Dennis Coello
June 29, 2012

Affordable

Adventure Out
Offers camping trips that combine breathtaking scenery with nitty-gritty wilderness survival education.

Gap Adventures
Its small groups use local transportation and guides to maximize authenticity and reduce expense.

Myths & Mountains
Leads Asian and South American trips that connect with local cultures in creative ways.

Wilderness Travel
Offers a vast range of trips, including a line called WT Expeditions: rugged, one-off explorations dreamed up as the particular passions of individual guides.

Local Culture

Boundless Journeys
Ninety percent of their trip leaders are natives of the destinations they guide in, providing real cultural immersion.

Classic Journeys
Their philosophy is that you can get as much of an adrenaline rush from chatting with a shepherd on a remote hillside as from shooting Class Three rapids through the rain forest.

Elevate Destinations
Promotes carbon-neutral activities and donates five percent of each trip’s revenues to local communities.

Geographic Expeditions
Offers remarkable experiences for clients who are willing to endure the very occasional bumpy road or night in a tent.

Off the Beaten Path
Creates in-depth journeys across the American West, thanks to cofounder and conservationist Bill Bryan’s extensive community ties.

Luxury Adventure

Kensington Tours
Offers private custom tours with in-country offices, guides, vehicles, and 24/7 emergency support.

Off the Grid

EpicQuest
Guides moonlight as serious athletes and serve up untracked powder and all-but-undiscovered surf breaks.

Lindblad Expeditions
Sails a fleet of eight ships to some of the world’s most remote destinations, from the Arctic Ocean to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Quark Expeditions
Operates two polar-class icebreaker ships—one nuclear powered, and both equipped with helicopters and Zodiacs—that make it the go-to outfit for getting to the remotest ice-bound spots.

Travesías
Leads guided expeditions from its three remote luxury adventure lodges into the surrounding terrain.

Regional Specialist

Aracari
Offers treks with access to Andean regions of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

Journey Mexico
Focuses on Mexico’s cultural and natural heritage.

Journeys by Design
Owner Will Jones spent 25 years in six African countries before returning to the U.K. to open a shop dealing exclusively with the continent he knows best.

Latin Excursions
Offers in-depth, culturally rooted trips to Patagonia, the Pantanal, and the Amazon basin.

Nomadic Expeditions
Takes you camel and horse trekking in remote, mountainous western Mongolia, with many nights spent in traditional felt tents with wood-burning stoves.

River & Ocean

Explorer’s Corner
Specializes in trailblazing kayak journeys in remote polar settings.

Frontiers
Offers a huge range of trips to some of the most exotic fishing spots on six continents.

Mountain Travel Sobek
Whether climbing mountains or rafting on white water, few outfitters can rival the adventure chops and experience of this 40-year-old firm.

OARS
A pioneer in commercial river guiding that brings rafters and kayakers onto otherwise inaccessible waters.

Rod & Gun Resources
Has surprisingly luxurious tented camps and villas in remote fishing destinations from Alaska to the Amazon.

Sweetwater Travel Company
Excels at guiding first-time fly-fishing anglers.

Safari

andBeyond
The plugged-in, South Africa–based luxury outfitter (formerly known as CC Africa) owns 46 lodges and camps across Africa and India.

Abercrombie & Kent
Runs tours on every continent and in more than 100 countries. But their signature trip remains the lavish tented African safari.

Cox & Kings
Founded in 1758 to provision British army regiments, it manages a global portfolio of tours with the savvy born of a far-flung empire.

Ker & Downey
Aims to provide life-changing experiences through environmental conservation and social philanthropy.

Micato Safaris
Welcomes guests to Africa with an extraordinary level of service and in-country expertise.

Trekking, Walking & Biking

Austin-Lehman Adventures
Specializes in multi-sport tours through the American West and beyond, with luxurious amenities and top-notch guides.

Backroads
Offers tours that combine cultural encounters with high-intensity cycling.

Butterfield & Robinson
Will have you bicycling and hiking by day, and indulging in serious food and wine in the evenings.

Country Walkers
Offers gentle walks and a focus on interaction with locals (such as lessons with schoolchildren in India or lunch with villagers in Costa Rica).

Country Walkers

Moderate and challenging walks (and a few small-ship cruises) in 80 destinations around the world with a roster of insider guides, such as Morocco native Saida Ezzahoui, an expert on native flora and fauna. Specializes in a focus on interaction with locals (such as lessons with schoolchildren in India or lunch with villagers in Costa Rica). T+L Trip pick Turkey, Turquoise Coast: Sail from Antalya’s Old Town to Istanbul, with visits to little-known Roman ruins and secluded coves.

