It doesn't matter what you call them—dream trips, your bucket list, an adventure book—the important thing is to actually take those once-in-a-lifetime adventures when the opportunities present themselves. And in 2016, they will definitely present themselves. There's never been a better time to visit the world's dreamiest destinations, and these incredible deals will finally put them within reach.
Peru's Sacred Valley
South America's premier luxury adventure travel company, explora, will open its first lodge in Peru's Sacred Valley on July 1, 2016. To mark the occasion, the secluded explora Valle Sagrado (located at 9,500 feet elevation on a terraced Incan corn plantation near Cusco and Machu Picchu) is offering a special two-for-one promotional rate valid for stays through 2017.
A four-time winner of the World Travel Awards as "South America's Leading Expedition Company" for its locations in Patagonia, Easter Island, and the Atacama Desert, explora practically invented the concept of boutique accommodations in remote locations. But while the luxury digs are all well and good, it's really the exclusive excursions from the lodge that set explora apart from the rest. The new explora Valle Sagrado will be no different. The lodge will offer more than 20 unique guided excursions on foot, bicycle, or van, as well as three-, four-, and five-night "explorations" in remote Andean territory.
The Deal: If you've ever considered staying at an explora lodge, but balked at the price tag, now's your chance. Two people can stay for the price of one at explora Valle Sagrado (from $2,160 for a three-night stay) when you book before February 29, 2016, and stay on or before December 31, 2017. The special rate includes guided excursions, meals, an open bar, and transfers to and from Cusco.
Dates: Beginning July 1, 2016.
Contact: explora Valle Sagrado, (866) 750-6699.
Norway's Northern Lights
Scandinavia feels neither too remote nor too expensive for U.S. travelers anymore thanks to the emergence of Norwegian Air. The award-winning ultra-low-fare transatlantic airline already flies from eight U.S. cities to Scandinavia, and it plans to expand even more in the year ahead.
Use the cheap flights as an excuse to see the Northern Lights in person before the viewing opportunities diminish—2016 is the last year of an 11-year cycle in which the Aurora Borealis is at its most dramatic and visible.
The Deal: We've seen New York/Oslo flights for as little as $144 each way, and Norwegian says it plans to start selling one-way tickets as low as $69.
Dates: For the best chance to see the Northern Lights (and get a cheap transatlantic flight) in 2016, travel between January and March or between September and December.
Contact: Norwegian, (800) 357-4159.
The Arctic's Polar Bear Migration
If time is money, then Mountain Travel Sobek's "Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Photo Safari" will save you a lot of money. This five-day Arctic vacation, part of the company's new Adventure Week series that focuses on dream trips that can be done in a week or less, gets you up close to the Arctic's famed Churchill polar bears on their annual migration route from the comfort of your own cozy cabin. (How cozy? Try two beds, a propane heater, a bathroom with indoor plumbing, and a heated shower.)
Outside your cabin, you'll be able to observe the polar bears from behind a special safety fence. Inuit guides will show you where to spot the bears and, on days with poorer visibility, will lead you on exploratory hikes to glimpse other Arctic wildlife.
The Deal: At $9,786 per person, no one is likely to describe this trip as cheap. It is a bargain, though, coming in at nearly $1,000 less than last year's price. And don't overlook the biggest savings of all: time. The abbreviated five-day format may be exactly what you need to fit an Arctic adventure into your hectic life.
Dates: Select dates in October and November 2016, which is also prime viewing season for the Northern Lights.
Contact: Mountain Travel Sobek, (888) 831-7526.
Sri Lanka's Undiscovered Wonders
You only have to look at a few photos of Sri Lanka, the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean," before you find yourself adding it to your list of dream destinations. And you won't be alone in doing so. The UK's Sunday Times recently named Sri Lanka its destination of the year, and tourism to this tiny exotic island has spiked sharply upward in recent years as more Western travelers have discovered it.
This year, women ages 30 and older can travel along part of the ancient spice trail and discover Sri Lanka's many natural and archeological wonders in person with the brand new "Exotic Sri Lanka: UNESCO World Heritage Splendor" trip from the leading women's adventure travel company, Adventure Women. The highlight of the trip: A visit to Sigiriya, famous for the ruins of an ancient fortress situated at the top of a 650-foot rock left behind by volcanic activity.
The Deal: The $5,595 price tag for the 12-day "Exotic Sri Lanka: UNESCO World Heritage Splendor" trip includes stays at four- and five-star hotels, airport and hotel transfers, private transportation, baggage handling, entry fees, and English-speaking guides.
Dates: July 30 through August 12, 2016.
Contact: Adventure Women, (800) 804-8686.
Japan's Ancient Pilgrimage Route
This March will mark the five-year anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in 2011. Now half a decade removed (and deep into preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo), the country's tourism infrastructure is fully recovered and trips are more affordable than ever.
A new-for-2016 trip offered by small group tour operator G Adventures showcases some of the hidden gems of Japan that most Westerners never see. The 13-day trip takes you hiking along the UNESCO-listed Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route where ancient emperors once walked, kayaking the Bay of Miyajima to see a floating shrine, and cycling across suspension bridges between islands on the Shimanami Kaido. If you like your travel with a heavy dose of adventure, this trip may be the one for you.
The Deal: The "Hike, Bike, and Kayak" trip from G Adventures normally sells for $4,449, but right now (at the time of publication) it's on sale for $3,824, a savings of more than $600. Additional promo codes, such as 15 percent off on select dates through September 2016 and $100 to $150 off select departure dates through July, bring the cost down even further.
Dates: Select dates between June and October 2016.
Contact: G Adventures, (888) 800-4100.
