Valentine’s Day, a day when the world is awash with pink and red and messages of love and romance. So while you might expect a list of the most “romantic” places in the world to share a bottle of wine or a sunset view on this day, we take a different tack on the definition of “romantic” by featuring five incredible treks around the world to do with someone you love.
And why through those experiences, your relationship may grow stronger still.
Our relationship has been filled with epic romantic moments – we became engaged on the Arctic Sea in Norway’s midsummer when the sun never sets and then married the next year in Pienza, an outrageously romantic hill town in Tuscany. But in the nearly fourteen years we’ve been married and seven years of that we’ve spent traveling around the world, some of our most memorable moments where we’ve bonded as a couple have been while trekking through mountain trails.
Going on a trek together may not sound romantic in the traditional sense. Think about it: we don’t look very good from hours (or days) of hiking and are often exhausted and stinky from the layers of the same clothes worn for days on end.
But it’s these times when we are at our most transparent, when we’ve gone through challenging physical and emotional experiences, worked together supporting each other, and have emerged attaining a goal — together. Beyond the sense of teamwork and seeing stunning views, there’s a pride in and love for the other person and their ability to stretch and achieve that makes it that much more beautiful.
And we’d even dare to say, romantic.
1) Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
In all the travels that we’ve done in over 80 countries, the 15-day Annapurna Circuit trek remains at the top of our best experiences ever list. It was the first real multi-day trek we’d ever done together and we discovered that ordinary people like us — non super athletes — can indeed do epic treks like this into the Himalayas.
What we enjoyed about this trek: it wasn’t only about stunning mountain views (although they were pretty magnificent), but it was also about cultural exchange and learning.
Each night we would spend the night in a “tea hut”, essentially a family home in a village that had been outfitted in order to accommodate trekkers like us. As we ascended in elevation we noticed how the culture, architecture and faces we encountered in each village evolved from lowland to highland Tibetan Buddhist. This makes sense and comes together when you learn that the Annapurna Circuit trek follows ancient trading routes between Tibet and Nepal, and what you see today is the result of thousands of years of people trading and migrating along this path.
The journey was not always easy, especially on the day of ascent where we both moved slowly, encouraging the other to keep going, staying together. But the feeling of reaching Thorong La Pass at 5,300 meters (17,400 feet) together was incredible.
Through the entire experience, we felt as though we’d worked all of our muscles, physical and mental. And supported each other throughout. And over the course of the trek and the endless memories that followed, we shared it all together.
2) Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro had been on each of our bucket lists for over a decade. When the opportunity finally arose to climb via the Marangu Route we had high expectations of the climb, but we’d also held close a bit of fear of the elevation and the difficulty.
The night of the final ascent — whereupon you set off at midnight to reach the summit at sunrise — lived up to its reputation; it was the most physically and emotionally challenging climb we’d ever faced. But climb we did, sinking in scree and winding up switchbacks, for endless hours in the dark with only our headlamps to light the way. It seemed relentless, never-ending. Each time we took a break, we’d motivate one another to not fall asleep from sheer exhaustion and oxygen deprivation — to push on, higher and higher.
Finally, through all those tiny footsteps at a snail’s pace, we reached the top as the sun began to rise over the Kilimanjaro glaciers. The warmth of that sun on our faces was like no sun we’d ever felt. The sun-bathed ice turned to shades of pink and orange in the new morning. Mother Nature served up an amazing show, one that only a relative few in the world had been privileged to see.
And then we arrived at the official summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) — so exhausted, so excited, so bundled up in layers of clothes…and so proud of each other. To experience such magnificence is one thing, to share it is something altogether different. To look at one another and to say we did it together is a memory that never seems to fade.
3) Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru
The Inca Trail is the most popular trekking option to get to Machu Picchu, but when we heard about the scenery of the mountain pass and glacier along the Salkantay Trek we opted for this route instead.
Early on the second morning our guides woke us in our tents with steaming cups of coca tea. This tea not only warms you up, but the coca leaves (yes, the same core ingredient of cocaine) are a long-trusted local Peruvian remedy for head clearing and altitude sickness.
As we made our up and over Salkantay Pass at 4,650 meters (15,200 feet) we could have used any help that we could get. We weren’t in the best shape: Dan was recovering from a 24-hour flu that had hit him the night before and Audrey was feeling more sluggish than usual on those steep switchback inclines.
But we struck a rhythm, and we stuck together. Remember the “Buddy System” when you were a kid in school? The teacher would pair you up and you were responsible for making sure the other person was always at your side. We applied the big kid version en route to Machu Picchu. It gave each of us the little boost in support that we needed; it assured each that the other would always be there. And when you struggle, that’s what you need.
Romance is not always the reflection in the moment when all is going well, but the reflection that the person has always been there and will always still. On that day, although we weren’t the first of our group to make it to the pass, it was through mutual encouragement and support that we eventually did.
And here’s what we were rewarded with when we arrived.
And a few days later we were one of the first in line to enter Machu Picchu, to get access to the park before the crowds ascended. Now, that’s a romantic view.
4) Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand
The Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand may not be a multi day trek, but the diversity of landscapes that you’ll find on the 20 kilometer route just might trick you into believing you’ve traveled for days. You might even recognize some of these from the Lord of the Rings movies (hint: Mordor). It’s no wonder that the Tongariro Crossing is listed as one of the best one-day treks in the world.
Although the Tongariro Crossing isn’t as much of an endurance test as some of the other treks listed here, it remains a challenging climb. And it’s one that’s worth taking your time to enjoy as the views, especially as you get to the Emerald Lakes.
Although you can enjoy them from the overlook at the top, we encourage you to make the extra effort to go down towards the lakes for a better view and to take a deep breath to enjoy the moment together in one of the most colorful and beautiful spots in the world.
New Zealand was long on our dream list of travel destinations. Sharing in one of its jewels among jewels reminds us to take stock of what we have, including one another.
5) Mount Batur Volcano, Bali
When we heard that climbing Mount Batur Volcano in Bali required a 3:30 AM wakeup call, we seriously considered passing. But the fear of regretting this decision later and the fear of missing out (FOMO) spurred us into action. We began the ascent in the dark armed with headlamps, carving our way through mist and clouds.
A few hours later, when you reach the top of Bali’s Mount Batur at sunrise is when the real show begins. If watching the sun rise above the clouds from atop a volcano with the one you love isn’t romantic, then we don’t know what is.