Cost per day:
$ = $0-199
$$ = $200-299
$$$ = $300-399
$$$$ = $400+
Nestled in the Himalayan foothills at 11,000 feet, the town of Namche Bazaar is home to hundreds of Sherpa families. It’s also the last major settlement trekkers pass en route to Everest, stopping for provisions and little more. But one outfitter is trying to change that. “If you’re traveling so far, why would you pass through quickly instead of settling in and slowing down?” asks Joan Weber, who founded Journeys International 31 years ago with her husband and their Sherpa business partner, Pemba Tsering. That’s the premise behind Journeys’ newest Nepal trip, which bases clients in the Sherpa-owned Moonlight Lodge, in the roadless Khumbu region. The inn steeps you in the local Buddhist and mountaineering cultures, and your Sherpa hosts serve as the ultimate concierges, showing you everything from how to cook momos (similar to samosas) to where to find the best hikes. Itineraries are completely flexible: You might devise a trip that’s purely cultural, spend all nine days trekking, or do a combination of both. “For the Sherpas, it’s no problem to sit down and say, OK, how about the day after tomorrow we set off on this two-day side trip?” says Weber. It might be to the Tengboche monastery, or you might go all the way to Everest Base Camp.
Outfitter: Journeys International; journeys.travel
Price: $1,690 ($)
Length: 9 days
After the tsunami of 2004 and the resolution of a decades-long civil war, Sri Lanka is finally starting to look like its old self: a peaceful destination where surf lineups are nonexistent despite world-class waves and centuries-old tea estates are lined with mountain bike–ready trails. “The silver lining of the civil war is that the land and wildlife have remained untouched,” says Lisa Bolger, trip coordinator for Access Trips, one of the very few outfitters leading excursions to the Indian Ocean island this coming year. Access’s new itinerary combines surfing at Hikkaduwa (Sri Lanka’s answer to Costa Rica’s Tamarindo—minus the tourists), hiking 7,362-foot Adam’s Peak (considered sacred by four local religions), and mountain biking the same trails that tea farmers have been using since Sri Lanka first began producing the crop 250 years ago. At 25,000 square miles, the island lets you cover a lot in a short amount of time. “Within a half day we move between vastly different topographies, climates, and wildlife zones,” says Bolger. Rare is the place you see rice paddies from the back of an elephant in the morning and ocean views from a mountaintop by midday.
Outfitter: Access Trips; accesstrips.com
Price: $2,795 ($$)
Length: 10 days
Traveling in Laos has always meant either a quick jaunt to Luang Prabang (the former royal capital city) or a monthlong expedition into terrain that wasn’t always worth the trip—think mosquitoes and a hothouse climate. But a new lodge in Laos’s hill country, north of Luang Prabang, is ushering in a fresh era of tourism. Reachable via the Ou River, Muang La Resort and its fleet of powerboats have transformed what was once a multiday water taxi ride to the region into a five-hour cruise. Guests can book rooms directly with Muang La or leave the planning to Asia Transpacific Journeys, the first (and so far, only) outfitter to run trips here. Eric Kareus, a Southeast Asia specialist with Asia Transpacific, likens the boat approach to a scene out of Apocalypse Now: “You don’t see anything but jungle and mountains.” The resort itself is a different story, with plush, hardwood cabins and an on-site spa. Spend four days exploring the region’s trails by bicycle, foot, or four-wheel drive, and venture into untouched Akha villages where the women still wear colorful headdresses adorned with silver coins.
Outfitter: Asia Transpacific Journeys; asiatranspacific.com
Price: $1,400 ($$)
Length: 5 days
The Philippines has a PR problem. While it harbors as many islands as the Caribbean and some of the most spectacular reefs on the planet, the nation sees only a fraction of the visitors of nearby Thailand. Even travel companies, it seems, have bought the bad rap: Other than the occasional sea kayaking trip, U.S. guides have largely avoided the archipelago. But Wilderness Travel has finally gotten wise. This May the outfit will lead clients high into the 4,000-foot Cordillera Central, then deep into the world’s most biodiverse marine environment. The trip begins in Banaue, where travelers spend days hiking into terraced mountains and nights back at the town’s namesake hotel (pine cabins, private balconies, killer views). Then it’s down to the island of Cabilao, trading butterflies for fish� species of them. For the next five days, you’ll bob around reefs, scanning the area’s 350 varieties of coral (including table coral that’s a whopping nine feet wide). But don’t forget: The best snorkeling starts at dusk. “It’s like being in a train station during commuting hours,” says Barbara Banks, Wilderness Travel’s director of new trip development. “The day fish are moving out and the night creatures like octopuses and eels are moving in.”
