How much adventure can you get for $1,000? More than you might think. For less than the cost of a single night at the Plaza Hotel in New York, you can climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, trek to remote villages in the Peruvian Andes, or learn to sail a racing yacht. These and seven other trips that cost under a grand are detailed below.
Family adventure in Alaska Provider:Alaska Outdoors Length:Seven days Price:$995
With the tallest mountains in North America, 33,000 miles of coastline, 16 national parks and preserves (some larger than entire states), geological features ranging from glaciers to volcanoes, and wild animals like bald eagles and grizzly bears, Alaska is arguably the top adventure destination in the United States. Great for active families, Alaska provides more unique experiences and learning opportunities than any parent could hope for.
However, due to its remoteness and short tourist season, it can be an expensive place to visit. A quick search for week-long family adventure trips in Alaska reveals prices hovering around $3,000 per person, sometimes with a small discount for kids.
Alaska Outdoors, a small locally based company, bucks that trend and runs tours for families and other groups with an emphasis on low-impact travel—both on the environment and on your wallet. Its seven-day Classic Alaska Family Tour, which visits five national parks and protected areas, including Kenai Fjords National Park and Denali National Park, comes in at $995 for adults or $950 for kids under 18.
While most Alaska family tours are lodge- or hotel-based, Alaska Outdoors' trip uses beautiful and conveniently located campgrounds.
"Camping is a much more affordable means for travel in Alaska and is also more interactive with the Alaskan environment—we don't check into hotel rooms which would insulate us from the Alaska we are here to experience," says company founder Mark Reiser. Each day of the trip features a diverse array of activities including hiking, canoeing, and wildlife viewing (included in the trip cost). Additional activities also available are wildlife glacier cruises, rafting, fishing, horseback riding, and biking. Many of the experiences are optional, so if want to splurge on something pricey—like a flight-seeing tour of Denali—you can, or you can choose something more affordable, or free, like hiking or canoeing. Meals consist of hardy and healthy camping cuisine (e.g., grilled salmon, pancakes with fresh blueberries and real maple syrup), with custom menus based on questionnaires you fill out in advance. Most guides are local, and all are trained to present information to kids in an engaging way.
This trip departs every Sunday between June 15 and August 17. Prices cover hotel and camping accommodations, all but two meals, a full-time Alaska Outdoors guide, ground transportation, park entrance fees, and select activities. Round-trip August fares from Seattle to Anchorage start at $450, including taxes, on Continental.
Untainted trekking in the Peruvian Andes Provider:Andean Treks Length:Five days Price:$795
Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is the quintessential Peruvian trek. Consequently, it comes with all the trappings of a popular travel route, good and bad: amazing views, ancient wonders, and physical challenge along with crowded trails, soft-drink stands, and, sadly, some environmental and cultural degradation. For those who'd prefer just the first part of the package, a new trekking route in the Andes, christened in 2007 as "El Camino del Apu Ausangate," promises high-altitude trekking, mountain vistas, interactions with indigenous llama and alpaca shepherds, and comfortable, eco-friendly accommodations. No tents, no trash, no tourists.
There aren't any mysterious ruins at the end of El Camino, but the few travelers who have completed it claim the whole journey is magical. "El Camino del Apu Ausangate took me closer to heaven than anything else I had previously experienced," says Piero Morosini, a professor of business management and Peruvian and Italian national.
"Words fail to express my experience," says Blake Caldwell, who completed the trek with her stepson. "The gorgeous country, isolation, and indigenous culture were astonishing and well worth the cold and heart pounding."
Andean Lodges, a joint venture between long-time Peruvian guide and entrepreneur Roger Valencia and the native Osefina and Chillca communities, established the route and its four mountain lodges as a sustainable business to help the local people improve their standard of living while maintaining their traditional pastoralist culture. On the trek, Valencia or another guide will take you from Cuzco to the Cordillera Vilcanota mountains, where you'll spend five days hiking six to 11 miles per day at altitudes ranging from 13,200 feet to 16,700 feet. It's a challenge, but llamas will carry most of your belongings.
Along the way you'll pass by the snow-capped, glaciated Ausangate (20,945 feet), climb hills striated with red, ochre, and green sediments, and meet locals going about their everyday life. Nights are spent at lodges (including the world's highest) which were designed to minimize impact on the environment and employ mostly locals. The lodges offer private bedrooms, warm water, and freshly prepared meals made from local ingredients, like quinoa soup and alpaca tenderloin.
