The best and most affordable tours in this hugely popular market, from novices to hard-core trekkers
The major trekking specialists
Wilderness Travel, of Berkeley, California, offers treks to favorite destinations like Nepal and the Alps, but also emphasizes treks to Europe, Africa (Mt. Kilamanjaro and the Serengeti is always a favorite) and South America (Macchu Pichu and the Inca Trail), to which a tenth of its passengers go. Both the founders of Wilderness Travel have spent considerable time in Peru and the Patagonian region of Argentina and Chile; fittingly, four of the company's expeditions in the region (each one lasting more than two weeks) are among its most popular programs. Impressive, too, are the expertise and experience of Wilderness's tour leaders, many with Peace Corps backgrounds or graduate degrees. (In a recent communication to us, they've noted that their clientele has gotten older over the years, and that, consequently, they've improved the amenities of their treks.) Prices average out to cost between $175 and $350 per night. For interesting literature, contact Wilderness Travel, 1102 Ninth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710-1211 (phone 510/558-2488 or toll free 800/368-2794 outside California. Or view the Web site at wildernesstravel.com/.
Mountain Travel Sobek of Emeryville, California, is one of the largest and oldest of the companies, operating an extraordinary variety of treks on six continents. Called "deluxe" by its competitors, its rates--in my reading of them--are only slightly above the industry level: an average of $115 a day on camping-based trips in Nepal, from $150 to $300 a day in most other mountain regions (plus airfare, of course). (Prices are on the high side if you are on a trip with most nights in hotels or inns.) Those other areas include Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Switzerland, Scotland, France, Patagonia, and Tibet. Like all trekking companies, Mountain Travel Sobek provides the tents, foam sleeping pads, and cooking gear when necessary; you provide the sleeping bag. For the free, four-color 150-page Mountain Travel catalog, contact Mountain Travel-Sobek, 1266 66th St., Emeryville CA 94608 (phone toll free 888/MTSOBEK. Or view the Web site at mtsobek.com/.)
Himalayan Treasures & Travel, of Pinole, CA, features treks led by Peter Owens, a former chemistry professor who since 1976 has conducted over 100 trips a year. Owens' treks exact extraordinary environmental care and set aside profits to subsidizing solar lighting systems for impoverished Nepalis. Prices vary widely among different tours and destinations: full service trips average $80 to $90 a night, while the more basic lodge to lodge trips are around $40 a night Prices are based on the size of the group--more personal tours for one or two people are $140 to $150 a night for full service, and $100 a night lodge to lodge. There are seven itineraries in Nepal (such as the seven-night "Nepal Sampler" starting at $810), as well as a sprinkling of tours throughout Asia, including Thailand, Tibet, and Vietnam. Accommodations tend to be simple guest houses and basic hotels to keep prices low. Owens is very popular and his trips tend to sell out as much as a year in advance. Contact Himalayan Treasures & Travel, 3596 Ponderosa Trail, Pinole, CA, 94564, phone 800/223-1813 or 510/222-5307. You can also look up information on the Web at himalayantrekking.com/ or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Peregine, an adventurous Aussie-based outfit, offers 24 different trekking itineraries in the Himalayan region, and five non-trekking trips. Most tours last more than ten days, and combine serious outdoor adventures (rafting, safaris, mountaineering) with up-close cultural experiences (interaction with the locals is a priority). To keep costs down (usually around $100/night), accommodations tend to be simple guesthouses or camping. Tours are usually kept small -- 12 or under is the norm. A typical tour is the "Annapurna Circuit," a 22-day round-trip adventure out of Kathmandu that rambles along a trail through Tibetan villages, and zigzags up into the Annapurna range. The tour costs $2,130, and includes transfers from the Kathmandu airport, as well as all your meals, entrance fees, accommodations, porters, medical equipment, sleeping bags, tents, and guides along the trek. Several tours in Southeast Asia, China, Africa, Antartica, the Artic, Europe, South America, and Australia that involve transportation by local buses and trains as well as some traditional trekking on foot, are also offered by Peregrine and its partner company, Geckos. Prices are usually among the best around. For more information, visit the Peregine Web site at peregrine.net.au/.