First, Let Yourself Go It's the adventure of a lifetime! You just have to share it with eight strangers. (Sigh.)
"Marsopa! Marsopa!" the deckhand cried, and we scrambled for our wetsuits and gear. We were three days into a ten-day live-aboard cruise south of the equator and still edgy and terminally polite with each other. Excusez-moi. Pardon. Eight guests from five different countries fumbling into scuba gear so that we could swim with the marsopas. What we saw when we hit the water was astonishing: about 30 bottle-nosed dolphins, some 500-pounders, some like sleek gray piglets, and all grinning and nodding enthusiastically in our face masks as if to say, "Yes! Yes! Weird, bubble-making, rubber-suited beings, come play with us! You we like!" Unlike when I'd met my fellow passengers, I took one look at the dolphins and thought, This is the fun-loving peer group I've been looking for ever since my high-school friends got lives.
I couldn't tear myself from the ceaselessly circling celebration until, after about 45 minutes, the dolphins lost interest and swam off. Suddenly alone, I kicked to the surface and saw the tiny, very distant dive boat motoring away. Yep, I thought, once again I'm screwed.
When it comes to group travel, it can seem at times that we're all screwed. You think about how you spent all this money and traveled all this way to get stuck with a bunch of tight-assed ophthalmologists' wives. And then you end up having sex with them. (Or don't, but wish you had.) Personally, I start out on a trip among strangers with my defenses up, prejudices blazing. But the more I travel, the more I hold out hope. And what I hope for is a little disaster, the one that breaks the ice—if it doesn't kill me first.
Sometimes it doesn't even have to be about me being the idiot. I wasn't the one who started the riot in the karaoke bar in Koror, nor did I cause the whole team to slide 500 feet down Mount Hood on their butts, practicing self-arrest techniques. I didn't call the Mayan shaman's grandmother "Fat Lady," and it wasn't my navel ring the sea lion wanted to play with in that cavern in Baja. In each of these cases, somebody else stepped up and ate the humble pâé, but each time, everyone in our group rallied around the misfortune. The important thing isn't who does it, or what they do, but that everybody is actually doing something, anything, out at the edge of their comfort zone. Then the moment of terror, beauty, or humor (or all three at once) makes friends of fellow travelers.
For example, my rescue from an uninhabited rock mere hours after running away to join the dolphin circus gave us all something to talk and joke about. And from that point on we eight became a team. No one got left behind as we surged onward, a small community stoking each other with laughter and wonderment—a fine peer group, after all, though I agree with the marsopa: We do look ridiculous in our rubber suits.
Best Trips of 2001: Island Escapes
Mighty island: one of the El Nido chain north of Palawan Island, Philippines
You could limit yourself to standard island fare: beaches great for digging your feet into the sand, tiki torches, moonlight dips in aquamarine lagoons. Or you could seek out the delights found only on the choicest isles: whitewater rapids galore, verdant hiking trails winding through wolf territory, and mindblowing views of the northern lights.
The Philippines: Coral, Butterflies, and Sweat
Start with a seven-day whitewater-rafting descent of the boulder-choked Cagayan River, which churns down Luzon's Sierra Madre and through the island's last remaining rainforest. You may not be able to identify every one of the butterflies along the way (the Philippines have 895 species) because you'll be too busy paddling; this is, after all, only the second commercial trip down the steep and technical Class IV upper section of the Cagayan. Next, ditch the raft and embark on a four-day trek to the 2,000-foot-high, 2,000-year-old Banaue rice terraces before hopping into a sea kayak for four more days of paddling and snorkeling around the lush El Nido islands to see as many of the Philippines's 500 different corals as you can. Outfitter: Mukuni Wilderness Whitewater Expeditions When to Go: December–January Price: $2,950 Difficulty: Moderate —Jason Daley
Michigan: Backpacking Isle Royale National Park
The dense boreal forests of roadless Isle Royale, located 22 miles off Minnesota's easternmost tip in Lake Superior, put you in prime moose-viewing territory. Depending on your fitness level, guides choose between two seven-day, 45-mile island traverses: the mountainous Greenstone Ridge, which follows the island's backbone, or the precipitous Minong Trail on its north shore. At night, you'll watch the northern lights from camp and listen for the howls of the island's 29 wolves.Outfitter: The Northwest Passage When to Go: September Price: $925 Difficulty: Strenuous
Ireland: Mountain Biking the West Coast
There's only one proper way to experience rural southwestern Ireland's druidic past—biking your way 30 to 65 miles a day for 14 days down coastal roadways and rough lanes on the Dingle Peninsula. You'll take detours over narrow sheep-clogged farm pathsin County Clare and cycle through the Irish mist to 2,200-year-old caves, ring forts, and mysterious stone dolmens—thought to be druid altars or gravestones—and sleep in village hotels. It could well rain, but in Ireland, you have to take dark skies with a grain of salt. (A pint helps, too.) Outfitter: Classic Adventures When to Go: July–August Price: $2,990 Difficulty: Moderate
Scandinavia: Road Cycling the Southern Islands
You'll start each of this trip's 15 days with platters of Danish pastries, mounds of Swedish pancakes, and no fewer than 12 varieties of yogurt. After breakfast, the cycling will wake you from a carbohydrate stupor as you explore the islands and mainland coasts of eastern Denmark and southern Sweden, powering 25 to 30 miles a daypast the grassy dunes and sandy beaches of Denmark's Baltic coast to the harbor towns of Aerø Island and the cool pine forests of Sweden's Lake District. And the best thing about a hard day's ride? Evenings spent lounging in the Swedish sauna. Outfitter: Euro-Bike and Walking Tours When to Go: June–July Price: $3,900 Difficulty: Moderate
Indonesia: Tall-Ship Sailing the Bali and Flores Seas
It looks like a prop from The Princess Bride, but the century-old tall ship Adelaar is a prime sailing machine. It cruises east from Balifor 11 days and through the remote tropical archipelago Nusa Tenggara, detouring to let you snorkel the coral surrounding Rinca Island and deserted Banta Island in search of butterfly fish and Spanish dancers. On Komodo Island, you'll prowl the Komodo National Park with a guide to look for the nine-foot-long man-eating Komodo dragon. Outfitter: Wilderness Travel When to Go: July–August, December Price: $3,200 Difficulty: Easy
Irian Jaya: Visiting Papua New Guinea's Stone Age Peoples
Irian Jaya, an Indonesian province comprising the Western half of the island of Papua New Guinea, is inhabited by hundreds of tribes who practice a way of life that dates back to the Stone Age. On this 14-day trip, you'll visit with the Dani people of the Baliem Valley and the Asmat of the southern coast and witness traditional ceremonies (such as the Bisj pole ceremony which commemorates dead warriors). You'll hike through lush mangrove forests and down sandy beaches as your native Irian guides point out the best parts of their homeland. Outfitter: Geographic Expeditions When to go: June, September Price: $5000 Difficulty: Strenuous
Prince Edward Island: Cycling Historic Canada
You'll start your 7-day cycling tour in the P.E.I. capital Charlottetown before moving down the road to Canada's Brackley Beach National Park. Then you'll pedal through rolling farmland on to the fishing village of Victoria, known for its light houses and blue heron colony. Besides magnificent seascapes, choice seafood, and a dose of island life, you'll learn much mire than you ever thought possible about the influences behind Anne of Green Gables, P.E.I.'s literary claim to fame. Outfitter: Classic Adventures When to go: July Price: $1295 Difficulty: Moderate
Madagascar: Wildlife Safari
For millennia, Madagascar has been separated from mainland Africa, allowing an amazing array of unusual and interesting creatures to develop. On this 19-day trip, Allen Bechky, a world-renowned authority on safari and bush travel, will lead you into the rain forests of Perinet, the Coral Gardens of Isalo, the Spiny Forest of Ifaty, and the badland canyons of Isalo. You'll see some of the island's wildlife--indri, aye-aye, and sifaka to name a few--and gain a deep understanding of their place in one of the world's most unique ecosystems. Outfitter: Mountain Travel Sobek When to Go: April, May, June Price: $4750 Difficulty: Easy
Washington: Sea Kayaking the San Juan Islands
You'll start your six-day adventure on San Juan Island, one of more than 200 island in the San Juan archipelago. Paddling through forested islets, you'll be in the prime location to spot some of the more than 80 orca whales who call the San Juans home. The evenings are spent in beach camps, where classic Northwest cuisine (roast salmon!) is served as you watch the sun set over the Pacific Outfitter: REI Adventures When to Go: June, July, August, September Price: $895 Difficulty: Moderate
Greece: Cycling Crete
The double steeps: Crete is steeped in history--you'll pass by the ruins of Knossos, Gortyn, and Festos on your week-long journey--and Crete's roads are steep. On this cycling trip you'll power up the islands rugged mountains and coastline as you cycle from inn to inn and taverna to taverna experiencing the best hospitality the Cretans have to offer. Flower-festooned houses greet you as you come out of the mountains and into inland villages. And although it's ancient, Crete loves new visitors. Outfitter: The Northwest Passage When to Go: May, October Price: $1890 Difficulty: Moderate
Best Trips of 2001: High Altitude Adventures
High Altitude Adventures
An uncommon view: the North Face of K2 seen from Xinjian Uygur, China
From the highest hill in Indochina (cool) to the highest summit in New Zealand (cold) to the base of the second-highest peak in the world (colder). We've done the research. The rest is up to your legs and lungs.
