Seven continents, seven adventures of a lifetime

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Sunset on the Western Breach Route of Kilimanjaro (Photo 
courtesy of ThomsonTreks.com)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 12, 2005. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: activity, adventure travel, Antarctica, Bhutan, Croatia, Idaho, Molly Feltner, New Zealand, Tanzania, vacation package.

Life is too short and the world too big to confine your travels to the well-worn paths. Whatever your dream adventure may be—climbing a high peak, rafting a wild river, or immersing yourself in an exotic culture—you can make it a reality with careful destination research and the right outfitter.

To whet your appetite, we've chosen seven classic and far-flung world destinations ripe with adventure opportunities, and we've recommended outfitters who can take you there. Rather than listing the companies with the lowest prices, we've selected operators who have regional expertise, make safety and conservation top priorities, and can provide an experience that is truly an adventure of a lifetime.

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Africa: Climbing Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro

Of all the seven summits—the tallest mountains on each continent—Africa's 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro may be the most attainable peak to bag. Most routes up the mountain are not technical, but altitude sickness, bad weather, and other difficulties keep 50 percent of those who attempt it from making the summit. However, by training in advance and climbing with an experienced outfitter, your chances of summiting increase dramatically.

"Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was the most amazing thing I've ever done in my life," says Stacia Zukroff, a Major Excursions leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club who led a trek to the summit this past winter. "The great thing about the climb is that anyone in reasonably good shape can do it—you don't have to be a super star."

Yet the relative ease of the climb doesn't diminish Kilimanjaro's awesome presence. The highest free-standing mountain in the world, Kilimanjaro soars 16,000 feet above the savannah of northeastern Tanzania. Once an active volcano, the mountain now has five distinct climate zones, making for dramatic changes in scenery as you hike. Treks climb from a rainy tropical forest belt filled with squawking monkeys and birds to a freezing, glaciated summit. "It's like climbing from the equator to the artic in a matter of days," says Damon Corkin, Manager of Kilimanjaro Programs for Thomson Safaris.

Outfitters:

Thomson Safaris, a company that has made treks and safaris in Tanzania its sole business for the past 24 years, offers a Western Breach Route trek that ascends the mountain from its less-traveled western side. It's the only route that passes through the mountain's volcanic crater. After hiking along the Shira Ridge and scrambling up the steep face of the Western Breach, trekkers spend the night before summiting at 18,750 feet. The next morning, the group makes a final brief push for the summit. Thomson budgets nine days for the trek rather than the usual five or six allotted for most Kilimanjaro trips, giving climbers a longer time to acclimatize and a greater chance of summiting. The success rate is nearly 100 percent. Prices for the trek start at $5,090 per person and include round-trip airfare from Boston to Kilimanjaro. Add-on fares from other U.S. cities are available.

The World Outdoors' eight-day trek approaches the summit from the popular Machame Route, which some say is Kilimanjaro's most scenic. Treks start at $1,895 per person, not including airfare.

Getting there: Many U.S. flights stop in Amsterdam and connect to Kilimanjaro on the Dutch carrier KLM. January flights from Boston to Kilimanjaro International Airport cost about $1,500 round-trip, plus taxes.

When to go: It's possible to climb Kilimanjaro any time of the year, but it's best to avoid the rainy season, which runs from late March through May, and the short rains, which occur in November and last into December.

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