Outfitter: Wilderness Travel; wildernesstravel.com
Price: $3,300 ($$)
Length: 12 days
The Drangme Chhu River is Bhutan’s largest drainage, a spillway for Himalayan snow and ice that roils into turquoise Class IV and V rapids through sheer granite walls. And it has never been run. But this month a team from Bio Bio Expeditions and its U.K.-based partner, Ultimate Descents, will make a first descent of the Drangme into Royal Manas National Park—an area that has long been closed to tourists due to violence in the neighboring Indian province of Assam. If the test run proves a success, the Bhutanese government will grant Bio Bio permission to guide the Drangme’s first official commercial whitewater trip through the now peaceful park in 2010. “On our initial survey of Bhutan’s whitewater, we found some of the most amazing rapids on the planet,” says Bio Bio co-owner Marc Goddard. But they were all short, rocky runs. In the Drangme Chhu—which has sections of continuous whitewater, golden langur monkeys as onlookers, and optional side trips to Bhutanese villages—they hit the jackpot. Or, as Goddard puts it, “We finally discovered the longer trip we were looking for.”
Outfitter: Bio Bio Expeditions; bbxrafting.com
Price: $6,800 ($$$$)
Length: 17 days
In the far reaches of Bolivia’s Madidi National Park, what stands between villagers in need of medical attention and the care itself are Class V rapids. It’s a textbook case for North Carolina–based whitewater outfitter Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), which recently partnered with Medicforce to launch a series of rafting trips to riverside communities cut off from aid. The joint effort, called Boaters Without Borders, will offer its first commercial expedition next year and send clients down the Tuichi River into Madidi. With a team of kayakers, health care professionals, and civilian rafters (note: intermediate experience recommended), you’ll journey to the Cordillera Apolobamba in the eastern Andes, where the Tuichi descends into 4.7-million-acre Madidi National Park in the thick of the upper Amazon Basin—an area so remote it takes a week of driving and trekking before you reach the water. Then comes the fun part: seven straight days of Class IV and V rapids through tight jungle canyons filled with howler and spider monkeys. You’ll pull out at four villages along the way to deliver medical supplies, assist with basic physical exams, and teach the locals about common health threats like dysentery (Wilderness First Responder training is required). Your reward at the end of the river—other than a surplus of karma—is a two-night stay at Chalalán Ecolodge, where your cabin comes with a balcony and a hammock, slung beneath the tree canopy.
Outfitter: Nantahala Outdoor Center; noc.com
Price: $3,850 ($$)
Length: 22 days
Long before the term “voluntourism” became etched into the travel lexicon, Adventure Life Journeys was a model practitioner. For years, the Latin America–focused outfitter has made a point of incorporating meaningful volunteer work into each of its itineraries and employing local guides and lodge owners. Now comes perhaps its most compelling offering: a weeklong stay with Inca descendants in the Sacred Valley village of Cachiccata, followed by a trek to Machu Picchu. “We’re not just showing up and dropping off donations and then leaving,” says Adventure Life’s Jonathan Brunger, who spearheaded the project. Instead, you’ll arrive in one of the world’s most spectacular settings—picture millennia-old Inca terraces overlooking a river in the heart of the valley—and roll up your sleeves to work alongside indigenous community members on various tasks. You might help a family restore their traditional home one day and plant native trees with kids the next. The villagers themselves have developed these projects, along with a campground, to stimulate tourism—which in turn will keep the younger generations at home rather than pursuing careers as porters. You’ll be among the first to visit the site (note the Inca and pre-Inca stone structures scattered throughout). Like other Sacred Valley pilgrimages, this trip includes Cusco on the way in and Machu Picchu on the way out. But unlike the others, it also lets you witness the ways of an ancient village—while helping its residents tackle 21st-century challenges.