China: The Back Door to K2
This is K2 with a twist. Mountaineer Jim Williams, a 30-year Himalayas veteran, leads a 32-day trek to the base of this 28,250-foot peak, the world's second-highest, from Xinjiang Uygur, a predominately Muslim, Turkish-dialect-speaking, autonomous region of China. One advantage to this approach (versus the usual route from the increasingly crowded Pakistani side) is the sheepherding and farming Uighur cultures encountered in the town of Kashgar before the trip's most rigorous slog: a six-hour-per-day, 14-day trek to the K2 glacier and a 12,631-foot base camp. Afterward, there's the 15,524-foot Khunjerab Pass, where five of the world's most impressive mountain ranges—the Hindu Kush, Kunlun, Tian Shan, Karakoram, and Himalaya—converge. Outfitter: Geographic Expeditions When to Go: June–September Price: $7,490 Difficulty: Strenuous —Sam Moulton
Breathe Deep Peru: Climbing and Trekking in the Cordillera Vilcanota
Acclimatize on the classic three-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. Then veer off the gringo route and through the rarely visited Cordillera Vilcanota, a range of 12,000- to 15,000-foot peaks, to climb 20,945-foot Nevado Ausangate. You'll stage a one-day summit bid from a 17,000-foot camp on the backside of the peak. "The crux of the climb," says Vince Anderson, owner of Skyward Mountaineering, "is a 50-degree glacial headwall early on." The rest is, uh, cake: scrambling around crevasses to the top and then returning to Cuzco on foot 21 days after you set out. Outfitter: Skyward Mountaineering $3,500 When to Go: June–August Difficulty: Moderate
Canada: Backcountry Snowboarding Rogers Pass, British Columbia
On day one of this five-day, 30,000-foot-total vertical trip, intermediate boarders learn backcountry travel basics, route selection, and avalanche-transceiver techniques. Then they ascend the powder keg that is British Columbia's 8,000- to 11,000-foot Selkirk Range on snowshoes or split boards and carve down epic, 4,000-foot alpine runs. "We set you up for success with steep chutes, wide-open bowls, and treed glades," says Yamnuska owner David Begg. Nights are spent in local hotels (on your dime), and each of the last four days involves tough decisions—Dome Glacier? Hermit Basin? Young's Peak? Don't worry, you can't go wrong.Outfitter: Yamnuska, Inc. When to Go: February–April Price: $520 Difficulty: Strenuous
Vietnam: Fan-si-pan Summit
Trek through lush fields of orchids and wild medicinal herbs to mingle with Hoang Lien Mountains hill tribes before reaching a surreal high-alpine environment of bamboo thickets, pine trees, and rhododendron. You'll slog through wet, steep jungle foothills, camping en route to the highest peak in Indochina, 10,312-foot Fan-si-pan—a far cry from the Himalayas and Andes, not to mention home—with glimpses of southern China. Outfitter: Snow Lion Adventures When to Go: November Price: $2,000 Difficulty: Easy
New Zealand: Climbing Mount Cook
The ascent of 12,346-foot Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest, is "much more technical than Denali," says Bryan Carter, managing director of outfitter Alpine Guides. The obstacles are numerous: heavy glaciation, big vertical scale (5,300 feet), and unpredictable weather. Consequently, you (a fit and skilled mountaineer) are allotted seven days for what could well take four. The payoff is a panorama of the Mackenzie Basin grasslands, the Tasman Glacier, and the Tasman Sea from a crowd-free mountaintop; only about 250 people summit each year.Outfitter: Alpine Guides When to Go: November–March Price: $1,400 Difficulty: Strenuous
Peru: Trekking in the Cordillera Vilcabamba
From coffee and tea plantations to sub-tropical forests and 6000 meter peaks, this 21-day adventure takes in all of Peru's Cordillera Vilcabamba, an area that has had few visitors in the past several centuries. Highlanders still wear their traditional dress and Incan roads still criss-cross the area. On your journey you'll trek four or five hours per day with ample lunch breaks and time to explore local villages and investigate the wildlife. You'll also cross five high-mountain passes, including the 16,000 foot Incachiriasca Pass before winding down your adventure with a visit to Machu Picchu. Outfitter: KE Adventure Travel When to Go: July-August Price: $2795 Difficulty: Strenuous
Alaska: Ski Mountaineering and Rafting in Glacier Bay NP Space.