Nomadic Expeditions

Camel and horse trekking in remote, mountainous western Mongolia, with many nights spent in traditional felt tents with wood-burning stoves. T+L Trip pick From Yak to Kayak. Paddle across pristine Lake Hövsgöl, then travel to the Gobi for saddle time atop two-humped Bactrian camels.

Mountain Travel Sobek

More than 40 years of experience arranging hiking, trekking, rafting, and kayaking excursions, with group or private itineraries. t+l trip pick Alaska: Rafting the Tatshenshini River. Brave Class Two and Three rapids for more than 130 miles through the world’s largest contiguous wilderness area, passing icebergs and stopping to walk among mountain goats and spot bald eagles.

Backroads

Active travel (cycling; walking; sea kayaking; rock climbing) paired with unexpected cultural experiences (storytelling in Ireland; a game of boules in Provence; visiting mask makers in Bali). All the family itineraries come with a dedicated Kid Coordinator who organizes activities such as scavenger hunts and art contests so that parents can get some time alone. T+L Trip pick Holland and Belgium: From the Dutch Countryside to Beautiful Bruges: Pedal past flower fields, canals, and pitched-roof farmhouses, with stops to learn how to make Gouda cheese and to visit the unesco World Heritage site of Kinderdijk (known for its 19 preserved windmills).

 

Sweetwater Travel Co.

Founded by three brothers who grew up in Montana, Sweetwater excels at guiding first-time fly-fishing anglers. T+L Trip pick Fly-fish Montana. Go head-to-head with wily trout in some of America’s best fly-fishing streams.

November through April, Montana-based Sweetwater Travel Co. runs weeklong Amazon fly-fishing trips 200 miles northeast of town, where the best peacock bass are found.

Off the Beaten Path

The Bozeman, Montana-based company specializes in itineraries to destinations throughout North and South America (as well as New Zealand, where it offers a two-week backcountry hiking trip on a half-dozen dates each year). Looking to go to Canada? Their adventurous itinerary stops in three of the country’s national parks—Banff, Jasper, and Yoho—where you’ll spot elk, moose, and golden eagles, as part of its Crown Jewels journey. Their Alaska itinerary features a visit to the Chilkat Eagle Preserve and Glacier Bay National Park. The outfitter now gives guests the chance to stay in a private camp near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, set within the world’s largest stand of ponderosa pines. By day, you’ll trek two miles down into the canyon, tour ancestral Puebloan ruins, and bike local trails, all in the hands of expert guides. Come evening, you’ll stay in your own deluxe walk-in tent, outfitted with a memory-foam mattress and mirrored washbasin.

Latin Excursions

The tour provider has helped raise the travel profile of South America with high-end cruises on the Amazon and in the Galápagos, as well as bespoke itineraries in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. T+L Trip pick Wild Beaches of Brazil. Take a Land Cruiser expedition along the northern Atlantic coast, then visit pristine Fernando de Noronha island.

Austin Adventures

Specializes in multisport tours through the American West and beyond, with luxurious amenities and top-notch guides. T+L Trip pick Yellowstone: The Serengeti of the American West. Raft the Yellowstone River and ride horseback into the Absaroka Mountains.

Journeys by Design

Journeys by Design specializes in bespoke itineraries to the region, which often include a stay at Selous's Sand Rivers Camp and guided walking safaris along the hippo- and crocodile-inhabited Rufiji River. Will Jones spent 25 years in six African countries before returning to the U.K. to open a shop dealing exclusively with the continent he knows best. T+L Trip pick Origins of Man Safari. Tour the Great Rift Valley with legendary paleontologist Richard Leakey.

Micato Safaris

Since 1966, the Pinto family of Kenya and New York has been welcoming guests to Africa with an extraordinary level of service and in-country expertise. Guide Alan Petersen has led David Beckham and Robert De Niro. T+L Trip pick Discover Africa’s Heritage. Visit unesco-protected areas such as Kenya’s Lake Nakuru and Zanzibar’s Stone Town.

O.A.R.S.

For adventurous rafters, this veteran outfitter organizes 4- to 18-day rafting-and-camping excursions through the Grand Canyon. This pioneer in commercial river guiding brings rafters and kayakers onto otherwise inaccessible waters. T+L Trip pick Grand Canyon Rafting. OARS was the first to take exclusively nonmotorized trips down the Colorado River’s most spectacular 225 miles.

Geographic Expeditions

This trailblazer explores the remote corners of every continent using guides with extensive on-the-ground networks, such as San Francisco–based Vassi Koutsaftis, who has been leading trips into Burma, Tibet, and Nepal for 25 years. Newly added: a small selection of family trips. In the pursuit of remarkable experiences, clients are willing to endure the very occasional bumpy road or night in a tent. T+L Trip pick Shikoku and the Naoshima Islands of Japan. Take a soba-making class, trace the old Shingon Buddhist pilgrimage route, and sleep at a ryokan.

