1. DESERT ISLAND
Botswana is home to geological oddities, including an outcrop of boulders and baobabs in a sea of sand. Known as Lekhubu, or Kubu Island, it once sat in a vast lake that covered much of the Makgadkgadi salt pans. Locals watch ever the site, where they also run a campground for travelers.
2. WOVEN WARES
Traditional Botswana baskets are renowned for their tight weaving and patterns; a single basket can take weeks to complete. Some of the best, fashioned with young fronds of the mokolwane palm, can be found in the craft shops of Maun, a safari hub.
3. GONE FISHING
When the waters of the Okavango Delta recede in September, fly fishermen rejoice. Giant catfish gather in papyrus reeds, slapping the water with their tails to stun baitfish – an action that attracts feisty tiger fish that in turn offer anglers an exciting catch-and-release experience.
The tawny sands of the Kalahari Desert envelop our 4×4 in a dusty cloud as we race along a rutted track to the Tsodilo Hills, in northern Botswana. Three rocky monoliths emerge into view across the otherwise flat landscape that defines most of this African nation.
“This place has been occupied by humans for more than 100,000 years,” says my guide. “The indigenous San people believe it brings positive energy to all who come here.” Tsodilo’s stony mounds, since 2001 a World Heritage site, also contain one of the highest concentrations of ancient rock art on Earth, with more than 4,500 paintings discovered to date.
The three main hills are known as Male, Female, and Child, and are revered as the spot where creation began — a San Garden of Eden. Indeed, geological evidence indicates that water covered much of the area thousands of years ago, and fish were abundant.
Xuntae Xhao leads me along one of more than a dozen trails that traverse Tsodilo to the precise place where his San ancestors believe their creator lowered all creatures from the sky. Indentations that resemble the cloven hooves of a kudu antelope and the outline of a human body mark the spot in the rockscape.
“People came first, followed by the animals to help them survive. It was a time when humans and animals were all equal,” he says. Today, this venerated place is looked after by the Tsodilo Community Trust, an innovative partnership between San villagers and the Botswana government.
“The San are Tsodilo’s rightful guardians and beneficiaries,” says Charles Motshubi, a community development organizer and the Tsodilo project manager. Xhao nods. “It is we who know the ancient stories of this land.”
That night the wind comes up, howling along the prehistoric cliffs adorned with depictions painted in red of rhinos, eland, and elephants.
INTO THE WILD – THE OKAVANGO DELTA
“Hippos and crocs patrol the deep water, so let’s keep to the shallows and give them their privacy,” Goitseone Monnaphutego says as we pole our way by mokoro, or canoe, into the Okavango Delta. What he doesn’t add is that elephants like their water both ways — shallow and deep. Now we watch two bulls emerge from the reeds ahead of us. As the bigger one turns our way and flaps his ears in warning, Monnaphutego brings the mokoro to a stop and whispers, “Whoever said the lion is king of the jungle is wrong. That title has always belonged to the elephant.”
This king is in grave danger. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, more than 100,000 African elephants were slaughtered across the African continent, fueled by Asia’s illegal ivory syndicates. In the mayhem, Botswana is fast becoming their last sanctuary. This landlocked nation boasts the largest herds of free-roaming elephants in Africa and is home to one third of the continent’s threatened elephant population.
“If this trend [poaching] continues unabated, it is likely that elephants will go extinct in most of their range in our lifetimes,” Botswana’s conservation-minded President Seretse Khama Ian Khama said last July. Khama’s plan: Promote community-based ecotourism, enforce strict antipoaching regulations, and slap a ban on big-game hunting.
Monnaphutego exemplifies this conservation approach. “My father was a poacher; I was destined to follow his path until I learned wildlife is something to be conserved, not feared, to improve our lives.” He and veteran local guide Kgaga Kgaga run Okavango Museum Explorations, an outfitter specializing in discovering the delta by mokoro. They represent a new generation of Africans turned ecotourism entrepreneurs. Over several days, we pole along remote waterways that “my people have used for centuries,” encountering hippos, fish eagles, goliath herons, and wattled cranes. One evening we see the flash of a sitatunga as it disappears along the water’s edge. The aquatic antelope is so rare that locals refer to it as Botswana’s unicorn.