That's what you'll notice when descending in your seaplane toward Glacier Bay on the first day of your arctic adventure. For twelve days, you'll be out there in Alaska's wide expanse, traversing the jagged blue ice of the Riggs glacier, climbing and skiing peaks that have never been skied, camping on ice, and descending the massive LeBlondou Glacier to the Tsirku River for 2-days of rafting. Outfitter: Alaska Mountain Guides & Climbing School, Inc. When to Go: June Price: $2400 Difficulty: Strenuous
France: Cycling the French Alps
If you take this trip, you'll be just like Lance Armstrong. Minus the cycling titles. Minus the against-all-odds story. Minus coverboy status. (Okay, so you both breathe oxygen.) This ten-day bike trip takes you onto the Route Des Grande Alpes and stages 14, 15, and 16 of the 2000 Tour de France. You'll pedal 70-100 kilometers a day, passing the Gorge de Cians on your way to the high passes of Col d'Iozard, Croix de Fer , and the 21 switchbacks of the l'Alpe d'Heuz. And, pardon my French, you'll rest your tired keister at night in some of the Alps most inviting resorts and inns. Outfitter: Cyclevents When to Go: July, August Price: $1850 ($950 if you camp) Difficulty: Strenuous
Tanzania: Climbing Kilimanjaro
Steep climbs and high altitude mark the Machame Route, a little traveled but highly scenic trail to the top of Kilimanjaro. This non-technical ascent will take you through cloud-forests and groves of giant heather before you reach the roof of Africa. But as a warm-up, you'll spend the first half of your two-week trip viewing wildlife in Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire, and Manyara National Parks. Outfitter: Mountain Travel Sobek When to Go: January, February, June, July, August, September, December Price: $3990 Difficulty: Strenuous
Italy: Hiking the Dolomites
Imagine the Von Trapp's slurping spaghetti or Pavarotti singing Edelweiss, and you've captured the Dolomites, the northern border of Italy where Austrian and Italian cultures mingle in villages set among alpenrose blanketed valleys and jagged chamois-haunted peaks. This eight-day trek takes you to the picturesque Alto Adige region, Puez Odle Park, and Lake Crespeina. You'll lunch in some of the regions rifugi (mountain huts) and experience the wild and scenic land mountain people have made their home for centuries. Outfitter: Backroads When to Go: June, July, September Price: $3298 Difficulty: Moderate
Best Trips of 2001: Biohazards
In certain corners of the globe, you don't go without bug protection, you don't swim in the rivers, and for God's sake, you don't drink the water. Here are the top ten cooties to avoid.
1. Schistosomiasis Snails in lakes and rivers in Brazil, northern Africa, and Southeast Asia carry microscopic fluke larvae that cause fever, diarrhea, and possibly deadly seizures from brain lesions.
2. Leptospirosis Animal-urine-tainted water, common in Southeast Asia and India, breeds biting parasites that bring on fever, chills, kidney failure, and internal hemorrhaging.
3. Leishmaniasis Sand-fly bites in the tropics and subtropics can cause oozing sores, anemia, and a swollen spleen and liver.
4. River Blindness On river shores in Central Africa, Yemen, and Central America, bites from female blackflies infected with a worm parasitecause cysts and sometimes blindness.
5. African Sleeping Sickness Fever, skin lesions, rash, and possible brain swelling are the woes that tsetse flies bestow in the tropical African savanna.
6. Dengue Fever It's a tropical/subtropical mosquito-borne virus featuring headache, chills, fever—and nasty complications like internal hemorrhaging and deadly pneumonia.
7. Japanese Encephalitis Get vaccinated against this virus before heading to the Far East or eastern Russia to avoid mosquito-bite-induced paralysis, seizures, and, in advanced cases, coma or death.
8. Lymphatic Filariasis Tropical mosquitoes squirt parasitic worms into your blood, causing your lymph nodes—and, at worst, testicles—to swell to the size of coconuts.
9. The Plague This devastating 14th-century bacterial disease, transmitted by fleas, is still imparting open sores and swollen lymph nodes (which can hemorrhage and cause gangrene) anywhere wild rodents thrive.
10. Rift Valley Fever Use extreme caution when traveling to African regions—including the Senegal River Basin and the Nile Delta—during outbreaks of this rare flea-, spider-, and mosquito-borne killer. —Tim Neville
Best Trips of 2001: Africa
The timeless life: A villager transports the harvest in Mozambique.
You've Land Rovered the Okavango Delta in search of the Big Five with your zoom lens extended, watched a lion kill an antelope from 100 yards. You're not done yet. Now it's time to navigate Africa's raging whitewater, cycle Senegal, dive with sea turtles in the Indian Ocean—in other words, explore the lesser-known jewels of the greatest continent.
Mozambique: The Total Eclipse Package
Think of this as a 15-day astronomical quest. Your destination? The grassy hills in northwest Mozambique, near Changara—one of the few places on Earth where the first total solar eclipse of the new millennium will be completely visible. From Johannesburg, you'll head north, camping on the sandy white beaches of Mozambique before heading west, deeper into the country than any commercial expedition has gone before. You'll spot lions, cheetahs, and elephants from the rooftop deck of your converted Mercedes-Benz jeep (plush!) as you traverse the savanna, stopping to watch the sun completely disappear on June 21. After the eclipse, you'll loop down through Zambia and Botswana, with a stop in the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve—where hyenas, zebras, and antelope roam—on your way back to South Africa.Outfitter: Journeys International When to Go: June Price: $2,195 Difficulty: Easy —David Friedland
Do it Differently Ethiopia: Blue Nile Trekking and Rafting
The Blue Nile Gorge's spectacular mile-high basalt walls (it's been dubbed the Grand Canyon of Africa) are the highlight of this 22-day trip. Start out by learning the country's history and exploring the 400-year-old stone architecture of the Ethiopian highlands en route to Lake Tana, the headwaters of the Blue Nile. There, you'll begin a seven-day, 60-mile trek downstream, camping on the river's rocky eastern banks amidst hippos and colobus monkeys. At the Blue Nile Gorge, put in for a seven-day, 120-mile, Class II-III raft, stopping to meet the Borano, Welo, and Shewa people, many of whom have had little contact with foreigners. Outfitter: Mountain Travel–Sobek When to Go: September Price: $3,990Difficulty: Moderate
Tanzania: Walking Safari in the Selous and the Serengeti
Slip into some gaiters and hiking boots, and spend nine days camping and bushwhacking along thorny paths trampled by giraffes, zebras, and large-tusked elephants in one of the world's largest animal parks, the little-visited, 22,000-square-mile Selous Game Reserve. After the trek, take a side trip to the 100-square-mile Ngorongoro Crater, a three-million-year-old caldera with a high concentration of East African animal species—including lions, wildebeests, pink flamingos, and rare black rhinos—living beneath its 2,000-foot walls. Outfitter: Geographic Expeditions When to Go: February–March, July–August, October Price: $4,395Difficulty: Moderate
Aldabra: Snorkeling, Diving, and Wildlife Watching
The Aldabra Atoll, a speck in the Indian Ocean 260 miles north of Madagascar, has ten times more nesting green turtles (2,000) than annual visitors (200). With its narrow channels and lagoons, the 19-by-8-mile raised coral atoll is also one of Africa's—and the world's—best drift-diving sites. You'll spend nine sunbaked days on the Indian Explorer, a 14-passenger live-aboard, diving and snorkeling among the parrotfish, grouper, and yes, turtles, of Aldabra and the nearby Cosmoledo and Assumption Islands.The Outfitter: Explore, Inc. When to Go: March–April, November Price: $4,495Difficulty: Easy
Senegal: Cycling the Saloum River Valley
This 13-day, 350-mile loop on mostly flat, paved roads and jeep trails is as authentic-western-Africa as it gets. You'll carry your own gear as you pedal a hybrid bicycle through the mango orchards, cashew groves, and savannas of the Saloum River valley, bunking in small hotels and local villagers' homes along the way. Refuel with yassa, a mixture of meat, onions, and spices, and mafe, a peanut sauce served over rice, prepared by local Wolof, Serra, Dioula, and Peul ethnic groups. Outfitter: Bicycle Africa Price: $1,190 Difficulty: Moderate
Best Trips of 2001: Most Remote
Tall, silent types: saguaros in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
A jet and helicopter can get you just about anywhere quickly; remoteness isn't about mere distance. It's about removal. A truly wild locale swallows you whole. It's a place where you are least likely to run into some clod yakking on a cell phone. It's a place where the locals have no idea what a cell phone is. Maybe it's a place where there are no locals at all.
