Adventure Travel: Covering the World

One of the challenges of selling adventure, nature, and expedition travel is that the territory covers the world. The opportunities and destinations seem almost endless -- whitewater rafting in Idaho, cruise excursions on the Amazon, horseback expeditions in Mongolia, bicycle tours in Tuscany, nature tours of Panama, safaris to East Africa, sea kayaking in British Columbia. The list goes on and on. How can any agent expect to keep up with the product and make reliable recommendations to clients?

One way, of course, is to focus on suppliers whom agents know to be trustworthy and rewarding. Another is to read voluminously to stay abreast of trends and new destinations. Another, to attend seminars and product briefings regularly.

The following roundup of destinations and sample packages provides just a glimpse of the many sales opportunities in this burgeoning travel niche for the upcoming year. Except where indicated otherwise, commissions for the packages detailed below start at 10% and prices are per person, based on double occupancy.

THE AMERICAS

CENTRAL AMERICA

Belize

Reefs, rain forests and ruins -- these are the calling cards of the tiny Central American nation of Belize. Belize is best known by divers who for years have flocked here to explore the underwater riches of its barrier reef -- the longest in the Western Hemisphere. The 185-mile-long reef creates a lagoon that provides protected waters for snorkelers, and the area's many tiny islands cater to divers and snorkelers alike.

In recent years Belize has gained popularity as a destination for nature lovers and for those intrigued by ancient Maya culture. Among highlights for these travelers is the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins, and Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.

Sample package: Clients who prefer their adventure on the softer side, might consider a Belize/Barrier Reef cruise with American Canadian Caribbean Line of Warren, R.I. New for 2000 is a seven-day itinerary aboard the 84-passenger Niagara Prince, a shallow draft vessel with a bow ramp that gives passengers easy access to remote beaches. The cruise visits a number of the more than 200 small islands and atolls on Belize's Caribbean coast and includes snorkeling and glass-bottom boat tours of the Great Barrier Reef and a trip by skiff to a bird rookery teeming with frigates and boobies.

Price: From $1,050 to $1,540. Departures: Feb. 25; March 3, 10, 17 and 24.

Call: (800) 556-7450

Costa Rica

If there is one country that is associated with ecotourism, adventure travel and nature tourism more than any other, it is Costa Rica. The country is a leader in environmental protection, and its tremendous natural assets combined with its proximity to the U.S. make it a consistent top seller in this travel niche.

This year as many as 1 million visitors are expected to sample Costa Rica's travel product. They are drawn to Costa Rica in large measure by the natural diversity that makes the country so rich in ecological habitats and provides travelers with a wide variety of experiences in a relatively small area. Rain forests, cloud forests, mangrove swamps, deciduous dry forests, coral reefs, active volcanoes, palm-fringed beaches -- these are among the many environs that travelers can explore during a short stay in Costa Rica, and the country's naturalist guides provide deft interpretation.

Suppliers continue to open up new opportunities for visitors, especially for active vacationers. White-water rafting on the rivers that tumble off Costa Rica's mountains and sportfishing on the Caribbean coast were two of the original adventures offered here. Today, outfitters also offer horseback riding excursions, sea kayaking, mountain biking, scuba diving, windsurfing and more.

Sample package: For the upcoming season Holbrook Travel of Gainesville, Fla., has introduced a nine-night Adventure in Costa Rica itinerary. Highlights include rafting on the Pacuare River and overnight river camping, full-day excursions to Corcovado National Park and Cano Island, a full-day biking tour, hiking and an Arenal Volcano tour and a float trip on the Corobici River.

Price: $1,713, including all meals, private guide, tours and activities and internal flights, through April 30. Departures: Custom.

Call: (800) 858-0999

THE CARIBBEAN

Bonaire

This relatively unspoiled arid island has long been high on the list of destinations favored by scuba divers. Bonaire is surrounded by fringe reefs and an underwater drop-off begins just a few dozen yards off-shore, and divers are treated to spectacular sights such as large yellow and purple tube sponges. Lovers of natural beauty shore-side also find Bonaire a rewarding destination. Of special interest are its salt flats, an adjacent breeding area for pink flamingoes and a wildlife sanctuary that has caverns and secluded coves and hosts 130 species of birds.

