How much does it cost to climb Mount Everest? These days, about $70,000 dollars. Yeah, it’s totally annoying that the uber rich can pretty much buy their way to the top, complete with porters to carry their Gucci-brand climbing gear. But don’t be bitter, because today we’re going to talk about cheap adventure trips that all of us can afford.
You see, most super-posh adventure trips have a cheap alternative. Often it’s lurking surprisingly close — in the next mountain range or valley over. And once in a while, it’s possible to take the same itinerary for a fraction of the price.
Let’s look at some examples of cheap adventure trips.
High-Altitude Mountaineering: Mount Everest v. Pik Lenin (Ibn Sina)
High-altitude mountaineering is one sport that’s pretty short on cheap adventure trips. Like I was saying, it costs $65,000 to climb Mount Everest with Alpine Ascents International and a whopping $74,000 with RMI.
OK, so most of us middle-class badasses are going to be priced out of Everest (and to be honest, most of the other 8,000-meter peaks, too). But if you can look past that, there are some super cheap adventure trips in the 7,000-meter range. And that’s still pretty damn big.
One option that should fit into most budgets is Ibn Sina (still very commonly called Pik Lenin) on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At 7,134 m (23,406 ft.), it’s consider one of the world’s most accessible 7,000-ers. It’s also one of very few with a basecamp on grass — in a wonderfully idyllic alpine valley, to be precise.
If you want to join a fully supported expedition of Pik Lenin, British outfitter Adventure Peaks will lead you up for 3,295 pounds.
However, experienced mountaineers should consider working with Bishkek-based Ak-Sai Travel. This company offers several levels of expedition support ranging from 480 to 1670 USD. All packages include visa support, permitting, ground transfers, and access to the base camp physician. Pricier packages add on domestic flights, base camp room and board, tents at high camp, and access to guide-consultants (but not climbing guides).
If there’s a downside to Pik Lenin, it’s popularity. But hey, Everest is popular, too. It’s so popular that the bottlenecks on the fixed lines can force an end to your trip. Or kill you.
More Cheap Adventure Trips for High-Altitude Mountaineers
Looking for something a bit more technical? Try Khan Tengri (7,010 m, 22,999′) on the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan-China border, also served by Ak-Sai Travel and Adventure Peaks.
Not satisfied with one Central Asian summit? Try knocking out the five “snow leopard peaks” of Soviet mountaineering. In addition to Lenin and Khan Tengri, you’ll need to bag Ismoil Somononi (7,495 m), Pik Korzhenevskaya (7,105 m), and Jengish Chokusu (7,439 m), all located in former-Soviet Central Asia. All make pretty cheap adventure trips.
Heart still set on Everest? Alpine Ascents International will guide you to Camp II for the bargain price of $10,000.
Hiking South America: Inca Trail v. Apolobamba Trek
Sure, seeing Machu Picchu is bucket-list adventure trip. But things have gotten a little silly on the Inca Trail. To travel this incredibly congested route, you now must take along a licensed guide. A 4-day, 3-night private trek will now run you $600–$900 (though you can save a bit by joining a group tour.)
If the Inca Trail parade doesn’t appeal to you — or you’re into super cheap adventure trips — head on over to neighboring Bolivia and take the four-to-five day Apolobamba Trek from Curva to Pelechuco (or with an extension on each end, Lagunillas and Agua Blanca).
The route is actually part of the same ancient road network as the Inca trail. But in complete contrast, it’s located in a wonderfully isolated area that sees fewer than 500 foreign visitors a year. In fact, it’s so far off the tourist map that you’ll probably have a hard time finding Spanish speakers.
This trek is a true high-alpine adventure trip. You’ll pretty much be hiking over 4,000 m (13,123′) the entire time and crossing five passes. The area is extremely isolated, so you’ll need to be self-reliant and carry adequate food and supplies.
The good news: hostels at either end can arrange a local guide and mule porter for less than $50 a day.
