Whether your idea of the trip of a lifetime involves climbing one of the most formidable peaks in the West, kayaking side-by-side with 50-foot whales, or cycling through the vineyards of Tuscany, you don't have to spend your life's savings to do it. In fact, it's possible to plan amazing adventures in the world's most exciting destinations for under $1,000.
Sea kayaking with whales in Alaska's Inside Passage
Outfitter: Alaska Discovery
Price: $895 per person
Imagine paddling a sea kayak over dark, quiet waters, surrounded by thick evergreen forests and high mountains, when a whale the size of a Greyhound bus breaks the surface next to you, blowing a 10-foot spout in the air. It does not hurt you or disturb your tiny boat, but continues taking breaths, unconcerned about your presence in its realm. Sound like a once-in-a-lifetime event? For some, maybe, but not if you kayak during the summer months off Point Adolphus in the Inside Passage, where you'll find the highest concentration of marine mammals in Alaska.
"I have seen whales from a boat but nothing compares to kayaking with them and hearing them sing from our tent," says Jeff Eastmead, who visited the area on a three-day kayaking and camping trip with Alaska Discovery. John Baston, a guide for the company, explains that the area is an important summer feeding ground for "the most consistently cohesive pod of humpback whales in all of southeast Alaska, if not the entire north Pacific coastline." There are also sea lions, porpoises, sea otters, and killer whales.
The area is tightly controlled to protect the wildlife, and Alaska Discovery, because of its record of stewardship, is one of the few outfitters permitted to run tours in the area. The company's three-day "Whales of Point Adolphus" tour allows you to spend days kayaking with the whales and nights camping on an island in the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest left in the world, where you can, indeed, hear the whales breathing at night.
You'll paddle at a leisurely pace of four to five miles a day so you can spend most of your time watching the wildlife, exploring the shoreline, or even fishing (if you have a pole and license). Beginners are welcome, but you should be in good shape so that you can manage paddling against strong currents.
The $895 tour includes guides, an orientation, kayaking and camping gear, a round-trip boat charter to and from Point Adolphus, and gourmet camping cuisine (which often includes freshly caught halibut or salmon). It's recommended that guests stay the night prior to the trip at the Alaska Discovery Inn in Gustavus (the trip starting point) to avoid missing the tour's early departure time. For more details, visit the Alaska Discovery website. Alaska Discovery is owned by Mountain Travel Sobek, a leading adventure travel company.
As for the best time to go, Baston says, "June is a delightful month for weather, but the whales are most dependable in July and August." Gustavus, Alaska, can be reached by air taxi or an Alaska Airlines flight from Juneau.
NEXT >> Cycling in Tuscany