“I have seen a sitatunga only three times,” Monnaphutego murmurs to me. “As quick as they appear, they vanish.”
AFRICA’S ARK – MOREMI GAME RESERVE
“Wild dogs ahead!” exclaims the tracker, riding in a seat welded to the front frame of our Toyota Land Cruiser. Since dawn we’ve been hot on the trail of one of the most elusive and endangered mammals in the world — the African wild dog. We’re following not one but a pack of 21.
A dizzying array of tracks discloses that this pack hunted an impala the previous evening. Bellies full, the family is now lounging in the shade of an acacia — pups frolicking and adults slumbering — belying the fact that their entire population has dwindled to some 5,000, which lands them on the doorstep of extinction. The good news: The Moremi Game Reserve’s ecosystem of overlapping marshes, grasslands, and woodlands of mopani and acacia trees has become a wild dog stronghold. The first such sanctuary created by local communities in southern Africa, it was established in the 1960s.
Today, safari lodges such as &Bevond’s Sandibe Okavango lodge offer a base camp for forays into Moremi.
“Conservation is at the heart of all we do,” &Beyond’s CEO, Joss Kent, tells me. His company, in partnership with another, Great Plains Conservation, and the Botswana government, has embarked on its most ambitious project, Rhinos Without Borders, to save another iconic animal now tottering on the edge of extinction; a rhino horn can fetch more than $200,000 on the black market. (Its supposed medicinal power has been debunked by science.)
Other safari outfitters, including Wilderness Safaris and Abercrombie & Kent, also are riding to the rescue in a huge effort to relocate rhinos from adjacent countries where poaching has skyrocketed in recent years. Botswana has become the continent’s safest haven, a modern-day ark for Africa’s threatened species. Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge even resembles an ark, albeit of an eco-luxury kind. Elephants feed on palm trees beside guest rooms, baboons scamper across the lodge veranda, and nearby lions call to each other in deep throaty rumbles.
KALAHARI SALT FLATS – THE MAKGADIKGADI
Among the most dramatic sights visible on satellite images of Africa is a cluster of huge irregular oblongs in the continent’s southern reaches. Zoom in closer and the Makgadikgadi Pans, one of the world’s largest complexes of salt flats, come into focus. Think barren, endless, empty — yet anything but lifeless. In this panscape of sometimes searing heat by day and cool, breezy nights, the footprints of zebras, giraffes, ostriches, and other desert-adapted creatures crisscross the otherworldly terrain, reminding me of astronauts’ footsteps left on the moon.
While the tracks appear to wander aimlessly, in fact they weave a story: It is here that one of Africa’s epic migrations unfolds each year, as huge herds of zebras search for the mineral-rich grasses that flourish in the surrounding area. The zebras are dwarfed in number only by the hundreds of thousands of greater and lesser flamingos that come to nest in the remote pans. Pause long enough to look and listen, and a bounty of life materializes.
“We want to bring simplicity back to going on safari, and for us that means being in wide-open spaces on horseback,” explains David Foot, who set up Ride Botswana with his wife, Robyn. Their mission is to offer travelers a chance to experience an African safari from the old days, before the advent of bush planes and 4x4s.
From San Camp, a collection of six walk-in tents adorned with antiques and artifacts, we set out on horses, walking and then galloping toward a faraway tree line. In the 4,600 square miles of the Makgadikgadi that surround us, I do not see one building, cell tower, or paved road in any direction.
As sunset approaches, we stop for gin-and-tonic sundowners as herds of wildebeests stare at us curiously. With no engine running and no exhaust fumes spewing, we merge with the animal kingdom.
“I’ve heard there are seven-star hotels somewhere in the world,” says Robyn. Sweeping her arm toward the vast sky above us, she declares, “This is a million-star hotel.”
Later that evening, I meet Super, San Camp’s senior guide, who has spent 26 years exploring the pans. We head out for a night drive and soon spot the rarest of the four hyena species, the brown hyena, as well as another rare night wanderer, the reclusive aardwolf. When a huge southern African porcupine wanders by, I know my night is complete.
