Photo: Jim Mallouk/Shutterstock

Matador's 12 Trips to Save for in 2012

Spain Malawi Galápagos Alaska Arizona Colorado Luxe Travel Insider Guides
by Kristin Conard Dec 30, 2011
Matador editors past and present recommend these journeys of varying length, cost, and focus.
1. Road trip on the Alcan to Alaska

Photo: Lynn A/Shutterstock

Michelle Schusterman, editor at Goods, is obsessed with the idea of driving up the Alcan (Alaska-Canada Highway). “Honestly, part of the appeal here is just because I want to be able to say ‘I’m driving to Alaska!’ I’d never even considered the possibility – I figured it would be too treacherous – and both plane tickets and cruises to Alaska can be pretty pricey. Then someone linked this on Twitter.”

The “World Famous Alaska Highway” starts in Dawson Creek, Canada, and ends in Delta Junction, Alaska. The total journey is 1,422 miles. Aim to take the trip between May and September; it’ll be busiest between July and August. In winter, there may be fewer open amenities…like gas stations.

Time: Google Maps puts the total driving time at 1 day, 8 hours. Seems like the point of the drive would not be to do it without stopping. Take a week or two to allow for more stops and sidetrips, and budget your time for getting back.
Cost: If you already have a car, $150 a day per person covers you for food, gas, and some higher-end hotels mixed with camping along the way. Renting an RV is around $1500/week, not including gas. One-way RV rentals will likely have drop-off costs of $600 to $1000 added to that. This would also add some mileage to your trip — you’ll have to rent the vehicle in the US to leave it in Alaska.

2. Walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela

Photo: gregorioa/Shutterstock

Pilgrims have walked the path to Santiago de Compostela in Spain for over 1000 years. There are several routes you can use, but most follow the Camino Frances that starts in St Jean Pied de Port, France, and ends 485 miles (780 km) later in northwestern Spain.

Daniel Nahabedian has walked the Camino twice: “As it’s a spiritual path, walking the Camino in spring is a good way to slowly experience the rebirth of nature, echoing in a way with the struggle and internal rebirth. The weather is also perfect to walk long distances without suffering from the heat or feeling miserable under the rain.

There’s nothing else to do but walk, eat, sleep, and enjoy, so you can get away with about $20 per day.”

Time: It generally takes about four weeks to hike the main trail.
Cost: Total cost of between $600 to $800 once you get to the start.

3. Raft the Grand Canyon

Photo: Jim Mallouk/Shutterstock

There are bigger rivers with more whitewater in the world, but the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is one of the most epic river trips in America. I went on a 6-day commercial trip with Arizona River Runners. I felt like I’d been dropped into a movie set – the changing colors of the canyon walls, the aching vastness of the ancient space, staring at the Milky Way through the mouth of the canyon with bats flitting back and forth above me — it was overwhelming and seemed too incredible to be real.

The National Park has a specific limit on how many people can raft the river each year. If you want to take a private trip, you’ll have to put your name into a weighted lottery and hope you get picked at the drawing in February. (Note: They’ve done away with the waiting list.)

If you’re not picked in the lottery, you go commercial. This is also ideal if you don’t have any river experience or the time or expertise to organize your own trip.

Time: Anywhere from 3 days to a month, depending on the style of trip you’re taking. The longer you can stay in the canyon, the better.
Cost: For a private trip, it’s $25 to apply for the lottery. $10 per backcountry camping permit plus $5 per person per night to camp below the rim. Then, through a company like Canyon REO, you can get whatever you need from a-la-carte options to the all-inclusive. Assuming you have no gear, they put the price around $846 per person for a 16-day trip. For a commercial trip with a company like Arizona River Runners you can spend from $1200 for three days and up to $3500 for a 12-day oar trip.

4. Go on safari in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Elephants in Zambia

Photo: paula french/Shutterstock

The 3,475 square mile South Luangwa National Park has been called “one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world.” It’s great for birding with over 400 species, as well as spotting 4 of the “classic” big 5 African species (rhinos are the only one missing). The park’s known for their guided walking safaris, started in the 1950s.

Nick Rowlands, editor of Abroad: “South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is probably the best wildlife sanctuary you’ve never heard of. The game spotting is ‘God-not-another-elephant’ good, and you’ve a great chance to see big cats.

We were a metre away from a roaring lioness, saw another chasing down a warthog, and even watched a leopard up a tree devouring its kill, antelope head hanging out of its crunching jaws. You can go on morning and evening game drives — it’s surprising how much wildlife you see at night — and also on walking safaris.

