Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Bolivia? Yes, Bolivia. It's home to the largest salt plains on the globe, a high-altitude region of immense flatness that looks gorgeously lunar. Think of this adventure as a safari of mind-blowing landscapes, complete with a knowledgeable guide to help you find your way.
No doubt it's a splurge, but traveling with Explora is worth saving your pennies for. Not only do they hire some of the most charismatic local guides on their eight-day "From Uyuni" journey, but you'll also be accompanied by a chef who creates gourmet picnics you'll wash down with South American wine. The trip begins in the city of Potosi, a mythical place that kept the Spanish Empire rich in silver for centuries, and then moves quickly to the dazzling expanse of Salar de Uyuni, a 4,085-square-mile salt bed 12,025 feet above sea level. Feeling good? Maybe it's because you're standing on a major lithium reserve. From here you'll spend the next four days exploring remote Bolivia, passing lagoons filled with flamingos and visiting traditional villages, before crossing into Chile, where as a reward for all your hiking, you'll luxuriate for two final nights in Explora's Hotel de Larache. This eco-luxe property has the coolest grounds you've ever seen smack in the middle of a desert oasis: four sleek interconnected pools and lounging cabanas surrounded by native foliage (eight days from $4,920 per person, all-inclusive, explora.com).
What Else to Do
Bust out your bikini, because there are some glorious hot springs 45 minutes from the Hotel de Larache. At the bottom of a scenic ravine, you'll discover a tangle of walkways and soaking platforms in eight different cascading pools.
When to Go
Due to extreme drops in temperature during high-altitude winters, this excursion is available from April to December. The months from September to December are warmer (high 60s), but you'll need a jacket because it gets chilly at night (low 40s).
How to Get There
It's a bit complicated, but don't let that scare you off: You'll travel to Potosi, Bolivia, from La Paz, Santa Cruz, or Sucre. And you'll depart from Calama, Chile, via Santiago. The good news is that LAN Chile flies to both areas, and Explora will arrange the rest.