BUSH BIKING IN MASHATU – TULI BLOCK
Tuli Block, a ribbon of land in the country’s far eastern region, is a place where people and wilderness intermingle to the benefit of both. It’s home to the Mashatu Game Reserve, one of the largest private protected areas in Africa’s south, and is serviced by locally owned tour operators and lodges, from rustic to luxury. Tuli also is the sole place in Botswana where you can go on a mountain biking safari in a designated game reserve. The master of bush cycling is Johan Rakumako, who helped map the Tour de Tuli, a five-day off-the-grid tour using elephant migration routes. Who knew that pachyderms create well-groomed mountain bike trails?
“To see a wild elephant from a mountain bike is an experience,” Rakumako enthuses as we set out for a day of riding through the remote Limpopo River Valley, where the borders of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa intersect.
This part of the country stands in stark contrast to the rest of Botswana — craggy escarpments and sandstone ridges replace the flat plains, while waterfalls tumble and massive nyala berry trees create vistas of resplendent greenery.
The euphoria of a memorable journey washes over me. I know Rakumako, Monnaphutego, Kgaga, Xhao, and others I’ve met are creating a future for themselves and for some of the most endangered wildlife on Earth. As we ride along elephant highways, through dry riverbeds and across open fields, flocks of helmeted guinea fowl squawk, and browsing eland, herds of impala, and noble-looking giraffes watch us go by.
May not be the widest or tallest waterfall in the world, but it is without doubt the most impressive. Not only can you see it, you can hear it (from about a mile away), feel it, smell it, and taste it. Locals call it Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “the smoke that thunders.”
WHERE IS VICTORIA FALLS?
The waterfall straddles the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. You can access it from either country.Zimbabwe has historically been the more popular entry-point, but its political turmoil and hyperinflation in the 2000s made Zambia preferable.
Today, although Zimbabwe’s longtime and autocratic president, Robert Mugabe, remains in place, the nation’s currency has stabilized, and the safari industry is resurgent.
Tip: At the Zimbabwe airport, make sure you obtain the Uni Visa (currently $50 for nationals from many countries), which serves as a multicountry pass to enter Zambia and Botswana.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
There are national park entrances on both sides of the falls, easily accessible from the towns of Livingstone, in Zambia, and Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe.
If you’ve booked through a safari operator, your guide will simply drive you to the entrance. The per-person fee is $20 on the Zambia side and $30 on the Zimbabwe side.
WHICH SIDE IS BETTER?
Put very briefly: To see the falls, go to Zimbabwe; to feel the falls, go to Zambia. But we recommend seeing it from both sides, and here’s why:
The Zambia side at high flow (February to June) is an exhilaratingly visceral experience. Visitors walking on this side of the narrow gorge can feel the spray.
The Zimbabwe side tends to offer the more picturesque views because the vantages are farther, offering perspective. If you go in the height of the dry season, say, in November, the water volume is at a low point and the falls can feel a little underwhelming.
CAN I DO BOTH SIDES IN A DAY?
Yes! In fact, it’s possible to do both sides in a couple of hours. Make sure you have a multiple-country visa in your passport. You can also just stand on the bridge between the two countries and gaze at the world’s most famous cataract.
I’VE SEEN PHOTOS OF PEOPLE STANDING AT THE EDGE OF THE FALLS. HOW DO I DO THAT, AND IS IT DANGEROUS?
Devil’s Pool is an experience you can have only on the Zambia side and only during the dry season (late August to late December). It involves a boat ride on the Zambezi River to Livingstone Island, from which you can swim in this natural pool at the falls’ edge. Breathe easy: An unseen lip prevents you from going over. Run by a reputable tour operator, Devil’s Pool isn’t a dangerous activity if you follow directions. Avoid unofficial natural pools; people have gone over the edge.
There’s a sense in montana that anything is possible. This is a special place: unspoiled, rugged, and wild. The boundless blue skies and majestic mountains inspire discovery every season of the year. Hiking trails lead to glacial lakes and wildflower meadows. Abundant wildlife — including buffalo, bear, and elk — roam free. Ghost towns and a one-of-a-kind Dinosaur Trail preserve a dazzling array of historical treasures. And, eight Indian Nations celebrate the state’s rich American Indian heritage. Best of all, the locals’ welcoming spirit makes every traveler feel at home.
