Active vacations offer experiences, not just scenery Adventure: The Way to Go

January 01, 1995|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,Special to The Sun

Just when it seemed that adventure seekers might run out of challenging destinations to discover, a whole new world of active travel has opened up. It's not that outfitters have unearthed all that many unexplored vacationlands (though some of the more intrepid companies have indeed managed to break fresh ground). What's new for '95 are novel ways to explore some of the most popular adventure locations and an infusion of athletic itineraries to places not usually associated with vigorous vacations.

To make active travel attractive to the widest possible audience, many outfitters known for their rough and tough excursions have softened up a bit -- even throwing out the welcome mat to families -- and traditionally staid tour operators have revved up their trips' energy levels without sacrificing much comfort.

"People are now less willing to be shown the world; they want to participate in it -- and they expect to get their feet wet, their hands dirty, and their minds stimulated," says Geoffrey Kent, chairman of Aber- crombie & Kent, known for its upscale trips to some of the world's most exotic destinations.

On the other hand, said Scott Senauk of Wilderness Travel, a pioneer of endurance outings, "The bulk of our clients are aging and, although they still want an active vacation, most want less physically demanding itineraries with a lot of the comforts of home. We still do some really tough trips to remind ourselves we're an adventure outfitter, but mostly we've gone into softer adventures to please the highest number of customers."

So what's new out there?

Following is a selection of adventures for '95. For more ideas, pick up a copy of the February 1995 issue of Outside Magazine, which will include the periodical's annual "Trip Planner," a compilation of dozens of "the world's greatest adventure trips" as judged by the editors. Also very helpful is the "Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook," by Paul McMenamin (Turner Publishing, $29.95), a hefty 432-page paperback that covers 28 categories of adventures, from easy walks to killer mountain ascents, world-class rafting, and sky diving.

With apartheid disassembled and President Nelson Mandela touring the world, a new South Africa is poised to welcome previously reticent travelers to some of the most spectacular wilderness in the world. U.S. adventure companies are scurrying to get in on the action, working with local outfitters to organize game-park safaris, cultural tours, and hiking, horseback-riding and rafting excursions.

"We're working very carefully not to make the same mistakes that Kenya did in allowing too many people into the big game reserves, where too often a single lion might be surrounded by a dozen safari vehicles," says Julian Harrison of the South Africa Tourist Board in New York. "We're aiming for lower- density tourism, perhaps at a slightly higher price, but with the long-term goal of preserving our ecological treasures instead of exhausting them." The tourist board has published a list of more than 40 tour operators that run South African adventures. (For a copy, contact the South Africa Tourist Board at [800] 822-5368.) Among the options: Esplanade Tours, a 41-year-old Boston company, is running trips that take in private and public game reserves, with many night safaris and stays in both lodges and permanent tents. The longer trips include a ride on the deluxe Blue Train between Johannesburg and Capetown. For those who want a more challenging trip, Wilderness Travel has walking safaris in the huge Kruger National Park (about the size of Massachusetts) and the Umfolozi Game Reserve, as well as bush walks in the hills and valleys of Swaziland, the sugar cane fields off Zululand, and the Natal and Drakensburg Mountains, with visits to villages along the way. Rothschild Travel Consultants of New York organizes 13-day scuba safaris that include dives near Capetown with great white sharks, leatherback turtles and dolphins, plus game viewing in the Mkuzi and Sabi Sand nature reserves and visits to the markets of Swaziland.

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