Trips are scheduled April through October and sold in the U.S. through Andean Treks. The price includes four nights' accommodations, ground transportation from Cuzco, guides, pack animals, all meals, and safety equipment. Round-trip airfare in August from Miami to Cuzco starts at $809, including all taxes, on LAN Peru. You should plan on acclimatizing in Cuzco for at least two days in advance of the trek.
Learn to sail on San Francisco Bay Provider:OCSC Sailing Length:Five days or two weekends Price:$890 ($790 for bookings made by March 31)
If you've dreamed of learning to sail, perhaps one day skippering your own boat around the Caribbean, but dismissed the idea because you lacked the necessary trust fund, despair no more. Even if you don't know a bowline from a clove hitch, there are sailing schools that can teach you the art of this exhilarating sport for less money than you'd think.
One of the top sailing schools in the country, the Berkeley-based OCSC Sailing, runs a rigorous but reasonably priced learn-to-sail course for beginners.
"We are exceptional at training folks who are serious about learning to sail well and really want the confidence to become good and safe and competent at the sport," says OCSC Founder and President Anthony Sandberg. "We teach with a maximum class size of three students per instructor instead of the national six-to-one standard."
OCSC's Basic Keelboat course takes place over two weekends or five straight days and is designed to give you the know-how and confidence to skipper 18- to 27-foot boats in protected waters with light to moderate wind conditions. The five-day course (which gives you more time for the same price as the weekend courses) includes more than 40 hours of instruction, with most of the time spent aboard the boat on the gusty San Francisco Bay. "If you can sail on San Francisco Bay, you can sail anywhere," says Sandberg.
Sailing on the Bay is an adventure, but the course is also the stepping stone for a lifetime of sailing exploits. "About seven years ago, I showed up at [OCSC's] door with a dream to be able to bareboat. I knew almost nothing," says former OCSC student Kevin Cullen. "I just returned from Tahiti on my ninth bareboat vacation, this time just my wife and I sailing for nine glorious days in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. [OCSC] produced a very competent and happy sailor."
Courses are scheduled weekly throughout the year, with weekend courses running Saturday to Sunday and five-day courses running Monday to Friday. Rates cover textbooks and manuals, navigation and seamanship seminars, waterproof spray gear, a one-year U.S. Sailing membership, sailing instruction and lunches. Students can opt to bring a sleeping bag and stay overnight in the sailboat bunks. Breakfast and dinner and transportation to the school docks in Berkeley are extra. If you're coming from far away, it's worthwhile to compare fares to all three Bay Area airports: San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.
Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro Provider:Zara Tours Length:Five days Price:$1,000
Ascents of Everest or K2 are not in the cards for most adventure travelers, but Kilimanjaro—with its non-technical terrain, mild weather (by mountain standards), and elevation of less than 20,000 feet—presents mountain-climbing enthusiasts a real chance to top one of the world's seven summits.
Lots of providers sell Kilimanjaro treks, and many charge thousands of dollars for them. Quite a few companies that promote their treks in the U.S., though, are retailers rather than tour operators. They sell packages at a markup while contracting the ground operation in Tanzania to someone else.
Not so with Zara Tours, the largest Kilimanjaro outfitter, which runs its own operation in Tanzania and employs its own guides and porters, so it can offer travelers both lower rates and a more experienced staff than many other companies. Its five-day Marangu-route trek is its cheapest and easiest Kilimanjaro trip, and a good choice for those seeking a bit more comfort. The Marangu is the only one of Kilimanjaro's trails with mountain huts along the way.
The 20-mile trek (each way) starts in the rainforest on the mountain's eastern slopes and ambles through local villages, heath land, and lunar-looking boulder fields, finally ending at 19,340 feet on Kilimanjaro's broad, glaciated summit. Porters carry most of the equipment and food while guides assist and encourage you as you make your way up to higher elevations. Nights are spent in the mountain huts, and cooks prepare your meals.
"This trip was one of the highlights of my life," says Toronto-based graphic designer Kitty McKechnie, who recently climbed Kilimanjaro on a Zara trek. "I can't say enough amazing things about the guides and the crew. If it weren't for their help and encouragement, I'm not sure my trip to the summit would have been what it was. I will always remember the last few steps to the summit, the amazing feeling of accomplishment and the view that took my breath away. It will be with me forever."
