The Outside Trip-Finder: Central and South America

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, February 1996

The Outside Trip-Finder: Central and South America
By Kathy Martin

ANTARCTICA: Cruising the Peninsula

    The Route: An epic ten-day to four-week ship voyage along the Antarctic Peninsula, with trips via Zodiac or helicopter to visit penguin colonies. You'll also cruise the Falkland, South Shetland, or South Georgia Islands. .

    When To Go: November-February

    Difficulty: Easy

    Travel Advisory: Outfit your camera with a polarizer or UV skylight filter for screening out glare from the snow, ice, and water, and remember to bracket your exposures: Light meters tend to act up in these bright conditions.

    High/Low Points:

  • Putting away your wristwatch after the first few days of 24-hour sunshine.
  • Accidentally kneeling in penguin guano on your quest for the perfect rookery photo.

    Luxe Factor: Boat accommodations

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Abercrombie & Kent / 10 / $4,995-$11,500
    Marine Expeditions / 40 / $3,490-$5,795*
    Overseas Adventure Travel / 6 / $3,490-$5,590*
    Quark Expeditions / 3 / $3,680-$16,990
    Society Expeditions / 8 / $4,800-$11,785
    Zegrahm Expeditions / 3 / $4,350-$11,990

ARGENTINA: Riding Horseback with Andean Gauchos

    The Route: Ten to 16 days of riding across vast ranchland and coastal sand dunes alongside professional gauchos on estancias in northern Patagonia or central Argentina

    When To Go: September-June

    Difficulty: Moderate

    Travel Advisory: You don't need advanced riding skills, since there's no set distance to cover each day. But you do need to be in fit condition to keep up with the gauchos and your fast criollo horse.

    High/Low Points:

  • Rehashing the day over a campfire and cups of maté with Argentina's legendary cowboys
  • Climbing back into the saddle after gorging on red meat and wine at an asado, a traditional Argentinean barbecue

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Rustic lodging

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Boojum Expeditions / 2 / $2,975-$3,275
    Equitour /on demand / $2,470
    FITS Equestrian / 4 / $1,300

BOLIVIA: Climbing Illimani

    The Route: A one- to four-week ascent to the brilliant, glaciated, 21,201-foot summit of Illimani, the highest peak in Bolivia's Cordillera Real. Most trips start with preliminary climbs on nearby peaks.

    When To Go: May-October

    Difficulty: Strenuous

    Travel Advisory: Consider Illimani a superior training climb for the Himalayas or Mount McKinley. It offers serious high-altitude experience without the extreme challenge of freezing temperatures and dicey weather.

    High/Low Points:

  • Summiting Illimani and remembering that it's almost 1,000 feet higher than McKinley
  • Missing the view across Lake Titicaca to the Amazon Basin because of dense cloud cover

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Rustic lodging

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    American Alpine Institute / 5 / $3,850
    Aventuras Patagonicas /1 / $2,400
    Colorado Mountain School / 1 / $2,770
    Mountain Travel-Sobek / 1 / $2,450
    Southwind Adventures / on demand / $1,565
    Summits Adventure Travel / 1 / $1,895

BRAZIL: Paddling the Pantanal Wetlands

    The Route: A five- to 14-day paddle aboard two-person canoes or kayaks into the world's largest wetlands, a flooded alluvial plain that's home to 650 species of birds, with time for shore hikes and swimming

    When To Go: April-October

    Difficulty: Easy to moderate

    Travel Advisory: Biting bugs are a concern. The lightweight mesh netting of a mosquito bog jacket and pants--available at outdoor shops for about $45--protects better than repellents and lotions.

    High/Low Points:

  • Slipping your canoe--and your telephoto lens--silently into the viveiros, nesting areas for flocks of wading birds
  • Witnessing firsthand how the wetlands are threatened by slash-and-burn operations in the jungle

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Tourist hotels

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    All Adventure Vacations / 3 / $2,800
    Mountain Travel-Sobek / 3 / $2,790
    Safaricentre / on demand / $1,100
    Southwind Adventures / 1 /$1,495-$1,595

ECUADOR: Climbing Snowcapped Volcanoes

    The Route: A ten- to 24-day climbing expedition on two to six volcanoes, including 19,347-foot Cotopaxi, the world's highest active volcano, and 20,561-foot Chimborazo, the highest peak in Ecuador

    When To Go: June, October-February

    Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

    Travel Advisory: These ascents are nontechnical, but some climbing experience is recommended. You should at least have your crampon and ice-ax technique down.

