Do-It-Yourself "Amazing Race" Adventures
One step off a platform and it’s 200 feet straight down. Strapped into a harness and clinging to a rope, adventurers step, jump, or fall off the platform and let gravity take over, dropping deep into Batoka Gorge—a crevice cut by the Zambezi River in Zambia. They swing out over the African landscape, Tarzan-style, before coming to rest on the riverbed below.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because the leap already made its prime-time debut on the premiere episode of CBS show The Amazing Race. Of course, just getting on to the show is probably the most difficult task any team will encounter. But you don’t have to make the ultra-competitive cut to experience the show’s adventures—many of them are activities that any steel-gutted traveler can do.
That’s good news, since “TAR” is a live-action catalogue of some of the world’s best adventures. (The bad news, of course, is that there’s no million-dollar prize on the horizon). Twelve seasons have passed since Phil Keoghan kicked off the first in Central Park; the 13th debuts on September 28.
Except for the notorious misstep of season eight—the universally derided family edition, which played out like a weekly video report on a neighbor’s tedious road trip—the show has enjoyed critical adoration, five Emmy Awards, and a maniacally devoted fan base, many of whom have turned out for the in-person auditions across the country or submitted the requisite three-minute audition tape.
But intrepid travelers who value the show’s experiences over its cash incentive can skip the tape and go straight to the thrills. All that’s required to climb the Pyramid of the Sun at the pre-Columbian site Teotihuacán, outside Mexico City, are sturdy walking shoes for navigating uneven stone steps. (Racing is optional.) And families can enjoy mountain biking around Gemini Bridges, near Moab—one option for the clans competing in the show’s family edition.
In many cases the outfitters featured on the show still work with travelers. King Climbers on Thailand’s Rai Leh beach is still leading visitors up popular routes like Thaiwand Wall, as it did on the first season of the show. On the other side of the world, local guides lead tours across the lunar landscape of northern Chile’s Atacama Desert, where Kevin and Drew, one of the show’s most popular teams, met their end—for the second time, on the all-star edition.
Close inspection will reveal that at least one of the frat brothers shed a tear after being eliminated—no surprise for true fans, or even multiple-time rejects. But let’s face it: While The Amazing Race may be the adventure of a lifetime, who really wants a camera crew filming your every bruise?Tackle the following adventures yourself, and keep watching; after all, as a motion-picture guidebook for the motivated traveler, The Amazing Race is tough to beat.
Rock Climbing Thailand
The TV Version: Finding “the King at Raile Beach” was this Season 1 challenge. “The King,” is the nickname for Rai Leh Beach outfitter King Climbers; they supplied the harnesses and shoes for a climb up Thaiwand Wall, an imposing limestone tower.
The Live Version: Rai Leh Beach, on Thailand’s Andaman Coast, is one of the country’s most popular climbing destinations; it’s accessible only by boat, including long-tails from nearby Ao Nang and ferries from Phuket. King Climbers is one of several outfitters on the peninsula; they offer instruction ranging from half-day beginner introductions (starting at $30) to three-day courses (starting at $175) that teach self-rescue and rope technique.
Biking in Moab, Utah
The TV Version: In this family-centric challenge in Season 8, teams debated between mountain biking six miles into Moab’s Bull Canyon or rappelling the 270 feet drop; in both cases, squabbling ensued.
The Live Version: Consider it a nothing-special rappel versus some of the world’s best mountain biking: Though the former may be faster, travelers not on the clock may well prefer the latter. Gemini Bridges’ namesake trail is a 14-mile point-to-point trail between Utah highways 313 and 191, with the natural arches roughly midway. The wide path makes cycling easier, but beware the four-wheel-drive vehicles that often share the trail.
Outrigger Canoeing in Hawaii
The TV Version: For the last Detour of the sixth season, two of the three remaining teams chose to paddle down a two-mile course near Puu Ualakaa State Park.
The Live Version: One of the best views in Honolulu is afforded by driving up Round Top Drive in Puu Ualakaa State Park, where a sweeping vista takes in Diamond Head and downtown. Fans of professional outrigger canoeing will want to be in town for October’s Molokai Hoe, a 41-mile open water race from Molokai to Waikiki; novices looking for instruction on the ancient Hawaiian sport can inquire at outrigger canoe concessions on Waikiki Beach.