Expand your horizons and discover the possibilities in Montana. To help you start planning your trip to Big Sky country, we’ve charted eight Ultimate Montana Road Trips.
1. Yellowstone Country
Outdoor adventure and spectacular scenery abound on this five-day scenic loop through southern montana and into Yellowstone National Park. Hike on a wilderness plateau. Raft the Stillwater River. Horseback ride in Paradise Valley. Along the way, make a stop to soak in a hot spring-fed pool.
On The Fly
Begin in Livingston with a pilgrimage to Dan Bailey’s, the all-things-angler shop founded in 1938 by the father of Montana fly-fishing Buy hand-tied flies, hire a local fishing guide, or get tips on where the trout are biting that day.
Eat & Stay: Livingston Bar and Grille and Yellowstone Valley Lodge, Livingston.
Ride Or Raft
Trade your car for a horse and hit the trail. Paintbrush Adventures in Absarokee leads rides into Montana’s highest mountains. Bear Paw Outfitters in Paradise Valley offers trips to places like Yellowstone and Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Or, take a pulse-pounding rafting trip down the Stillwater River with Absaroka River Adventures.
Eat & Stay: Café Regis and The Pollard, Red Lodge.
Soak in the scenery on the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212), an All-American Road connecting Red Lodge to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The highway (open late May to mid-October) leads past 20 peaks of more than 12,000 feet and over the 10,900plus-foot Beartooth Plateau.
Eat & Stay: Beartooth Café, Cooke City (open late May to late September), and Silver Gate Lodging, Silver Gate.
Prepare to be amazed as you follow the Grand Loop Road south through Yellowstone National Park. Highlights include the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone; the bubbling Mud Volcano area; and the Mammoth Hot Springs, a hotbed of geothermal formations.
Eat & Stay: Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins (open late April to early October, and mid-December to March), Yellowstone National Park.
Road Less Traveled
Turn onto scenic U.S. 89 in Livingston to take the Paradise Valley Scenic Drive. Paralleling the Upper Yellowstone River between the Absaroka and Gallatin mountain ranges, the drive passe through pasturelands of the lower valley, and delivers pure Montana mountain and river vistas.
Eat & Stay: K-Bar Pizza, Gardiner, and Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa, Pray.
2. Great Plains Adventures
For Montana’s native american people, bison, or buffalo, are revered symbols of strength and unity. Celebrate the bison, see them roam, and discover how the mighty buffalo helped create the state on this six-day drive across Big Sky badlands and prairies.
Birthplace of Montana
Start where the state began in Fort Benton, once the world’s largest inland port. At the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, buy a two-day admission to the center, Old Fort Benton, the Museum of the Upper Missouri, and the Museum of the Northern Great Plains.
Eat & Stay: Union Grille and Grand Union Hotel, Fort Benton.
The next day, go antiquing at the Virgelle Mercantile. Try horseback riding at Sky View Guest Ranch (reservations required), and see the “buffalo rock” used as a bison scratching post.
Eat & Stay: Navlivka’s Original Pizza Kitchen and Best Western Phis Havre Inn and Suites.
All About The Bison
Stop at Wahkpa Ch’Un Archaeological Site (open June to Labor Day) to see a buffalo jump an excavated wall of archaeological deposits, including compacted buffalo bones and skulls. See wild bison on a guided tour of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation’s buffalo reserve.
Eat & Stay: Great Northern Hotel and Steakhouse, Malta.
Dinosaurs & Detours
Play paleontologist at the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Phillips County Museum in Malta. Take a side trip to either Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge or Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs Resort
Eat & Stay: Great Northern Hotel and Steakhouse, Malta.
Railroad & Refuge
Next is the self-guided Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge auto tour through the badlands. Northwest of Lewistown ride the Charlie Russell Chew Choo Montana dinner train (select weekend days in summer and early fall).
Eat & Stay: Dash Inn and Historic Calvert Hotel, Lewistown.
Back In Time
On the drive back to Fort Benton pull off at Bear Gulch Pictographs, a 313-million-year-old limestone inland sea formation with more than 3,000 drawings by ancient peoples.
Eat & Stay: Wake Cup Coffee House and Bakery and The Lark and Laurel Bed and Breakfast, Fort Benton.
