The High Road

The Trip of the Year

Feb 1, 2005
Outside Magazine
Machu Picchu

Fly By: Machu Picchu, one of the many stops in the trip of the year

Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador
Safari by Air
Price: $19,950
Difficulty: Moderate
Forget all that time-consuming land travel: Now you can knock off a slew of South America's ecological hot spots—the Atacama Desert, Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon, the Pantanal—in one 19-day extravaganza. The trick is a privately chartered airplane, a 46-passenger Fokker-50 that whisks you from flamingo-flecked salt flats to open savanna to Peru's magnificent city of Cuzco (for a visit to the Manu Biosphere Reserve or a hike around archaeological wonder Machu Picchu). And thanks to a close partnership between the World Wildlife Fund and Zegrahm & Eco Expeditions, you'll be introduced to some of these wild places by the people who are fighting to keep them wild—and who know them best. In Chile's Atacama Desert, you'll ascend to 14,800 feet in the Andes to walk among spouting geysers and fumaroles, see cool salt formations in the Valley of the Moon, and visit a pink flamingo colony on Chaxa Lagoon. In Brazil's Pantanal, South America's largest wetlands, you'll stalk giant anteaters, armadillos, maned wolves, and jaguars—as well as meet with WWF field staff to learn about conservation projects in collaboration with local ranching communities. On Lake Titicaca, on the Peru-Bolivia border, keep an eye out for the rare Titicaca flightless grebe; in Peru's Colca Valley, look for condors, Andean deer, and llama-like vicuñas. The place to watch red and green macaws feasting on clay from behind biologist-developed viewing blinds is Peru's Manu Biosphere Reserve, where you'll also hike to see five kinds of monkeys—emperor tamarin, black spider, capuchin, squirrel, and red howler—perform acrobatics above your head in the forest canopy, and spy 550-pound tapirs, a.k.a. "jungle cows," foraging about a mineral lick at dusk. End up in Quito, Ecuador, for a day trip to the famous Otavalo market.
High Point: Seeing the giant, cobalt-blue hyacinth macaw, which measures three feet from tail to beak, high in palm trees on the Pantanal's savanna.
Low Point: Realizing that at least 10,000 hyacinth macaws were taken for the parrot trade in the 1980s, and that these exotic birds now number fewer than 10,000 worldwide.
Travel Advisory: You'll be hitting five countries in 19 days: Because this trip is highly scheduled, leave your taste for a moseying, come-what-may pace behind. This is all about getting the most out of your time down south.
Outfitter: World Wildlife Fund, 888-993-8687,; Zegrahm & Eco Expeditions, 800-628-8747,
When to Go: April