Treks are scheduled year-round. January to March and July to August are considered the best months, weather-wise. The quoted $1,000 price applies to climbs with six or more members, and any trip occurring between April 1 and June 15 or during the month of November. The price is $50 more in other circumstances. Costs cover airport transfers from the Kilimanjaro or Dar es Salaam airports, hotel and mountain hut accommodations, all meals on the trek, and porters and guides. Tips for the guides are extra and you are expected to bring your own backpacking gear. Round-trip flights from Boston to Dar es Salaam start at $1,380, including taxes on American and Emirates.
Kayak Quebec's Saguenay Fjord Provider:H2Outfitters Length:Seven days Price:$975
You don't need to go all the way to Alaska or Baja to kayak in a pristine wilderness and see amazing wildlife. Little known to U.S. residents, Quebec's Saguenay Fjord, one of North America's rare true fjords, provides breathtaking scenery, exciting kayaking (riding 15- to 17-foot tides), and encounters with whales.
Although just a few hours from Quebec City, the 60-mile-long fjord appears almost as it did more than 470 years ago when first explored by Europeans. Nearly 1,500-foot granite cliffs thrust out of the water, eventually giving way to soft green hills covered in thick pine forests. Part of the St. Lawrence River Estuary, the fjord is a salt and fresh water mix, creating a nutrient-rich marine ecosystem attracting several species of whales. They range from the sociable, pure-white beluga to the largest creature on the planet, the blue whale.
Maine-based H2Outfitters is the only U.S. company operating trips in the area. Its annual seven-day Saguenay Fjord kayak trip runs in August. You'll paddle for five of the seven days and cover six to 12.5 miles per day. Nights are spent camping in tucked-away sites accessible only by boat. Traveling with the current, you'll pass by small islands, caves created by glaciers, waterfalls, and rock walls that reveal sediments in spiraling patterns. Seals are a common sight, but it's at Baie St. Marguerite that you find the real excitement: beluga whales.
"There was one special day when beluga whales were swimming upstream to one of their favorite feeding bays, and they swam under and around us for what seemed like an hour or so," says Tom Boghosian of Mays Landing, New Jersey, who did the trip last year. "It was a thrill."
This trip runs August 2 to 9. The $975 price includes campground fees, kayaks, spray-skirts and life jacket, wetsuits, most meals, and guides. You must provide your own camping equipment and transportation to the start point in St. Rose du Nord, Quebec. Flights from New York to Quebec City, where the nearest major airport is located, start at $299, including all taxes, on Hotwire. From Quebec City, it's a three-hour drive.
The wild rivers of Croatia Provider:Huck Finn Adventures Length:Eight days Price:$715
With Croatia emerging as a popular destination for Americans, you may have heard about its stunning coastline characterized by clean topaz waters and historic white-marble cities. But you may not know Croatia is also home to some of Europe's prettiest and most exciting rivers—perfect for kayaking and whitewater rafting.
During the Balkan War of the 1990s, when no one was thinking about visiting Croatia, aeronautics engineer and paddling guru Zeljko Kelemen was busy scouting the country's rivers and occasionally taking UN peacekeepers out for a rafting trip. He knew that one day tourists would be back, and he could introduce them to adventure travel. Today, he operates the top adventure company in Croatia, Huck Finn Adventures.
"We were the first adventure travel outfitter in the country and are still the only company using all our own gear, bases, and guides, with no middlemen," says Kelemen. "And, most of our trips are under $1,000, even in high season."
The company runs day trips and five- to eight-day tours all over Croatia, but for the best combination of scenery and variety, Kelemen recommends his eight-day "Rivers by the Sea" tour. The package combines kayaking and rafting in several national parks with sea kayaking around one of the lesser-known islands in the Adriatic.
Basing yourself in the ancient Illyrian city of Skradin just outside Krka River National Park, you'll spend the first day working on your paddling skills on a mild portion of the Krka River. Next, you'll head out to sea for kayaking, snorkeling, and swimming around Vrgada Island, a traditional fishing and farming community. Later, you'll explore the clear waters and abundant waterfalls of the Zrmanja, Krupa, and Cetina rivers by canoe and raft. In between activities you'll also visit important cultural cities like Zadar and Sibenik, and have free time for relaxing or doing optional activities like biking Krka River National Park or visiting Kornati Islands National Park.
The trip runs weekly June 7 through September 27. The $715 trip price applies to the June 7 and 14 and September 20 and 27 departures. Prices are higher for other dates. Rates include accommodations, two meals per day, group activities and equipment, a tour leader and river guides, entrance fees and permits; use of kayaks, spray-skirts and life jackets, and wetsuits; meals, guides, and transfers from the Zadar or Split airports. Late-September flights from Newark to Zadar, Croatia, start at $1,076, including all taxes, on United and Croatia Airlines.