The tour operator also arranges a 16-day Alaskan Inland Passage excursion with exclusive access into the 3.2 million–acre Glacier Bay National Park via yacht, followed by a stay at the Ultima Thule Lodge, with 12 well-equipped riverfront cabins.

G Adventures

Formerly GAP Adventures. 

Small groups, the use of local transportation and guides, and one-on-one connections are the cornerstones of the company formerly known as Gap Adventures. Hundreds of trips are on offer worldwide, but this year marks the company’s first foray into North America. t+l trip pick Guatemala Local Living. Learn how to make tortillas and weave colorful textiles during a homestay in a village on Lake Atitlán, in the central highlands.

Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad is a top adventure company, with an impressive affiliation with the National Geographic Society. Research scientists come on board, and passengers can observe NG field sites and equipment, including undersea cameras and hydrophones and video-microscopes. Meanwhile, excellent naturalist guides lead shore explorations, often involving wet Zodiac landings, getting you close to nature. The line’s five ships range in size from 62 to 148 passengers, though Lindblad also charters additional vessels. Cabins are snug, cuisine is not gourmet, but who cares when you have blue-footed boobies to view?

Aracari Travel Consulting

Peruvian-owned and -operated boutique firm offers trekking outings with access to Andean regions of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. T+L Trip pick Lodge to Lodge Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. Follow the picturesque Salkantay Route to Machu Picchu and stay in luxury lodges.

Butterfield & Robinson

Since leading its first tour in 1966, Butterfield has built a reputation for its active-luxury travel. With the belief that the best way to travel is by bike, foot, or boat, the company now offers more than 100 trips in about 40 countries across the world. Travelers can burn off the local cuisine and extra calories consumed during tutored wine tastings with daily cycling and walking tours that range from the medieval castles of the Dordogne Valley to a cave known for its Cro-Magnon wall paintings, and overnight stays include unique places like the circa-18th Century Chateau Cordeillan-Bages in Pauillac.

Boundless Journeys

Culturally immersive itineraries in Africa, Asia, and Europe, among other places, are infused with the expertise of local staff such as Sangay Wangchuk, who has written a memoir about growing up in rural Bhutan. Ninety percent of the trip leaders are natives of the destinations where they guide. T+L Trip pick Bhutan: Across the Kingdom. Explore temples, hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, and learn about shamanism on visits to traditional villages.

Classic Journeys

Unbeatable access to experiences around the globe—learning firsthand about a family-run organic coffee plantation in the Galápagos; dining in a private home in Delhi—are woven into every walking-based excursion, from Ireland to Bhutan. Philosophy: That you can get as much of an adrenaline rush from chatting with a shepherd on a remote hillside as from shooting Class Three rapids through the rain forest. T+L Trip pick Costa Rica. Zipline through a forest canopy, hike an active volcano, and learn from locals about their country.

Elevate Destinations

This small, five-year-old company promotes carbon-neutral activities and donates five percent of each trip’s revenues to local communities.  T+L Trip pick South Africa Fair-Trade Safari. A rhino safari is followed by volunteer work at the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, which protects endangered species, including the African penguin.

Explorers’ Corner

Founder Olaf Malver’s specialty is trailblazing kayak journeys in remote polar settings, but he also runs mellow, warm-water trips. T+L Trip pick Antarctica: The Ultimate Polar Wildlife Adventure. Sail aboard the 54-foot Northanger, disembarking to explore mountains and fjords and to camp atop the ice.

Frontiers International Travel

With four decades’ experience, Frontiers offers a huge range of trips to some of the most exotic fishing spots on six continents. T+L Trip Pick Bahamas: Delphi Club on Abaco Island. Excellent bonefish trolling for serious anglers; the intimate eight-room Delphi Club serves as a base, with access to a golf course and a white-sand beach.

Rod & Gun Resources

Fishing trips to Alaska, the Amazon, Argentina, and beyond, with stays in comfortable jungle lodges, cabin barges, and tented camps. T+L Trip pick Bolivian Adventure. The company’s first venture in Bolivia goes to the remote Caño Negro River, home to the exotic peacock bass.

EpicQuest

Guides who moonlight as serious athletes—including Olympic gold medalist skier Tommy Moe—serve up untracked powder and all-but-undiscovered surf breaks. T+L Trip pick South American Ski Adventure. Head to the Chilean Andes to tackle some of the world’s longest heli-skiing runs.

Travesías

In 2005, Explora, the chain of three remote luxury adventure lodges launched Travesías, a series of guided expeditions from its properties into the surrounding terrain. T+L Trip pick Travesía Uyuni. Journey across the Bolivian altiplano, one of the world’s most rugged environments.

