High Tatra Trekking in Poland and Slovakia Provider: KE Adventure Travel Length: Eight days Price: $995
While the Alps may be the most popular trekking destination in Europe, Eastern Europe boasts its fair share of snow-capped peaks and high alpine meadowlands, too—many of them linked by way-marked trails and mountain huts like those in France, Switzerland, and Italy. Unlike many central European routes, however, the Eastern treks are more remote and less developed, meaning you're not as likely to encounter lots of other hikers and you may even have the chance to spot wild animals like bear, wolves, and lynx. On top of that, guided tours are significantly cheaper, sometimes costing 40% less than similar trips in the central Alps.
KE Adventure Travel, which ranked as National Geographic Adventure's top trekking outfitter for 2007, leads an eight-day trek through Poland and Slovakia's Tatra Mountains. You'll traverse over rugged ridges and past glacial lakes, summit Poland's highest peak (Rysy, 8,199 feet), and ramble through farms and pastureland, traditional mountain villages, and thick pine forests inhabited by wild animals long since hunted out in Western Europe. You'll stop for meals and evening stays in mountain huts, so there's no need to carry food or camping supplies. At the end of the trip, there's time to explore Krakow, also known as "Florence of the North."
Departures are scheduled for July 18 and September 19. Rates include airport transfers, hotel and mountain hut accommodations, most meals, ground transportation, and guides. Some meals and airfare to Krakow are extra.
Gorilla trekking and culture tours in Rwanda Provider: Amahoro Tours Length: Four days Price: $1,000
Imagine coming face-to-face with wild gorillas—no fences, no glass, no zoo keepers—just a few feet of leafy vegetation separating you and the majestic primates. There's no need for alarm: You're a guest in their home, the Virunga Mountains in northern Rwanda, and as long you mind your manners, you're welcome to stay for awhile.
It feels a bit like attending a family reunion, except the relatives are bigger and hairier. Mothers cradle infants while toddlers bounce on their father's stomach and aunts and uncles and cousins mill about, nibbling on wild vegetables. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and well worth the trip to this tiny country that's made remarkable progress toward becoming one of Africa's safest and most fascinating destinations.
Gorilla trekking is the country's biggest tourist draw by far, but you should take an extra few days for further exploration. Ruhengeri-based Amahoro Tours can arrange packages that mix gorilla trekking with village tours or sight-seeing in the capital city of Kigali. On one of the company's four-day trips, you can go gorilla trekking, meet with genocide survivors who now make their living weaving colorful baskets, learn traditional banana beer brewing techniques, and visit an orphanage. Your trip ends with a Kigali city tour, including stops at the Gisozi Genocide Memorial, the city center and Muslim quarters, and a craft market.
This tour can be arranged at any time. Rates include airport transfers and all ground transportation, accommodations, gorilla trekking and the required $500 permit, village activities and sightseeing, and guides. Meals and airfare to Kigali are extra.
Rafting the Yampa through Dinosaur National Monument Provider: O.A.R.S. Length: Four or five days Price: $702 to $990
A rafting trip down the Yampa River through Utah and Colorado's Dinosaur National Monument promises exhilarating whitewater and wilderness, and a chance to travel through time. The river slices deep through layers of sedimentary rock, revealing evidence both from the age of the dinosaurs and from human settlements dating back 10,000 years. History unfolds as you pass by 1,000-foot-tall canyon walls and side gorges containing fossils, ancient rock art, and Native American ruins.
O.A.R.S., the premier rafting company in the West, runs four- and five-day Yampa trips in May, June and July, when the river swells with whitewater from snowmelt that's made its way down from the Rockies. On the trip, you'll traverse the park from East to West, rafting from Deerlodge Park in Colorado to Split Mountain Canyon in Utah. This includes Class III and IV rapids; breaks for swimming and hiking to see hidden waterfalls, ruins, and fossils; and camping on sandy river beaches.
Trip costs include all meals, rafting equipment, guides, and transportation from Vernal, Utah. Five-day trips accompanied by a professional geologist cost $990 (May 13 and 23, June 6) while regular five-day trips cost $835 (June 29 and July 6 and 11). One four-day trip departs June 25 and costs $702. You must provide your own transportation to and from Vernal, as well as your tent and sleeping bag (or rent them from O.A.R.S. for an additional cost).
Hiking, biking, and surfing in Costa Rica Provider: G.A.P Adventures Length: Nine days Price: $949
Central America's undisputed adventure mecca, Costa Rica offers so many quality options, from zip lining and volcano hiking to wildlife watching and surfing. It can be hard to choose which activities to make the focus of your trip. G.A.P Adventures attempts to solve this dilemma with its new Volcanoes & Surf tour, which packs a wide range of activities into one affordable nine-day journey.
