Adventure Travel: North America Central America
Difficulty: Trips are rated from 1(easy) to 5 (difficult)
DIY Potential: Use this itinerary as inspiration in planning a do-it-yourself trip
First Ever: Exploratory trips, undiscovered places
Volcano-Hopping Nicaragua >>
Biking Red-Rock New Mexico >>
Sea Kayking, Hiking Costa Rica >>
Climbing the North Cascades, Washington >>
Sea Kayaking the Mediterranean, Italy >>
Hiking Monte Rosa, Switerland >>
Trekking Oaxaca, Mexico >>
Nicaragua 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: GAP Adventures (www.gapadventures.com) Editor's Pick
Length: 15 days
Nicaragua is so hot right now, but few norteamericanos seem to know it: The country remains virtually untouched by the U.S. travel market, perhaps because most travelers recognize Nicaragua only as the other half of the Iran-Contra Affair. These days, though, the political climate has stabilized, and the future's looking more hopeful. Canada-based outfitter GAP Adventures introduced a new itinerary to the country this July. "Nicaragua still doesn't have as much in the way of tourist infrastructure as the rest of Central America," says GAP spokesperson Jeff Russill. "But that makes travel there the real thing."
GAP's groundbreaking trip starts in the capital, Managua, and continues to the Spanish colonial city of Granada, perched on the northwest shore of Lago de Nicaragua. You'll climb several of the region's stunning volcanoes, visit a live smoker in Volcán Masaya Parque Nacional, and journey to Isla de Ometepe, considered the world's largest volcanic island situated in a lake. The surrounding waters of Lago de Nicaragua are home to some of the only freshwater-adapted sharks on the planet, bull sharks. Along the way, à la carte activities let you play as hard as you like: hiking, biking, and surfing at the horseshoe-shaped cove of San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast or snorkeling off the deserted flour-sand beaches of former Caribbean pirate hideouts. You're unlikely to discover any buried bullion, but you'll be among the first to dig up Nicaragua's natural treasures.
Pick This If: You're an early adopter with a magma habit.
Putting Your Whole Self In
New Mexico 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Santa Fe Mountain Adventures (www.santafemountainadventures.com)
Length: Five days
"The color up there is different," Georgia O'Keeffe once said of the wildflowers and red-hued mountains of New Mexico. After her arrival in Santa Fe in 1929, O'Keeffe famously found inspiration by roaming the mountainous desert landscape. These days, the soulful still goes hand-in-hand with the outdoors at Santa Fe Mountain Adventures, a brand-new outfit that started operating in the area in May. "We're doing a beloved outdoor destination in a new way, combining active elements with holistic components such as an adventure spa program," says director Janine Sieja. "We've found that, more and more, people want to fulfill spiritual as well as physical goals."
SFMA is an "adventure concierge" service, the latest buzz in adventure travel. Essentially, you tell them how you want to spend your days, and they make it happen: You can raft down the Rio Grande in the morning, hike among the Native American sites at Bandelier National Monument in the afternoon, and end the day with a desert sage massage. Local guides will lead you to hidden canyons and the best rivers for catching cutthroat trout, and Sieja will show you Ravens Ridge, her favorite hike, with incredible views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. "People can enjoy an adventure outdoors that's also cultural and reward themselves with good food and a great place to stay," says CAO (chief adventure officer) Owen Perillo. "In some way, they change their lifestyle—maybe it's a new sport, maybe it's taking up yoga or meditation. This place gives people techniques to be better balanced in the rest of their lives."
Pick This If: You want all the perks of a deluxe Southwest adventure, without any planning.
Swiss Family Robinson
Costa Rica 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Backroads (www.backroads.com)
Length: Six days
Next year, Berkeley, Californiabased Backroads offers a new multisport itinerary to Costa Rica's Península de Osa, where inland jungle collides with the Pacific and the country's first national park, Corcovado, was created in 1975. The six-day trip sets base camp at La Paloma Lodge, a jumping-off point for customized activities such as hikes among Corcovado's famous scarlet macaws, rain forest treks (at night, with night-vision goggles), sea kayaking the calm blue of Drake Bahía, and cruising out to Isla del Caño, a pre-Columbian Indian burial ground that is one of Costa Rica's few remaining indigenous areas. "We're responding to an emerging trend in outdoorsy family travel. It's for those people who are interested in active travel with their family, but want to do it without having to move around," says Tom Hale, founder and president of Backroads.
The Península de Osa's biodiversity is extraordinary—with more than 500 species of trees its arboreal diversity is the greatest in all of Central America. And while you'll access these lush forests in comfort (La Paloma has a pool overlooking the Pacific, solar-heated showers, and open-air balconies hung with hammocks), you won't ever forget you're in the wild—Drake Bahía just got electricity this year. In addition to meeting tapirs and sea turtles, kids can play organized soccer games with local youth groups. "Costa Rica offers so much in terms of nature and wildlife, but there's also a lot in terms of people," says trip leader Pam Fritz. "We'd like the kids to get a sense of that."
Pick This If: Your family vacation requires more oomph than a station wagon can deliver.
Departs: June, July, August
Pick Your Own Line
Washington 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Mountain Madness (www.mountainmadness.com)
Length: 12 days
There's a reason that Washington's North Cascades are called the North American Alps: Like the great European mountains, the range's hanging glaciers, jagged profiles, and long rock routes make it an enviable training ground for climbers who are learning to plan and lead remote expeditions. That's why Seattle-based mountaineering school Mountain Madness has chosen the North Cascades' Picket Range for a course designed to do just that. "On an expedition-style trip, you earn every step and you're rewarded with beautiful glacier views," says trip leader Matt Schonwald. "The Pickets are one of the last wild places left in the lower 48. Our chances of running into even a few other people are slim to none."