The best time to visit is towards the end of the dry season, around October. We were there four days and it was plenty. You can do two drives per day. So I suppose two days minimum, a week max? Depends on how into animal spotting you are I guess, and how much you like just chilling out at the campsite watching monkeys steal your food…”

Time: 2-7 days.
Cost: Flatdogs Camp has three different accommodation options: standard safari tent, luxury safari tent, and chalet. You can get the safari package, which includes tours, airport transfers, and all meals. In the high season (June 1 to Oct 31) with the safari package, prices start at $260 per night; low season prices start at $245 per night. For just accommodation, prices start at $47/night in high season and $42/night in low.

5. Sail across the Atlantic

Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

A transatlantic crossing by sailing ship — it’s like being a 19th-century explorer. Assuming that explorer had access to a full-service bar and a couple of swimming pools.

You can climb the mast, steer the ship, and dine with the captain on the Star Clippers ships as they make their bi-annual transatlantic crossings.

The fleet is one of the few passenger cruise lines that make the trip, and possibly three of the only non-private sailing vessels you can travel on across the ocean without working on board. The ships head eastbound in April and westbound in October.

Time: 16 to 23 days, depending on if you want to catch a few more ports at the beginning or end of your trip.
Cost: From $1900 for basic accommodation to $16,675 for the Owner’s Cabin.

6. Visit Swedish Lapland

Swedish Lapland is the home of the Sami, the indigenous people of Sweden, and it’s been called “Western Europe’s last wilderness.” Check out Sami cultural sites like the 400+ year old Sami market in Jokkmokk – held annually on the first Thursday to Saturday of February. Or explore the countryside by dog sled.

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström, editor and MatadorU photo instructor: “Dogsledding in Swedish Lapland is definitely one of my favorite activities: crushing through snow and across frozen lakes and tundras with Siberian Huskies, all the while enjoying the stark landscape and possibly sighting some Northern Lights.”

Time: 3-4 days.
Cost: 3-hour dog-sled tour for 750 SEK ($109), or a 4-day tour looking for the Northern Lights, including sleeping in a Sami tipi and all food, for 10,800 SEK ($1550).

7. Tour the Galápagos Islands
photo of Sea turtle in the Galapagos island

Photo: Laverne Nash/Shutterstock

The volcanic islands of the archipelago 520 miles west of Ecuador are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Darwin went there in the 1830s, and his observations of the local animal life, particularly the birds, inspired his The Origin of Species.

Kate Sedgwick, editor of Nights: “The Galápagos is something for people with higher budgets. You have to keep some things in mind. You can’t visit the unpopulated islands without a naturalist. There are strict rules about this. But you can go to San Cristóbal Island and arrange short tours from there.

If you’re really out to splurge, take a cruise. I was lucky enough to go on one that circumnavigated the islands and got to see the wildlife on seven of them. It was a super busy trip, but I was better fed than I have ever been in my life and I learned a lot. The cruise I went on was a very active one from Ecoventura. They work hard to avoid leaving a carbon footprint in the area and we saw more animals and plants in their natural habitat than was even credible.

Regardless of how you might choose to experience the Galápagos, you will have to pay a park entry fee of just a little more than $100.”

Time: The Ecoventura cruises last 7 nights.
Cost: Cruise costs range between $3550 and $5350 depending upon accommodation style. Add on $200 to $500 for port costs, gratuities, and travel insurance.

8. Stay at an all-inclusive resort
Hawaii beach travel vacation woman swimming relaxing at luxury pool hotel resort. Asian young adult on Waikiki beach, Honolulu, Oahu on exotic holidays, Alaska Airlines sale

Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock

My first all-inclusive experience was in Mexico at the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort and Spa in Mazatlan, and I fell hard for the swim-up bars, getting driven to my room in a golf cart, and having to just say my room number to cover the bill.

Candice Walsh, editor at Life, went to Cancun earlier this year: “I believe everyone should try an all-inclusive vacation at least once. It’s not always the ideal way to see a place, but it’s a true definition of ‘vacation.’ An all-inclusive is no fuss, no muss: hand over the cash to a travel agent, lie on a beach, sip free drinks and have a blast.

I’m doing my third all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic this year with some girlfriends I haven’t seen in years. Even at a 5-star resort like the Grand Palladium in Punta Cana, the trip is only costing me $1500, flight included. That’s a big deal, especially from somewhere as remote as Newfoundland, where even a flight to the next province over can be $400. I’ve known friends to score trips to Cuba for $800, or less.”

Time: A week.
Cost: Sharing a suite with up to 4 people, you can get a week in Punta Cana for around $700 each. The fewer people and the fancier the room, the higher the price. You could spend up to $3000 total for the week for two in a deluxe suite. Look to travel agents for deals with flights.

9. Hit the Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi

Photo: Mubashir Abbas Zaidi/Shutterstock

This annual festival started 8 years ago, and its creation was inspired by events like LiveAid and Glastonbury. Set along the banks of Africa’s third largest lake, it’s a three-day festival; 3800 people attended in 2011 and over 80 artists performed.

