Imagine taking a walk on the wild side, with no expense spared. Simon Calder, senior travel editor for UK newspaper "The Independent", reveals the most exclusive trips your money can buy. Simon Calder
Disposing with surplus wealth on travel is not as easy as many might imagine. Suppose you were seized by the sudden desire to fly around the world in 80 hours. You could take off tomorrow aboard premier-league airlines that will cosset you from one icon to the next as you indulge in first-class heaven. And the bill? Even paying ‘rack rate’, you will have change from £10,000 – and accrue enough frequent flyer miles to do the whole thing again in economy.
Equally tricky is to find genuinely extraordinary experiences. Climbing Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro, has become an exercise in mass production. A century on from Hiram Bingham’s rediscovery of Machu Picchu, the explorer’s name has been applied to a luxury train that shuttles passengers to Peru’s Inca icon, Machu Picchu. And aboard a sub-Antarctic cruise ship I have witnessed fellow tourists oblivious to the spectacle of South Georgia’s serrated skyline drifting past the window, instead fretting about whether Burgundy or Bordeaux would best complement the Argentinian beef.
As a traveller, I cherish the opportunities offered to the first generation without frontiers. But as destinations from Antarctica to Machu Picchu become packaged for the masses, going beyond the everyday takes vision, courage – and cash. To stretch your senses you need to stretch your resources, both personal and financial. These seven adventures will propel you across and even beyond the planet. And they will endow you with memories that will live with you always.
HELI-SKI ICELAND: FROM THE SUMMITS TO THE SEA
The northern hemisphere winter-sports season begins in December and melts away at the end of March, right? Not in northern Iceland, where April is the optimum month for one of the most extreme ski experiences on earth. While this geographically energetic island is not blessed with mountains of Alpine dimensions, it does have a reliable coating of snow that endures long into Spring. A helicopter lifts you to a peak where yours will be the first ski tracks of the season. Led by a guide such as Jökull Bergmann, you carve elegant trails across the face of nature, appreciating the sheer emptiness of the far north. This close to the Pole, you can ski long into the evening – and, uniquely, get picked up by boat when your altitude descends to sea level at the raw edge of the Arctic Ocean.
With business-class flights to Reykjavik, transfers to the ‘northern capital’ of Akureyri, and an excursion to view Europe’s mightiest waterfall, Dettifoss, a week of high-latitude adventure will come in at around £8,000 per person.
GALAPAGOS EXPRESS: FAST-TRACK TO THE EQUATORIAL ISLANDS
Until now, seeing the strange creatures that helped Charles Darwin’s theory evolve has been an exercise in stress. The first obstacle is getting to the Galapagos – the usual trip involves four, separate scheduled flights. This kind of challenge is just what air charter brokers specialise in. An ultra long-range heavy jet, such a Global Express, has the legs to get there. But because of environmental protection rules in the Galapagos – a national park – no aviation fuel is stored on the islands, so the private jet must refuel in mainland Ecuador. This pushes the price to £220,000.
The second essential: an intimate vessel to explore the islands. On 15 October this year, the bar is raised on luxury in the Galapagos when ATHALA II starts sailing around the islands. She has only eight cabins (each with two picture windows), an outdoor bar and a Jacuzzi® to round off a day of snorkelling and hiking around the islands. You can join an existing tour – around £7,000 for one of those exclusive cabins for a week – or hire the whole thing for around £100,000.
Contact: Air Partner on +44 (0) 1293 844 888 (transport); Journey Latin America (cruise) on +44 (0) 208 622 8422; journeylatinamerica.co.uk
SIBERIAN RHAPSODY: PRIVATE TRAIN ON THE OTHER GREAT RAILWAY JOURNEY
A certainty for any top ten list of travel experiences is the Trans-Siberian Railway, pacing mightily from Moscow to the Pacific across the world’s largest nation. The highlight of the standard Trans-Siberian trip is Baikal, the world’s deepest and most mysterious freshwater lake – one of earth’s loveliest locations, complete with unique marine life. But while most travellers see the southern end of the Belgium-sized body of water, a few hungry for the path less travelled explore the north. From the home of the Pacific fleet in Vladivostok, take a private carriage north to meet to the Baikal-Amur Mainline – perhaps the single biggest achievement of the Soviet Union and a lifeline across the wastes and wilderness of north-east Siberia. Take time to pause along the way to comprehend humanity’s ability to survive in the most extreme conditions. Then rejoin the Trans-Siberian at the lonely Siberian junction of Tayshet to regale fellow travellers with stories from across the tracks.
