6 adventurous destinations where celebrities run wild

Dive, free-fall, climb or sail into the locations where a group of stars are about to be let loose.

Thursday, January 9, 2020,
By Simon Ingram
Captain Marvel star Brie Larson and Bear Grylls in Panama. This land of crocodiles, snakes and ...
Captain Marvel star Brie Larson and Bear Grylls in Panama. This land of crocodiles, snakes and ‘jungle prisons‘ can be seen in the first episode of Running Wild with Bear Grylls – which comes to its new home on the National Geographic Channel on 19 January.
Photograph by National Geographic/Ben Simms

Were you to speculate on a group of people with an affinity for the harder edges of the great outdoors, the chances are that movie stars, models and TV personalities might find themselves in the 'unlikely' column. That's the cliche, and it may well be an unfair one – but finding out definitely makes for good TV. It's therefore happy news that Running Wild with Bear Grylls is coming to the National Geographic channel on 19 January. 

Under the flinty watch of British survivalist, Chief Scout and former SAS reservist Edward ‘Bear’ Grylls (the nickname was given to him as an infant by his sister) Running Wild sees ten celebrities discard the trappings of their daily lives to travel to a clutch of decidedly rugged locations around the world. Their mission: investigate whether they have an adventurous streak – and if so, how deep it runs.

Running Wild with Bear Grylls: watch the trailer

Those pushed out of their comfort zones in the ten-part series include British model and actor Cara Delevigne, ex-professional wrestler Dave Bautista, movie stars Channing Tatum, Brie Larsen and Zachary Quinto – and the famously iron-nerved rock climber Alex Honnold, the subject of National Geographic's Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo.  

Of the show and his stellar charges, Grylls says: “it’s unique in terms of it takes these super well-known individuals so far outside of their normal life in order to experience something beautiful and empowering that they normally wouldn’t. It’s always inspiring.” 

That's one bunch of stars: the other consists of some of the world's most adventurous locations, each chosen for its particular blend of edginess. Here are the places that were tough enough to make the cut – and why.      

The Jungle Prison: Panama

The rainforest-covered Isla Pacheca in Panama's Pearl Islands. While some of the islands have been developed as tourist retreats, many remain uninhabited and tough to navigate.
Photograph by Hemis / Alamy

Famously the join between North and South America, Panama marks another colossal junction. It lies on what is geographically known as an 'isthmus' – a ribbon of land with water on either side. In Panama's case, these waters are the world's two greatest oceans, which lap up against it with as little as 60 kilometres of separation. But while Panama may appear geographically fragile on a global scale, on a human scale it is as chewy as it gets. 

No chickens: Oscar-winning actor Brie Larsen abseils on the Pearl Islands, while Star Trek and American Horror Story star Zachary Quinto (right) considers the local fowl.
Photograph by National Geographic/Ben Simms

This is particularly true for the Pearl Islands, an archipelago in the Gulf of Panama. It comprises 180 islands – many of which are mostly uninhabited by people, home to crocodiles and snakes and providing little in the way of drinking water. Grylls describes them as 'like jungle prisons' to anyone unlucky enough to be stranded on them. 

(Explore Panama with National Geographic Expeditions: find out more.

Canyons and Cliffs: Sardinia

Gola Su Gorropu, a gorge in Sardinia. Cut deep into limestone, the gorge was formed by the Flumineddu river.
Photograph by Elisa Locci / Alamy

Whilst popular with beachgoers, this Italian island's rugged core has long been a draw for thrill seekers wise to its precipitous secrets. With a spine of canyon-sliced limestone mountains, this large island's interior is home to the Gora su Goroppu, a gorge often described as one of the most spectacular in Europe. The cliff-lined coast is similarly dramatic, and is popular with rock climbers for its sound rock, and suitability for coasteering (leaping into the sea) into the thrashing Mediterranean beneath.

British model and actor Cara Delevigne with Bear Grylls in Sardinia's interior (left) while actor Armie Hammer (right) gets to grips with one of the Mediterranean island's sea cliffs.
Photograph by National Geographic/Jeff Ellingson

Sardinia features in two episodes of Running Wild: episode four sees Cara Delevigne takes an overnight journey deep into the ravines of the interior in search of an ancient mining route – while in episode five, actor Armie Hammer tackles the vertiginous cliffs of the coast.  

