T+L's Definitive Guide to Adventure Travel
Published: July 2012
By Bree Sposato
<p>Choosing that next great trip into the outdoors means knowing what kind of adventure travel you're after—and finding the right outfitter to match. T+L lends a helping hand.</p>
Trekking, Walking, and Biking
Adrenaline-inducing mountaineering trips that tackle the world’s tallest peaks, including less extreme itineraries such as a seven-day hike up Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. 206/378-1927.
T+L Trip Pick: Volcanoes of Iceland Beginner and intermediate climbers conquer Hvannadalshnúkur, the country’s highest summit. July–Sept. departures; nine days from $5,000.
Outstanding guides lead multisport excursions through the American West, Central and South America, and beyond.
T+L Trip Pick: California Wine Country Go sea kayaking in Tomales Bay to spot seals, cycle through Napa Valley, and hike area redwood forests. June–Oct. departures; six days from $2,898.
Specializes in easy guided biking tours in culturally rich regions from Europe to Asia. New, more affordably priced Bistro trips in Europe adopt a can’t-miss formula: a laid-back pace, stays at family-run inns, and good food.
T+L Trip Pick: Tuscany Bistro Biking Pedal through the Tuscan hills, stopping to sample pecorino and taste wine in Chianti, Cortona, and Pienza. June–Oct. departures; six days from $3,995.
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.
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. Year-round departures; eight days from $4,298.
Founder Cari Gray offers behind-the-scenes experiences—such as barrel tastings in Burgundy’s Bichot caves—on her finely tuned walking and biking itineraries in Europe, South America, and more. 416/998-4082.
T+L Trip Pick: For a T+L reader exclusive hiking trip in Italy, see “The Glam-Trotter.”
Serious treks through Western Europe (the Mont Blanc region; the Italian Dolomites), the Himalayas, and southeastern Utah. Accommodations vary by region, from luxury tents to intimate chalets. 888/586-8365.
T+L Trip Pick: Via Alpina Stage Three From Gstaad, Switzerland, ascend 3,900 feet into the Alps, passing glaciers, remote villages, and flowering meadows. Aug. 6 departure; seven days from $2,995.
This 40-year-old Vermont-based operator leads relaxed bike tours in North America and Europe with an emphasis on food and history.
T+L Trip Pick: Maryland: Cycling the Chesapeake Bay Ride over gently sloping hills, feast on crab, and stay at historic inns. Aug.–Oct. departures; six days from $1,795.
An avid traveler who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty (so long as there’s a sink and top-quality soap nearby). The only thing better than seeing Machu Picchu last month? The bazillion-thread-count linens at the Sanctuary Lodge
Role Model: Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (before she sold her good china).
Gear: The Handpresso portable espresso maker, since there’s no trek that can’t be improved by a great Italian dark roast ($95).
Accessory: Moncler Roxane jacket ($895).
T+L Exclusive Trip: Hiking the Amalfi Coast with Gray & Co. Trek in style on this Italian jaunt along ancient Roman coastal paths, which includes a private tour of the Blue Grotto, a cave on Capri, hilltop stargazing (with a cold glass of limoncello), and overnights at Le Sirenuse, in Positano. Year-round departures through 2012; seven days from $7,000.
Family-focused, immersive trips range from spotting scarlet-throated frigate birds in the Galápagos to lessons in kite making in China. New trips for 2013 go to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
T+L Trip Pick: Jewels of Southeast Asia Explore Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, visit a working rice farm, and take a cruise down the Mekong River. Year-round departures; 12 days from $4,849.
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). Multiple route options appeal to all skill levels.
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). July–Aug. departures; six days from $4,198.
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.
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. Sept.–Nov. departures; 18 days from $6,795.
This outfitter, founded by Philippe Brown, a 16-year luxury travel company veteran, creates bespoke private trips that explore the world—from Costa Rica to Cambodia—through the lenses of food, wellness, and wine, to name a few.
T+L Trip Pick: Burma Study enlightenment with an abbot at a monastery, charter a plane into the rain forest, snorkel in the Mergui archipelago, and recharge at a traditional teak house. Year-round departures; seven days from $20,000.
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.
T+L Trip Pick: For a T+L reader-exclusive trip in Turkey, see “The Culture Buff.”
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. 888/800-4100.
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. Nov.–Dec. departures; eight days from $499.
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.
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. May–Oct. departures; seven days from $5,665.
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.
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. Apr.–Nov. departures; 10 days from $3,950.
All trips are tailor-made at this outfitter, opened last year by George Morgan-Grenville, a 24-year luxury travel veteran, and share an emphasis on meaningful interactions with locals in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Guides have at least 10 years of field experience. 44/1242-787-800.
T+L Trip Pick: Machu Picchu, Trek in Style Meet indigenous Quechua people before taking a guided tour of Machu Picchu. April–Oct. departures; eight days from $4,320.
This Connecticut-based company offers close to 100 trips, including river cruises in Europe and volunteer conservation programs in Grand Teton National Park.
T+L Trip Pick: Culturious Costa Rica Visit small villages and coffee plantations before taking a horseback ride through a private hacienda and kayaking through mangrove forest. Year-round departures; eight days from $2,770.