The Mountaineers Route to Mt. WhitneyProvider:REI Adventures Length:Four days Price:$675
The tallest mountain in the continental U.S., Mt. Whitney (14,496 feet) attracts more peak-baggers than any other summit in California's Sierra Nevadas. Most hikers climb the mountain via the strenuous but non-technical John Muir or Mt. Whitney trails, typically planning months ahead to secure the required-but-hard-to-get entry permits. Some, only able to obtain a one-day pass, hit the trail before dawn to complete the 22-mile trip in one grueling slog.
REI Adventures offers a more attractive alternative for those with more time and ambition. During the summer and early fall, REI runs four-day Mt. Whitney summit trips which tackle the peak via a lesser-used classic alpine route.
"The Mountaineers Route is more challenging, more direct, and provides breathtaking views of Whitney and the surrounding peaks," says REI Adventures Weekend Getaways Coordinator Justin Wood.
The trip begins with an overnight at a campsite near Lone Pine, California, to acclimatize before the first day of climbing. "[Starting the second day] from the bottom of the desert floor, this climb leads through fragrant ponderosa pine, up into high alpine landscapes of wildflowers and towering granite peaks," says Wood. "[After sunset and some sleep] we set out under the bright Sierra stars, climbing to a turquoise alpine lake for sunrise, continuing up steep and challenging terrain that eventually gives way to the broad summit."
Depending on conditions, you'll need to scramble up rock using ropes or traverse a snowfield with crampons and ice-axes. No prior mountaineering experience is required, but you do need to be in good shape. "A fit hiker with camping experience, preferably with backpacking experience, could look to this climb for a taste of what makes mountaineering more difficult than traditional backpacking, including carrying a heavier pack on steeper terrain and at altitude," says Wood.
Trips are scheduled weekly from July 10 through October 2. Rates cover guides, mountaineering instruction and equipment, all meals, tents, and permits. The $675 price noted above is for REI members; non-members are charged $715 for the trip, so it's worth paying $20 for an REI lifetime membership if you don't already have one. You'll need to bring your own sleeping bag and backpack. You must arrange your own transportation to the trip start point. The closest airport with regular service is located in Bakersfield, (169 miles away), but you'll probably find cheaper fares to Los Angeles (210 miles west) or Las Vegas (230 miles east). Rental cars are available at these airports.
Mysterious Laos unveiled Provider:Exotissimo Length:Six days Price:$691
After centuries of being "forgotten" by much of the outside world, Laos is finally emerging from the mists and attracting curious travelers. Many who've ventured to the country have declared it the most beautiful and unspoiled country in Southeast Asia, and this year, the New York Times has declared it the number one "next hot spot" to visit.
The country's tourism infrastructure is in its infancy and most Laotians do not speak English, so for most travelers it's a good idea to book a tour. The locally based company Exotissimo was one of the first outfitters to run trips in Laos, and offers tours that combine adventure activities and cultural exploration. Its six-day trip based in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage city, offers an up-close look at traditional Buddhist communities and easy access to stunning countryside.
"Visiting Laos might be considered as a retreat, a return to the past, where you are surrounded by natural and rural life," says Laurent Granier, general manager of Exotissimo Laos. "Buddhism and animist beliefs are truly part of the daily life here. Vats (pagodas and temples) abound, with novices and monks in bright orange sarongs wandering around and followers offering food and alms with the rising sun. Laos is primarily a country of mountains and rivers, and people live at the pace of the seasons and with the water levels."
On the trip, your guide will show you the important temples and museums of the city and take you to markets where you can sample spicy Lao curries and barbecued meat kebabs. On excursions outside Luang Prabang, you'll journey down the Mekong to visit the Pak Ou caves (where thousands of golden Buddha statues have been collected over the centuries), trek to hill-tribe villages, bike through rice paddies, and ride an elephant through the jungle to a waterfall.
"All the encounters with people are the highlights of the trip," says Granier. "[You] can test your skills in pottery, weaving, and other crafts at the many stops we make along the trekking paths. The locals are welcoming and will be pleased if you join them for a while."
This trip can be arranged at any time with a minimum of two people. Prices cover accommodations, guides, some meals, sightseeing and activities, and ground transportation. Round-trip December fares from Los Angeles to Luang Prabang start at $1,606, including taxes, from CheapTickets.
