South America

2009 Travel Awards

Machu Picchu     Photo: Danny Warren

Dollars and Sense: Play the Travel Market

1. When the dollar is up (as it was at press time), book international trips with local operators. American outfitters often set prices on international trips up to a year in advance—and most stick to those prices, despite fluctuating exchange rates.
2. On trips closer to home, be flexible and book late. More and more trips are going unfilled, and more and more outfitters are putting trips on "distress inventory"—an industry term meaning deep discounts for latecomers. Call the outfitter one month before departure and ask if the trip is full. If it's not, ask for a discount.

GUYANA
TRIP OF THE YEAR: SOUTH AMERICA
Trek the Big Empty
10 DAYS, $4,600
Guyana has the land mass of Idaho, a population of 770,000, and exactly one road passing through its rainforest-rich interior. Which is to say, the place is wild. This year, high-end operator Geographic Expeditions leads an exploratory trekking trip in the country. After landing in the capital, Georgetown, guests are whisked into the jungle. First stop: 741-foot Kaieteur Falls, one of the largest single-drop waterfalls in the world. "There are no signs, no handrails, and no people," says Michael McCrystal, GeoEx's associate director of operations, who scouted the trip last year. Guests then hop between lodges via bush plane and canoe. (One lodge, the Karanambu Ranch, houses a small clan of rescued giant river otters, in addition to visitors.) Local guides lead the way on four-hour jungle hikes and harpy-eagle-nest-finding missions, but, accordingto McCrystal, "if you want to take the machete and bust into the jungle, we can arrange that." Year-round; geoex.com.

CHILE
KILLER VALUE
Torres Trek
7 DAYS, $2,280
Situated on the east side of Torres del Paine National Park, Adventure Life's new EcoCamp—a series of wind-powered, fireplace-equipped domes—is your launchpad for four days of guided treks. Highlight: an 11-mile round-trip to the glacial lagoon at the base of the granite towers of Los Torres. Bonus highlight: Colchagua Valley cabernet back at the dining dome. Trips leave between October and April; adventurelife.com.

PERU
City on a Hill
9 DAYS, $4,000
Haute outfitter Austin-Lehman ups the ante on the classic Peruvian adventure by turning Machu Picchu into a starting block. After hiking seven miles of the Inca Trail and entering the big city via the Intipunku, or "Sun Gate," you get the rest of the day to explore the ruins. Then it's off to the Tinajani Canyon for two days of mountain biking through 100-foot rock spires. The trip wraps up on the shores of Lake Titicaca, where your sea kayak awaits. After a day of paddling to stark Taquile Island, you'll be ready to crash at the Sonesta Posadas del Inca Hotel, in Puno. Four departures between April and October; austinlehman.com.

BOLIVIA
Andes to Amazon
12 OR 19 DAYS, $2,750 OR $4,600
Most Mountain Madness itineraries assume clients have high-altitude expertise. Not this one—though there's serious peak bagging to be done if that's your thing. The trip starts in the upper reaches of the Andes, where you'll hike through 50 miles of high mountain passes and decide as a group whether or not to scale 18,600-foot Cuchillo 2. Next up: three days and 10,000 feet of jeep-supported mountain-bike descent to the Amazon basin. After dismounting, guests hop into three-man rafts and Huck Finn it through untamed Madidi National Park on the Class II Beni River. Keep your eyes peeled for giant river otters. June 10–21 or 10–28; mountainmadness.com.

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