscle power.
Next up, we head to Africa.
Mount Kilimanjaro, located in Tanzania, is the tallest mountain on the continent, ascending 19,340 feet (5,895 meters) into the thin air. But you don't have to scale this beast. Mount Kilimanjaro is a mountain that you can walk up. In fact, the current world record holder ran up and down this mountain in just over eight hours. But that doesn't mean it's easy. Tour companies offer hikes that range from five to eight days. Fewer than 30 percent of people who opt for the five-day trip reach the top of Kilimanjaro, but 85 percent of those who select the eight-day trip make it all the way [source: Ultimate Kilimanjaro]. Pacing yourself, then, seems to increase your chances of becoming king of the hill. Go too fast and the altitude can rise faster than your body can adjust.
Whether or not you tend to suffer from altitude sickness, it's strongly advisable to train for up to four months prior to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. One basic way to train is simply by hiking. If you can walk on a stair climbing machine for one to two hours at a time wearing a backpack that is the same weight as what you'll carry when doing the real thing, then you're probably in shape for this adventure.
Another lofty adventure awaits on the next page.
Hordes of people flock to Japan's highest mountain, Mount Fuji, for a shot at climbing to the top. On any given day during July and August, the official climbing season, you can join hundreds of like-minded adventurers hiking up to the peak at 12,388 feet (3,776 meters). You don't need special hiking skills but, as with Kilimanjaro, you do need to take precautions to avoid altitude sickness. A bus will take you to one of eight stations located at various points on the side of Mount Fuji. They're much like rest stops where food, water and even a place to sleep is available. It will take seven to eight hours to climb from the lowest station to the top. Some people time their hikes to catch the sunrise or sunset from the summit. Night hikes are also an option.
Several thousand thrill-seekers have successfully climbed the world's highest mountain and the tallest point on Earth: Mount Everest [source: Bryant]. Located in the Himalayas, this mountain lies along the border of Tibet and Nepal. At 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) high, this mountain is known for potentially fatal avalanches and particularly deadly spots like Khumbu Ice Fall. Two hundred people have died in the process of scaling Mount Everest -- 120 bodies are yet unrecovered.
For this climb, be well-prepared with protective gear and gadgets. You name it: You're going to need everything a serious mountain climber requires and more. Clothing, tents, GPS, flashlights, cooking gear, cameras, batteries, oxygen, harnesses,and crampons are starters. But none of that equipment will replace what you need most -- superb physical conditioning. Excellent fitness will help you withstand the frigid temperatures, harsh winds and climb up the snowy, icy, rugged terrain.
If you'd rather play it safe and take on a more realistic challenge, leap to the next page.
It's not Everest, but your chances of living to tell about it are much better. Colorado's Pikes Peak is a famous landmark and favorite tourist destination. Maybe that's because you can either climb it or take an easier way up -- the railway or the highway. If you choose to hike, there's a 13-mile (21-kilometer) trail up the 7,000-foot (2,133-meter) incline. No matter which mode of transit you choose, you can count yourself among a half-million people a year who tag the summit of one of the most visited mountains in North America.
You may have to swear off greasy food and sugary beverages for a while to get ready for this hike, but it's definitely doable for the average working Jill or weekend warrior. As with training to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro, going on practice hikes and working out at the gym can help you prepare to climb Pikes Peak. Break your hiking boots in before the official hike day and work up to carrying the same weight in your backpack that you'll actually tote up the mountain. There are lots of things to do at Pike's Peak and the surrounding area: Treat yourself to festivals, fireworks, car races or a visit to a mineral bath.
Next up, we'll introduce you to a man-made landmark that offers a challenge.
The allure and mystique surrounding pyramids, like the Pyramids of Giza located in Egypt, have drawn people for millennia. If you had come along at a much earlier time in history, you may have had a chance to scale one of them. Now climbing the Pyramids of Giza is absolutely forbidden. The closest you'll come is to snag one of the limited number of tickets that allow you to tour selected areas inside the massive fortresses. At a minimum, be prepared for a half-day or day-long trip when visiting the pyramids. Although visits to the pyramids won't leave you as exhausted as some of the other landmarks we've explored in this article, you will need to be in shape for the rugged areas inside the pyramid. You'll also need sturdy walking shoes.
Let's imagine if you were to scale the Pyramids of Giza. The tallest one is 481 feet (147 meters) at its peak [source: National Geographic Society]. You'd be climbing up stone blocks without much to hold onto. It would probably be a good idea to strap on rock or mountain climbing gear, and you probably would want to attempt this feat with a partner or team.
On our final stop we'll be descending below sea level.
You may have heard of a sinkhole on a piece of land, but what about one in the middle of the sea? Here's a landmark that recreational divers have visited since the 1970s. The Great Blue Hole is a giant sinkhole located off the coast of Belize. It's part of a barrier reef known as the Lighthouse Reef Atoll in the Caribbean Sea. Looking down at the Great Blue Hole from an airplane, you'll see a dark blue circle measuring 1,000 feet (300 meters) wide surrounded by light blue, more shallow water and a reef.
A boat will take you to this sought-after dive site. Since the Hole is 400 feet (125 meters) deep, you'll need to prepare well in advance and get your scuba diving certification before exploring the caves and stalactite formations at the bottom. It's a heart-pumping and exhilarating experience that's not for the faint of heart, but its beauty is worth the effort.
As you can see, a fit body is about more than looking good and increasing your longevity -- it's about having the ability to visit some of the most amazing places on the Earth. For lots more information about fitness and famous landmarks, turn to the next page.
HowStuffWorks looks at why the Taj Mahal is in such poor shape, why it's so hard to repair and how this problem happens in other places like Italy.
- De Bruxelles, Simon. "British pair first to walk all of China's Great Wall." The Sunday Times. May 17, 2007. (Oct. 7, 2010).http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1800817.ece
- Dunn, Jimmy. "Tours to the Pyramids of Egypt." Tour Egypt. 2010. (Oct. 7, 2010).http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/pyramidtours.htm
- Harris, Hannah. "How Climbing Mount Everest Works" HowStuffWorks.com. May 25, 2006. (Oct. 7, 2010).https://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/climbing/mount-everest.htm
- Jernigan, Meg. "About the North Pole." USA Today. (Oct. 7, 2010).http://traveltips.usatoday.com/north-pole-12655.html
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- NASA. Great Blue Hole, Belize." April 2, 2009. (Oct. 7, 2010).http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=37741
- National Geographic Society. "Egypt: Secrets of an Ancient World: Great Pyramid." 2010. (Oct. 7, 2010).http://www.nationalgeographic.com/pyramids/khufu.html
- National Park Service. "Appalachian Natural Scenic Trail." Feb. 19, 2010. (Oct. 7, 2010).http://www.nps.gov/appa/
- North Pole Adventures. (Oct 7, 2010).http://www.northpole.ru/eng/pole2000.htm
- Ultimate Kilimanjaro. "How many days are needed to climb Kilimanjaro." 2010. (Oct. 7, 2010).http://www.ultimatekilimanjaro.com/days.htm