Their two flights took over 12 hours and spanned 6,000 miles. A long, bumpy ride over gravel roads required an additional three hours. But, eventually, Los Altos, California, residents Mary Graf and her husband, Jack, reached Chilean Patagonia. There, Mary felt, was where they would really begin their journey—on their own two feet.
For the next week, the pair would trek through the rolling sand dunes of the Atacama Desert, among the jagged, rocky peaks of Torres del Paine, and hike to the blue-tinged Grey Glacier, in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. For 66-year-old Mary, walking wasn’t just a means of getting around, but the right way to see the most beautiful parts of her destination. “I like to walk in order to experience the country I’m in,” she said. “I don’t want to race through it.”
Travel writer Bruce Chatwin once wrote, “Walking is a virtue, tourism is a deadly sin.” The observation seems particularly apt today, when travelers can zip around their destinations on scooters, e-bikes, Segways and ATVs (not to mention zip lines, Powerizer stilts and Zorb balls). As Chatwin knew, when it comes to really appreciating the sights of a new place, nothing beats making your own tracks.
Perhaps that’s why walking tours are seeing such explosive growth in the travel industry. For example, Country Walkers, a Vermont-based company that offers more than 100 guided and self-guided walking itineraries around the world, has seen a 30 percent increase in its private tours in the past few years, says senior manager Tricia Dowhan.
“Walking fever,” as Dowhan calls it, is catching on and transcends all age groups. But it’s especially popular with a younger generation that’s always had access to the latest transportation technology (and perhaps wants a time-out from it). It also has particular appeal for those who want to embrace emerging destinations, such as Burma and Namibia—both new offerings from Country Walkers this year. Similarly, tour outfitter Butterfield & Robinson has introduced walking trips to Rwanda’s lush Nyungwe National Park and Iceland’s craggy primordial interior; and Mountain Travel Sobek has debuted walking itineraries in Croatia’s azure-lapped Dalmatian islands and along the ancient cliff-side pathways of Colombia’s Barichara region.
Since walking is totally free, using a tour company is not always necessary. But whether travelers go solo or join a group—or choose to explore Turkey’s Aegean Coast or Kyoto’s Philosopher’s Path—it’s not a bad idea to keep Mary Graf’s words in mind: “One step at a time is the best motto you can have for most everything in life.”