Outfitter: Adventure Life Journeys; adventure-life.com
Price: $1,920 ($)
Length: 10 days
With Costa Rica’s Pacific coast looking more and more like Southern California’s—overdeveloped and overcrowded—it’s a far cry from the adventure getaway of 15 years ago. And until recently, the country’s other coast, the Caribbean, simply wasn’t a viable alternative. But the extension of a paved road to CR’s far east has unlocked the area’s beaches and parks, and inspired one outfitter to launch a new trip. Wildland Adventures’ nine-day excursion begins near the Panama border at Selva Bananito Lodge, a family-owned eco-retreat on a private, 2,000-acre preserve. You can hike through rain forest, rappel down an 80-foot waterfall, and help reintroduce a tropical hardwood forest to the area by planting trees on a rundown 19th-century banana plantation. Caribbean culture runs deep here, and you’ll get a taste of it—literally—during cooking classes in the beach town of Puerto Viejo (coconut rice, fried plantains, and fresh fruit shakes are all staples). Then it’s time for serious wildlife viewing at Kéköldi Indigenous Reserve, one of the world’s best places to watch the great raptor migration (prepare for up to 500,000 hawks, ospreys, falcons, and vultures), as well as a refuge for iguanas and giant leatherback turtles. This being a coastal trip, you’ll have plenty of time for the water too. From March through September the reefs light up with blue tangs, grunts, and parrotfish, and corals with names like “fire” and “elkhorn.”
Outfitter: Wildland Adventures; wildland.com
Price: $3,415 ($$$)
Length: 9 days
This March, Patagonian guide Martin Jones, who has quietly led Boojum Expeditions trips in South America for 15 years, will realize a personal dream of his: leading the first ever guided horseback crossing of the continent. Ten client riders will join Jones, four Argentine gauchos, and Boojum owner Linda Svendsen for the 625-mile hoof from Chile’s Pacific shores through the Andes to Argentina’s Atlantic coast. You’ll pick your way along stock trails across central Patagonia, climbing 8,200-foot mountain passes and dropping down into the Chubut River Valley, continuing through the Argentine lowlands, and ending at the Valdés Peninsula. You need not be an expert horseman to sign up, but you should be comfortable spending three weeks in the saddle. “We’ll mostly be walking and trotting,” says Svendsen. “But this is not the type of trip where you walk along nose to tail. We’ll spread out and do some really good riding.” To that end, Boojum will use the finest South American horses, a sure-footed, quarter horse–like breed known as a Criollo, accustomed to the wide variety of terrain. Each night, a van and truck will appear at your campsite with wine, cold beer, and sides of beef and lamb to be grilled on wooden spits over the fire (a dish called an asado). And each morning, you’ll switch to a fresh horse (the horse-to-human ratio is 2:1).
Outfitter: Boojum Expeditions; boojum.com
Price: $9,000 ($$$$)
Length: 22 days
At first glance, the fjord-y, fragmented northwest corner of Iceland looks like a country apart. And in some ways it is. It was here, in the Westfjords, that medieval outlaws came to board ships bound for unknown lands, and where winter conditions still keep neighboring farmers from visiting one another. Today, intrepid hikers are starting to explore the region’s signature draw, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve; next summer, Explorers’ Corner will become the sole outfitter to approach it just as the Vikings did—by sea. The itinerary is flexible by design: Campsites can change depending on the whims of the group, and you’ll have the option of hiking to snowcaps, poking around the remains of Viking farms, and watching puffins and goosanders from your kayak. Despite the 66° N latitude, summers are mild in Hornstrandir, with temps approaching the mid-60s, and 24-hour sunlight makes for a constant yellow-pink sky. Just a year or two ago, ten days in the Arctic Circle would have cost a small fortune, but post–Icelandic bankruptcy, it’s far more affordable—30 to 40 percent less, according to Explorers’ Corner owner Olaf Malver.
Outfitter: Explorers’ Corner; explorerscorner.com
Price: $2,490 ($$)
Length: 10 days
Thirteen years ago, British biologist Robin Rigg ventured into Slovakia’s Carpathian Mountains to study wolves, and he never left. During the course of his research, he has published multiple studies on the canids, founded the Slovakia Wolf Census Program, and, on several occasions, crept to within 15 feet of his carnivorous subjects. Now Rigg is looking to the Carpathians’ Tatra Range, whose 8,000-foot-plus peaks are host to what is becoming a serious hunting problem. “Hunters tend to greatly exaggerate the numbers of wolves and lynx,” says Rigg, “which leads to unjustified persecution.” His plan is to take stock of the wildlife with the help of Biosphere Expeditions, which will send travelers to Rigg’s outpost for the first time this winter. The expedition base is a cottage surrounded by thick Norway spruce on the flanks of the Tatras, and the “research” includes tromping around in snowshoes, helping Rigg determine the animals’ group size, movements, and habits. The chances of seeing a wolf or lynx are on the low side, but it pays to be vigilant: Brown bears, wild boars, and golden eagles also call these mountains home.