Apolobamba Trek Trip Planning Resources
The Apolobamba trek is so rarely traveled it’s a bit hard to get recent beta on the route. Here are a few resources to check out.
- Agua Blanca Hostel
- Albergue Lagunillas (website in Spanish)
- Lonely Planet Bolivia provides a detailed route description, plus ultra-local info on accommodations, attractions, and transportation.
- Trekking in Bolivia by Yossi Brain is a bit dated (1997), but also covers this trip.
- Here’s a map by two trekkers who completed this adventure trip independently in 2012. Expand this map to full screen and click the route description for some useful info:
Safety on the Apolobamba Trek
In recent years, some significant security threats have been reported in the Cordillera Apolobamba. These include incidents in which trekkers were robbed or assaulted. So be smart, get good info from the locals, and consider taking a guide.
European Hut Trekking: Alps v. Balkans
Tour du Mont Blanc, Haute Route, and Alta Via I offer some amazing hut-to-hut trekking through some of Europe’s most iconic mountains. The trouble is, even as an indy traveler, you’ll pay €40–70 per night for a dorm bed and meals. And on a two-week trek, those Euros add up.
But believe it or not, there are still plenty of cheap adventure trips to be found in the Euro Zone. For some of the best examples, head southeast to the Balkans.
Before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Bulgaria was the Eastern Bloc’s favorite walking destination. And if you haven’t been there, you should know that Bulgaria is freakin’ beautiful. I know this because I was reluctantly dragged there on the tail end of another mountaineering trip, and now I want to move there. (Seriously, here’s my Moving to Bulgaria Pinterest board.)
Also, their national dish is a salad covered with cheese. Here, you can make one at home.
On the cheap adventure trips front, Bulgaria has a crazy-huge hut-to-hut network that dates back to the Communist era. Several of Europe’s long-distance trails pass through the country, giving you several weeks worth of trekking options.
Where to Trek in Bulgaria
Bulgaria’s best known long-distance trekking route is the seven-day Rila-Pirin Traverse. You can read more about it in this excellent blog post by John at John Hayes Walks (and Cycles).
And if you think the Balkans are for babies and don’t have real mountaineering, check out the photos of John’s wife sliding down an ice gully. (She was OK, thank jeebers.) Also, the two of them via ferrata-ing … with no cable.
Another great resource is Hiking Guide Bulgaria, a local mountain guide collective. Their excellent website is filled with awesome self-guided trip descriptions. Some of the best:
- Rila-Pirin Traverse, Description, Days 1–4, Days 5–7
- Rila-Pirin-Olympus Traverse, crosses into Greece
- The E3, E4, and E8, European Long-Distance Walking Paths that cross Bulgaria
- The Balkan Traverse
Through Hiking Guide Bulgaria, you can also hire a guide for 65 euro a day (90 euro for technical mountaineering). This cost can be split between up to 12 participants.
So How Much Does a Hut Cost in the Balkans?
So Bulgarian trekkers’ huts … where do I begin.
To start with, most of these huts don’t all have fancy websites like the ones in the Alps. And the few that do haven’t updated them since like 1997.
Also, few of the websites list prices. And that’s because these Bulgarian huts are pretty much free. For the few where I could find price info, cost was €5–8 for a dorm bed, with one greedy outlier charging €11. You can add on meals for €2–3 each.
Some Bulgarian trekking huts offer discounts for multi-night stays, kids, and people over 40 (!!!). You will, however, pay the premium price of €7 to stay on Christmas and New Years.
Hiking Guide Bulgaria’s website has a nice map of the Bulgarian hut system.
Are Cheap Adventure Trips Possible in the Alps?
If you’ve still got you heart set on Tour du Mont Blanc, Laurel at the Monkeys and Mountains travel blog has some great advice on planning an indie trip.
You can also take cheap adventure trips in the Alps by carrying your own tent. Many huts will even let you crash on the lawn and pay for meals, booze, showers, and toilets. (But check ahead of time; some national parks don’t allow tenting.)