3. Small Towns and Ghost Towns
Wander through authentic 1800s ghost towns on this rambling four-day route over mountains, across the Continental Divide, and along blue-ribbon trout streams. Butte (population 33,854) is the “big city” on the drive. Legend has it some of the smaller towns harbor gold-rush-era ghosts.
Begin in Butte, once known as the “richest hill on Earth” thanks to a multibillion-dollar mining industry. Take an underground tour at the World Museum of Mining, located on the former site of the Orphan Girl silver and zinc mine. Continue this theme at Headframe Spirits, makers of Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur. In the distillery’s tasting room, try an Orphan Girl Chocolate Drift (mixed with vodka and chocolate syrup).
Eat & Stay: Joe’s Pasty Shop and Finlen Hotel and Motor Inn, Butte.
Consider detouring at Wise Riser to Big Hole National Battlefield. This sacred site of the Nez Perce people is part of the multistate Nez Perce National Historical Park. At Wise River, slow down and enjoy the scenery along the 49-mile-long Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway. In summer, visit the ghost town of Coolidge.
Eat & Stay: Jackson Hot Springs Lodge, Jackson Hot Springs.
Stop in the route’s three best-preserved ghost towns: Bannack State Park. Nevada City, and Virginia City (which remains a living town with about 190 fulltime residents). The latter two towns house a collection of 19th-century buildings and Americana, including more than a hundred arcade and music machines. If visiting in summer, reserve tickets for Virginia City’s bawdy Brewery Follies or family-friendly Virginia City Players shows.
Eat & Stay: Bale of Hay Saloon (May to September), Virginia City, and Nevada City Hotel and Cabins, Nevada City.
Catch and Release
Spend the day fishing (or learning to fly-fish) in the tiny town of Ennis with such fly-fishing outfitters as the Tackle Shop, Madison River Fishing Company, and Trout Stalkers. Buy or rent outdoor gear, book a guided fly-fishing trip (April to November 1), or get angling tips. Continue on to Norris Hot Springs (open year round), known locally as “water of the gods.” While soaking, watch for deer and antelope.
Eat & Stay: Banditos, Ennis, and Norris Hot Springs Campground (May to September), Norris.
4. Backbone of the Rockies
Rugged, wild, and incredibly scenic, this five-day trip is filled with only -in-in-Montana experiences. Travel Glacier National Park’s legendary Going-to-the-Sun Road. Take a ranger-led tour to see the park’s namesake glaciers. Raft or fish untamed waters. And, chow down on ahearty steak supper or sleep in a restored rail road car.
Pre-register fora wildlife photography workshop at Kalispell’s Triple “D” Game Farm, a safe place to capture images of wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lions, and other native Montana animals. Or, hike in Lone Pine State Park for far-as-the-eye-can-see views of Kalispell, the Flathead River and Flathead Lake, and the Swan Mountain range.
Eat & Stay: Western Barbecue Dinner Ride at Artemis Acres Paint Horse Guest Ranch and Kalispell Grand Hotel, Kalispell.
Take a Hike
There’s so much to see in Glacier National Park that you’ll need to spend at least two days there. Begin by hiking the Highline Trail (for alpine views and possible wildlife sighting) or the Iceberg Lake Trail, which leads to a teal-blue lake holding small icebergs most of the summer.
Eat & Stay: Base Camp Café, Columbia Falls, and Belton Chalet, West Glacier.
Crown of the Continent
On your second Glacier day, drive the epic Going-to-the-Sun Road (partially closed mid-September through early June) through the heart of the park and over 6,646-foot Logan Pass.
Eat & Stay: St. Mary Lodge and Snowgoose Grille, St. Mary.
Off the Beaten Path
On the eastern side of the park, take a detour to Browning and the Museum of the Plains Indian. Watch Native American artists demonstrate authentic crafts, including weaving with porcupine quills.
Eat & Stay: Johnson’s of St. Mary (mid-May through September), St. Mary, and Izzak Walton Inn (railroad car room), Essex.
See & Ski
Whitefish Mountain Resort is an all-season destination for adventure. Ride the lifts to the summit in winter to ski and year round for views of Glacier National Park, the Flathead Valley, the Canadian Rockies, and more.
Eat & Stay: Loula’s and The Lodge at Whitefish Lake. Whitefish.