For for a five-day trip from Vladivostok, with your carriage attached to existing passenger services, expect to pay around £50,000 – including lavish meals and enough vodka to float the Pacific fleet.
Contact: Mir Corporation; mircorp.com
THE ULTIMATE INCA TRAIL: TO THE EMPIRE’S LAST REFUGE, IN ESPIRITU PAMPA, PERU
The classic Inca Trail takes three tough days, traversing dramatic mountain terrain at altitudes of up to 13,000ft, along a trail created by South America’s greatest empire. It ends at Machu Picchu, the majestic ceremonial centre with a marvellous hotel – the Sanctuary Lodge – attached. Yet in the Inca chronology, this is just a sideshow. To follow the empire into oblivion, go downriver beyond Machu Picchu along the Urubamba and deep into the jungle. Five days of trekking, with mules carrying your gear, takes you to Espiritu Pampa – the last refuge of the Emperor, now almost consumed by the jungle. The good news is that a helicopter can land close to the ghost town and whisk you back to the original Inca capital, Cusco, in an hour. Here, the Royal Suite at the Orient Express property, the Hotel Monasterio, awaits as the antidote to nights under canvas. Each night costs around £1,200; reckon on £10,000 for the logistics involved in the trek (mules are at a premium), the same again for the helicopter transfer, and £4,000 for first-class flights to Peru.
Contact: ENIGMA Travel Collection on +51 84 22 2155; enigmaperu.com
EVEREST SUMMIT: BUY YOUR PLACE AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD
The journey to the highest point on earth begins with a single step – in North Wales. Jagged Globe, which this year  succeeded in taking all ten participants to the top of Everest, recommends that Snowdon is an excellent place to test your fitness for an attempt to top 29,000 feet. In addition, you will need to get some serious Alpine experience, and perhaps head for the Andes or elsewhere in the Himalayas for some 20,000-foot experience.
Follow in the footsteps of Hillary and Tenzing on the South Col route, which is more expensive than the North Face, but has a higher success rate. This arduous trek takes you to Base Camp, where you acclimatise before the climb. The worst stretch is early on: the Khumbu Icefall, “the highest ice-bouldering obstacle course in the world” according to Jagged Globe. With the help of guides, sherpas and oxygen, the final assault begins shortly before midnight with the summit reached soon after dawn.
Oh, and you will need to get to and from Kathmandu: the best choice is Qatar Airways via Doha, for a very reasonable £4,300.
Contact: Jagged Globe 0845 345 8848; jagged-globe.co.uk
DEEPEST SOUTH: A CENTURY AFTER AMUNDSEN AND SCOTT RACED ACROSS ANTARCTICA, FLY YOUR WAY TO THE SOUTH POLE
A century after the Norwegian and British teams raced for the bottom of the world, reaching the South Pole is still a logistical challenge. However, spending £25,000 for a trip with Adventure Network International will smooth things considerably – starting with the fast track over Drake Strait, the perilous waters between the southern tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. Tourists who have spent only £5,000 or so on an adventure cruise must endure high seas while you fly over in a small jet from Punta Arenas in Chile to Union Glacier Camp on the edge of the coldest, driest continent on earth. Another four-hour flight and you reach the Pole itself, complete with ceremonial pole. After your tour, you return to the main camp for more Antarctic adventures, but so uncertain are conditions that the firm says you should not plan anything for at least a week after your scheduled return.
Contact: +1 801 266 4876/4982; adventure-network.com
THE FINAL FRONTIER: VIRGIN GALACTIC
The first opportunity to put down a deposit on a trip into space was in the early 1980s, when the now-defunct Society Expeditions proposed a 1992 trip into low Earth orbit to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage. The Challenger disaster in 1986 scuppered those plans, and the only ‘tourist’ trips into space have taken the form of supernumerary members of Russian expeditions, at a cost of many millions.
Sir Richard Branson vowed to change all that. Virgin Galactic’s 21st-century kit dispenses with the need for massive booster rockets with an elegant system that uses an air-launched spacecraft to take six pioneers (and two pilots) beyond the reach of gravity at a distance of 70 miles from Earth. The trip from Spaceport America in New Mexico will cost £125,000, with a 10% deposit payable to secure your place in the queue (though be warned, more than 400 are in front of you). Ã¢Â–Â
Contact: Virgin Galactic; virgingalactic.com