To make SmarterTravel.com's annual top 10 list of best adventure bargains, a trip can't merely be affordable. Anybody can do cheap, and cheap isn't always good. A real bargain adventure has to work hard for the money you put into it, offering you a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience, teaching you new skills you can apply elsewhere, or providing a depth and breadth of experiences at a cost you'd be hard pressed to match on your own. The very best bargains do all three. Here are 10 great trips that live up to these standards.
Discover the wild side of the Emerald Isle
Provider: Extreme Ireland Length: 15 days Price: about $2,045
Just a few years ago, extreme travel in Ireland meant trying to go pint for pint with the locals and then make it to your accommodations in one piece. But with its velvety green mountains, rocky West Coast, and numerous natural and prehistoric wonders—like the Giant's Causeway and the megalithic tomb of Newgrange—Ireland has always had the potential to be a true adventure destination. Yet, for the most part, escorted Ireland vacations have mostly consisted of overpriced "tea-and-scones" sightseeing bus tours and high-end golf or equestrian trips.
In 2008, thankfully, that's no longer a problem. Three years ago, after traveling the world and seeing adventure travel blossoming in destinations like New Zealand, Ireland natives Keith McDonnell and Mike Murphy started Extreme Ireland, an adventure company that aims to show travelers on a budget the wild side of the Emerald Isle. "We have mountains that rival any in the world. We have the remoteness that many people seek to get away from their hectic lives. If you are interested in mountain biking we have two world-class tracks. We have rock climbing all over the country inland and also numerous amazing cliffs. If you like kayaking you will not be disappointed. The list goes on. I know many countries have [similar attributes] but you mix these with the welcome you get here, the craic (Gaelic word for fun), and the proximity of everything, and you really can't beat Ireland," says McDonnell.
Extreme Ireland's most wide-ranging and best value trip, the Emerald Tour, packs more activities into two weeks than you could hope to organize on your own in a month, all for about $136 a day. Led by McDonnell, Murphy, or another company guide, you'll hike Dingle Peninsula, Connemara, and Donegal; summit Ireland's tallest and second tallest peaks as well as the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick; go cliff walking in County Clare and Donegal; and even learn the uniquely Irish sport of hurling. There are a number of cultural and historical excursions, too, like visits to the ancient Glendalough monastery and the Newgrange tomb.
"Extreme Ireland gave us exactly what we were looking for—personalized service, great support, fantastic hiking, and wonderful accommodations, not to mention the fine and friendly people we met," says James Benn, a writer from the U.S. who recently went on the tour.
The quality of the guides stands out in the minds of other Extreme Ireland guests as well. "Keith [McDonnell] is very professional and has a great sense of humor. He knows all the roads and paths like the back of his hand, and he introduces you to people around the country, so you feel you are really experiencing Ireland and its people," says Israeli Anat Halvey, who on went the trip last year.