Photo: Bolivia salt flats
As part of its “Bolivia Backroads and Oruro Festival” tour, Adventure Life brings travelers to the salt desert of Uyuni, where they can climb the Tunapa volcano for panoramic views.

Photograph courtesy of Adventure Life

By Margaret Loftus

These guided tours are part of National Geographic Traveler's 50 Tours of a Lifetime for 2010 for the outfitters' commitment to authenticity, immersion, sustainability, and connection.

Argentina & Chile: To the End of the Earth

The treacherous passage around Cape Horn has long struck fear in the hearts of the saltiest sailors. The expeditionary ships Via Australis, Mare Australis, and the Stella Australis (launching later this year) take between 130 and 210 passengers there in style—with picture windows in each cabin and a full complement of South American wines (included in the price). Ships sail from Ushuaia, Argentina, to Punta Arenas, Chile. You’ll listen to talks by staff lecturers as you sail close to blue-hued glaciers and cruise through the Beagle Channel, famously visited by Charles Darwin before he headed to the Galápagos Islands. At Magdalena Island gregarious Magellanic penguins—the largest colony in southern Patagonia—will greet you. Cruceros Australis: “Ushuaia to Punta Arenas,” 3 days, from $840.
SMALL-SHIP CRUISE • VALUE

Venezuela: Andes Rush

Fueled by adrenaline and arepas—Venezuela’s tasty corncakes—this multisport romp in the Andes has participants trekking along high Andean switchbacks, hurtling through misty cloud forests on mountain bikes, blasting down Class 3 whitewater on rafts, and riding horses in tropical grasslands that harbor 300 species of birds, howler monkeys, and the elusive jaguar. BikeHike Adventures: “Viva Venezuela—Mountain Biking, Hiking, Rafting, and Horseback Riding,” 9 days, from $2,099.
ACTIVE • VALUE

Costa Rica: Natural Coast

One of the founding fathers of eco-tourism, Michael Kaye first traveled to Costa Rica in the 1970s for the whitewater but ended up launching a tour company that put this small Central American country on the map for the adventure set. Kaye emphasizes rigorous guide training and safety. From a hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to a boat ride through the rain forest creeks of remote Tortuguero, this itinerary gives you a taste of what all the fuss is about. Costa Rica Expeditions: “Costa Rica Connoisseur,” 9 days, from $2,008.
ACTIVE • VALUE

Bolivia: Carnaval and More

Kicking off with Carnaval de Oruro, Bolivia’s most spectacular festival, this journey immerses you in local rituals that are still part of everyday life, such as baking bread in a traditional adobe oven at a working hacienda and shopping at the Tarabuco Market, where even the younger generation dons traditional ponchos, sandals, and headgear. There’s action, too: Explore the salt desert and cap your trip with a climb up the 16,500-foot volcano Tunupa. Adventure Life: “Bolivia Backroads and Oruro Festival,” 13 days, $2,790.
CULTURE • VALUE

Ecuador: Galápagos and Beyond

With its colonial capital of Quito, the Amazon region, the Galápagos islands, and indigenous villages, Ecuador is worthy of several trips, but this one is a great start. You’ll cruise down the Napo River, a tributary of the mighty Amazon, aboard the 30-passenger Manatee Explorer; head up the Pan-American Highway to bargain at the textile market of Otavalo; explore the Galápagos from your base at the Finch Bay Eco Hotel on Santa Cruz Island. Wind up with a stint in historic Quito, the first city in the world to be declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Adventure Associates: “Family Encounters in the Middle of the World: Galápagos Islands, Amazon Rainforest and Quito City,” 12 days, $2,588 ($1,942 for children).
CULTURE • FAMILY • VALUE

Central America: Maya, Then and Now

From Big Falls, Belize, to Copán, Honduras, this unique itinerary traces the trade route of the ancient Maya’s most precious commodity—jade. Along the way you’re invited into the communities of the Mopan, Q’eqchi’, and Chorti Maya, with stops at little-visited archaeological sites, as well as kayaking, snorkeling, cave-swimming, and hiking. Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance: “Jade Route of the Ancient Maya,” 9 days, $2,850.
CULTURE

Argentina & Brazil: South America Overland

The route between two of South America’s party capitals is paved with adventure on this no-frills offbeat road trip from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro, with stops on both sides of the magnificent Iguazú Falls and the fauna-rich floodplains of the Pantanal. You’ll thread your way up Brazil’s Emerald Coast, hitting the laid-back islands off Parati with your mostly youthful compadres. The fun doesn’t end if you time your trip to make it to Carnival’s kickoff in Rio. Dragoman: “Buenos Aires, Iguazú, Pantanal, and Rio Adventure Overland,” 19 days, $1,110.
CULTURE • VALUE

Peru: Hikes and Bikes

Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the pièce de résistance of any trip to Peru, including this one, which features several hikes around the Inca ruins. However, the itinerary packs in other thrills as well. Bike to the salt pans of Maras, raft the rushing Urubamba River, and kayak Lake Titicaca at 12,500 feet to Isla Taquile, where overnights are in guesthouses operated by local families. Aventouras: “Discover Peru,” 10 days, $2,698.
ACTIVE • CULTURE • VALUE

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