The Pickets' huge variety of climbs, from glacier ascents to 1,500-foot (457 meter) rock routes, makes the expedition customizable to a variety of abilities. But a high level of fitness and the willingness to carry a heavy load are a must. Even the initial approach, a 17-mile (27-kilometer), two-day push over glacier and through dense brush, is hard work. Guide-to-student ratios will be either one to one or two to one, guaranteeing lots of expert attention as you practice navigation, route finding, leading, and multipitch ice climbing. You'll also add a bevy of other skills to your wilderness tool kit: camping, bivvying, and, if you're lucky, Schonwald's backcountry recipe for tasty pad thai.
Pick This If: You're a weekend craghound ready to hit the big time.
Italy 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: H2Outfitters (www.h2outfitters.com)
Length: Seven days
Not long after the Romans started making maps, the first peregrinatores ("tourists") began exploring the ancient world. Plutarch called these early travelers "globe-trotters who . . . traverse unknown cities, sail new seas, but are at home everywhere" and their journeys took them first to the shores of Italy's Amalfi Coast. Next spring, Maine-based H2Outfitters offers modern-day peregrinatores a chance to explore this same southern Mediterranean coastline by sea kayak in what is now Parco Nazionale del Cilento e Vallo di Diano, a UNESCO World Heritage site. "Though sea kayaking is a major part of the trip, we want to show people that there's more to visiting Amalfi than the paddling," says H2Outfitters co-founder and "director of fun" Jeff Cooper, who holds a degree in classical archaeology. "These are places that Ulysses and Cicero visited, places that are loaded with history, and we'll be staying in local inns nestled right in their midst."
The Cilento park features hidden grottoes, protected coves, and well-preserved Greek and Roman ruins. You'll explore them all by both sea and land as you cruise the cerulean coast, moving between the villages of Casal Velino and Pioppi and stopping along the way to hike up old shepherd trails into the dramatic volcanic landscape. Every intriguing geological feature along the coast has its own backstory: Rocky cliffs recall the mermaid Leucosia's dive into the deep blue for Odysseus and a hike up Monte Vecchio affords sun-drenched mountaintop panoramas of Paestum, an ancient Greek city. In the honeycombed caves of Castelcivita, you'll also see evidence that Amalfi's status as a cultural hub extends even further back, to prehistoric times, when early humans carved snug passageways as part of their subterranean lifestyle. Apparently, before Plutarch, the ancient Italians didn't get out much.
Pick This If: Your ideal Roman Holiday includes oars and Vibram soles.
Ring Around the Rosa
Switzerland 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Distant Journeys (www.distantjourneys.com)
Length: Ten days
Around the Monte Rosa massif—on the Swiss-Italian border and anchor to one of the Alps' most heavily glaciated regions—the weather is often unpredictable, and demanding terrain keeps the trails vacant. That's a plus for hikers up for a challenge. Maine-based Distant Journeys' circular hiking itinerary features "places that you will never see unless you put in that effort and time," says co-owner and guide Andrea Ellison Mulla. The outfitter specializes in challenging European hiking trips, and this one rates a "strenuous-plus" for its steepness and remoteness. "Sometimes it feels as though we're hiking our own private route," says Mulla.
Starting in the town of Valtournache on the Italian Matterhorn, the inn-to-inn route first moves through the undertouristed Aosta and Piedmont regions of northern Italy. On a typical day, you'll climb 3,000 feet (914 meter) through open pastures to panoramic mountain passes. Throughout the trip, Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn stand sentinel over stone farmhouses, wildflower-strewn meadows, and precipitous drops into deep, verdant valleys. All your gear will be carried and you'll bed down each night at a family-run village inn. Once you cross the border into Switzerland, you'll have ample opportunity to unwind with the easy charms of Swiss mountain life—fondue and raclette, cable cars, all-pedestrian villages—as you circle through the western Valais' resort towns of Saas-Fee and Grächen.
Pick This If: You don't mind earning your views and your fondue.
Mexico 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Austin-Lehman Adventures (www.austinlehman.com)
Length: Eight days
The city of Oaxaca, famous for vibrant outdoor markets and alluring colonial architecture, has long been one of Mexico's richest destinations in terms of culture. But Austin-Lehman Adventures' freshly retooled itinerary to Oaxaca for next year emphasizes time spent outside of town. On a week-long romp through the Sierra Mixteca uplands to the northwest and the pine-covered peaks of the Sierra Norte to the northeast, the trip takes in cultural sites that speckle the surrounding hills and mountains, places like the ancient Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban and the celebrated weaving community of Teotitlán del Valle.
Austin-Lehman's itinerary includes a stop in Tierra Colorada, where trekkers follow a local Mixteca guide into the 1,312-foot-deep (400 meter) Morelos River canyon. There hide the small town of Santiago Apoala and a swimming-hole aficionado's delight: the freshwater pools fed by the 300-foot (91 meter) falls of Cola de Serpiente. In the Sierra Norte, you'll spend a half-day at 10,500 feet (3,200 meter) in a hummingbird-filled pine and oak forest, where agave plants grow 30 feet (9 meter) tall. A hike over the ridge to the village of Benito Juarez feels like a walk in the clouds; on a clear day you can see 18,855-foot (5,747 meter) Pico de Orizaba, the highest summit in Mexico. There's also a day spent sampling countryside farmers markets by bike and the chance to perfect your guacamole at hands-on cooking classes.
Pick This If: You'd prefer to stretch your legs before cramming your stomach with mole.
Departs: April, October, December
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