Small-ship river cruises with immersive land excursions are Travcoa’s specialty.
T+L Trip Pick: Splendors of India with Sri Lanka and the Maldives Set sail from Mumbai on the 110-passenger Clipper Odyssey, stop for a cooking class in a Goan home, and snorkel among coral at Uligamu, a northern island of the Maldives. Nov. departures; 18 days from $11,480.
Speaks four languages, two of which are extinct. Owns a collection of Etruscan pottery fragments that’s the envy of the anthropology club. Recently acquired a rare shrunken head from the Shuar tribe of Peru.
Role Model: Indiana Jones
Gear: Pantech Element, AT&T’s waterproof tablet, is ideal for research on the road—or at the excavation site ($299).
Accessory: SteamLine Stylist Series luggage (from $280).
T+L Exclusive Trip: Turquoise Coast & Cappadocia with Classic Journeys. Start in Istanbul, then board a 70-foot gulet (teak yacht) to explore the coast. Along the way, see Cappadocia from a hot-air balloon and snorkel to ancient underwater ruins. Sept.–Oct. departures; nine days from $4,795.
River and Ocean
Founder Olaf Malver often serves as a guide on his company’s legendary expeditions into the polar regions; less intrepid, warm-water kayaking trips are also available. 877/677-9623.
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. Dec. 4 departure; 28 days from $16,900.
Founded more than four decades ago, this fishing outfitter has a huge global presence, with access to pristine spots from Canada to Mongolia. 800/245-1950.
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. Oct.–June departures; four days from $3,532.
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. June–Sept. departures; nine days from $3,195.
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. July–Dec. departures; four days from $3,895.
This outfitter now runs land-based trips, but its main focus remains white-water rafting in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Ecuador, and the Galápagos. Environmental scientist Peter Metcalf shares his in-depth knowledge on trips down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, in Idaho.
T+L Trip Pick: Middle Fork of the Salmon Rafting Descend 3,000 feet aboard a raft along the 110-mile-long river, pausing to view hot springs and to visit historic pioneer homesteads. June–Sept. departures; five days from $1,625.
Asked for a butterfly net for fifth birthday; at 10 it was a microscope. Spotted rare birds on four continents and is currently ranked No. 48 on the American Birding Association’s competitive international list. After that black-grouse sighting at Loch Lomond, hopes to make it to No. 47 by year’s end.
Role Model: Jack Hanna
Gear: Sony Cyber-shot Digital Camera (DSC-TX200V). It’s waterproof and dust-proof, and with its high-speed auto-focus, you’ll capture that hairy-nosed wombat every time ($499.99).
Accessory: DPC Outdoors cotton/canvas mesh safari hat ($55).
T+L Exclusive Trip: Rare Shoebill Safari with Journeys by Design. Channel your inner ornithologist on this Zambian safari, which has some of the best bird-viewing on the continent (rare shoebill storks; wattled cranes). Nov.–March and May departures; seven days from $3,955.
Off the Grid
The brainchild of serious athletes, EpicQuest leads active trips from skiing untouched terrain in Alaska to fishing off the Kenyan coast.
T+L Trip Pick: South American Ski Adventure Head to the Chilean Andes to tackle some of the world’s longest heli-skiing runs. July–Sept. departures; eight days from $12,500.
This adventure-minded offshoot of tour operator Black Tomato creates extreme custom journeys such as 10-day treks in the Borneo jungle in search of the Penan tribe and horseback crossings of the Bolivian salt flats. Many guides have military and Special Forces backgrounds. 44-20/7426-9899.
T+L Trip Pick: For a readers-only jungle expedition in Malaysia, see “The Thrill Seeker.”
Its small-group, nature-based trips aboard expedition ships equipped with kayaks and Zodiacs go to such far-flung destinations as Alaska, Antarctica, and the upper Amazon.
T+L Trip Pick: Norway's Fjords & Arctic Svalbard The 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer travels from travels from Oslo to the polar-bear-filled Arctic Svalbard and the fjords of central Norway. May 24, 2013, departure; 13 days from $13,820. [Editors' Note: The Impressions of Northern Norway itinerary is not available in 2013.]
Created in 2008 by mountain climber Matthew Robertson, the U.K.-based group leads daring multisport forays (capped at six travelers each), including pioneering ski trips in Lebanon and Kashmir and canoe trips in the Yukon. 44/1892-784-646.
T+L Trip Pick: The Last Degree A combination of flights and serious trekking from Chile to the South Pole. Nov.–Jan. departures; 21 days from $80,000.
Quark’s ice-class vessels—equipped with not only helicopters but also biologists, historians, and ornithologists—ply remote polar waters in comfort. This year, 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). Feb. 2013 departures; eight days from $7,995.
British journalist Jonny Bealby founded the London-based Wild Frontiers, which has multisport trips (rafting; trekking; horseback riding) in 40 countries.
