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Travel

Wander, woman: Global travel adventures for your next girls' trip

NZ Herald
By Sara Bunny

When it comes to women-only travel, the market is booming. These days, there are all-female tour groups for mountain climbers, cyclists, foodies, yoga fans and everyone in between, aimed at solo travellers and groups of girlfriends looking for adventure. With the planning and logistics taken care of, the hardest part is deciding where to go - and women of all ages are signing up for the kid-free, man-free, stress-free fun.

To mark International Women's Day on 8 March, here are some of the world's best women-only getaways for when overseas travel is back on the radar.

Surf sistas: Home and abroad

If your ideal holiday involves catching waves and watching sunsets at exotic tropical beaches, check out Surf Amigas. These retreats take place at a range of locations, including Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and cater for all skill levels. Run by an all-women team of experienced surfies, tours involve extensive coaching sessions and one-on-one surf lessons, plus some insider intel on the best local haunts for riding waves. And when you've had your fill of the beach, there's plenty of spare time to wander the markets or relax by a tropical waterfall.

Perhaps your ideal holiday involves catching waves and watching sunsets at exotic tropical beaches. Photo / Escape Haven
Perhaps your ideal holiday involves catching waves and watching sunsets at exotic tropical beaches. Photo / Escape Haven

While the UK might seem like a particularly chilly spot to learn to surf, Ride On Retreats has been a popular port-of-call for women surfers and travellers for nearly a decade. Located in Cornwall, the all-inclusive, small-group retreats offer surf and paddleboard lessons for all abilities, as well as daily yoga classes. If you would rather head to the Med, Ride On also offer seven-day surf retreats in Portugal, complete with a private chef to cater to your every whim.

Closer to home, Aotearoa Surf School runs regular wellness weekends for sea-loving wāhine, featuring yoga and relaxation, plus plenty of beach time at Mangawhai's best spots for catching waves. Enjoy the stunning ocean views from your own seaside eco pod, or go boho in a shared glamping tepee.

Bali dreaming

With tropical rainforests, peaceful temples and beaches galore, it's easy to bliss out in Bali. And when it comes to the ideal women's-only retreat for maximum R&R, Escape Haven is a top pick. The range of wellness packages on offer have inviting names like "Revive", "Refresh", and "Renew", and include yoga classes, pampering spa sessions, gourmet food and poolside lounging. There's a surf package for the sporty types, a detox retreat with a focus on clearing toxins and building immunity, and a luxury yacht package for snorkelling, island-hopping, and hanging out with Komodo dragons. For the ultimate adventure, the "Bucket List" package takes in the best Bali highlights, including the Campuhan Ridge Walk, a sound healing session at the Pyramids of Chi, and snorkelling with turtles and manta rays.

When it comes to the ideal women's-only retreat for maximum R&R, Escape Haven is a top pick. Photo / Escape Haven
When it comes to the ideal women's-only retreat for maximum R&R, Escape Haven is a top pick. Photo / Escape Haven

Bliss Sanctuary is another top choice for Bali-based indulgence. This leafy haven in Ubud offers a huge range of women-only getaways, each centred on a different theme. Travellers can choose everything from sightseeing to self-empowerment, and there are also a range of options for thrill-seekers and adventurers. There's even an "Eat Pray Love retreat" with a focus on spiritual healing, as well as unlimited massage and spa treatments.

At the slightly more affordable end of the Bali-luxe scale, Goddess Retreats offers seven-day yoga packages especially for women travellers. Guests can choose from a range of daily yoga and meditation classes, and make the most of the luxurious massages, facials, body scrubs and "glam-icures" at the on-site spa. If alternative healing piques your interest, they also have add-ons including oxygen therapy, reiki and tarot card readings.

Have bike, will travel: worldwide wheelin'

If the idea of cruising along some of the world's most scenic highways and trails spins your wheels, check out Women's Motorcycle Tours. Whether it's putting pedal to the metal through America's vast Appalachian Mountains, kicking up the dust on a motorbike safari in Namibia, or zigzagging along Himalayan trails in Bhutan, there's a tour for all skill levels.

Cruise along some of the world's most scenic highways with Women's Motorcycle Tours. Photo / Getty
Cruise along some of the world's most scenic highways with Women's Motorcycle Tours. Photo / Getty

For those that prefer the humble pushbike, Sacred Rides offer a range of women-only mountain bike tours. On their Pura Vida Retreat, riders cycle through the Costa Rican jungle along the foot of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano, taking in waterfalls, mineral hot springs and tropical beaches along the way. There's also a ride through the picturesque trail networks of Quebec, Canada, or if forests aren't your scene, a jaunt through the craggy plateaus of Southwestern Utah. USA.

