|By David Noland,
The companies here specialize in offering a variety of trips in one region. Call them if you know where you're headed but not what to do once you get there:
CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA
Costa Rica Expeditions - A quarter century after Michael Kaye, the godfather of ecotourism, founded this company it still sets the standard here, with three rustic-chic ecolodges and a wide-ranging program of rain forest hikes, whitewater rafting (they were the first to guide the now classic Pacuare River), and mountain biking.
MJ TIP If you're staying at their Tortuga Lodge, ask for an upstairs room: same price, but the higher ceilings make them cooler and breezier (from $249). 011-506-257-0766 or costaricaexpeditions.com $$
Slickrock Adventures - It's an odd name for a company that does sea kayak trips in Belize. Never mind: At their 13-acre private island kayakers, snorkelers, and divers explore one of the world's richest ecosystems.
CLASSIC TRIP The Belize Adventure Week takes in 14 activities offshore and on the mainland, including five miles of underground whitewater rafting ($2,195). 800-390-5715 or slickrock.com $$
Southwind Adventures - The trips run by an American- Peruvian couple crisscross South America and cater to many interests: nature, trekking, biking, culture. They provide an insider's perspective, such as lunch with your guide's abuela in Ecuador or a private tour of an archaeological dig in Peru.
NEW FOR 2004 A 16-day trek in the cloud forests and canyons of Peru's Vilcabamba, the Incas' last refuge from the Spanish (from $3,395). 800-377-9463 or southwindadventures.com $$
THE AMERICAN WEST
Off the Beaten Path - Ready to experience the great American outdoors? Tell Bill and Pam Bryan what you're looking for -- hiking, rafting, fly-fishing -- and they'll put a trip together. The former environmental activists have a knack for finding unique experiences, such as a Crow Indian powwow or a hitch on a working ranch.
NEW FOR 2004 They have an exclusive deal to dry fly-fish the forks of Wyoming's Powder River ($2,365 for five days). 800-445-2995 or offthebeatenpath.com $$$
Paragon Guides - This Vail-based outfit is a connoisseur of one of America's greatest backcountry gems, the Tenth Mountain Division hut system in the Rockies. They'll show you 11,000-foot ridges, spruce forests, and wildflower-filled meadows, assisted by llamas in summer and cross-country skis in winter. Or do a five-day, 100-mile mountain-bike circuit through the Holy Cross Wilderness ($1,660).
MJ TIP Huts can book up a year in advance; if you get shut out on your own, reserve a trip with Paragon to get in. 877-926-5299 or paragonguides.com $$
Alaska Discovery Wilderness Adventures - Glacier Bay, with its grizzlies, leaping humpback whales, looming glaciers, and icebergs, is one of America's most astonishing landscapes -- and this is the only company with a permit to paddle there. No surprise: It's Alaska's oldest and largest outfitter, with rafting, hiking, whale-watching, and bear-watching trips from the southeastern panhandle to the Brooks Range.
CLASSIC TRIP The scenery on their descent of the Class IV Alsek River will blow you away ($3,295 for 12 days). 800-586-1911 or akdiscovery.com $$
RUSSIA & BEYOND
Mir Corporation - Specialists in behind-the-scenes trips to Russia and 21 other former Soviet bloc nations, this outfit will set you up trekking the Altai Mountains (from $2,595 for 17 days), exploring the grim Gulag Archipelago (from $2,695 for 13 days), or visiting a family in the vast Kyzyl Kum desert in Central Asia.
CLASSIC TRIP Siberia's Lake Baikal, the world's deepest, where you kayak, camp, and look for freshwater seals (from $3,595 for 16 days). 800-424-7289 or mircorp.com $$
SOUTHEAST ASIA & THE PACIFIC
Asia Transpacific Journeys - This company's network of contacts -- Buddhist monks, government officials -- guarantees one-of-a-kind experiences. You'll ride bikes to a private tea with monks at a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, or sail a 19th-century ship to the Indonesian island of Sumba to meet the former king.
MJ TIP In Rajasthan, visit Ranakpur Temple and Kumbhalgarh Fortress -- monuments as stunning as the Taj Mahal but with a fraction of the visitors ($4,995 for 18 days). 800-642-2742 or asiatranspacific.com $$$
Turtle Tours - At the end of the rainy season the Wodaabe warriors of central Niger celebrate by dancing in elaborate body paint and costumes. Not something you'd see on a typical vacation, but this isn't your typical outfitter. Former ad exec Irma Turtle makes gritty, fascinating trips to visit remote tribes in the Sahara and Ethiopia.
CLASSIC TRIP Be among the few outsiders to see Ethiopia's Omo River Valley, where the women wear lip plates and the men duel with sticks (from $3,850 for 16 days). 888-299-1439 or turtletours.com $$
Adventure Network International - The only outfitter with the expertise to operate in the White Continent's interior. They'll fly you to a blue-ice runway at Patriot Hills, then take you climbing in the Ellsworth Mountains, skiing in otherworldly Queen Maud Land, or sightseeing at the South Pole (trips start at $17,000 for ten days).