The Sonoran Desert: Plenty of Nothing
The phrase "lush desert" may reek of oxymoron, but in springtime the Sonoran—with its massive saguaros and organ-pipe cacti, as well as Mexican gold poppies, magenta owl clover, and indigo desert lupine—is just that. Motor down dusty, rarely visited roads into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, just north of the Mexico border in Arizona, and then backpack three miles farther. Take day hikes from base camp into the Ajo and Bates Mountains, checking water holes for desert bighorn, Sonoran pronghorn, and javelina. Then head to the even more desolate, sparsely vegetated Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge to finish off your Abbey-esque week. "The silence and purity of this place is what people are looking for," says guide Howie Wolke. Fortunately for you, few people look for them so hard that they end up this deep in the desert. Outfitter: Big Wild Adventures When to Go: March Price: $1,200 Difficulty: Easy —Nate Hoogeveen
Lose Yourself Bhutan: Trekking Lunana in Northern Bhutan
Nostalgic for pre-1950 Tibet? Lunana—a region of northern Bhutan that sees fewer than 75 Westerners per year—is your place. Hike five to 15 miles a day for 28 days, passing through lowland jungles en route to Laya, a mountain village close to the Tibetan border, and encounter nomadic shepherds and villagers dwelling in stone huts. Then leave humankind in the dust to travel eastward, crossing 15,000- to 17,000-foot passes beneath craggy peaks, including the world's tallest unclimbed mountain, 24,900-foot Gangkhar Puensum. Outfitters: Geographic Expeditions, High Asia Exploratory Mountain Travel Co., Karakoram Experience, Snow Lion Expeditions When to Go: September–October Price: $5,000–$6,535Difficulty: Strenuous
Alaska: Rafting the Kennicott, Chitina, and Copper Rivers
Blast down the frothy Kennicott River and then float 150 miles in 12 days of the ever-widening Chitina and Copper Rivers along the western border of the Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, home to eagles, elk, grizzlies, and the 16,000-foot peaks of the Wrangell and St. Elias ranges. For a finale, watch skyscraper-size ice chunks calving from Child Glacier from a safe distance across the river about five miles from the Pacific; then dodge floating bergs all the way to the sea. Outfitter: Too-loo'-uk River Guides When to Go: July Price: $2,200 Difficulty: Moderate
Mongolia: Fly-Fishing Northern Mongolia
During the course of 13 days, you'll cast into four wide rivers—the Chuluut, Soumin, Shishgid, and Tengis—for lenok (similar to North American browns), taimen (imagine a salmon-anaconda hybrid), and Arctic grayling. At night, sleep in heated domedgers on plains that evoke western Montana—sans ranchettes, ski trams, and fences. If you're lucky, nomads will visit to share their blowtorch-roasted, tuber-filled marmot.Outfitter: Boojum Expeditions When to Go: August–September Price: $4,600 Difficulty: Easy
Argentina: Backpacking the Patagonian Ice Cap
Spend 12 days backpacking over windy passes to get to and from the rolling glacial ridges of southern Argentina's Patagonian Ice Cap. Once there, you'll spend two days covering 20 miles of the 350-mile-long glacier, the world's largest nonpolar ice cap, where the weather is notoriously inclement (even though the altitude tops out at a mere 4,000 feet), with high winds and, as a result, horizontal snow. When the sky clears, you'll discover 11,000-foot peaks surrounding the glacier and backside views of the massive granite monoliths Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. Outfitters: Exum Mountain Guides When to Go: December–February Price: $4,190–$4,590 Difficulty: Strenuous
Best Trips of 2001: Open-Air Classroom
Steep learning curve: instructor Doug Coombs on La Meije Coulouir, La Grave, France
A wise man once said, "experience breeds knowledge." He was right, of course, but we say it never hurts to have an expert show you the ropes when you're taking up a new pursuit. It also never hurts to seek out the best possible classroom. Steep skiing? La Grave. Expedition canoeing? The Boundary Waters. Mountaineering? Bolivia's Cordillera Real. Any questions?
France: Trés Glacial
Ski for a week in the shadows of 19th-century mountaineering pioneers in myriad bowls and chutes of virgin powder from your lodge-base in the 12th-century agricultural village of La Grave with one of the most talented instructors in the world. Bragging rights for you and your classmates include classics like the 3,300-foot, 45-degree Freaux Couloir and the 7,500-foot Girose, which starts with a glacial face plunge, continues with a 40-foot rappel over a frozen waterfall, and then ends with a couloir and a river crossing for good measure. The vertical is served by one main lift, but that's the mountain's only concession to convenience: There is no grooming, ski patrol, or avalanche control. Which is precisely why steep-skiing guru and outfitter Doug Coombs—pioneer of over 100 first descents in Alaska and two in Antarctica—and his guides make avalanche awareness, rescue, and terrain evaluation part of the daily agenda. Outfitter: Steep Skiing Camps Worldwide When to Go: January-February Price: $1,995 Difficulty: Strenuous —Ben Hewitt
Take Note Minnesota: Expedition-Canoeing School in the Boundary Waters
Think canoeing rates up there with river tubing for difficulty? Then you've never navigated the endless maze of deep, placid waterways of the 1.1-million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. To go on your own, crack orienteering skills would be a must, and only proficiency in pry- and J-strokes would ensure you made it to camp each day before midnight. On this eight-day learning expedition, you'll master these techniques as well as how to portage, balance out 50 pounds in your craft, and identify the dull, thumping you'll hear at night as the mating call of the local ruffed grouse.Outfitter: Voyageur Outward Bound School When to Go: May–September Price: $1,095 Difficulty: Moderate
Florida: Live-Aboard Sailing Instruction in the Keys
For seven days a 46-foot Hunter sloop will be your classroom, and Hawks Channel, the four- to six-mile-wide strip of calm azure water that separates the Keys from the coral reef that runs their length, your campus. You'll learn navigation, engine mechanics, docking, and how to tack between Key West, where you'll stock up on merlot, and the reef, where you'll scout for dolphins. Pass the final written test, and you'll earn certification in basic and bareboat cruising. But by the fifth day, anchored off of Boot Key with the sun slinking over the horizon, you'll have long forgotten you're in school.Outfitter: Offshore Sailing School When to Go: Year-round Price: $1,995 Difficulty: Moderate
Bolivia: Learning Mountaineering in the Andes
After two days' training in crampon technique, crevasse rescue, and self-arrest on a glacier at 16,000 feet at the start of this two-week course, you'll pack your tent and leave your cozy lakeside hut for 17,000-foot-high base camp on Huayna Potosi. Front-pointing your way up the mountain's 55-degree ice sheet to its 19,870-foot summit is your midterm, and it's a lesson in extremes—the turquoise sprawl of Lake Titicaca lies below you to the northwest and 21,201-foot Mount Illimani is above you to the south. Take a good look: Illimani's sustained 45-degree slopes await the bite of your ice axe in week two.Outfitter: Colorado Mountain School When To Go: July Price: $2,400 Difficulty: Moderate
Oregon: Whitewater Kayaking Classon the Rogue River
After five days of learning basic paddle strokes, rolling, and rapid scouting within sprinting distance of a hot tub and fireplace, you'll embark on a four-day, 33-mile, raft-supported journey down the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River. You'll navigate progressively more difficult Class I-III rapids, watching for bear, cougar, and great blue heron at water's edge. Evenings will find you pitching camp on wide, sandy beaches beneath granite canyon walls.Outfitter: Sundance River Center When to Go: June–September Price: $1,850 Difficulty: Moderate
Best Trips of 2001: Grand Openings
Grand Openings -- The world's destinations
It's just a step to the left: climbing "The Crawl," Grand Teton Wyoming; Red-eyed tree frog, Costa Rica; moray eel, Great Barrier Reef, Australia; Rangiroa Atoll, Tahiti
Visa-securing hassles have been steadily decreasing since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991—opening the door for a trickle of visitors to horseback ride into the Sayan Mountains' alpine lakes (there are no rentals; buy a steed for $500 in Kyzyl), and paddle the republic's Kyzyl-Khem River, a Class IV run recently discovered by outfitters. Contact: Russian Embassy
In 1991, this nation's oppressive military regime signed peace pacts with the Pa-O, a sovereignty-seeking hill tribe that lives primarily in southeastern Myanmar. But it wasn't until a few years ago that hostilities were sufficiently quelled for adventurers to begin trekking through the rolling tea fields of the Shan Hills near Thailand without fear of being caught in the crossfire. Go with an outfitter (such as Asia Transpacific) and you'll avoid paying a mandatory fee of $200 to the government.