The local villagers along Cambodia’s Sangke River who once stole eggs from the nests of endangered birds now protect those same species. February marks the 15th anniversary of the Prek Toal bird sanctuary, located in the northwest part of the river. The Prek Toal area is populated by a distinctive community of floating homes, schools, and general stores, and also happens to be the most important breeding ground for globally endangered waterbirds in Southeast Asia.
The Cambodian communist regime, the Khmer Rouge, controlled the Prek Toal region until its fall in 1979, and severe poaching of bird eggs for food began when villagers returned. However, the number of birds in Prek Toal has increased dramatically thanks to conservationists who’ve trained former egg thieves to report sightings of poaching in exchange for community development incentives like money for fish farming and restaurant development.
Over the past 15 years, the spot-billed pelican population has grown from 200 to 1,000 birds, and the greater adjutant from 20 to 300 birds. During Prek Toal’s dry season, December through May, bird-watchers from all over the world can witness the abundant avian diversity worth saving.
Wheeler Geologic Area, a wonderland of stone pinnacles and hoodoos, was once a top Colorado attraction. Now, only backcountry hikers and those w illing to drive 13 miles on a dirt road earn a glimpse of one of America’s more unusual landscapes. President Theodore Roosevelt designated this volcanic tutf formation, about 250 miles southwest of Denver, Wheeler National Monument in 1933. It became part of the National Park Service in 1933 but was scarcely visited because of its remote location. Unable to justify maintenance fees, the Park Service removed Wheeler from its list in 1950. one of dozens of “ghost parks” dropped from the parks system because of upkeep costs and low visitation.
From Alaska to the Caribbean, America’s ghost parks linger, in shopping centers, along highways, in wildernesses. Many live on as state parks or are managed by such federal agencies as the Forest Service —which oversees Wheeler— and most remain accessible to the public. They range from a bronze cross in upstate New York (Father Millet Cross) to a natural cross in the Rockies visible only when it snows; from Fort Christian, the oldest building in the Virgin Islands, to Michigan’s Mackinac Island, established in 1875 as America’s second national park and delisted in 1895.
On the edge of the Four Corners region and surrounded by the mighty San Juan Mountains, this Old West railroad town of around 17,000 has blossomed into one of America’s adventure sports capitals. Durango also happens to be a vibrant, family-friendly ski town — perhaps the most affordable in Colorado. Twenty-seven miles up Highway 550 is Purgatory Resort, a family and intermediate skier’s dream hill, with 91 trails, ten lifts, five terrain parks, and a seemingly endless supply of groomed rollers for catching flight.
REVELSTOKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Carved out of the central British Columbia wilderness, Revelstoke is the only ski area in North America where skiers and boarders can get to the goods via lifts, snowcats, and helicopters from the same base. For in-bounds powder seekers, a little hiking goes a long way here. Head for the dizzyingly deep and steep North Bowl, where you can re-create your favorite ski magazine cover shots. The region is also an epicenter for heli-skiing, with as many opportunities to get whisked to mountaintops as your wallet allows.
This woodsy ski paradise in northern Vermont’s Mad River Valley is establishing itself as the quietly humming soul of eastern skiing. Mad River Glen — the nation’s only cooperatively owned ski area — is the definition of old school, with narrow, plunging trails cut by hand almost 70 years ago in traditional New England style. It can’t be bothered with things like high-speed chairs, condos, and snowboards, which aren’t allowed. If you’re looking for a pure, rustic skiing experience, this is your spot.
For The Long Layover
LoungeBuddy? More like LoungeBestie. The app propels avid travelers into pro territory, unlocking a labyrinth of airport lounges and their amenities. Sync your itinerary to see your options— rated from Luxe to Basic, along with photos, price, services, and user reviews— and book directly on your phone, before takeoff or on the fly. Free for iOS and Android.
For The Weekend Warrior
Strava makes solo fitness social, no matter where you are. The app connects cyclists and runners through shared routes, with locals’ favorite spots mapped across the world. On its website, Strava also offers athletic-minded guides for cities, from Sao Paulo to Sydney. Free for iOS and Android.
