The secret to a good vacation isn’t just making an escape—it’s choosing the right escape. While sun, sleep, good food, and good wine can sometimes heal any grooves the daily grind has worn into the soul, the complete banishment of ennui requires something more—an adventure.
Of course, not everyone who craves a dramatic change of pace wants to enter the Iditarod or attempt to summit Mount Everest. “Many wealthy people who are very well-traveled want a completely new experience,” says Susan Duffy, business development director at SmartFlyer, a global luxury travel firm. “But they don’t necessarily want to give up luxury accommodations and service.”
Nor must they. The Financialist asked Ms. Duffy for her best current ideas of adventurous vacations that don’t sacrifice a single iota of luxury. Her four top picks are below.
Cruise Down the Amazon
Adventure travel outfit Aqua Expeditions takes up to 32 passengers at a time on guided journeys of three, four, or seven days down a Peruvian stretch of the Amazon River, which stretches 4,000 miles across South America and is home to half of the world’s remaining rainforest. Those adventurers see lush, flooded forests and waterfalls, visit local fish markets, and take canoe trips. They also take in exotic wildlife such as capuchin monkeys and river dolphins, and even fish for piranha.
The boat has a pool and workout facilities, and its air-conditioned cabins have floor-to-ceiling glass windows, soft lighting, and king-size beds. But the formal dining room may be the best part. Peru’s top-notch chefs have gained worldwide fame in recent years, and Aqua Expeditions Executive Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffano owns one of Lima’s best restaurants, Malabar. He’s famous for using ingredients found only in the Amazonian jungle, such as grilled paiche with Amazon huatia potatoes.
Cost of a 7-day trip: Between $7,735-$8,505 per person
Go Glamping in Montana
Glamping – a recent travel buzzword that combines glamour and camping – takes the fireside joys of outdoor living, adds luxurious creature comforts, and subtracts the dirt, bugs, and sleeping bags. The Resort at Paws Up, located on a 37,000-acre working cattle ranch in Montana, is a standout in the genre.
The ranch rents homes with up to four bedrooms, but it’s the luxury tents that are available from late May through September that offer closer communion with the great outdoors without skimping on style. Fully furnished one- and two-bedroom tents have up to 1,000 square feet of living space and en suite bathrooms.
Tents are arranged into camps, each of which has a private chef and butler, the latter of whom helps build campfires and arrange daytime activities, of which there are a dizzying variety. Guests can participate in a cattle drive, learn to drive a wagon team, go clay shooting, fly fish, take a hot air balloon trip, or ride horses along 100 miles of trails.
Cost of luxury tents: $1,255 a night for a one-bedroom tent; $2,850 a night for a two-bedroom
Climb Inside a Volcano in Iceland
Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik, just five hours by plane from New York and three from London, is one of the world’s top party destinations. But escape the city limits, and Iceland is wild in a totally different way.
The country is famous for its volcanoes – remember the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010? – and thrill-seekers can actually descend into the dormant, 700-foot-deep Thrihnukagigur, a feat achieved using an open elevator similar to a window-washing rig. Take a helicopter if you want to skip the 2-mile hike to the volcano, and arrange a private tour to avoid crowds.
For another only-in-Iceland experience, snorkel or scuba dive along the continental divide at Silfra, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. To reach a hiker’s paradise, hire a 4×4 that can ford streams and weather dicey gravel roads, and head to Thorsmörk, a starkly beautiful mountain ridge and valley with miles of trails.
Every tourist’s itinerary rightly includes a trip to the aptly named Blue Lagoon, a huge geothermal seawater pool 20 minutes outside Keflavík International Airport. Spring for a €300 luxury package, and you get a private changing room, private entrance to the lagoon, access to an exclusive lounge, and free sparkling wine. Tack on an in-water massage to get rid of every last bit of tension.
Reykjavik has plenty of luxury hotel options (see Ms. Duffy’s picks here), but for something further off the beaten path, she recommends the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel or the Hotel Rangá.
Cost of a stay at the ION or Hotel Rangá: From $433 a night for a deluxe room at the ION to $299 for a single, depending on the season. From $228 a night for a standard single room to $726 for a master suite, again depending on season.
Drive a Jeep Through Patagonia
Like Iceland, Patagonia is known for rugged mountain landscapes. Ms. Duffy recommends exploring the region on a Jeep tour with Quasar Expeditions, which offers both solo and guided drives.
On a nine-day tour that moves between Chile and Argentina, guests sail through fjords, stay on a working sheep farm, and visit one of the world’s last remaining advancing glaciers, the 19-mile-wide Perito Moreno.
But the highlight of the trip is the two-day visit to the famous Torres del Paine (Towers of Blue) National Park, named after three imposing granite peaks. Travelers can attempt a challenging 6.5-hour hike to the base of these rock formations or take in views of mountains, glaciers and lakes on a more leisurely stroll in the gorgeous French Valley. During the trip, guests stay in the Tierra Patagonia Hotel Boutique and Spa, a stunning wood-and-glass structure overlooking Lake Sarmiento.
Cost of tours: $7,270 for a self-guided tour for two; $8,870 with a guide in a separate Jeep