Outfitter: Biosphere Expeditions; biosphere-expeditions.org
Price: $1,590 ($$)
Length: 7 days
Even if Ireland’s north coast weren’t the setting for Country Walkers’ new trek, the trip would still be one of a kind. Few walks pack as much history, geological drama, and fine whiskey into a single weeklong route. Hikers spend their first three nights based at Bushmills Inn in County Antrim, once a layover for horse-drawn coaches en route to Bushmills Distillery (licensed by King James I in 1608). Sample a dram from the bar’s private reserve, or hold out for a tasting with the distillery manager. From the inn you can hike the Giant’s Causeway, a collection of polygonal stone “pillars” created by a volcanic eruption that dips down into the sea. Midway through the journey, you’ll trade hiking boots for kayaks and paddle the Strangford Lough Canoe Trail, dotted with islets. But the best part comes last: the Mourne Mountains. The 140,820-acre region has been proposed as Northern Ireland’s first national park, and upon seeing its heather-and-orchid-specked granite peaks, you’ll understand why. You’ll also be among the few visitors to see it at all—no other outfitter leads trips here.
Outfitter: Country Walkers; countrywalkers.com
Price: $3,798 ($$$$)
Length: 7 days
If the gods were cyclists, you can rest assured that there would be more mountains like the Pyrenees. The 11,000-foot peaks separating France from Spain are laced with hundreds of miles of paved roads winding past medieval villages and stretches of high-alpine wilderness. For the past half century, cycling fanatics have been completing the Raid Pyrénéen, a hundred-hour cyclathon across the range on a fixed course. But other than Raid crews (and, of course, the annual swarm of Tour de France riders) the Pyrenees are mostly crowd free. “One of the big advantages to this area is that there are very few cars,” says Loren Siekman, owner of Discover France. Now, DF has developed an outfitted version of the Pyrenees crossing, using a different route and a saner, weeklong pace. The traverse begins near chilly Atlantic waters in Biarritz. Thick forests on the range’s western side give way to granite peaks as you pedal through towns like Arette (smack on the Spanish border), Oust (mountain views), and Ax-les-Thermes (hot springs) down the arid, eastern flanks. The biking is no joke: Each day you’ll cover 45 to 75 miles and gain up to 11,000 feet. Shellfish and sweet white Basque wines sustain you during the early stages; later, it’s cassoulet and Mediterranean reds—reminders that a balmy, blue-green sea lies ahead.
Outfitter: Discover France; cyclingclassics.com
Price: $3,450 guided ($$$) or $2,535 self-guided ($$)
Length: 10 days
“What makes the Sierra High Route so unique,” says Ian Elman, owner of Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, “is that it’s not a trail, it’s a concept.” That concept—invented in the 1970s by a guy named Steve Roper, who wrote The Sierra High Route: Traversing Timberline Country—is to trace the highest points across the Sierra while staying above tree line and away from other hikers. The thing is, it’s exceedingly difficult to execute this concept on your own: Only a handful of people complete it each year. Lucky for you, Andrew Skurka will lead the inaugural Sierra High Route outfitted crossing for Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides in 2010. The trekker extraordinaire (and our 2008 Adventurer of the Year) completed the hike in just eight days last year. Starting in Kings Canyon National Park, you’ll hoof it 195 miles north, passing through the John Muir Wilderness, the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and Yosemite National Park. You’ll tackle 12,100-foot Mather Pass and bushwhack through Headwaters country, where glaciers still feed the mighty San Joaquin River. Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides has space for just six hikers, and extensive backpacking experience is required. “This is an old-fashioned adventure travel trip,” says Elman, referring to the fact that route-finding can be hit-or-miss. “We’ll try to make it run smoothly, but it’ll be really challenging.”