Learn Rock Climbing: Yosemite v. Krabi
Rock climbing as we know it was born in the Yosemite Valley. But before you run off to follow in Royal Robbins’ footsteps, consider that things were a lot cheaper (and a hell of a lot quieter) back in the 50s.
Today, the only instructors authorized to operate in the park work for the Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service. And to be fair, their prices are pretty reasonable by U.S. standards. A seven-hour group classes cost about $145 for beginners and intermediates. Six-hour private lessons and tours range from $163 (for a group of three) to $283 (for one-on-one instruction).
However, if you really want to learn to climb at true dirtbag climber prices, cash in your frequent flier miles and fly to Thailand’s Krabi Province. This is Southeast Asia’s best developed climbing mecca, and it’s breathtaking.
The wacky, oh-so-phallic rock formations that dot Krabi’s hillsides are actually karst features. Karst landscapes result when limestone or dolomite dissolves, forming caves, sinkholes, and eventually oh-so-climbable towers.
Krabi’s climbing routes wend up pillars and traverse through caves. You can also start many climbs from a boat. And when you get to the top and turn around, you’ll see the ocean and tons of tropical islands stretching out.
Climbing instruction in Krabi costs roughly half of Yosemite prices. Single-day group classes and tours range from $30 (4 hours) to $50 (9 hours). Rates for full-day private lessons range from $104 (2–4 people) to $130 (1 person).
There are many companies to choose from and lots of options for intermediate and advanced courses.
Cheap Hotels in Krabi
Unless you’re lucky enough to snag a spot at Yosemite’s Camp 4 ($6/night), you’ll probably end up saving on accommodation in Thailand as well. Budget hotels in Yosemite Valley start around $60 in the rock-bottom low season. And unless you live close enough to drive in, you’ll also have to factor in the price of a rental car.
Meanwhile in Thailand, you can book a beach bungalow for less than $20 per night and use the practically free public transportation system and cheap taxis to get around. (Also, the guiding company will pick you up for your lesson.)
Diving Komodo: Luxury Liveaboard v. Floating Dive Hostel
So if you scuba dive, you’ve totally got to check out Indonesia’s Komodo National Park. The surrounding waters are part of the “coral triangle,” which is home to 76 percent of the world’s coral species.
A weird collision of currents (which you’ll no doubt feel while diving) and a deep upwelling from nearby Sape Strait keep these waters nutrient rich and attract sea turtles, sunfish, sharks, manta rays, and even dolphins.
Perhaps the best way to dive an archipelago like Indonesia is from a liveaboard. Scuba cruises provide access to remote, less-visited dive sites.
However, they also come with a hefty price tag: even in Indonesia, land of cheap adventure trips, you can expect to spend a minimum of $250 a day. Also, liveaborad cruises have fixed dates, so finding one that works for your schedule can be tricky.
Cheap Diving Trips Offshore in Komodo
A cheaper way to experience this in a world-class location is Wicked Diving’s Komodo Floating Hostel (also called the dive platform).
The hostel itself is a wooden phinisi boat (a kind of Indonesian fishing boat that was traditionally built without nails). Rather than cruising between dive sites, the hostel stays anchored in Komodo National Park waters. Smaller, more fuel-efficient speed boats transport divers on three daily dives, evening shore excursions, and to the Wicked Diving base on Flores Island.
There’s no time-limit to how long divers can hang out at the hostel. But to give you an idea of the prices, a 3-night/4-day stay with 12 dives currently runs $535 dollars. Prices include transfer from Flores Island, meals, a divemaster, tanks, weight belts, and accommodation in an air-conditioned dorm.
For an insider’s look at life on the dive platform, check out this awesome blog post by Laura and Paul from Design Think Travel. (Laura’s pics and videos are a great introduction to reef life here, including the manta rays.)
The Komodo area is suitable for divers of all skill levels, but intermediate and advanced divers will have the most options. Ask Wicked Diving about certification courses.
Do you know of any amazing cheap adventure trips we should all be taking? Comment below to share.
Originally published May 1, 2017.