For The Pack Rat
Suitcase staffers, cool your jets: With just a few taps of your fingertip, PackPoint generates customized packing lists based on gender, location, and length of stay. Before spitting out a detailed list of must-haves, the app checks the weather forecast and considers your itinerary, suggesting clothing to help you plan accordingly. Free for iOS and Android.
Honeymooners head to French Polynesia’s all-inclusive resorts, but a growing number of pensions provide traditional lodgings and a chance to learn about local life. Cocoperle and 19 other pensions have even partnered with Air Tahiti Nui to offer packages that include airfare. Go fishing, visit a pearl farm, and then retire to one of Cocoperle’s four bungalows, fragrant with flowers. From $153 per person per night.
RIVIERA MAYA, MEXICO
In the midst of the Riviera Maya’s busy tourist scene, this nine-room inn feels like a private hacienda. The sandy Caribbean beach is just two blocks away. Owners Alexis Schärer and Angie Rodriguez hope guests will feel at home— if only home came with warm Mexican sunshine, a garden hammock swinging under copal trees, an outdoor terrace with panoramic ocean and jungle views, and chocolates on your pillow. From $200.
Famed for fabulous beaches and glamorous resorts that cater to the likes of Kate and Will, this Indian Ocean nation recently legalized village-based lodging, such as this 17-room inn with its simple rooms and open-air dining. Spend the day watching whale sharks or swimming with manta rays, then relax on a jolie (the ubiquitous Maldivian version of a park bench) to socialize with the locals at sunset. From $50.
Chamonix is not really a ski town so much as a winter-sports hub; an old school Alpeniste’s town of 10,000 people (double that in high season) replete with top-end gear shops, patisseries, bars and restaurants and a satellite of ski areas, hamlets and villages surrounding it.
Dealing with Chamonix’s sprawling and diverse downhill adventure options can be tiresome on a budget – lots of queuing for crowded buses, schlepping around with your boots slipping on ice to catch one of the free minibuses the locals call mulets (little mules) – so to maximise enjoyment of the vertiginous challenges set by Les Houches, Le Lavancher, Argentière, Le Buet, Le Tour, Les Bossons etc, you need to invest in some meticulously organised Alpine luxury.
First, you need somewhere to stay. Away from the rowdy ski bums in town, but well-connected to the ski lifts and téléphériques, preferably with a clear view of the surrounding Mont Blanc massif.
GQ chose Amazon Creek, eight minutes’ drive from Cham-central and billed as “the most luxurious chalet in the Mont Blanc valley”. It sleeps ten and has a private chef and a concierge service.
There’s a private swimming pool, cinema indoor Jacuzzi, an outdoor tub and a sauna. Decor is appropriately Heidi-marries-Swiss-banker luxe: sturdy wooden farmhouse construction, a vast and handsome reception room, an open fire, leather sofas that swallow you and your post-ski- day champagne flute whole and beds you won’t want to get out of – until the sun streams into your room, you clock the soaring Aiguille du Midi peak in the distance and hear the gentle rustle of the chef preparing your scrambled eggs, that is.
After a couple of flat whites, a morning dip and a fresh juice, you pull on your Patagonia, climb in Amazon Creek’s Mercedes bus and head off for the most sublimely thrilling adventure in the Alps – the Vallée Blanche.
This world-famous and truly spectacular 20km – long run with a vertical descent of 2,700m is, officially, an off-piste run, which means that even the voie normale (regular route) is an ungroomed, unpatrolled wilderness bereft of markers to steer you away from its chasm-deep crevasses. (Just the route’s start at the top of the Aiguille du Midi – a precarious ridge edge with a 50-degree pitch on both sides, tackled with skis slung on shoulders and gloved hands death-gripping a guide rope can be a bit of a test for the faint-hearted).
So, while the views are staggering and the ride utterly exhilarating, you are definitely going to need a guide. Good job then that Amazon Creek has Michel Fauquet of ENSA (L’École Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme) on its books. GQ’s advice is to stop halfway down the glacier for a baguette and beer lunch at the rocks they call La Salle à Manger (“the dining room”).
As you munch your jambon et gruyère sandwich mixte, admire the amphitheatrical splendour of the surroundings, then point your skis downhill and follow your guide home. If you avoid the crevasses, there’ll be a cake, a pot of tea, a roaring fire and massage waiting for you back at your chalet.