Outfitter: Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides; symg.com
Price: $6,495 ($$)
Length: 26 days
More than six million tourists flocked to the Four Corners region in 2008, making a beeline for the sandstone rock formations and ancestral Puebloan dwellings at places like Arches National Park and Mesa Verde. Hovenweep National Monument, meanwhile, saw just 25,411 visitors. “Hovenweep’s one of the more remote areas left in the country,” says Western Spirit Cycling president Ashley Korenblat. This spring Korenblat’s Moab-based outfit will lead the first commercial biking trip to the monument, which lies some 70 miles east of Cortez, Colorado, at the end of a circuitous country road. Once a major center for the ancestral Puebloans, Hovenweep’s sprawling collection of ruins doubles as a giant outdoor classroom for Native American history buffs. The trip is a kid-friendly affair, with interactive workshops along with double- and singletrack cruising. You’ll see 800-year-old Horseshoe Tower and try your hand at grinding corn with a traditional mortar and pestle. At night, you’ll camp near the ruins, which is something the millions of Four Corners visitors are definitely not doing. “It’s a chance for kids to stare at a ruin by themselves,” says Korenblat. It’s also a chance to learn about a culture with a progressive environmental ethic—a stated priority for Korenblat. “They lived so delicately off the land without making the big mess we do today.”
Outfitter: Western Spirit Cycling; westernspirit.com
Price: $1,185 ($$)
Length: 5 days
As the co-owner of ROW Adventures, Peter Grubb has spent the better part of the past three decades scouting trips around the world. But until recently, he had all but ignored his own backyard, the Bitterroot Mountains straddling the Montana-Idaho border. He wasn’t the only one—very few outfitters lead trips here. And yet, the 10,000-foot peaks’ boulder fields and U-shaped valleys are loaded with lakes, hot springs, wildlife (lynx, bald eagles, wolves), and a rich history (Native Americans, fur traders, and Lewis and Clark all came through here). On ROW’s new Bitterroots Multisport trip, you’ll cycle the 50-mile Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes along the old Milwaukee Railroad line, kayak an alpine lake, raft the Clark Fork River’s Class III rapids, and bike over train trestles spanning deep canyons on the Hiawatha Trail. Nights are spent at campsites or lodges, and mealtimes in local restaurants like the Enaville Resort Snake Pit—in operation since 1880.
Outfitter: ROW Adventures; rowadventures.com
Price: $1,395 for camping ($$) or $1,595 for lodge stays ($$)
Length: 6 days
Anxious to protect its silver and gold stores, Canada created a railway through southern British Columbia in the early 1900s to keep certain stake-claiming international neighbors at bay. The resulting 250-mile-long Kettle Valley Railway crosses three mountain ranges and dozens of canyons—and since ceasing operation in 1972 has been gradually converted into a rail trail. This year one of the most scenic portions, Myra Canyon, was completed. Monashee Adventure Tours’ three-day cycling loop will link Myra’s 18 trestle bridges and two tunnels with the former mining towns of Penticton and Summerland. The B&B-based ride begins with 40-mile vistas and thimbleberry snacks (collected on-site). On day two, “gravity is our friend,” says Monashee owner Ed Kruger. You’ll drop 22 miles at a 2 percent downhill grade with expansive Okanagan Valley views, whizzing past ponderosa pines and rock ovens once used by railway workers. On the last day, you’ll ride to the train, which still chugs through Prairie Valley, and hop on for a spin over Trout Creek Trestle. Final stop: Sumac Ridge Estate Winery for a tasting and lunch.
Outfitter: Monashee Adventure Tours; monasheeadventuretours.com
Price: $1,417 ($$$$)
Length: 3 days
Fourteen years after Soufrière Hills Volcano first sent pyroclastic debris flying and two-thirds of Montserrat’s population fleeing, the Caribbean island is hanging out its shingle for tourism again. Along the northern (and nonvolcanic) coast, a new airport, hotel, and dive shop are in place to lure visitors to Montserrat’s black-sand beaches and pristine coral reefs. “Montserrat is still the way the Caribbean was 20 years ago,” says Melody Schroer, co-owner of the Green Monkey Dive Shop. “You won’t walk down the beach and get asked if you want your hair braided.” Green Monkey’s new multisport trip puts you on the front lines of the island’s resurgence. You’ll stay in a private villa and knock off Montserrat’s greatest hits one by one: sea kayaking and snorkeling along the leeward coast; hiking through heliconias, banana plants, and mango trees; and scoring an up-close look at the temperamental volcano (viewable only by boat for safety reasons). The trip culminates in a plunge off the island of Redonda, 15 miles away. Green Monkey holds one of two diving permits here, which means you’ll have the five-foot barracudas and six-foot barrel sponges all to yourself.