After meeting your group in San Jose, you'll start with a hike around the active Arenal Volcano, which is surrounded by lush rainforest. "If travelers are lucky they may see the top [of Arenal] glowing an eerie red, set to a soundtrack of monkeys and the rumblings of the volcano," says G.A.P Adventures' Kira Zack.
Then, you'll take a boat across Lake Arenal and go mountain biking along its shores and over gently rolling hills. Later, venture into the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, where you can see 320 different species of birds and 100 types of mammals. The trip is capped off with two days at the Zopilote Surf Camp on Playa Hermosa de Cobano, a laidback beach town on the Pacific Coast with great year-round surfing conditions. No experience is necessary: Beginners get a two-hour lesson each day and free use of boards throughout their stay.
This trip departs monthly through 2010. The price includes accommodations, two breakfasts and two dinners, activities, ground transportation, and guides. Most meals, optional activities, and airfare to San Jose are extra.
Cycling the Maine coast Provider: Summer Feet…Maine Coast Cycling Adventures Length: Three days Price: $725
While many adventure tours in coastal Maine focus on water sports like kayaking and sailing, trips with Portland-based Summer Feet explore the state's famously fissured shores by bike. "Maine's dramatic coastline provides lots of variety in terrain, so there's something for everyone," says Sheila Reiser of Summer Feet. "Most routes have rolling terrain with a few long, slow climbs and a few shorter, steeper climbs. The road winds through fields, woods, and quaint villages. You [may] come around a corner and [be] presented with a stunning panorama, complete with rocky cliffs, fishing boats bobbing at their moorings, and colorful lobster buoys scattered across a clear blue bay with the sparkling sea stretching to the horizon."
On the company's three-day Sailboats and Summer Folk trip, you'll cycle along what are arguably the prettiest routes in the state, starting on the first day with a six-mile jaunt from Camden to the village of Rockport. The next day, you'll travel by ferry to Islesboro island, home to a classic old-fashioned New England resort community and mostly car-free cycling. On the final day, choose between a short 10- or 20-mile route so you have time for some shopping, or head out on a more ambitious 40- or 50-mile trek to the end of St. George Peninsula. If you think you're missing out on water time, no worries—one evening you'll have the chance to sail the Penobscot Bay in a classic wooden schooner.
Departures are scheduled for June 26, July 24, August 14, September 18, and October 2 and 16. Rates include accommodations, some meals and snacks, cycling with van support, route maps and notes, sailing, and guides. You may bring your own bike or rent one from Summer Feet. You must provide your own transportation to Camden, Maine, the trip start point.
Discovering Argentina's high deserts Provider: Socompa Length: Five days Price: $950
Why go to Argentina? Well, there's the culture of Buenos Aires, the wine regions, the mountains of Patagonia, and the ethereal deserts of Puna. Not familiar with that last attraction? Neither are most travelers, but this remote region in northwest Argentina has many of the trappings of the world's most popular desert destinations—Monument Valley's sandstone buttes, southern Utah's red rock canyons, New Mexico's white sand dunes, and the volcanoes and vastness of the Atacama. Plus, it has its own unique features: Pre-Inca ruins, giant lagoons filled with pink flamingos, and golden grass valleys populated by llamas and vicunas.
Not many outfitters visit the region, but Argentinean company Socompa specializes in overland tours of Puna, and offers a five-day expedition to Puna's Antofagasta de la Sierra subregion for less than $1,000 per person. Driving in a 4X4, you'll travel some 900 miles over isolated roads, sometimes passing no other vehicles for days, and reach elevations of more than 13,000 feet. The first few days you stop at sites such as Quilmes, an ancient ruin dating back to 1000 A.D.; the fiery red Conchas Gorge; Camp Piedra Pomiz—pumice stone formations set within white sand dunes—and Lagoon Grande, which sparkles pink as thousands of Andean flamingos move about its surface. Later, you'll hike the cone of Antofagasta Volcano, stay overnight in the tiny green oasis of Antofalla, and wind your way through the Labyrinth Desert.
This trip can be arranged at any time. Rates are based on four people traveling together and include accommodations, some meals, transportation, activities, and guides. Airfare to the trip start point in Salta, Argentina, is extra.
Tracking wolves and bears in Yellowstone Provider: Wildlife Expeditions of Teton Science Schools Length: Three days Price: $950
There's no need to fly to Africa to go on a safari in search of big game predators. You can safely observe majestic wild animals like wolves, black bears, and grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park on a trip with Wildlife Expeditions of Teton Science Schools of Jackson.