Victoria Falls Gorge Swing
The TV Version: On the first adventure—ever!—on The Amazing Race, teams flew to Victoria Falls in Zambia, where they ran along the Knife Edge Bridge before “gorge swinging” down Batoka Gorge—or “Batoka George” as round-one losers Matt and Ana would repeatedly term it.
The Live Version: Abseil Zambia provides the “gorge swing”—a terrifying free fall that mellows into a gentle pendulum swing. A full day of activities ($115) includes unlimited gorge swings and rappels—as well as “rap jumping,” which involves a harnessed run directly down the cliff face, and “high wiring,” a face-first swoon across the top of the gorge, suspended from a 400-foot wire.
Jet Boating Niagara Falls
The TV Version: One of the comparatively low-key adventures from the family-friendly eighth season, racers got soaked aboard a jet boat tour through Niagara Gorge.
The Live Version: The show’s family-centric edition, with a largely made-in-the-USA itinerary, left viewers dismayed and even its racers disappointed. But it did highlight a number of adventures suitable to those traveling with kids, like these hour-long jet boat tours into Niagara Gorge and down Devils Hole Rapids. Kids ages six and up are welcome, provided they won’t mind getting wet; covered boats cater to those as young as four and promise everybody stays dry. Go with Whirlpool WetJet Tours; boats depart from three locations—Lewiston, NY, and two spots in Ontario—through mid-October. Per-person rates are $56 for adults and $47 for children under 13.
Racing Up Mexico’s Pyramids
The TV Version: The second episode of TAR 2 kicked off with a crowded race to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán, where contestants learned that their next task would be a somewhat less exciting 1,000-mile bus trip.
The Live Version: Teotihuacán, a UNESCO World Heritage Site 25 miles northeast of Mexico City, offers more than the featured pyramid. Once one of the world’s largest cities, this pre-Columbian site offers traces of an ancient order, including a street system laid out in a grid, with an “Avenue of the Dead” that’s lined with ceremonial platforms and palaces.
Climbing Alaska’s Matanuska Glacier
The TV Version: In the penultimate episode of the debut season, the two teams still in contention—the Guidos lagging tragically behind—ice-climb Matanuska Glacier.
The Live Version: The trip begins with a two-hour drive, northeast from downtown Anchorage up Glenn Highway. Before hitting the glacier at Mile 102, this national scenic byway passes beneath the Chugach Mountains and near the Knik Glacier. Once they reach the 24-mile-long, four-mile-wide ice river, newbies can practice ice-climbing basics with MICA Guides ($130 per person, with a two-person minimum, or $200 for one)—with the option of advanced sessions ($250 per person) exploring the vertical ice walls and teaching crevasse rescue.
Cote d’Azur, France: Rappelling
The TV Version: After a night in Marseille, Season 4 teams drove to the “Gorges du Blavet” and then faced the option of descending either by 250-foot rappel or by foot.
The Live Version: The red porphyry walls of the Blavet gorges are within an easy drive from the Cote d’Azur. Local outfitters can arrange speedy rappels into the gorge, but the slower option may be the better one: The GR51 snakes its way through the area (roughly from Menton, on the Monaco border, to Marseille) as it trails above—and occasionally within sight of—the Riviera.
New Zealand Caving
The TV Version: After (literally) rubbing noses with Maori warrior/performers at the Maori Arts & Crafts Institute in Season 2, teams made a “potentially frightening 350-foot descent” into the Lost World Cave—the world’s highest free rappel.
The Live Version: Waitomo Adventures offers four- and seven-hour tours of the Lost World, on New Zealand’s North Island—standard equipment includes the same blue jumpsuit and mud boots featured on the show. The four-hour version begins with the 30-minute abseil into the cave; the longer version includes the rappel plus a subterranean lunch, followed by a combination swim/climb/walk back to the surface.
Driving the Atacama Desert, Chile
The TV Version: On the all-star edition, teams were awed by the otherworldly landscape of the Atacama Desert in Chile, from the Valley of the Moon to the Valley of the Dead.
The Live Version: The Valley of the Moon is just one of the attractions in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert: Chaxa Lagoon, 35 miles south of access-town San Pedro de Atacama, is home to a riot of flamingoes, while the titular features at El Tatio Geyser Field draw visitors for early-morning displays. Staff at San Pedro de Atacama’s Awasi hotel, a collection of eight stylish cottages, can arrange guided tours; the $1,000 two-night program provides suite accommodations and private desert outings.\