CLASSIC TRIP Climb 16,066-foot Vinson Massif, the remotest of the seven summits. 866-395-6664 or adventure-network.com $$$$
Quark Expeditions - Imagine yourself standing at the bow of a nuclear-powered Russian icebreaker, vast frozen nothingness all around you, the ship grinding its way slowly through the wind-sculpted ice toward the North Pole. Quark has refurbished a number of orphaned polar vessels and takes them to the Arctic, Antarctica, Greenland, Newfoundland, and Russia's Wrangel Island (from $8,050 for 14 days). If you've done it all, do this next. 800-356-5699 or quarkexpeditions.com $$$$
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
These outfitters (some of the best-known in the business) claim multiple specialties. Whether you know what you want or need inspiration, think of them as adventure supermarkets.
Abercrombie & Kent -
You wouldn't expect to rappel down a 400-foot cliff in Utah with a company known mostly for pampering clients like Bill Gates and Prince Charles. But more active options have livened up A&K's menu of luxury safaris, Nile cruises, and private jet trips. Also new are "Discovery" tours, with more free time and lower prices.
MJ TIP Head to East Africa in January so you can summit Kilimanjaro during the full moon on the 25th, then watch the wildebeest birthing in the Serengeti ($5,600 for 15 days). 800-323-7308 or abercrombiekent.com $$$$
Geographic Expeditions -
How did GeoEx get a permit for the first commercial climb of China's off-limits 24,750-foot Mustagh Ata in 1981? The vice chairman, a former U.S. diplomat, happened to know the right guy in China. That's typical of GeoEx, which uses connections to create unique experiences for clients -- like a stay in a private, 60,000-acre estancia in Chile near world-class trout fishing, fossil digs, and 11,070-foot Fitz Roy mountain.
NEW FOR 2004 An ex-CIA spy leads Tournament of Shadows, a trip to the Central Asian hot spots of the Great Game, the 19th-century cold war between Russia and Britain ($8,495 for 24 days). 800-777-8183 or geoex.com $$$
Mountain Travel Sobek -
In 1967 California climber Leo LeBon teamed with Colonel Jimmie Roberts, a retired British army officer in Nepal, to organize a new kind of outing: a porter-assisted three-week walk in the Himalaya that Roberts dubbed a "trek." LeBon came home to found Mountain Travel and essentially invent the U.S. adventure travel industry. MTS has since applied its expertise to whitewater trips (after merging with rafting operator Sobek), cultural encounters, and other areas, but trekking remains its core specialty.
NEW FOR 2004 A tour of Sri Lanka, at peace after years of strife, includes mountain biking, rafting, and an elephant-back safari ($3,890 for 14 days). 888-687-6235 or mtsobek.com $$$
Northwest Passage -
This small, family-run company offers an eclectic mix that reflects the personal passions of its owner, Rick Sweitzer. They're best known for skiing trips to the North and South Poles, but they'll also take you inn-to-inn cycling in Ireland or paddle you around their backyard, the Great Lakes region.
CLASSIC TRIP Kayaking the remote south coast of Crete, past ancient Greek ruins, sheer cliffs, and old fishing villages ($2,295 for eight days). 800-732-7328 or nwpassage.com $$
REI Adventures -
The travel wing of the famed outdoor-gear retailer covers a broad spectrum of tried-and-true classics, everything from hiking the Inca Trail to cycling in Nova Scotia. The difference? They use local trip leaders to keep interaction high -- one of their Himalayan guides is a former Buddhist lama -- and costs reasonable. Gear, of course, is first-rate.
NEW FOR 2004 Biking from the Alps to the Adriatic through Slovenia, a tiny former Yugoslav republic that's all but unknown to tourists ($2,195 for ten days). 800-622-2236 or reiadventures.com $$
Sierra Club Outings -
After scrambling over a scree-covered 12,800-foot pass, you peer down into guide Steve Wilson's favorite hideout in the Sierra Nevada: Kaweah Basin, a trailless sanctuary known to only a few. This personal touch defines the Sierra Club's 370 trips, each conceived and led by an unpaid volunteer with a passion for the place. Their trips go worldwide but focus on the western U.S.
CLASSIC TRIP Hike the Pacific Crest Trail past an active volcano and geothermal springs in the remote wilderness of Northern California ($455 for seven days). 415-977-5522 or sierraclub.org/outings $
Wilderness Travel -
You're paddling a sea kayak through the Rock Islands of Palau when the guide pulls ashore to show you a Japanese WWII pillbox he discovered -- and that no one else knows about. That's how familiar WT's trip leaders are with their destinations -- a prime reason the company still rates among the best after 25 years. More than 100 trips (45 new this year) span the seven continents and include trekking, safaris, and archaeology.
NEW FOR 2004 Bushwalking the Larapinta Trail in Australia's little-explored West MacDonnell ranges -- a quintessential Outback landscape (from $3,695 for 13 days). 800-368-2794 or wilderness-travel.com $$$
World Expeditions -
The Aussie mountaineers behind this company don't settle for Everest base camp: Their Everest High Passes trek takes you to 17,536-foot Renjo La, one step beyond where most nontechnical trips go. Most of their lineup -- rafting Tasmania's wild Franklin River, exploring the peaks of Bolivia -- is high-testosterone but low-price, undercutting U.S. companies by 20-25 percent.
NEW FOR 2004 An 18-day trek among the hill tribes of lush northeastern Vietnam ($1,790). 888-464-8735 or weadventures.com $
Copyright ©2004 by Men's Journal LLC