The Road Less Traveled to Machu Picchu
Trek in the shadow of the snow-tufted Andean peaks of Peru's Cordillera Vilcabamba along the Camino Sancantay to legendary Machu Picchu. Recharge each evening at well-appointed, cozy lodges opened in 2008. The inns offer candlelit dinners, fine wines, down-feathered beds, personalized service, and hot showers. Incredibly, though you end at the Lost City of the Incas, this trek is more about the journey than the destination. Mountain Travel Sobek: "Machu Picchu Inn-to-Inn," 10 days; $4,695.
Learn about climate change, glaciers, grizzly bears, and the geology of Glacier National Park—fast becoming known as a global-warming laboratory—in a series of hikes led by scientists from the Glacier Institute on some of the area's most stunning trails, including the Highline. Hearty meals, lectures, and lively conversations at the rustic Field Camp round out each day. The outfitter has more than 180 trips under $1,000. Sierra Club Outings: "Glacier National Park: Grizzlies, Glaciers and Climate Change, Montana," 7 days; $1,195.
The Brontës' England
Evoked in the novels of the Brontë sisters, the wild, heather-clad moors and farmland of Yorkshire and Derbyshire have changed little in the last century. Explore this literary landscape on foot with Yorkshire native Alan Pinkney, punctuated by visits to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, the ruins of Top Withins Farm—of Wuthering Heights fame—and local artisans. The Wayfarers: "The Brontë Trail—England, Yorkshire, Pennines & Derbyshire," 6 days; $3,695.
Raft the Zambezi
Jen Eastwood vividly recalls the exhilaration she felt on this trip after rafting the mighty Zambezi with its Class IV and V rapids stacked up at almost one per mile. "We were rounding the bend and started hearing this music. The people who live on the hill above where our camp was that night had come down and were singing and dancing in our honor. We pulled the boats up onto the rocks and joined them." The outfitter has long had a stake in Zimbabwe and its people—to the extent of helping local river guides launch a kayak rental business. Bio Bio Expeditions: "Zambezi Explorer, Zimbabwe," 13 days; $3,700.
Snorkeling With Humpbacks
Every summer, humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to their mating and calving grounds off Tonga. Based in beachfront digs on the island of Vava'u, you'll observe these endangered creatures in a variety of behaviors, including playful calves and courting adults, above water and below the surface, as you snorkel unobtrusively in a protected lagoon. Oceanic Society: "Tonga Humpback Whales: Soft-In-Water Encounters and Snorkeling," 12 days; $4,990 (includes airfare from Los Angeles).
Surrounded by vineyards in the foothills of the Argentinian Andes, Mendoza is prime biking country. On dirt roads and pavement, you'll pedal four hours a day along rural trails, city parks, and high-altitude growing regions, leaving plenty of time for Malbec tasting, gourmet meals, and a traditional asado—guilt-free. DuVine Adventures: "Mendoza Cycling Adventure, Argentina," 6 days; $4,495.
Explore the rich marine life, volcanic shoreline, and cacti-dotted desert islands of Baja California's Loreto Bay National Marine Park by kayak, stopping to camp on remote beaches to soak in the sunset over a margarita and dinner. A necessary add-on: whale-watching in the gray whale nursing grounds of Magdalena Bay, where it's not uncommon for "friendlies" to nudge your boat to say hello. Sea Kayak Adventures: "Sea of Cortez/ Magdalena Bay Sea Kayaking and Whale Watching Combination Tour, Mexico," 8 days; $1,330.