It used to be that a holy pilgrimage to Mecca or a work visa were the only viable excuses for setting foot on a plane bound for this Arab kingdom. But in 1999, the government began warming up to tourism, allowing Saudi Arabian Airlines to dispense visas to outfitters like Geographic Expeditions and Mountain Travel-Sobek, who both lead jeep trips to the Red Sea, the 6,000-foot Asir Mountains, and the Arabian Desert. Contact: Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
The 1,000-foot-tall red sand dunes of Sossusvlei and the seals and desert elephants of the Skeleton Coast are the draws, as is the reprieve from the tourist crowds in the neighboring adventure-travel meccas of South Africa and Botswana. What's kept the throngs away? For two weeks in August of 1999, secessionist violence in the tiny northeastern region of Caprivi threw the country into a state of emergency, which has since been lifted. But the rest of the country is ripe for travel, as long as you avoid Caprivi and its neighboring Kavango region, where the civil war in Angola spills over the border. Contact: Namibian Embassy —Tim Neville
Best Trips of 2001: Multisport Adventures
Trans-Isthmus Highway: Avoiding the washboard halfway across Costa Rica
Sure, you'd love to sea kayak around Africa, cycle across Canada, and hike the Pacific Crest Trail this year, but limited vacation time kind of negates those plans. The following trips may not land you a featured spot on the Discovery Channel, but any one will take you on a whirlwind sports extravaganza—and get you out of the office long enough for you to consider never going back.
Costa Rica: Costa to Costa
It's a masochist's dream—crossing an entire nation by muscle power in less than 15 days. (OK, it's slim-jim Costa Rica, but it still counts.) The 145-mile west-to-east adventure mixes five glute-burning days threading a mountain bike through the dense cloudforests fo the Tapanti National Wildlife Refuge, with four days hoofing it up the steep, winding passes of the central Cordillera de Talamanca and over the 7,600-foot Continental Divide, and winds up with four days' careening down to the Caribbean finish in a raft on the Class III-IV Pacuare River. But it's not all uphill drudgery—there's a leisurely stopover at a coffee plantation for some rich local java, time to soak in a steaming hot spring, and a splashing champagne celebration in the surf at journey's end. Outfitter: BikeHike Adventures When to Go: Year-round Price: $2000 Difficulty: Strenuous —Jason Daley
Do It All Tahiti: Hiking, Sailing, Kayaking, and Snorkeling
At the start of this 11-day outing, you'll hike to see the triple waterfalls of Fa`arumai and the black-basalt sand beach of Matavai. Then it's time to cast off for four days aboard a 57-foot catamaran, from which you'll take kayak expeditions around Tiputa Pass's most remote lagoons, snorkel in the translucent waters of Rangiroa, the world's second-largest atoll, and gawk at towering tropical volcanoes and Day-Glo coral outcroppings throughout the island chain. Outfitter: Wilderness Travel When to Go: May–June, October Price: $3,500 Difficulty: Easy
Australia: Mountain Biking, Bushwalking, and Rafting Northern Queensland
The faint of heart might be tempted to pass this trip over—the 15-day itinerary includes trekking around croc-infested swamps. Don't let the reptiles scare you away. As a multisport nirvana, Australia's sporting opportunities outweigh the risks ten times over. You'll sleep in a hammock near a 100-foot waterfall, mountain bike over gritty gravel roads in Danbulla State Forest, bushwalk two days through the lush rainforests of the Mulgrave Valley, raft the pumping Class III-IV Russel River, sail and scuba dive among Great Barrier Reef sea turtles and dolphins, and sea kayak between the uninhabited Barnard Islands. Outfitter: REI Adventures When to Go: May–November Price: $2,295 Difficulty: Moderate
Wyoming: Canoeing, Climbing, Mountain Biking, Horseback Riding, and Rafting through the Tetons
This trip is lodge-based, so your only after-dark exertions will be nursing blisters and chowing down on buffalo steak. The days are a different story: First you'll hike the Hermitage Point Trail beneath the shadow of eight of the grandest Tetons. On day two, you'll either canoe mirrorlike Jackson Lake or take a rock-climbing courseat Cascade Canyon on Jenny Lake. Day three, thread the smooth singletrack up Cache Creek Trail and then down rugged Game Creek Trail. Dessert? A half-day horseback ride through the Gros Ventre Wilderness and an overnight whitewater-raftingtrip on the Class III Snake River. Outfitter: Tahoe Trips and Trails When to Go: July Price: $1,510 Difficulty: Moderate
Iceland: Hiking, Biking, Rafting, and Horseback Riding in the South
Iceland's combination of volcanic activity and Arctic climate makes for unparalleled multifaceted terrain—glaciers calve and re-form with alarming frequency, earthquakeshave opened cracks in the earth as recently as 1998, lava nearly always flows, and there are hundreds of bubbling hot springs. For six days, you'll visit geothermal vents, raft Class II rapids on the icy Hvíe;táe; River, and ride Icelandic steeds over a surreal, lava-encrusted moonscape. To shock your senses after that monochromatic landscape, you'll chase the horseback ride with a hike and mountain-bike ride through the Heidmörk Recreational Area, carpeted with thousands of poppies. Outfitter: Borton Overseas When to Go: June–August Price: $1,690 (includes international airfare)Difficulty: Easy
Best Trips of 2001: Paddling
Torrents of spring: finishing off the third and final section of Idaho's Salmon
There are almost as many water conditions (frothy, glassy, curling) as there are places to paddle. Almost. Here are five of the best spots (rivers, surf breaks, island channels) and ways (sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, heli-rafting) to get wet this year.
