Published: November 2008

Best New Adventure Travel Trips: Latin America

The 25 best new trips in the world.
Text by Claire Martin
Kayak Lodge-to-Lodge in Paradise
Island Expeditions is reinventing the classic Belize kayaking trip, plying new waters in new boats, and adding a cushy twist: lodges. Set in the 117,875-acre Southwater Caye Marine Park, the five-day island hop begins with lessons on IE’s Belize-specific watercraft—sea kayaks fitted with masts and sails for the Caribbean’s consistent northeasterlies. "We can cover more distance and have more fun zigzagging around," says IE owner Tim Boys. "There’s a risk of capsizing, but the water’s 80 degrees." After an endo, grab a snorkel and scope out eagle and manta rays and nurse sharks. In this little-visited area, you’ll get the rare chance to dive three different reef types: barrier (huge walls of coral), fringe (rings of coral), and patch (smaller sections in shallow water). The lodges are locally owned and strategically located—often stilted above the water—serving local delicacies like barbecued barracuda.

Outfitter: Island Expeditions;
Price: $1,589
Length: 5 days
Departs: December–April

Next: Bolivia: Climb Imperiled Peaks

Climb Imperiled Peaks
Mountain Madness guide Shayan Rohani has scouted Bolivia’s remotest corners for a decade. His most exciting discovery happens to be his latest: the 18,040-foot Cordillera Apolobamba. Mining roads, all freshly paved, grant travelers unprecedented access to the region (what was once a two-day journey from La Paz now takes just six hours). But those same roads will fast change an ancient way of life. "We have a special window open to us," says Rohani. "We can explore the land and meet people who haven’t yet been impacted by the mining." Clients visit indigenous Kallawaya farmers and nomadic shamans. Aspiring peak baggers then learn climbing basics and take on 19,406-foot Cololo and 18,600-foot Cuchillo; others hang back for short hikes, scoping for alpacas, vicuñas, and condors. The group descends together by mountain bike on the eastern slopes of the range, lush with quenua trees (the highest-altitude tree in the world), dropping 10,000 feet along dirt roads through three climate zones—alpine, cloud forest, and finally the Amazon jungle.

Outfitter: Mountain Madness;
Price: $3,500
Length: 12 days
Departs: June–August

Next: Ecuador: Galápagos Gone Green

Galápagos Gone Green
The Galápagos Archipelago received national park protection in 1937, but some of the 76 vessels here still operate with World War II–era eco-practices. It’s a conundrum that UNESCO cited in 2007, labeling Darwin’s playground "in danger." Enter: Geographic Expeditions’ eco-cruiser, La Pinta, the first new yacht to score a Galápagos permit in eight years. The 48-passenger boat has not only an observatory and a luxurious crew-to-passenger ratio of one-to-two, but also onboard desalination and waste-treatment plants, low-carbon-dioxide-emitting engines, and an aggressive recycling program. "La Pinta was built based on feedback from past Galápagos travelers," explains Geographic Expeditions’ Latin America director, Clark Kotula, who went on the ship’s maiden voyage this year. The result, environmental sustainability aside, is a lot more space than you’ll find on most yachts: Decks are large, and the 236-square-foot cabins have giant picture windows, not mini portholes. La Pinta’s route mirrors that of other vessels, sailing to Santa Cruz Island for giant tortoises, Fernardina for what Kotula calls a marine-iguana extravaganza, and to Isabela, home to the largest population of Galápagos penguins.

Outfitter: Geographic Expeditions;
Price: $7,000
Length: 11 days
Departs: Year-round

Next: Venezuela & Guyana: Touch the Top of a Tepui

Venezuela & Guyana
Touch the Top of a Tepui
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, a 1912 novel about four adventurers who discover a mesa inhabited by ape-men and dinosaurs, is considered an early work of science fiction. The author’s inspiration: otherworldly 9,000-foot quartzite mesas (tepuis) in the eastern Venezuelan jungle. "The top of the tepui is one of the most intriguing places, a labyrinth of caves, crevasses, and little pools," says Mountain Travel Sobek guide Sergio Fitch-Watkins. Sobek’s trip—one of 40 new itineraries for 2009—is a nontechnical expedition into a corner of the continent unknown even to most South Americans. After exploring the rain forests and savanna of Venezuela’s Parque Nacional Canaima, travelers summit 9,094-foot Mount Roraima, the world’s highest tepui. Over the next week, Fitch-Watkins leads the group to still more unusual landscapes (like valleys scattered with crystals) and Pemon villages with unusual culinary tastes (try the termites).

Outfitter: Mountain Travel Sobek;
Price: $5,245
Length: 11 days
Departs: March, July, November