Quark Expeditions

With two polar-class icebreaker ships—one nuclear powered, and both equipped with helicopters and Zodiacs—Quark is the go-to outfit for getting to the remotest ice-bound spots. In 2012, Quark launched hot-air balloons on select North Pole trips.T+L Trip pick Antarctic Express. Fly over the Drake Passage, on the southern tip of South America, then board the 61-cabin Clipper Adventurer to spot glaciers, penguins, and whales (polar camping is optional).

Abercrombie & Kent

The Abercrombie & Kent travel agency began as an African safari company, founded by Geoffrey Kent and his parents in 1962. Today, the company organizes trips to more than 100 nations across all seven continents, with destinations ranging from Antarctica to the Galápagos Islands. Chosen by Travel + Leisure as one of the Best Adventure-Travel Outfitters of 2010, the agency caters to experienced travelers seeking “extreme adventure.” In addition to the signature African safaris, travel options include a Norwegian dog-sledding excursion, a river cruise along the Nile, and a turtle rescue expedition in Australia. T+L Trip Pick: Wings Over the Migration. Follow the Great Migration, view a private Masai dance performance, and camp near the Ngorongoro Crater.

andBeyond

The plugged-in, South Africa–based luxury outfitter (formerly known as CC Africa) owns 46 lodges and camps across Africa and in India. T+L Trip Pick: Bush Skills Academy at Phinda Private Game Reserve. Learn how to be a big-game ranger.

Cox & Kings

Founded in 1758, Cox & Kings is the oldest travel company in the world, and it prides itself on using its 250 years of experience to provide clients with unforgettable travel experiences. Cox & Kings specializes in tours to some of the world’s most exciting destinations, including the Seychelles, Tibet, Madrid, and Argentina. The company offers a variety of travel experiences, and clients can choose from custom-designed journeys, private journeys, group journeys, and relax and explore journeys, which take full advantage of Cox & Kings’ knowledge of the best and most luxurious hotels, villas, and retreats around the globe. t+l trip pick Portrait of Kenya. Spot Somali ostriches and reticulated giraffes in Samburu National Reserve, balloon over the Masai Mara savanna, and adopt an elephant at the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.


Ker & Downey

This outfitter aims to provide life-changing experiences through environmental conservation and social philanthropy. This community- and conservation-minded outfitter has led tours through Africa, India, and South America for more than 50 years. T+L Trip pick Primates of Africa. Come within 15 feet of habituated gorillas in the Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.

Adventure Out

From the Big Sur coast to the Anza-Borrego Desert, this outdoor adventure school provides access to some of California’s most scenic and remote areas. Established in Santa Cruz in 2002, the company specializes in surf clinics and retreats, as well as rock climbing classes, backpacking excursions, and wilderness survival courses. Some of the more unusual travel packages include a snow-cave camping trip in the Sierra Nevada, and a coastal backpacking tour that includes professional instruction on harvesting seafood and edible plants from the ocean. The surfing adventures include extra amenities, such as post-lesson massage therapy.

Myths & Mountains

Asian and South American trips that connect with local cultures in creative ways, such as taking part in shamanic rituals in Ecuador and visiting Khmer temples at dawn. T+L Trip pick Motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail from Hanoi to Saigon on a 250 cc bike.

Wilderness Travel

Since its founding in 1978, this adventure company has developed a vast range of trips, including a line called WT Expeditions: rugged, one-off explorations dreamed up as the particular passions of individual guides. T+L Trip pick NEW Tibet: The World’s Highest Trek. A WT Expedition on the Tibetan plateau, ascending to a base camp within 8,000 feet of Everest’s summit.

Journey Mexico

This collection of more than 700 Spanish-colonial mansions, traditional haciendas, and modern beachfront retreats is spread across Mexico, with the most offerings in the Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos.

Standout Set within Tulum’s lush Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the light-filled Casa Nalum is within swimming distance of a pretty barrier reef (three bedrooms; $22,848 a week).

Kensington Tours

A vast range of personalized itineraries, including working on archaeological digs in Israel and trekking to see gorillas in Rwanda, while staying in castles, ashrams, tropical tree houses, and tented safari camps. They also offer private custom tours with in-country offices, guides, vehicles, and 24/7 emergency support. The tour company also arranges intimate access to the Nasrid palaces of the Alhambra by night, when only 400 visitors are allowed in, and can also book a private balcony for watching Pamplona's Running of the Bulls. t+l trip pick Bali Orangutans and Dragons.Explore Bali, fly to Indonesian Borneo to observe orangutans, and sail to Rinca and Komodo islands to get up close to Komodo dragons.

 

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