Believe the hype. Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands are like the Garden of Eden before the Fall. With its high concentration of endemic species and virtually zero predators, the wildlife on this archipelago is so at ease that a Nazca booby might waddle up to peck your camera lens. There's plenty of controversy over the most PC way to see the islands. Hidden Places, owned by writer Maria Coffey and her husband, Dag Goering, has crafted an 11-day itinerary that's as eco-conscious as they come, thanks to the couple's local connections and commitment to environmental integrity. You begin in Ecuador's colonial capital of Quito, where you'll stay in a family-owned boutique hotel. Once in the islands, you'll cruise on a locally owned 90-foot yacht that holds only 16 guests, has a state-of-the-art waste-management system, and uses biodegradable products. Your guide, Ernesto Vaca, has been working as a park naturalist since 1989. Along the cliffs of Española Island, he might point out a pair of waved albatrosses engaged in their mating ritual: clacking their beaks together like swords. You'll also visit pirate sites, eat barbecue with one of the original Galápagos settler families, and watch tiny penguins zip past your snorkeling mask. Doubles from $4,850; hiddenplaces.net
Need to dig your toes in the sand? Take a couple of weeks and beach-hop in Bahia, a northeastern Brazilian state with 685 miles of pristine Atlantic coastline. This colorful region of wild, endless beaches brought the world the martial art of capoeira and the Afro-Brazilian samba. Get a feel for the culture in Salvador, the "happiness capital of Brazil," a lively 16th-century city where you'll find laid-back locals, pastel colonial Portuguese casas, and 31 miles of beaches (Busca Vida is a local favorite). Nearby Boipeba, a sleepy island with palm-lined white-sand shores and fishing villages founded by Jesuit priests in 1537, is the perfect place to do nothing but drink fresh coconut water in a beachside hammock at your inexpensive posada between swims. If you want more action, the bustling surf town of Itacaré has a nonstop party atmosphere with plenty of caipirinhas, a drink made from potent cachaça, sugar, and lime. Gorge on freshly grilled dorado on spectacular Itacarezinho beach or surf any number of breaks with Easy Drop Surf Camp (easydrop.com). Feel like splurging? The small village of Trancoso is paradise on earth and a low-key vacation spot for the world's fashionistas. Uxua Casa Hotel (one-bedrooms from $750 per night; uxua.com) has nine eclectic casas surrounding the town's square, all within an easy walk of Trancoso's eight beaches. Dine at Restaurante Da Silvana, which serves up the best authentic Bahian dishes in town.
It's every serious skier's summer fantasy to make a pilgrimage to Chile, with its intense steeps, untracked powder, and abundant red wine. Book your trip now for the first three weeks in August, after the Chilean July holidays wrap up, leaving the ski areas empty. Start in Portillo—where each season the massive yellow Hotel Portillo hosts an eccentric cast of Brazilian heiresses and Austrian ski racers—and then head south toward the Lake District. Along the way you'll find Nevados de Chillán, where you can ski off-piste powder past hissing, steaming blowholes on an active volcano and tap into the open bowls of Valle Nevado, El Colorado, and La Parva, where hidden gullies shelter powder long after storms. There, if you rent a car, you have the flexibility to do road laps (think DIY cat-skiing). Don't forget the actual snowcat operation at wild, untamed Arpa, a low-key yin to Portillo's luxe yang. For a great introduction to Andes skiing, check out professional skier Chris Davenport's Ski with the Superstars week in Portillo, which features personalized coaching by some of the biggest names in freeskiing, including Mike Douglas, Olympian Wendy Fisher, and Davenport himself ($2,150; steepskiing.com). Admire your lines from the best ski-lunch spot on earth—the deck of Tío Bob's, an old stone shepherd's hut perched on the edge of a rocky ridge surrounded by the jagged Andes.
Imagine Route 66 before development—hell, before pavement—and you'll begin to understand the iconic and oddly pristine nature of Argentina's Ruta 40 (or La Cuarenta, as it's locally known). In its entirety, Ruta 40 stretches from the Bolivian border all the way down to the continent's little toe, in Cabo Vírgenes—3,100-plus miles of gorgeous, unpredictable road-tripping that bounces past 18 rivers and 20 national parks, including the Moab-like Calchaqui Valley (home to the ancient ruins of Quilmes) and Talampaya, sometimes called Argentina's Grand Canyon. Drive it all, or follow the 1,200-mile, weeklong slice I did with a couple of friends a few years back in a rented VW Gol we picked up in the colonial city of Salta. The road skirts the Andes for miles on end, so impromptu jags led us to hikes and trout-filled streams. Often there'll be nothing for hours, and then the reward of a mirage proves real: the mystically lush valley town of Barreal or the petroglyphs at Talampaya National Park. Do not miss Posada San Eduardo, a charming, modest estate owned by a former Formula One driver in Barreal (Av. San Martín at Los Enamorados; no phone or website) and La Palmera restaurant, home to the best chivito (roast baby goat) on earth (Ruta 15 at Ruta 40, Villa Union, near Talampaya National Park, no phone or website). Near the finish line, allow for a couple of days in the fecund region around Mendoza, where—I can happily report—you'll find wines delicious and cheap enough to bring any road trip to a sudden, gluttonous end.
The Sell: A GPS lover's GPS. The Test: Geocaching geeks will drool over the techy perks, like the ability to tag voice memos and 3.2-megapixel photos with coordinates, the 3-D views of the 1:24,000-scale trail topos, and the highly customizable display. The only downsides: the device takes 30 seconds to boot up—about three times longer than the Garmin—and our fresh batteries died within eight hours. The Verdict: For everything from panning around a map to serious GPS play/work, nothing beats the Explorist's sharp three-inch touch screen. Just pack some extra Energizers. 6.9 oz; $550; magellangps.com