T+L Trip Pick: Trekking in the Hindu Kush Cross glaciers, rivers, and pastures as you journey from the Yarkhun River region to the glacier- and river-filled Ishkoman Valley in northern Pakistan. May 11, 2013, departure; 17 days from $3,713.
Keeps his souvenirs where he can see them. That scar on his forehead? From a hang-gliding mishap in Rio. The mark on his knee? Cave diving in Borneo. Likes to start the day with a nice bowl of fear. That’s right: he eats fear for breakfast.
Role Model: Bear Grylls
Gear: North Face’s Powder Guide ABS vest: inflatable nitrogen airbag pouches protect the wearer in the event of an avalanche or rock and tree collisions. ($1,300).
Accessory: Revo’s Waterway Titanium sunglasses ($249).
T+L Exclusive Trip: T+L Borneo Trip with Epic Tomato. Fly a Twin Otter aircraft into Borneo’s interior, where you’ll drive an ATV along the Selungo River and visit Gunung Mulu National Park, which has the world’s largest cave chambers. March–Oct. departures; 15 days from $10,275.
Trips in more than 100 countries with an emphasis on Africa, where well-appointed mobile tented camps ensure that travelers view wildlife in comfort, whether they’re tracking the Great Migration in East Africa or gliding through Botswana’s Okavango Delta in dugout canoes.
T+L Trip Pick: Wings Over the Migration Follow the Great Migration, view a private Masai dance performance, and camp near the Ngorongoro Crater. Sept.–Dec. departures; 15 days from $13,470.
Founded in 1758, Cox & Kings is one of the world’s longest-running travel companies and has a global portfolio with jungle excursions, culinarily focused tours, sea voyages—and extraordinary safaris.
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. July–Oct. departures; 12 days from $9,835.
Founder and environmental scientist Will Jones designs trips to eastern and southern Africa, where he spent 25 years.
T+L Trip Pick: See “The Weekend Zoologist” for a reader-exclusive Zambia trip for bird lovers.
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. May–Dec. departures; 17 days from $13,195.
Bespoke safaris in eastern and southern Africa and India with on-the-ground experts. 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. Year-round departures; 12 days from $11,525.
This nonprofit runs wildlife volunteer expeditions that connect travelers with conservation researchers in the field. 800/407-5761.
T+L Trip Pick: Namibia Help wildlife ranchers collar and monitor leopards and collect demographic data on African cat populations in central Namibia. July-Nov. departures; 12 days from $2,423.
All of Elevate’s trips focus on community development; many are created to deal with current events. This year, guide Andrew Mersmann, author of Frommer’s 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference, is leading service trips to Haiti.
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. Year-round departures; 10 days from $5,650.
This Peruvian-owned company organizes low-altitude hikes and extreme treks in Peru, Bolivia, and the Galápagos. It has strong relationships with local communities.
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. March–Dec. departures; 10 days from $3,130.
With 25 years of experience in the region, Asia Transpacific Journeys operates both group and private trips through Asia and the Pacific.
T+L Trip Pick: Sacred Mountain Kingdoms—Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan Meet monks in remote monasteries, observe a riverside Hindu ceremony, and explore ancient temples. April 11, 2013, departure; 20 days from $10,495.
This São Paulo, Brazil–based company offers customized yacht cruises on the Amazon, wildlife tours in the wetland regions of the Pantanal, and treks through the canyonlands of Chapada Diamantina National Park.
T+L Trip Pick: Lençóis Maranhenses Go by foot, land, and air from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, stopping to explore Lençóis Maranhenses National Park—a sandy landscape with thousands of freshwater lagoons. Year-round departures; 15 days from $7,500.
Cofounders Bill and Pam Bryan deliver the ultimate American West experience. Veteran guide Darrell Norman, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, arranges traditional dinners with tribe members in his Montana residence.
T+L Trip Pick: Alaska’s Winter Magic Spend time with a family of husky trainers, then strap on snowshoes and peer up at the northern lights. March–April 2013 departures; six days from $3,795.
Why Now: The culturally rich region of Diqing provides a glimpse of Tibetan culture without the red tape, and now it’s easier to reach, thanks to a new road that connects the area to major cities.
Don’t Miss: The scenic and remote Tibetan village of Benzilan, located in northwestern Yunnan province.
How to Visit: Along the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail with Abercrombie & Kent. 15 days from $12,400.
Why Now: After decades of isolation, Burma is an untouched portrait of Buddhist traditions and culture.
Don’t Miss: The Shwedagon Pagoda—whose dome is covered with 60 tons of gold.
How to Visit: Dream Trip–Myanmar: Into the Heart of Burma with Cox & Kings. 11 days from $7,665.
Why Now: The country is rehabilitating the wildlife-rich Gorongosa National Park and Niassa National Reserve.
Don’t Miss: Dhow sailing and wild camping around the Quirimbas Archipelago.
How to Visit: Private Dhow Sailing Adventure with Journeys by Design. 12 days from $5,995.
Why Now: Luxe new lodgings, easier road access, and more flights are making this remote area more accessible.
Don’t Miss: Horseback riding with gauchos in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park.
How to Visit: Bespoke Patagonia with Gray & Co. Eight days from $12,000.