Nick Rowlands, Abroad editor: “Lake of Stars is hands down the best music festival I’ve been to. It takes place on the beach on the shores of Lake Malawi, which is a beautiful and chilled setting.

The acts are a sweet mix of local and international artists, ranging from Malawian reggae superstars, to experimental South African rock, to well-known British DJs. The crowd is similarly mixed (about half are from Malawi) and well up for it, and because the site is small — just a few stages and some bars — there’s an intimate atmosphere. The bands mingle with the punters, and there’s a feel-good vibe with no pretension — beach life by day, beats by night.

The festival’s aim is to promote the development of tourism and the arts in Malawi, and each year it provides a much-needed injection of cash into the local economy.”

Time: 3 days, 4 nights. Dates TBA.
Cost: Prices from last year. Assumed to be comparable in 2012.
Entry on door: K14,000 ($90 equivalent)
Ticket and camping with your own tent: £122 ($191)

10. Take a cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage

Photo: Nick Starichenko/Shutterstock

Alaska’s Inside Passage: 15,000 miles of shoreline and 1,000 islands, many of which you can’t get to without a boat, populated with wildlife like bald eagles, sea lions, whales, sea otters, and porpoises. And you have the chance to see (and hear) the calving of glaciers.

Heather Carreiro, former Abroad editor, went with Holland America: “Cruising is a sweet way to visit southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage, as many of the towns are accessible only by water, and if you’re on a cruise ship you don’t have to worry about packing up your luggage for every new port.

I loved seeing dolphins and seals while walking the decks, and if I go again I’ll definitely get a room with a balcony so I can wake up to the mountain views. Once in port, I found it was easy to escape the crowds by going for day hikes. My favorite outing was to Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier and the Tongass National Forest.”

Time: 7 – 8 days.
Cost: You can get cheaper prices during shoulder season (May and September). From $799 per person for an inside cabin with double occupancy to $2,399 for a deluxe verandah suite with Holland America. National Geographic Expeditions has a trip from $5,990 to $7,890.

11. Hike the Colorado Trail
Walking,Path,On,The,Shore,Of,Maroon,Lake,,Colorado,Near, Colorado summer road trip

Photo: Linda Armstrong/Shutterstock

The Colorado Trail (CT), recommended by editor-in-chief David Miller, runs from Denver to Durango.

Built by volunteers, the trail is split into 28 sections for those who want to do the long walk in pieces instead of all in one go.

  • Total distance: 483 miles
  • Highest elevation: 13,271 feet
  • Total elevation gain from Denver to Durango: 89,354 feet
  • Estimated number of thru-hikers each year: 150
  • Wilderness areas: 6
  • Mountain ranges: 8

“There is no question that the natural history of this region is the prize, the reward for the effort made in hiking the CT. This opportunity to observe the Rocky Mountain ecosystem also underscores the need to walk, not run, while making one’s tour of the trail.” 
- Dr. Hugo A. Ferchau, Western State College

Time: 4 to 6 weeks. Go between June and September.
Cost: Plan for between $1 and $2 a mile. Or $975 for the The Colorado Trail Foundation 4-5 day guided hikes of sections 1-7, where you carry just a daypack and camp is set up for you when you arrive.

12. Kayak and scuba dive in Monterey Bay

Photo: Darryl Brooks/Shutterstock

As a child, I wanted to be a marine biologist. When I moved to California and saw the wildlife of Monterey Bay, I was tempted to go back to school and revisit that dream. The national sanctuary is home to migrating gray whales, tide pools with mussels, sea stars, and hermit crabs, forests of kelp, schools of jelly fish, dozens of bird species, and permanent populations of sea otters, seals, and sea lions.

The best way to see the marine wildlife would be by scuba diving. Monterey has some of the best beach diving in the country. Diving from San Carlos Beach and McAbee Beach in Monterey is good for beginners, and more advanced divers can go to Monastery Beach and Carmel River State Beach in Carmel.

If you aren’t scuba certified, you can go kayaking on the bay. I took a class in sea kayaking from Kayak Connection; it was with one of their tours into the Bay out of Santa Cruz that I spotted four humpback whales — more common wildlife spottings are the diving pelicans, sea otters, sea lions, and the occasional whale.

The company also operates out of Moss Landing and give tours of the amazingness that is Elkhorn Slough. It’s a protected area, and everywhere you look, you’re guaranteed to see wildlife — marine mammals that may follow your kayak and hundreds of birds.

Time: Kayaking and diving rentals and tours from 3-4 hours.
Cost: $49 for one dive and $79 for two dives for guided shore diving with Monterey Bay Dive Charters. Rental equipment for $79 and $10 per tank.

Kayak tours of Elkhorn Slough and Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary from Santa Cruz for $50. Kayak rentals are $35 for a single and $50 for a double.

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