The Salmon River: Either/Oar
Bounce down all three branches of the Salmon—Middle, Main, and Lower—the longest stretch of undammed river in the Lower 48, by paddle raft. The Salmon drops more than 5,000 feet in 256 miles through the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness Area, and is as diverse as it is epic: cold and creeklike in the ponderosa pines at Boundary Creek, the alpine put-in; warm and wide among the more arid, beachy lower section. The thumping Class II-V rapids (there are over 100 rapids on the 100-mile stretch of the Middle alone), hot-spring interludes, side-hikes to old mining settlements and Shoshone Indian sites, and excellent fly-fishing for smallmouth bass, sturgeon, and cutthroat trout, will keep you more than busy for 17 days.Outfitter: O.A.R.S. When to Go: June–August Price: $3,280 Difficulty: Moderate—Sam Moulton
Make Waves Equador: Surf Kayaking the Pacific
Surf-bum for a week on the coast of Ecuador, north of the town of Montanito. Sessions of riding the five- to nine-foot green faces of a secret point break in a surf kayak—a tricky task—are punctuated by naps and meals of fresh corvina (a local fish).Accommodations at the hotel (the nicest in town)are only slightly more upscale than a surf camp, says Small World Adventures owner Larry Vermeeren: "The windows are cracked and the water's not hot." A surf bum wouldn't have it any other way. Outfitter: Small World Adventures When to Go: November–March Price: $995 Difficulty: Strenuous
Canada: Heli-Rafting British Columbia's Klinaklini River
For the eighth time, Butterfield and Robinson, the only outfitter with a Klinaklini River license, will fly clients into the Coast Mountains of northwestern British Columbia for a seven-day, 90-mile descent of the icy river, from heavily forested lake country to Knight Inlet, off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. You'll splash down long wave trains, around logjams, and through glacier-fed Class II–V rapids. "If the water weren't moving," says expedition planner Andrew Murray, "it'd be frozen." Outfitter: Butterfield and Robinson When to Go: July–August Price: $5,250 Difficulty: Moderate
Mexico: Whitewater Kayaking the Zimatan and Copalita Rivers
Navigating the tight lines within the steep white granite gorges on the upper and lower branches of the Zimatan and Copalita Rivers, you'll encounter play spots, holes, and waves for flatspinning, low-angle cartwheeling, and plenty of must-make moves(as in "Ya gotta stay right, or...well...just stay right!"). After six days paddling the clear, 70-degree Class III-IV waters, tumbling through the lush, high-canopied thorn forests of the southern state of Oaxaca, you'll be dumped into the Pacific near the town of La Cruzecita. Outfitter: Agua Azul When to Go: October–November Price: $1,450 Difficulty: Strenuous
Tonga: Sea Kayaking the Vava'u Islands
Paddle for 12 days through the Vava'us, a labyrinth of 55 South Pacific islands located about 140 miles north of the main island of Tonga. Mornings are spent kayaking (you'll log two hours a day of mellow paddling in marine caves and alongside limestone cliffs that resemble tilted wedding cakes), afternoons are for snorkeling the hard coral reefs and taking the occasional nip of kava (muddy-dishwater-tasting, mellow-buzz-providing local brew) with island villagers, and nights are all about beach-camping.Outfitter: Mountain Travel–Sobek When to Go: September–October Price: $2,290 Difficulty level: Easy
Best Trips of 2001: Global Warning
In these fragile, frigid ecosystems, the phrase tread lightly takes on a whole new meaning.
Lured by icefloe wildlife and the world's last remaining true wilderness, increasing numbers of would-be Shackletons are venturing beyond the Arctic and Antarctic Circles—the chilly climes 66.5 degrees north and 66.5 south of the equator. Nearly 10,000 people visited Antarctica in Y2K (up from fewer than 1,000 just 25 years ago). But are the plants and animals ready for a wave of human visitors? Hardly. These extremely fragile ecosystems require extremely low-impact travel.
Most Polar Animals, be they musk oxen in Greenland or Antarctic chinstrap penguins, have never seen or heard a human, much less a neon anorak or a crackling two-way radio. Your presence will be stressful. To minimize your impact, stay at least 100 feet away from animals at all times—and don't even think about feeding them.
Fire is a constant danger at the poles, which are the driest regions on the planet (parts of Antarctica get less than two inches of precipitation per year). Open fires, which pose a huge threat to man-made structures, are prohibited.
The fewest plants that can survive the harsh polar climate, including lichens and snow algaes, are protected species that don't fare well under boot soles. A footprint in polar moss, of which there are some 350 Antarctic varieties, lasts ten years.
Human waste is preserved for decades due to the aridity. Pack it out. —Christian DeBenedetti
Polar Protection: In addition to high winds and frigid temps, polar travelers should prepare for blistering dry air (bring the thickest lotion you can find, such as Bag Balm), the world's most intense ozone-hole UV rays (and 40 SPF zinc-oxide), and blinding sunlight (and ultra-dark sunglasses that provide 99–100 percent UV protection). —C.D.
Best Trips of 2001: Arctic and Antarctic
Arctic and Antarctic
It can be balmy above the Circle: cruising the Salten Coast in Arctic Norway
Daylight and big-sky vistas are the rule in these geological playgrounds—places where ice and ocean and rock collide—while obnoxious tourists are as rare as bikinis. You can scale a peak, paddle along white sand beaches, and be the first to descend a glacier-fed river. You might even do all three in one day.
