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Special Excerpt
Wild Horizons: The Best Trips for 2004
The world's not getting any bigger. But the ways to explore its wildest corners keep getting better. Here are the 25 best trips in the world in five great categories, from expeditions on the frontiers of adventure to surprisingly affordable budget escapes. By Sarah J.M. Tuff
 
THE EXPLORERS CLUB

Roaming the Egyptian Desert
For truly intrepid spirits (on truly limited budgets), Egypt is now accessible with this new nine-day trip from G.A.P. Adventures. Travelers explore Cairo markets, Roman catacombs, Coptic monasteries, and desert oases—all for $520. How? Public transportation (trolleys, taxis, even donkey carts) and meals and lodging in family-run guest houses. Jeff Russill, G.A.P.'s head of adventure travel, admits that this trip isn't for those who are used to four-star accommodations, but if you're willing to put up with a little inconvenience, he says, "you can experience the whole country." After wandering Cairo, guests head to Alexandria and Rashid (where Napoleon's soldiers found the Rosetta stone). The seaside slips away in a day's drive—on a public bus—to the Western Desert, where camp is pitched among the windswept dunes. Cleopatra and Alexander the Great once roamed this area, but they never biked amid the salt lakes of Siwa. (800-465-5600; www.gapadventures.com)

WHY THIS TRIP: By traveling close to the ground, you get closer to the real Egypt—and save a bundle in the process.
COST: $520, from Cairo.
DEPARTURES: Twelve times a year, in spring, winter, and fall.
SECURITY: Police presence at tourist sites has increased since the 1997 massacre of 58 foreigners near Luxor, in Upper Egypt. Since then, no attacks on tourists have occurred in the country.

THE SPORTING LIFE

Wheeling in New Zealand's Wilderness
Whatever forces conspired to create New Zealand's South Island sure got it right, at least as far as road bikers are concerned: glaciated peaks, velvety fjords, and rolling, ridable farmland, all in an area that's roughly half the size of Colorado. "You can find this scenery in America," says guide Geoff Gabites, "but what can't be replicated is the amazing proximity between places." World Expeditions' 11-day Tour de Kiwi starts in Christchurch, cruises through the rugged Fiordland region, and travels New Zealand's highest road (3,678 feet or 1,121 meters), but it's the ride to turquoise Lake Tekapo that gets the biggest wow—the Southern Alps stare you in the face. One day ends with a ten-mile (sixteen-kilometer) descent to Milford Sound, where footage for the first Lord of the Rings movie was filmed. "In the closing scene," says Gabites, "I swear I can see my bike tracks on the shore." (888-464-8735; www.weadventures.com)

WHY THIS TRIP: It packs all of the highlights of the South Island into one outing.
COST: $1,890, from Christchurch, New Zealand.
DEPARTURES: Six times a year, January to April.
DIY OPTION: The South Island has killer mountain biking, too; the easiest way to reach top terrain is on a heli-biking trip. Book a room at the Aoraki Lodge ($55 and up; +64-3-435-0300) in the town of Twizel, then day-trip with Heli Bike (+64-3-435-0626; www.helibike.com). Rentals are about $15 a day, and the choppers fly to six areas in the Mount Cook region, ranging from dramatic Benmore mountain ($111) to the easy Sunset Gully ($76).

THE ANIMAL TREKS

The Primate Combo
They're distressingly rare and make their home in one of the most unstable regions on Earth—and seeing one of them up close is arguably one of life's most transforming experiences. With a five-year peace still holding in Rwanda and military escorts providing security, now's the time to climb through the forests of Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park for a brief but powerful encounter with endangered mountain gorillas. It's a strictly controlled hour-long experience but one that conveys an extraordinary sense of kinship. "Other animals may look at you," says Becci Crowe, a Washington State artist and recent trekker, "but gorillas watch you. They're as curious as you are." Africa Adventure Company's 14-day trip begins with two gorilla encounters but then moves on by plane to three other wildlife zones in neighboring Tanzania: Mahale Mountains National Park, where trekkers visit habituated chimps; the Chada camp in Katavi National Park, a vast habitat for lions, elephants, hippos, and buffalo; and the new Greystoke camp, on Lake Tanganyika, 80 miles from the nearest road. (800-882-9453; www.africa-adventure.com)

WHY THIS TRIP: It could take several trips from other outfitters to match the range of wildlife experiences offered on Africa Adventure's deluxe sampler.
COST: $6,995, from Kigali, Rwanda.
DEPARTURES: Year-round. Best time: June to November.
SECURITY: Rwandan Defense Forces safeguard park visitors against armed poachers and rebel groups from the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

THE SHOESTRING SOJOURN

Secrets of Capitol Reef
With its limited infrastructure, Capitol Reef National Park, a skinny finger of canyons, cliffs, and domes, has long been overlooked by hikers in favor of its more camping-friendly neighbors, Canyonlands and Zion. But an affordable new five-day trip from Escalante Canyon Outfitters (ECO) guides clients to hidden treasures in the southern half of the park: hanging gardens, reflecting pools, rock mazes. Gear is horse-packed in to a base camp near a cottonwood-shaded stream. After the secrets of each day are revealed, there's one more surprise ahead—the lush night sky. "People say, 'There are more stars than dark!'" claims ECO co-owner and founder Grant Johnson. "That and 'How come there's nobody here?'" (888-326-4453; www.ecohike.com)

WHY THIS TRIP: ECO has spent 12 years exploring the intricate wilds of the Escalante region.
COST: $995, from Boulder, Utah.
DEPARTURES: Three times a year, in March and April.
DIY OPTION: Without horses to lug water and other necessities into Capitol Reef's seldom visited corners, biking is a better alternative to hoofing it on your own. Bikers must stay on roads; a 59-mile (95-kilometer) loop leads into the isolated Cathedral Valley at the northern end of the park. Camp halfway at one of six sites in the Cathedral Valley campground (free; 435-425-3791; www.nps.gov/care).

THE FIVE-STAR WILDERNESS

Homer's New Alaskan Odyssey
Few things are as sublime as slicing through the ice-blue waters of Alaska's Kachemak Bay, a 400,000-acre (161,874-hectare) state park sheltered by glaciated peaks. Except, of course, "hot showers, fresh salmon, and fresh oysters," says guide Liz Buck, who led Alaska Discovery's first lodge-to-lodge sea-kayaking trip through the bay in June. "You kayak hard, then you clean up and eat all this wonderful stuff." Alaska Discovery's nine-day paddle offers first-rate kayaking (six to eight miles, or ten to thirteen kilometers, daily, with tours of coves and inlets populated by puffins, eagles, porpoises, and sea otters) and lodgings to match (quarters range from a converted lighthouse to an oyster farm with a wood-fired sauna). As the kayaks drip-dry on the beaches, guests go on glacier hikes, dig for steamer clams, or relax with a glass of wine. The trip coincides with summer solstice, so there's plenty of daylight for paddling, exploring, and tucking into all that local bounty. (800-586-1911; www.akdiscovery.com)

WHY THIS TRIP: It's a first-class outing on a fresh kayaking ground.
COST: $3,995, from Homer, Alaska.
DEPARTURES: Three times a year, in June and July.
DIY OPTION: Experienced paddlers can do the bay on their own by renting kayaks in Homer from Mako's Water Taxi ($45 a day for singles; 907-235-9055), ferrying across the bay ($50 round-trip), and renting a park cabin ($50; 907-269-8400).

Get the full scoop on next year's best trips in the November 2003 issue of Adventure.

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November 2003



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