Sure, you could drive along the park roads yourself and hope to spot the animals, but your chances of finding these elusive predators in Yellowstone's 14-million acre ecosystem get a lot better when you go with one of the Wildlife Expeditions' biologists, who know the best locations and times of day to observe wolves and bears.
Wildlife Expeditions runs three-day bear and wolf tours in the spring, a time of year when baby animals and wildflowers are plentiful, but tourists are not. On the trip, you'll venture to spots like Lamar Valley, dubbed "America's Serengeti," where you might witness a wolf hunt, and Hayden Valley, a popular grizzly bear hangout. Your sharp-eyed biologist guide will be on constant lookout for wolves and bears and will offer insight into the animal behavior you see. Along the way, you'll make stops to view other species like bison, elk, and coyotes, as well as to visit some of Yellowstone's famous geological and geothermal sites.
Program start dates include April 26; May 1, 6, 10, 13, 17, 22, 26, and 29; and June 2. Fall programs run September 10, 17, 20, and 24 and October 1 and 8. Rates cover round-trip transportation from Jackson, accommodations, meals, entrance fees, and biologist-accompanied wildlife viewing excursions. Transportation to Jackson is extra.
Learning to whitewater kayak Provider: Nantahala Outdoor Center Length: Five days Price: $999
Combining the rapid running of whitewater rafting with solo paddling, whitewater kayaking is an ideal sport for independent-minded thrill seekers. This demanding activity requires more skill than some other water sports, so it's a very good idea to take a course with a safety-minded outfitter before trying it on your own. The Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina, which has been recognized as one of the best whitewater kayaking schools in the country, runs five-day courses suitable for beginners that promise to prepare you to handle Class I and II rapids on your own.
Novices start out practicing basic skills like kayak rolls in the calm Fontana Lake before moving on to easy sections of moving water in the Nantahala, Little Tennessee, or Tuckaseegee rivers. Each evening you'll have the chance to review your progress with instructors and analyze video shot during the day. By the end of the week, most students are ready to navigate Class II and III rapids on the Nantahala.
Courses start every Sunday between April 6 and September 14. The price includes accommodations, meals, transportation to and from the river, and whitewater kayaking gear and instruction. You must provide your own transportation to Bryson City, North Carolina, and the closest airport is in Asheville.
Riding Whistler's mountain trails Provider: Whistler Bike Guide Adventures Length: Six days Price: $720
The site of the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler, British Columbia, is not only one of North America's top snow sport destinations, it's also home to some of the best mountain biking on the planet. "If there's [another] place that combines legendary free riding, cross country trails, family routes, and the world's leading lift serviced downhill, we haven't seen it," says Chris Ford, co-owner of Whistler Bike Guide Adventures.
On Whistler Bike Guide's six-day "Full Pull" tour, bikers of all abilities can experience a wide range of Whistler's most scenic and challenging routes. After your guides—all long-time local bikers—determine your experience level and outfit you with a top-of-the-line Santa Cruz bike, you'll dig right in with two full days of riding. Beginners might start on gently rolling terrain while experts can venture in remote mountain areas with steep climbs and technical descents. The next two days you'll mix it up with a half day of riding followed by zip-lining and then a day of whitewater rafting on the Class II and III Green River. The trip ends with another half-day ride, but you can add more full days if you like.
Tours depart each Saturday May through mid-October. Prices cover lodging, ground transportation within Whistler, some meals and snacks, use of a mountain bike rental and other cycling gear, activities, and guides. Airfare to Whistler is extra.
Volunteering with elephants in India Provider: i-to-i Length: 14 days Price: $790
Because of the nature of voluntourism—extended stays in one location, hands-on involvement with local people and projects, and home stays or local accommodations—volunteer travelers often return home having had richer and more fulfilling travel experiences than those who went on more traditional package tours. You can try to set up overseas volunteering on your own, but you may find it easier (and ultimately more affordable) to work with an organization that can offer you training and support and place you with a project that has been thoroughly vetted.
U.K.-based i-to-i is one of the leading volunteer travel organizations around, sending thousands of volunteers each year to work on dozens of projects in 23 different countries. Projects can range from sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica to teaching English to Buddhist monks in Nepal.
On one popular program in India, you can help take care of the personable Asian elephants who work carrying tourists at the royal Amber Fort in Jaipur. Each morning, while the elephants are away working, you'll clean their quarters and prepare their food, and in the afternoon, you can help the elephants unwind from their day by giving them massages and affection. You'll also get to learn about elephant behavior by interacting with mahouts, the elephant owners who live and work with the elephants on a daily basis. During your assignment you'll live with a local Indian family.
This program has two to three start dates each month. The price covers accommodations, all meals, in-country training, and elephant activities. Ground transportation between your accommodations and the project and airfare to Jaipur are extra.
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