Walking Vacations

The best and most affordable tours in this hugely popular market, from novices to hard-core trekkers

Above the Clouds Trekking, of Hinesburg, Vermont, is still another small company whose strong suit is the Himalayas, with a sprinkling of other tours in Europe (mainly in the mountainous regions of France, Italy, and Switzerland) and in the Patagonia region of South America. "Everest from Goyko," using the less-traveled route there, involves 27 days of strenuous trekking (out of 30) and is among the company's most innovative $110-a-day offerings. Costs in Europe average $200 per day, Patagonia $300 a day. Above the Clouds stresses cross-cultural lessons, and designs its treks to maximize contacts with local residents. For brochures, contact Above the Clouds Trekking, P.O. Box 388, Hinesburg, VT 05461. Phone 802/482-4848 . Or view the Web site, aboveclouds.com/.

Worldwide Adventures, of Toronto, is a leading Canadian trekking company, attracting more and more participants from the U.S. Treks average US$150 a day, although some cost upwards of $200/day. Destinations include Nepal, Ladakh, Bhutan, Tibet, the Andes, and Africa. A handful of tours are arranged for special groups, including ones in Nepal, India and South America for travelers over the age of 50. You'll be impressed, I think, by its innovative approach set forth in a 80-page catalog, obtained from: Worldwide Adventures, 1170 Sheppard Avenue West, Suite 45, Toronto, Ontario M3K 2A3 (phone 416/633-5666 or 800/387-1483. Or view the Web site at 1000adventures.com/.

And for a trekking company owned and operated by Nepalese themselves (perhaps the most socially responsible way to trek), you'll want to consider booking with AmaDablam Adventures of Kathmandu. The company specializes in ferreting out the lesser-known and uncrowded routes. Prices in Nepal average between $60 and $80 per person per day on many itineraries. For more information and a brochure, contact the company's U.S. representative, Adventure Center, 1311 63rd Street, Suite 200, Emeryville, CA 94608 (phone 510/654-1879 or 800/228-8747, or view the Web site at adventurecenter.com/).

Amadablam is one of the most prominent of the local companies. But it's simple to find even the smallest operators by simply viewing the Nepal Visitors Web site at visitnepal.com/. Most tour companies listed on the site are based in Kathmandu, and many are contracted by the companies above to guide their tours (hence, you can save a bundle sometimes by booking direct) Other recommended local operators include Snow Leopard Trek (phone 011-975-232-1821, snowleopardtreks.com/), Sherpa Shangri-La (Web page shangrilatrek.com/), and Eco Trek (phone 011-977-23-2074-424113, Web: ecotreknepal.net/). Explore Nepal also arranges treks for altruists willing to clean up rubbish along the trails; these usually depart in May and October or November and can cost as little as $2/day (Web page xplorenepal.com/) Of course, it's often possible to wait until arrival in Kathmandu to book with these (or countless other) agencies; there is usually last-minute availability, and you can shop around.

Finally, here's the exception that proves the rule: not all challenging treks are in Nepal or Peru. For a change of pace: Ibex, a company that specializes in Swiss trekking. Self-guided tours run from mid-June to mid-October; guided tours in the higher altitudes run from July to September. Treks run five to 14 nigths. Trekkers stay in family-style hotels, guesthouses and dormitory-style "mountain huts." Be advised: the company requests that you pack lightly, as transportation for luggage is difficult in the rugged, mountainous region. Those who must have a suitcase can arrange to have it sent ahead earlier to the final destination. One of the least expensive Ibex treks is the the Bernese Oberland self-guided tour, a seven-night tour for as low as $749, with four nights in double occupancy inns and three nights in dorm facilities. Participants trek during the day, and at nighttime, bunk down after a hearty dinner. On guided tours, groups average eight participants with two tour leaders--a maximum of 14 are permitted on most tours. Contact the company at 505/579-4671, or visit the Web site at ibextreks.com/.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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