Hike, bike, ride, and fly over Sedona, Arizona Provider:Arizona Tourism Center Length:Four days Price:$681
The ethereal red rock formations and magnetic vibe of Sedona, Arizona, have long drawn crystal-bedizened New Agers seeking spiritual enlightenment and rich out-of-towners hunting for hot real estate. Adventure travelers, especially mountain bikers, are a more recent addition.
Thanks to the Arizona Tourism Center, you can tailor a Sedona adventure tour to your interests and budget. Here's one diverse itinerary you might consider for a four-day trip.
Base yourself in a one-bedroom suite at the Sedona Summit Resort, located on the western edge of town. On your first day, get out into the canyons and learn about the area's Native American heritage on a four-hour "Rim n' Ruins" tour with Earth Wisdom Jeep Tours. You'll climb old stage coach trails up 2,000 feet to the top of Mogollon Rim and hike to ancient cliff dwellings. The next day, begin your ride along some of Sedona's best slick-rock and single-track on a four-hour guided mountain bike outing with Sedona MTB Adventures. Recover a little the next day with an easy hike in the Red Rock District of Coconino National Forest, which surrounds Sedona. In the evening, go on a sunset trail ride topped off with a Western barbeque at the M Diamond Ranch, a working cattle ranch.
Finally, treat yourself to an exhilarating flight over Sedona in one of Sedona Air Tours' open-topped biplanes. On the half-hour journey, you'll fly over Broken Arrow, Cathedral Rock, Red Canyon, and other famous rock formations.
"This was the best way to see Sedona and the surrounding area," says Mike Spencer of Windsor, England, who went on the "Mystic Canyon" flight.
This trip can be arranged at any time. Prices are per person and based on double occupancy. They cover accommodations ($245), jeep tour and hike ($98), mountain bike tour and rental ($100), hiking (free), trail ride and dinner ($109), and biplane flight ($129). You can arrange this and other itineraries by contacting the Arizona Tourism Center at 877-444-8044. Transportation and meals are extra. Sedona is a two-hour drive from the airport in Phoenix.
New Zealand's South Island on foot Provider:Hiking New Zealand Length:10 days Price:$915
You can hike almost anywhere, but many avid hikers (including myself) believe it's well worth the 13- to 20-hour flight across the Pacific to be able to hit the trails of New Zealand.
"New Zealand is the ultimate hikers' destination, with nearly a quarter of the country's land area set aside as national parks or special reserves, more than 850 backcountry huts available for public use, and thousands of kilometers of trails to be explored," says Daniel Murphy, general manager of the adventure company Hiking New Zealand. "To appreciate New Zealand one needs to explore its backcountry on foot; just seeing it from a car or bus window will not do."
Last year, avid Canadian hiker Katelin O'Neill wanted to go on a solo trip in New Zealand and decided to book a tour with Hiking New Zealand. She chose the company's 10-day "Secret South" trip, an itinerary that includes hiking in some of the lesser-known corners of New Zealand's wild South Island. "I wouldn't have felt confident enough to venture out on my own and Hiking New Zealand seemed to provide a variety of real and rugged options within the spectrum of outdoor adventure while having the security of a reliable guide," says O'Neill.
On the trip, you'll hike a portion of the famous Routeburn Track in Fiordland National Park, kayak in the shadow of the velvety green peaks of Milford Sound ($100 extra), walk along the unspoiled Catlins Coast and Cannibal Bay, and trek around Mt. Cook, the country's highest mountain. Depending on the group, you may also be able to fit in extra activities. "[We did] things that weren't mentioned in the brochure," says O'Neill. "One serene evening after dinner we drove into the Tasman Valley for a short walk that led us to a platform of boulders overlooking the Tasman glacier, lit by a radiant full moon. Mt. Cook was to our left and the Nun's Vail on our right. It was so quiet and still—it has got to be one of my favorite places on earth."
Trips are scheduled regularly each month except June to August. Rates cover guides, ground transportation, cooking and safety equipment, maps and most camping equipment. You'll spend the nights camping or staying in backcountry huts. A local payment of 20 NZD per day (about $16 U.S.; see XE.com for current exchange rates) covers food and accommodations. Sleeping bags, backpacks, and airfare are extra. Round-trip September flights from Los Angeles to Queenstown, the trip start point, begin at $1,433 including all taxes and fees on American and Qantas.
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