Norway: It's Like Jamaica, but Colder
This eight-day, 75-mile fjordland sea-kayaking trip begins near Narvik, Norway, and heads south along the Salten Coast to Skutvik. White beaches and clear water cast a Caribbean feel, and high-pressure air pushed out of Siberia sometimes makes for balmy weather; air temperatures can reach into the eighties, but 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit with rain is the norm, and inlets provide protection when storms swoop in. (Water temperatures hover in the low 50s.) You'll split your nights between tents and inns such as the Tranøy lighthouse, where you'll feast on local fare (reindeer and whale). Off your plate, puffins, seals, and porpoises play, and you'll find 8,000-year-old petroglyphs carved into granite cliffs and the occasional school of stark-naked kindergartners swimming at town beaches.Outfitter: Crossing Latitudes Sea Kayaking Adventures When to Go: August Price: $1,675 Difficulty: Moderate—Mary Catherine O'Connor
Catch a Chill Antarctica: Climbing Vinson Massif
Spend 20 days traversing an enormous ice flat interrupted only by the jagged peaks of the Ellsworth Mountains as you make your way up Antarctica's tallest peak, 16,066-foot Vinson Massif. The weather is as fierce as you'd expect, sometimes dropping to minus 40 degrees (think of a shorter, colder McKinley climb), the moderately steep slopes require crampons, and the base-camp-style sleeping arrangements are, well, extreme.Outfitter: International Mountain Guides When to Go: November–December Price: $26,000 Difficulty: Strenuous
Alaska: Kutuk River First Descent
A first-ever descent for whitewater canoeists who are long on pioneering spirit but short on technical boating skills. Aerial scouting of the Kutuk, in the Brooks Range of northern Alaska, reveals Class II-III rapids cutting through 200-foot-deep limestone canyons. Start the ten-day, 27-mile float by hiking five miles to the Arctic divide and the headwaters of the Kutuk, a tributary of the wide, waterfall-fed Alatna. Then find your airdropped Grabner inflatable canoes and push off to ply the unknown, which is likely to include boreal-forest views of the 3,500-foot Arrigetch Peaks.Outfitter: Arctic Divide Expeditions When to Go: August Price: $2,950 Difficulty: Moderate
Canada: Walking and Kayaking Newfoundland's Labrador Coast Rivers
This is the African safari's cold stepsister. Arm yourself with down and a telephoto lens to explore the Torngat Mountains along the northern border of Quebec and Newfoundland, a mere five degrees south of the Arctic Circle. The eight-day trip consists of excursions from a base camp (heated tents that sleep three to four people), including kayaking the highest concentration of ocean fjords in North America, hiking 1,200-year-old glaciers, and climbing 5,418-foot Mont D'Iberville to see land's end, polar bears, and caribou.Outfitter: Rapid Lake Lodge When to Go: July–August Price: $2,200 Difficulty: Moderate
Greenland: Tundra Trekking
Hike across 93 miles of southwest Greenland's tundra toward the Greenland Ice Sheet, a polar ice cap, from Sisimiut, a former whaling town, to Kangerlussuaq, an abandoned army base. By August, the 20 or so other human visitors who walk this popular (by Arctic standards) route each year should be gone, as should the mosquitoes and no-see-ums. You'll need to be able to carry two weeks' worth of gear and food (about 40 pounds) across trail-less, rocky terrain and over 400-foot fjord wallsfor an average of 12 miles per day.Outfitter: Northwinds Arctic Adventure When to Go: August Price: $2,360 Difficulty: Strenuous
Alaska: Backpacking the Brooks Range
The critters up north have to scurry to take advantage of the Arctic's short summer, and you will too if you want to fit in everything your NOLS instructors want to teach you. Grizzlies, wolves, muskoxen, and blisters will be your companions as you learn survival skills hiking over soft tundra and up braided river channels during your 15-day stay in the vast Brooks range. Outfitter: National Outdoor Leadership School When to Go: July, August Price: $3150Difficulty: Strenuous
Norway: Hiking Aurslandsdalen
You'll trek briskly through the countryside with the Norwegian Hiking Association for seven days on this trip, stopping along the way to spend the night in staffed lodges. Your speedy Norwegian guides will point out the region's flora and fauna as you power your way up the mountains. Few Americans end up in backcountry of Norway, so you'll have a chance to interact with European and Norwegian alpine aficionados. In the interest of national pride, try to keep up. Outfitter: Borton Overseas When to Go: July, August Price: $659 Difficulty: Strenuous
Alaska: Following Caribou Herds
Spend eight days following migrating caribou through glacier encircled valleys and wide-open tundra in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. You'll trail the herd to its summer grazing grounds, crossing dozens of unnamed creeks and mountains on your 40-mile trek. In addition to the thousands of caribou, there will be chances to see wolves, grizzlies, and golden eagles in action. This may be the time to cultivate a herd mentality. Outfitter: Arctic Wild When to Go: June Price: $2100 Difficulty: Moderate
Greenland: Kayaking Ammassalik Island
The fjords around Ammassalik Island are brimming with narwhals, seals, ermine, arctic wolves and dozens of other cold-comfort creatures. To see them, paddle your expedition sea kayak around four-story icebergs and forbidding mountains that rise directly out of the ocean. The 16-day adventure will also include time to scramble up unnamed peaks and chat with native Greenlanders who subsist on hunting and fishing in their unforgiving arctic homeland. Outfitter: Mountain Travel Sobek When to Go: July, August Price: $3190 Difficulty: Strenuous
Alaska: Rafting the Noatak Wilderness
Between fishing for grayling, climbing nearby mountains, and watching fattened caribou cross the river on their southern migration, you'll float 100 miles down the Noatak River on the edge of the arctic for nine days. Along the way, there will be an opportunity to scale a vertical mile on 7310-foot Mt. Oyukak and to watch the Northern Lights jig across the sky. Outfitter: Arctic Wild When to Go: August Price: $2600 Difficulty: Moderate
Best Trips of 2001: A Better World
A Better World
Sacred stones: praying at a Mani Wall beside the Tsangpo River, Tibet
On each of these trips—and you just might help improve the planet.
Norway: The Book of the Living
Joining this Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge cultural preservation project is "like being one of the first groups to Mount Everest," says Richard D. Fisher, director of trip-outfitter Wilderness Research Expeditions. Substitute the world's deepest canyon, the 16,650-foot-deep Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge in eastern Tibet, for its tallest mountain and you realize that this is not hyperbole. Fisher, 48, was one of the first Americans to explore the center of the gorge—which is four times the size of the Grand Canyon—in 1992. This year he'll return with 12 clients to hike, jeep, and camp for 21 days on the canyon's floor, heading west from sand-dune desert to thick jungle. Along the way the team will collect historical documents and take photos for Fisher's book on the history of the gorge—which is believed to be the birthplace of Tibetan civilization. Outfitter: Wilderness Research Expeditions When to Go: April–May Price: $5,500 Difficulty: Moderate —David Friedland
Do Some Good
Spain: Mediterranean Marine Biology
Sail along the arid, deserted southern coast of Spain where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic for 12 days on a 91-year-old Norwegian fishing boat, helping University of Madrid biologists study the food-chain role of bottle-nosed and common dolphins, sperm and fin whales, and leatherback and loggerhead turtles. Plot positions, record behavior and sounds, and hoist sails as you attempt to identify critical habitats for future marine-protection areas. Outfitter: Earthwatch Institute When to Go: January, March, June–September Price: $1,995 Difficulty: Easy
Chile and Ecuador: Following Darwin's Footsteps
A 22-day exploratory trip to the major stops along Charles Darwin's 1834 Chilean route from Tierra del Fuego to Valdivia. The Nature Conservancy's local partner organization leads a hike through Torres del Paine National Park (a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve), and environmentalists talk about their struggles against the wood-chip industry. You'll visit a TNC marine-otter conservation project an hour's flight from Santiago, Chile, before heading to the Galápagos's Rabida Island, home to nine of the 13 species of finches that inspired Darwin's natural selection theory. Outfitters: The Nature Conservancy; International Expeditions Inc. When to Go: November–December Price: $9,896 (includes international airfare) Difficulty: Easy
Russia: Investigating Lake Baikal's Pollution Levels
