For centuries, explorers have tried — with varying success — to navigate through the glacial waters of the Northwest Passage. But this summer, the fabled Arctic odyssey that connects Europe and Asia revealed a new sight: for the first time ever, it was ice-free. With this summer’s record-high temperatures (of over 71 degrees Fahrenheit) and an avalanche of media attention, the Arctic Ocean has become the hot ticket among “climate tourists” — those travelers who, “thanks” to global warming, seek the hitherto inaccessible fringes of the earth.
Over 1.5 million visitors now hit the region every year (up 50 percent from 1990), and in 2008 — designated International Polar Year — those numbers are expected to soar. Betchart Expeditions is already taking bookings for its September ‘08 journey to “Warming Island” — a totally unknown spit of land until it recently pierced the Greenland ice sheet. (Dennis Schmitt, who discovered the spot, will be leading the tour.) Adventure Life, meanwhile, invites you to cruise the Northeastern Passage — from Anchorage across the top of the world to Murmansk in Russia. The 26-day itinerary costs from $24,700 to $50,800 and includes tundra hikes, beluga spotting and visits to Europe’s northernmost hunting camps. Means of transport? The Kapitan Khlebnikov, which has navigated more polar waters than any other expedition vessel.