If Iceland has always been on your travel wish list, Roar Adventures have options to take you away from the tourist spots. The range of women-only mountain bike trips include a daring ride along the edge of lava fields near Hekla volcano, and an excursion into the remote mountain ranges beyond Reykjavik. Designed for fit and experienced cyclists, these short trips are all 4-6 days long, making them the perfect add-on to a dream Northern European getaway.

New frontiers in Asia and Africa

Women's Expeditions by Intrepid Travel offer a range of tours where travellers can connect with local women in female-friendly spaces. Tour locations include Pakistan, Jordan, Iran, and Morocco, each with the chance to venture off the beaten track with expert women guides.

Women's Expeditions by Intrepid Travel offer a range of tours where travellers can connect with local women in female-friendly spaces. Photo / Intrepid Travel
Women's Expeditions by Intrepid Travel offer a range of tours where travellers can connect with local women in female-friendly spaces. Photo / Intrepid Travel

Past tours have included a visit to a beauty salon in Shiraz, Iran, where local women can remove their head covering and relax in a place off-limits to men, and a catch-up with a community of female shepherds in Jordan, who have been farming traditionally for centuries. With a Moroccan trip next on the agenda, female adventurers can take part in a weaving workshop run by a ladies' artisan collective, explore the spectacular M'goun Valley, and have their makeup done by Berber women using traditional henna and kohl.

Viva South America

El Camino's small group tours offer everything from bathing in mud at a Colombian volcano, to flamingo-spotting at Bolivia's Red Lagoon. Explorers can search for their perfect trip by country or by theme, with categories including "crafts", "dancing" and "street food". While South America is the star, other tour locations include Croatia, Spain, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago, and each trip has a focus on authentic experiences and emboldening women travellers.

The emphasis on sustainable travel is another tick in the margin for El Camino, and the company works with small businesses to ensure as many tourist dollars as possible go back to the local communities they visit.

For the adventure buffs, Wild Woman Expeditions offer a huge range of tours that have outdoorsy types hiking, kayaking, caving, and more. They operate in locations throughout the world, but some of their most popular excursions are in South America. Options include a horse trek along ancient gaucho trails in the Argentinian Andes, and a multisport adventure through the Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile.

Enjoy a multisport adventure through the Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile. Photo / Getty
Enjoy a multisport adventure through the Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile. Photo / Getty

Classic girls' trips

Whether you fancy taking in Egyptian pyramids from the back of a camel, sampling foodie delights in France or snapping pics at Northern Italy's stunning Cinque Terre, Trafalgar Travel has a women's-only tour for you. With options galore, you could add a short tour to the end of a holiday, or choose your bucket list destinations and connect with a tour at each spot. Each trip is led by women guides, and they're ideal for solo female travellers as well as groups of girlfriends.

For longer trips, check out Insight Vacations "Wander Women" journeys. These upscale tours include a guided jaunt from Venice along the Dalmatian Coast, and a 12-day tour through India, taking in cities including Delhi, Udaipur and Jodphur.

Far-flung expeditions

Think you've "been there, done that" when it comes to holiday escapes? WHOA Travel have the sort of tours that will change your mind. WHOA stands for Women High On Adventure, and this female-led company specialise in once-in-a-lifetime trips to some of the world's most far-flung places. The "Expedition Antarctica" tour is a 13-day epic voyage, kicking off from Ushuaia at the southernmost tip of Argentina. From there, travellers get to take in the incredible wildlife of the Drake Passage and South Shetland Islands, before exploring remote inlets and penguin colonies on the icy continent.

Other tours include traversing Mount Elbrus, a dormant volcano in Russia's Caucasus Range, and trekking the Machame Route to Mount Kilimanjaro, aka the "Roof of Africa".

Trek Mount Kilimanjaro, aka the 'Roof of Africa'. Photo / Getty
Trek Mount Kilimanjaro, aka the 'Roof of Africa'. Photo / Getty

Globe+Tribe is another all-women adventure tour company exploring some of the world's less-travelled corners. They offer a Mongolian Expedition, where intrepid travellers stay in traditional tents in the Altai Mountains. And if that's not exotic enough already, the next leg of the tour involves meeting the area's famed Eagle Hunters and taking in the local vodka and music at the Golden Eagle Festival.

There are also foodie tours to meet local winemakers in Georgia, as well as hiking trips through the country's Tusheti National Park, labelled as one of the most remote areas on the planet.