By Costas Christ
When planning the adventure trip of a lifetime, the most important decision you’ll make is not where to go, but who to go with. Think about the stakes: weeks of your time, thousands of your dollars, even, potentially, your own safety. If an outfitter fails to deliver on the dark side of the moon, you don’t get a do-over. An expert tour company, on the other hand, can give you access to remote lands, introduce you to those who live there, and make sure you not only see the world, but also experience it. Today there are outfitters running trips in just about every country on Earth. To help you pick the right one, we’ve conducted the world’s first large-scale rating scale of adventure tour operators. It’s extensive. It’s user-friendly.
As part of the National Geographic Society, we have a unique take on travel. We appreciate fine meals and high thread counts, but we also want to know who’s teaching their clients about the places they visit, who’s pushing the frontiers of discovery and adventure, and who’s giving back to the planet. So we surveyed over 200 outfitters and scored them on the criteria that matter to us most: education, sustainability, quality of service, and spirit of adventure. We evaluated gorilla-safari specialists and Grand Canyon rafters, Napa Valley cyclists and Himalaya trekkers. As expected, most of the top scorers excel in multiple areas. But we were pleasantly surprised that almost all of them consider their environmental impact a fundamental part of the trips they offer.
O.A.R.S. Nearly four decades and 400,000 plus guests since it first put on the Colorado River, O.A.R.S. excels in pounding whitewater, on mellow floats – and at the dinner table, where gourmet chefs may preside. The out fitter drops into every major river in western North America, plus a few in Fiji, Ecuador and Mexico. Signature Trip: “Lees Ferry to Lake Mead Full Canyon” (rafting) Arizona, 15 days
How O.A.R.S. Scored: 88 Education, 98 Sustainability, 94 Service, 94 Adventure, 100 References, 94.8 OVERALL
HOW WE DID IT: The methodology With assistance from the Adventure Council, Adventures in Travel Expo, the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and other travel and tourism organizations, we reached out to 100s of tour companies around the world. The outfitters were asked to complete a comprehensive 28-question survey and were scored from 1 to 100 in the following categories: education, sustainability, quality of service, and spirit of adventure. Researchers then contacted client references for every company and generated a fifth score, also between 1 and 100, based on their feedback. Each outfitters overall score represents the average of these five scores. A team of ADVENTURE editors, travel writers, and experts vetted those with overall scores of 80 and above and, from this pool of candidates, chose the “Best Outfitters on Earth.”