Trekking the Heart of Patagonia
You may often find yourself slack-jawed on this journey into the Patagonian wilds, gaping at the enormous Andean condors and deep-green beech forests juxtaposed against brilliant-white glaciers. Starting from El Chaltén, an Argentinian village near the needle peak of 11,073-foot Fitzroy, backpack for almost two weeks along the base of the Patagonian Ice Cap and to 700-foot-deep Lago Argentino. You'll hike six miles a day with 45-pound packs, through rivers, steep canyons, and sloping moraines and camp under ice-enshrouded Cerro Norte and at Lago Viedma, where the ice calves into the blue water with dramatic thunder. At a remote estancia, you'll drink Argentinian malbec wine and eat lamb roasted over an open pit. While you're at it, nibble on the region's sweet, dark calafate berries; local superstition says this will ensure your return to Patagonia. If you've already caught the bug, there's an optional seven-day hiking extension through Chile's Torres del Paine National Park—ome to huemul deer, guanacos, and the pumas that stalk them.
High Point: Sipping a steamy cup of joe at 5 a.m. and photographing the surreal pink glow of sunrise lighting up the Fitzroy peaks.
Low Point: Opening the tent flap to Patagonia's infamous rainfall... again.
Travel Advisory: Don't overdo it: Getting rescued in this remote region is very difficult. Help is at least five hours away, and there are no search-and-rescue teams or reliable helicopter evacuation services.
Outfitter: Whitney & Smith Legendary Expeditions (403-678-3052, www.legendaryex.com)
When to Go: November
Price: From $3,550
Lakes of Patagonia Sea-Kayaking Expedition
A floatplane will take you from South America's second-largest lake, Lago General Carrera, and deposit you for ten days of sea kayaking on a remote chain of five aqua-blue lakes surrounded by towering peaks in central Pata-gonia. Entertainment comes in the form of paddling swells created by calving glaciers and avalanches. Hike or kayak from lake to lake and climb the flanks of an 1,800-foot granite wall for views of the Patagonian Ice Cap and glaciated 13,313-foot San Valent'n.
Outfitter: Earth River Expeditions (800-643-2784, www.earthriver.com)
When to Go: February, March, and December
Not all adventures are created equal—specially those that end the day with a hot spring and a cold beer in a riverside cabin. When you're not kicking back on this weeklong trip, you're rafting the Class IV Rio Quijos and Rio Jatunactu, both tributaries of the Amazon. For dry-land action, hike and horseback-ride on jungle trails or take in Ecuador's famous chain of snowcapped volcanoes from 13,700-foot Papallacta Pass.
Outfitter: Small World Adventures (800-585-2925, www.smallworldadventures.com)
When to Go: November and December
Marine Wildlife Preservation
Mix altruism with hedonism for ten days by helping Brazilian scientists study the sensitive tucuxi dolphin off the lush island of Ilha do Cardoso, in the Cananéia Estuary, south of São Paulo. By night, stay near the beach in a dormlike research camp; by day, walk the empty beaches or cruise the quiet inlets in a skiff, gathering information on dolphin populations and behavior in this unusual overlap of ocean, river, and rainforest.
Outfitter: Earthwatch Institute (800-776-0188, www.earthwatch.org)
When to Go: July, August, and September Price: $1,995