Nepal's Himalayan Peaks and Valleys
Long a bucket list staple for climbers, hikers, and backpackers of all stripes, Nepal and its people need travelers more than ever in 2016. Even as the country continues to recover from last April's devastating earthquake, its hiking trails are open and its scenery remains as enticing as ever. You can feel good about visiting Nepal with Intrepid Travel this year. The adventure tour operator—one of the largest to offer guided treks in the Himalayas—will donate 100 percent of its profits from Nepal trips between January and May 2016 to support local projects through its nonprofit charitable foundation.
The Deal: Intrepid's "Annapurna Explorer" is a 16-day trekking circuit that sticks largely to the lower altitudes (at least by Himalayan standards) and comes in at just $1,305 per person. There's also a 15-day Everest Base Camp trek that starts at $1,615. Profits from both trips go directly to aiding Nepal's recovery efforts.
Dates: Multiple departures every month between January and May and again between September and December 2016. All trips through May support the not-for-profit Intrepid Foundation.
Contact: Intrepid Travel, (800) 970-7299.
Cuba's Laidback Charms
It's a rare place that can make our list of dream destinations two years in a row, but we're willing to make an exception for Cuba. America's collective love affair with this tiny Caribbean island may grow even more passionate in 2016 now that the State Department has confirmed that the U.S. and Cuba have ended a 50-year prohibition on scheduled commercial air service.
Of course, there's another reason to visit Cuba now, too—one that goes hand in hand with the increased interest of American travelers. Tourism will inevitably change the island. If Cuba is on your list because of its retro charm, then you'd better get there in a hurry.
The Deal: Because travel to Cuba is only permitted for Americans whose visits fall into one of 12 categories, including people-to-people travel and humanitarian projects, you'll need to arrange a trip with a licensed tour operator. Friendly Planet runs tours to Cuba that include round-trip airfare, all ground transportation, upscale accommodations, and a cultural exchange program. For 2016, they have three separate packages available: "Discover Havana" ($2,999 per person), "Highlights of Havana and Varadero" ($3,399), and "Colors of Cuba" ($4,399). You can save $300 to $400 off those prices if you book by February 9, 2016.
Dates: Select dates between May and October 2016.
Contact: Friendly Planet, (800) 555-5765.
Australia's Remote New Walking Path
Maybe you don't immediately picture Tasmania when you dream about Australia. Then again, maybe you should. Tourism to the 334-island archipelago, located about 150 miles south of mainland Australia, is expanding quickly as new hotels and cruises draw visitors to its pristine shores.
But the most exciting development in 2016 is the opening of a new long-distance hiking trail called the Three Capes Track. This 28-mile path puts the emphasis on scenery rather than strenuous hiking, grading easy to moderate for a standard four-day, three-night hut-to-hut trip along the tallest sea cliffs in Australia. (The trail will eventually grow to 51 miles when future legs are completed.) Aside from the edge-of-the-world scenery, what sets this trail apart from others in Australia is its designation as an "all ages and abilities" trail. Cabins along the way provide mattresses, kitchen facilities, heat, and even charging stations for your electronic devices.
The Deal: Adults pay $495 AUD per person (roughly $361 USD at time of publication; see xe.com for current rates) and children pay $396 AUD ($289 USD) for use of the trail, overnight accommodations, car parking, lockers, a cruise, and bus transfers to the origin point at the end of the trek. Fewer than 50 people are allowed on the first stage each day.
Dates: Daily, year-round.
Galapagos By Foot
Most people who see the Galapagos do so on a cruise ship, so you might be surprised to learn that land-based explorations of the protected archipelago aren't just doable—they might even be better than a cruise.
The seven-day Galapagos walking adventure from Classic Journeys is a great way to get up close and personal with the islands, landlubber-style, while naturalist guides lead you away from the flocks of cruise-bound tourists. (One highlight: You'll hike to the rim of the world's second largest volcanic caldera.) You won't be entirely terra firma-bound, though: The trip offers you the chance to kayak and snorkel with the Galapagos' diverse natural inhabitants.
The Deal: The "Galapagos Island Tour" from Classic Journeys costs $4,695 per person and includes meals, activities, accommodations, admission costs, snorkeling and kayaking gear, ground transportation, and support vehicles. A specially negotiated price for airfare between Quito/Guayaquil and the Galapagos is available for $745 per person, including Galapagos entrance fee and the Ingala card. You can also save 25 percent by organizing a group of six or more.
Dates: Monthly departures, year-round.
Contact: Classic Journeys, (800) 200-3887.
Greenland for Foodies
Paris, New York, Mexico City, Tokyo … and Nuuk? Nope, we're not playing a game of "one of these is not like the other." We're talking about the best cities in the world for foodies, and Greenland's capital is starting to appear on many people's lists. This tiny city with a population of just 17,000 is home to one of the world's top restaurants, Sarfalik, located inside the four-star Hotel Hans Egede. Nine-course tasting menus with Scandinavian and Inuit influences are not uncommon.
Nordic food is all the rage these days, and Greenlandic cuisine is about as Nordic as you can get: Meat, fish, and game can be bought fresh in Nuuk; in the summer months, many menus include mushrooms, berries, and herbs picked in the countryside. And seaweed, too, of course—the "healthy vegetable of the sea."
The Deal: You might be surprised how many things you can do in a place that's 80 percent covered in ice. At the time of publication, Greenland.com lists 62 package deals ranging from backpacking and hiking to kayaking and cruising to dogsledding, horseback riding, and fishing.
Dates: Summer is the best time to visit for mild weather. But for something a little different, travel this March—Greenland will be hosting the 2016 Arctic Winter Games.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 12 Destinations That Should Be on Your Radar in 2016
- 14 American Destinations You Need to Visit in 2016
- 10 Airlines to Watch in 2016
(Photos: Copyright David Briggs and Thinkstock/iStock)