Outfitter: Green Monkey Dive Shop; divemontserrat.com
Price: $885 ($)
Length: 6 days
The North Island has the Bay of Islands and the best surfing; the South Island trumpets Queenstown and world-class hiking. For decades, New Zealand’s two halves have been vying for the country’s title of premier travel destination. But Active New Zealand just gave the South Island a major one-up: the first guided hiking and bicycle crossing from coast to coast. For this 13-day trip, the high-octane outfitter has chosen the wildest route possible, using little-known tracks (Kiwi for trails) and New Zealand’s excellent hut system, which offers everything from bare-bones shelters to cushy crash pads with private bunks and kitchens. Starting in the temperate rain forests of West Fiordland National Park and the Milford Sound, you’ll follow the Greenstone Track through the Southern Alps, then continue along Lake Wakatipu and across Central Otago to the brisk waters of the east coast. Highlights include beach-hut overnights on the Tasman Sea, where penguins and seals are a common sight; hiking to 200-foot Homer Falls; and biking to 3,000-foot Key Summit for views of three glacier-carved valleys, including the one you just hiked through, seven-mile Hollyford.
Outfitter: Active New Zealand; activenewzealand.com
Price: $4,000 ($$$)
Length: 13 days
Each June, some 450 humpback whales arrive in the shallow waters off Tonga’s Ha’apai Islands to mate and calf, transforming the archipelago into an oversize nursery until September. The Ha’apai are one of the only places in the world where you can snorkel with the 50-foot-long mammals—and starting next year, Wilderness Travel will be the only tour operator to bring clients here to do it. “They’re really curious and let you get very close,” says the outfitter’s Barbara Banks. Just don’t expect a Sea World encounter. “It’s done with the absolute strictest guidelines about behavior around the whales,” adds Banks. “There is no contact.” When not ogling underwater family dynamics and reefs of hard and soft corals, you’ll be kayaking between islets, which author and professional curmudgeon Paul Theroux once called “the perfect area for paddling a kayak—perhaps the best in the Pacific . . . All were secluded, all were lovely.” For the second half of the trip, clients board a catamaran bound for even more remote reefs and islets. Accommodations range from a village homestay to a bunk on the catamaran to over-water bungalows; Tongan feasts of suckling pig, fresh octopus, and root vegetables are nightly affairs.
Outfitter: Wilderness Travel; wildernesstravel.com
Price: $5,400 ($$$)
Length: 18 days
A few years ago, the 320,000 acres of land connecting the Okavango Delta with Botswana’s Linyanti marshes were a trophy hunter’s paradise. Then along came National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who bought and transformed the region into the Selinda Reserve, a private sanctuary for lions, elephants, cape buffalo, leopards, and the rare aardwolf. The reserve’s centerpiece is the Selinda Spillway, a river that pours across the savanna, linking the delta with the marshes and providing thousands of animals with a massive watering hole. This year, the Spillway is at its highest level in three decades, which means more buffalo and elephants will come for a drink—and with them, more predators. To showcase the gathering, Explore Inc will lead canoe-camping trips in 2010. Expect an old-school safari vibe—camp consists of simple dome tents and bucket showers—and a staff-to-guest ratio of 1:2. “You’re canoeing waters that have never been canoed before because they haven’t even existed for years,” says Cherri Briggs, Explore Inc’s owner. By boat you can drift silently up to thirsty animals and spot predators (like crocodiles and leopards) from the water, raising your odds of seeing a kill.
Outfitter: Explore Inc; exploreafrica.net
Price: $1,450 ($$$$)
Length: 3 days
Known for its 70-plus species of lemurs, Madagascar has the market cornered in trips focused on exotic leaping animals. But few travelers are aware of the country’s marine life. Enter Kumuka Worldwide, whose first-of-its-kind sailing trip plunges into the coral-filled Indian Ocean while hitting a cluster of little-visited islets just off the main island. Starting on Nosy Be, the largest of Madagascar’s outer islands, you’ll travel by dhow—the traditional sailboat used by African and Arabian traders for millennia—from one deserted beach to the next, camping on white sand by night, and kayaking, snorkeling, and fishing by day. The first port of call is Ambavatoby Bay, where your chances of seeing a whale shark (massive, spotted, and up to 60 feet long) are unusually high. Nosy Iranja is up next, a hawksbill turtle breeding reserve prime for sea kayaking. Then it’s on to Nosy Tanihely, whose soft corals, lobsters, and eels make for prize snorkeling sights. Of course, you wouldn’t want to leave without at least glimpsing a lemur; Nosy Komba, or Lemur Island, is one of the last stops. In the wake of the political unrest here last spring, animal poaching—specifically lemur poaching—has become a growing problem. But Kumuka is keeping close tabs on security (at press time, the U.S. State Department had lifted its travel warning) and knows tourism is one of the best ways to help protect wildlife. “By seeing lemurs, clients learn firsthand that they’re a more valuable commodity alive than dead,” says Kumuka’s Steve Murphy.