Help Russian scientists protect the deepest (more than a mile), largest by volume (14,000 cubic miles), oldest (20 million years) lake in the world and its 1,080 endemic species by taking water and fish samples from a motorized research vessel to measure chemicals and organic-waste levels. Then patrol the shorelines to observe sables and the world's biggest brown bears, and to scout potential nature-reserve sites. Hard work is rewarded with fresh salmon dinners and views of the 9,000-foot Sayan Mountains from lakeshore campsites. Outfitter: Earthwatch Institute When to Go: July–August Price: $1,695 Difficulty: Moderate
Kenya: Studying Bats and Elephants
Spend 12 days walking and jeep-riding in the flat, butte-fringed Taru Desert and Masai Mara Savanna, working with scientists to catch and count bats and identify and classify elephants by their tusk lengths and ear markings. With mist nets, headlamps, bat detectors, and microphones, you'll learn to distinguish the calls and wing shapes of horseshoe, free-tailed, and yellow-winged bats, which inhabit caves and acacia trees. Then you'll impart your newfound wisdom to local schoolchildren during nighttime field trips. Outfitter: Bat Conservation International When to Go: May Price: $4,145 (includes international airfare)Difficulty: Easy
Australia: Wilderness Leadership in the Kimberley
Thirty days of trekking from one water hole to the next in Australia's Outback is an education in and of itself--add NOLS expert Leave No Trace instruction and the wisdom of the aboriginal Bardi and you've got yourself some first-class learning. You'll spend your days practicing the fundamentals of expedition camping, traditional hunting techniques, and the essentials of eking out an existence in a hostile environment. Outfitters: National Outdoor Leadership School When to Go: June, July Price: $3750 Difficulty: Strenuous
Oregon: Native American Sights in Hell's Canyon
Hop in a raft and take on the Class IV Snake River through Hell's Canyon National Recreation area with Jeff van Pelt, master flint knapper and Umatilla tribal historian. You'll stop along the way to learn about Native American petroglyphs, explore pit house sites and rock shelters, and examine some of the thousands of Native American artifacts on the shores of the Snake. At the end of each of the five days, sit back on the bank and contemplate the river crossing where Chief Joseph and his band fled the Wallowa Valley. Outfitters: Hells Canyon Whitewater Co. When to Go: August Price: $1000 Difficulty: Easy
Belize: Rainforests, Reefs, and Ruins
Belize sports the world's densest population of jaguars, the Western Hemisphere's largest barrier reef, and the sparsest human population in Central America. Researchers from the American Natural History Museum will guide you on a ten-day adventure through Belize's wild side with visits to Pook's Hill Nature Reserve, Green Hill's Butterfly Farm, and the Maya Medicine Trail, where coatimundi, potoo, and the endangered Morelet's Crocodile make their home. You'll also get a full day to explore Tikal, the massive Mayan ceremonial pyramid in nearby Guatemala. Outfitters: American Museum of Natural History When to Go: March, November Price: $3450, includes airfare from Miami, Dallas, or Houston Difficulty: Easy
South Africa: Monitoring Penguins
Each morning before breakfast on this two-week trip you'll take a stroll down to the beach on Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years) to observe Chilly Willy and his pals. Then, after a bite to eat, you'll spend the first part of the day checking nests, observing parent-chick interactions, and weighing African penguins. Dr. Peter Barham from the University of Bristol will brief you on how to avoid being snipped by the defensive birds and explain their behavior and what threatens them. Outfitters: Earthwatch www.earthwatch.org When to Go: March, April, May, June Price: $1895 Difficulty: Easy
Dominica: Restoring Coral Reefs in the Lesser Antilles
No, Reef Ball is not the newest fun-in-the-sun watersport, it's a concrete modular reef system used to restore damaged ocean reefs throughout the world. Besides helping to build and deploy reef balls, this seven-night trip includes snorkeling, sea kayaking, opportunities to see some of Dominica's 7 species of whale and 11 dolphins, a guided hike to Boiling Lake, the world's largest volcanic lake, and trips to some of the Caribbean's premier scuba diving destinations. And best of all, you can tell everyone you took a "working vacation." Outfitters: Reef Ball Coalition Inc. When to Go: February, April, July Price: $1399 Difficulty: Moderate
Best Trips of 2001: Over The Top
Over The Top
A remote Falkland island is the set for your own (untelevised) drama.
Want to hurl yourself off a 22,834-foot mountain, pretend you're on Survivor or crisscross the globe solving riddles? Look no further. Sure, you'll need to drop a grand or two—or 50—but consider the contribution you'll be making to cocktail-party-kind with your heroic tales of the most outrageous trips in the world.
Falkland Islands: Live and In Person
If spending a week among penguins, whales, and elephant seals with a group of strangers appeals, you'll come away a winner from this weeklong, mock-Survivor getaway. You and five others will fly from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to a bare-bones cabin with a fully stocked pantry on a rocky, uninhabited island in the Falklands. Each morning for the next seven days, the group will vote off one of its members. (According to what criteria? That's up to you and your fellow travelers.) The banished will be flown to a second cabin on another remote island. Spend your days strolling warm, white-sand beaches or (if you're feeling hearty) taking an icy dip in the South Atlantic. No Letterman appearances await the winner, but the stargazing is exceptional. Outfitter: Tread Lightly, Ltd. When to Go: February–March Price: $1,500Difficulty: Easy —Philip D. Armour
Go to Extremes Botswana: Hard-Core Safari
No five-course catered meals, no hand-holding by guides, no hot showers—there aren't even tents to sleep in on this weeklong Okavango Delta walking safari. Instead, schlepp your own 30-pound pack; machete your way through the thick papyrus forests; fish, hunt, and forage for food (roots and wild tubers); and sleep under mosquito nets in primitive, open camps, taking two-hour turns standing guard (with .458 magnums) against predators. Your one indulgence: quality time with lions, elephants, and cheetahs. Outfitter: Explore, Inc. When to Go: May–September Price: $2,450–$3,500Difficulty: Strenuous
Global: Who Wants to Be a World Traveler?
A quiz show for overzealous, overpaid wanna-be world travelers. Twenty-five two-person teams will spend three weeks jetting across the planet, earning points for answering location-specific riddles in each of the cities they visit. (Sample questions: What is Marrakech's "Assembly of the Dead?" What does Bobby do there? And what food does his cousin's stall serve?) The itinerary is top secret, but "contestants" can expect to travel by foot, bike, camel, elephant, ricksha, and oxcart in a minimum of ten countries on four continents and stay in first-class hotels as the teams battle for the grand prize: $50,000 and the honorific title of "World's Greatest Travelers."Outfitter: GreatEscape Adventures Inc. When to Go: MayPrice: $22,000 per team (includes international airfare) Difficulty: Easy
North and South Poles: Skiing to the Ends of the Earth
Few people ever reach one of the earth's poles, fewer still go to both the North and South Poles, and only the most masochistic attempt the two in one year. If you fit the bill, you'll ready yourself for the physical beating at a February training session in northern Minnesota. In April you'll battle minus-15-degree temperatures, 40-mph winds, and perilously thin, unstable ice on a 120-mile, 21-day dogsled-assisted ski from the 88th parallel to the geographic North Pole. In December, you'll do it all over again down south, skiing 60 miles from 89 degrees south. Outfitter: The Northwest Passage When to Go: February, April, December Price: $50,000 Difficulty: Strenuous
Argentina: Paraglide from the Summit of Aconcagua
Introducing the latest in high-adrenaline, high-cost sports: para-alpinism! Climb up, glide down. Ultimate Ascents, the only outfitter running such trips, launched a group from Kilimanjaro last February, and this year will be the first to soar with clients from 22,834-foot Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas. After a week of glider training in Mendoza, Argentina, you'll begin a 21-day trek up Aconcagua on the Chile-Argentina border, for which you'll need basic mountaineering skills (familiarity with ice axes, crampons, and harnesses). At the top, you'll strap into a tandem paraglider with an expert pilot/guide and spend three glorious hours soaring over the Andes.Outfitter: Ultimate Ascents When to Go: January–February, December Price: $6,500Difficulty: Strenuous