    High/Low Points:

  • Boasting to friends that because of the equatorial bulge Chimborazo's summit is the farthest point from the center of the earth
  • Realizing the hand-loomed rug you just bought in Guano won't fit into your pack

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Rustic lodging

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Alpine Ascents International / 2 / $2,100
    American Alpine Institute / 6 / $1,490-$2,190
    Aventuras Patagonicas / 1 / $2,000
    Colorado Mountain School / 1 / $2,395
    Mountain Madness / 2 / $1,920
    Summits Adventure Travel / 1 / $1,995

NICARAGUA / HONDURAS: Paddling the Rivers of Mosquitia

    The Route: A five- to 12-day canoe or kayak trip along the jungle rivers and rainforest waterways of the Mosquito Coast, in the company of monkeys, macaws, and mott-motts

    When To Go: January-July, November

    Difficulty: Easy to moderate

    Travel Advisory: You'll wear river sandals on the water, but bring jungle-grade footwear for shore hikes. Military jungle boots with a Panama sole that sloughs off mud are your best bet; the Mosquitians actually wear soccer shoes.

    High/Low Points:

  • Watching transfixed as a jaguar glides through your camp
  • Taking only quick dips in the cool river for fear of crocs

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Rustic lodging

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    BattenKill Canoe / 3 / $1,750
    Holbrook Travel / 1 / $1,948
    Nantahala Outdoor Center / 1 / $1,250
    Outland Adventures / on demand / $1,195
    Tofino Expeditions / 2 / $1,895
    Wildland Adventures / 12 / $650-$1,825

PATAGONIA: Traversing the Continental Ice Cap

    The Route: A rugged 16-day crossing of the only ice cap outside the polar regions, with optional ascents of 9,385-foot Gorra Blanca Peak and other mountains that have rarely or never been climbed

    When To Go: November-March

    Difficulty: Strenuous

    Travel Advisory: Ski mountaineering experience is required. The ice cap itself is fairly flat, but you'll cross crevasses and ice slopes and deal with volatile weather, including Patagonia's notorious 60-mph winds.

    High/Low Points:

  • Enjoying the rare sight of the backside of the Fitzroy Massif, from the 4,730-foot-high camp at Marconi Pass
  • Having to chop ice blocks to make a windscreen for your camp after a long day on the glaciers

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Rustic lodging

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Southwind Adventures / 5 / $2,495

PERU: Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca

    The Route: A one- to two-week trek among hanging glaciers, fluted ice faces and cornices, and multicolored lakes in the world's highest tropical range, with a close look at Quechua Indian village culture

    When To Go:April-October

    Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

    Travel Advisory: Skip this trek if you've had problems with altitude sickness. Acclimatization time is built in, but you need to feel in top shape to cross three high passes above 15,000 feet.

    High/Low Points:

  • Counting up to a dozen 20,000-footers from 15,585-foot Punta Union Pass
  • Negotiating the tour-bus masses on your Machu Picchu extension after blissful solitude at the high camps

    Luxe Factor: Camping

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Forum Travel International / 13 / $764
    Journeys International / 13 / $1,225
    Safaricentre / 23 / $1,650
    Southwind Adventures / 6 / $1,495-$1,595
    Wilderness Travel / 3 / $2,295-$2,795
    Wildland Adventures / 8 / $885

PERU: Rafting the Cotahuasi River

    The Route: A 13-day exploration of a Class V river in a 16,000-foot desert gorge just north of fabled Colca Canyon, along the Incas' travel route from Machu Picchu to the ocean

    When To Go: June

    Difficulty: Strenuous

    Travel Advisory: This is a first commercial descent, so expect delays and disruptions and be prepared for anything. One departure piggybacks onto a run down the intensely technical Class V Colca.

    High/Low Points:

  • Hiking up rugged canyons to rarely explored Inca cliff dwellings and unexcavated ruins
  • Balancing on wet, slippery rocks while lugging the 14-foot rafts around unrunnable whitewater

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Tourist hotels

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Earth River Expeditions / 2 / $2,150-$3,300

VENEZUELA: Casting for Amazonas Peacock Bass

    The Route: A ten-day fishing safari for powerful, trophy-size pavón (peacock bass) in the Casiquiare watershed, deep in the Amazon-Orinoco Basin, with overnights in jungle camps and aboard a riverboat

    When To Go: December-March

    Difficulty: Moderate

    Travel Advisory: Hard-core anglers, take note: Several IGFA world records are held by past clients of this trip, and the outfitter's log doesn't even record fish weighing less than ten pounds.

    High/Low Points:

  • Clinging desperately to your rod as a tenacious 25-pound lunker makes acrobatic leaps at the end of your line
  • Dashing from your mosquito-netted cot to the outhouse in the middle of the night

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Boat accommodations

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Lost World Adventures / weekly / $2,950

* Includes airfare from U.S.

See also:

Trip Finder Directory

Copyright, 1996 Outside Magazine

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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