Outfitter: Kumuka Worldwide; kumuka.com
Price: $805 ($)
Length: 8 days
In the ’70s and ’80s, Rick Ridgeway was on a tear: He became one of the first Americans to summit K2, joined the second U.S. expedition to conquer Everest, and dragged a 250-pound handcart across a Tibetan plateau. But perhaps his most outlandish idea was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro . . . and keep walking all the way to the Indian Ocean. In 1997 he did just that, publishing an account of his journey, The Shadow of Kilimanjaro. Since Ridgeway’s feat—which included the first west-east crossing of 11,000-square-mile Tsavo West and East National Parks—Tropical Ice Limited has been retracing portions of his 300-mile route. Now owner Iain Allan, who served as Ridgeway’s original guide, will organize the first full trek from mountain to sea. You’ll begin with a Kilimanjaro ascent via the Umbwe route (the most scenic—and challenging—option), drop down into Kenya, hike through Tsavo West and East National Parks, and finish at the Indian Ocean. Ridgeway may or may not make a guest appearance, but you’ll be in good hands. “We become a part of the African bush experience,” Allan says. “Each day we enter it more deeply, fears of it are rationalized, senses are heightened, and we begin to understand it on its own terms.”
Outfitter: Tropical Ice Limited; tropical-ice.com
Price: $12,500 ($$$$)
Length: 24 days
Lion kills cow, Maasai warrior kills lion. It’s a centuries-old conflict in the Kenyan bush. But in the past ten years lion populations across Africa have plummeted from 100,000 to 23,000, transforming the issue into a full-fledged crisis. Alarmed research crews have come to Kenya to study the cats and teach the Maasai ways to live with them harmoniously. But one conservation group is way ahead of the curve. Kuku Group Ranch, a 280,000-acre spread in the Chyulu Hills of southern Kenya, is entirely owned and operated by the Maasai themselves. And so far they’ve had dramatic success with their cat-protection efforts: In a recent 30-month period, the ranch’s lion population jumped from 15 to 52. Now, in conjunction with Geographic Expeditions, Kuku will bring in its first guest-researchers. From your luxury tented camp at Campi ya Kanzi, you’ll set out on foot with Maasai trackers to study Kuku’s lions, reading paw prints and at times walking up on the felines (tagging and collaring is part of the job). “You have an opportunity to observe natural history at a slowed pace,” says Geographic Expeditions president Jim Sano. “You’re not zipping around a park from one animal to another.”
Outfitter: Geographic Expeditions; geoex.com
Price: From $7,600 ($$$$)
Length: 9 days
Departs: January, March–July, September–December
Visiting the world’s vanishing places has become a bit trendy these days—which makes the venerable Earthwatch Institute an unlikely tastemaker. Next year the research organization will bring travelers to what is arguably the most critically endangered site on the planet, then put them to work. Your lab is the lake-stippled tundra of the Mackenzie Mountains and the ridges surrounding Churchill, Manitoba, where permafrost is disappearing first (it’ll likely be gone by 2100) and temperatures are rising fastest (so far, 2ºF). You’ll stay in one of two research stations (watch for grizzlies at one, polar bears at the other), and help Earthwatch researchers monitor the ecosystem. Visitors get around via Inuit sleds and learn to build igloos, but the research itself is high-tech: You’ll use ground-penetrating radar, microclimate data loggers, and soil coring to measure carbon levels in the permafrost. The trip is not all work—there will be time for kayaking and Nordic skiing—but for the most part, you’ll feel more like a researcher than a vacationer.
Outfitter: Earthwatch Institute; earthwatch.org
Price: $2,950 ($$)
Length: 11 days
Departs: February–March, June–September