(Read: The top 5 adventures in Sardinia)

Fire and Ice: Iceland

Iceland has long been used as a film set for its otherworldly qualities – much of the volcanically volatile island is covered by glaciers.
Photograph by National Geographic/Ben Simms

A country being slowly torn in half by the mid-Atlantic ridge and built of a thrilling mix of glaciers and volcanoes, Iceland's adventurous credentials hardly need introducing. Covering just over 103,000 square kilometres, or around 3/4 of the area of England, Iceland is also famous as a winter destination for visiting geothermal lagoons, viewing the northern lights and feeling the pinch of zero centigrade average temperatures. It's a myth that the island totally lacks trees, though the ones it has tend to be sparse and small, giving rise to a local joke – 'what do you do if you're lost in a forest in Iceland? Stand up.'

(How to Discover Iceland on a National Geographic Expedition.)

US comedian Rob Riggle gets to work stoking a fire beneath a glacier on location in Iceland.
Photograph by National Geographic/Ben Simms

Rather less easy to circumvent are its glaciers, which are abundant, crevasse-riddled and huge. In Running Wild, it's onto the biggest of these – the Vatnajökull glacier – that Grylls, with comedic actor and ex-US marine Rob Riggle in tow, travel to locate a cache of overnight supplies before nightfall overtakes them. 

(In pictures: the northern landscape that inspires fantasy worlds.) 

The Wet Wilderness: Norway

A land of forests, mountains and sinuous coastline that penetrates deep into the Arctic circle, Norway also has something else in abundance: rain. As actor Channing Tatum and US radio personality Bobby Bones discover in their respective episodes of Running Wild, Norway's precipitation can be a gruelling test of resolve. 

The damp, northern climate of the Norwegian backcountry is an ideal mettle-tester – as radio personality Bobby Bones (left) and actor Channing Tatum discovered.
Photograph by National Geographic/Ben Simms

From negotiating colossal boulderfields to foraging in birchwoods – avoiding potentially paralysing slugs and thunderstorms en route – this southwestern Norway location offers plenty of challenges, both natural and self administered. See an example of the latter when Grylls challenges Channing Tatum to a series of gruelling tests of his wild side – as Grylls imparts before one: "Nothing breaks and reduces people faster than cold water.” 

(Experience trains and fjords on a National Geographic Expedition.)

The Alpine Hinterland: Switzerland

Free-solo does free-falling: Honnold and Grylls prepare to leap from their light aircraft over Switzerland.
Photograph by National Geographic/Ben Simms

Pushing a rock climber who climbs thousand-metre rock walls without ropes out of his comfort zone isn't easy – which meant that Alex Honnold required a different kind of experience for his episode of Running Wild. Inhabiting a world where falling equals death, Honnold begins his adventure by falling – albeit with a parachute – into this Swiss theatre of action for his episode of Running Wild.

(See pictures of Alex Honnold's epic climbs.)

Relocated from his normal stomping ground of Yosemite and dropped into Switzerland by parachute, Alex Honnold contemplates the backcountry whilst opening up to Bear Grylls about his daredevil life.
Photograph by National Geographic/Ben Simms

While Switzerland is classically associated with pointy, snowy mountains such as the Matterhorn and the Eiger – but much of the country is less ballistic in nature. Grylls and Honnold discover the ravines and meadows of the foothills to discover a little about living off the land – and a little about each other. Things soon point more rockily upwards when Honnold turns the tough tables on Grylls, taking him on a precipitous climb. 

Slot canyon land: Arizona 

The most famous of Arizona's slot canyons, Antelope Canyon has long been a photographic draw thanks to the remarkable patterns caused by water runoff. Similar patterning on the horns of antelopes gave rise to the name.
Photograph by Robert Harding / Alamy

A ‘slot canyon’ is the name given to a drainage gully formed by runoff in the sandstone badlands of the USA. So called for their steep sides, these canyons' ability to hypnotically work the sunlight, and a propensity to suddenly and catastrophically flood or suffer rock falls – remember Aaron Ralston? – have ensured they have long been cautious entries on the American adventure map. And it's into this terrain wrestler turned actor Dave Bautista and TV presenter Joel McHale venture in Running Wild.

Wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista (left) and TV presenter Joel McHale (right) are put through their paces by Grylls in Arizona.
Photograph by National Geographic/Ben Simms

Sudden floods have long been a hazard due to the speed at which the canyons fill with water – they were created by water, therefore form a remarkably efficient, ready-made runoff channel. In torrential rains they also carry mud and debris in a torrent that intensifies in narrow passages – which is very bad news for anyone caught off-guard within them. Many tourists and adventurers have been killed by flash floods in slot canyons – including in the famous Antelope Canyon, where eleven hikers were swept away in 1997. 

Running Wild With Bear Grylls begins on Sunday 19 January at 7pm on National Geographic.

Running Wild: Watch actress Brie Larson traverse over crocodile-infested waters in Panama
Read More