Fortunately, Bonaire has taken measures to protect its natural treasures both on land and underwater, establishing the 13,500-acre Washington-Slagbaai National Park in 1969 and the Bonaire Marine Park in 1979. Moreover, local suppliers cater to divers and snorkelers as well as to those interested in bird watching, biking, kayaking, fishing, exploring by jeep and other adventures.

Sample package: The dive shop at Sand Dollar Condominium Resort has put together a Bonaire Adventure Package that incorporates six days of activities. They include a guided kayak tour of Bonaire's mangroves, a guided nature tour of Washington Slagbaai Park, a guided snorkel tour preceded by a slide presentation, a bike tour and a day of scuba diving (introductory course for non-divers or a shore dive and boat dive for certified divers). The package may be booked in conjunction with a stay at Sand Dollar or as an add-on to other Bonaire vacations.

Price: $250, including most equipment. A $10 donation to the Bonaire Marine Park, a $5 park entrance fee and a 10% service charge are extra. Departures: Daily.

Call: (800) 288-4773.

St. Maarten/St. Martin

Sophisticated casino gambling, duty-free shopping and great beaches are the attributes usually associated with this two-nation island. But like other Caribbean destinations, St. Maarten/St. Martin has plenty to offer travelers who want to enrich their island vacation with a bit of learning about the area's natural history and culture and a dash of outdoor adventure.

For example, local operators offer guided off-road mountain biking trips and horseback riding regularly and there are plenty of opportunities for snorkeling and scuba, including instruction for first-timers. Deep-sea fishing is also an option, and charters are available on a half-day or full-day basis. For a full soft adventure experience, two local firms have teamed up to offer a vacation that integrates elements of nature and cultural tourism into a multi-sport itinerary.

Sample package: A seven-day Soft Adventure Package is offered by Tri-Sport, a sports center on the Dutch side of the island, and A.T.S., a destination management company on the French side. The itinerary incorporates kayaking in the Caribbean's largest lagoon, horseback riding, guided hiking through the Lottery Farm estate, biking, snorkeling and a sailing regatta aboard 12-meter boats. Also included are museum visits, time for shopping on Philipsburg's Front Street and a visit by bike to Hope Estate archaeological site. Activities also can be booked individually.

Price: From $375, including all transfers, guides for each activity, entrance fees, 12-meter regatta, five lunches and use of kayaks, horses, bikes and snorkeling gear. Departures: On request. Commission: Prices are net.

Call: (011) 5995-54384.

SOUTH AMERICA

Peru

"When you talk about adventure travel in South America the classic example is going to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail. That's one of the most, if not THE most, recognized adventure trips in South America. It's magical," says Daniel Taramona, president of Tara Tours, a Miami-based firm that specializes in travel to Central and South America.

A trip to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail offers a cultural experience involving considerable hiking or trekking in a striking natural setting. The highlight, of course, is Machu Picchu, where remains of the temples, palaces, staircases and towers of this "Lost City of the Incas" occupy steep Andean mountainsides. En route to Machu Picchu, hikers traverse mountain passes more than 13,000 feet above sea level and visit several lesser-known Inca ruins. Adventure programs that incorporate the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu are suited for clients who are prepared to hike about six hours daily over hilly terrain.

Sample package: Tara Tours operates an eight-night program called the Inka Trail that includes four days of trekking (about 26 miles) and camping assisted by a team of helpers who carry gear and set up camp. The itinerary also includes a one-night hotel stay in Lima, three nights in Cuzco, sightseeing in Cuzco, a full day of guided explorations of Machu Picchu and return trip by train from Machu Picchu to Cuzco.

Price: $1,599, including air travel from Miami, meals while camping, ground transfers, air transfers between Lima and Cuzco. Departures: Sundays, April to November.

Call: (800) 327-0080

AFRICA

Kenya

Even for well-heeled travelers, Africa represents the ultimate destination and safaris to East Africa, the ultimate adventure. Here, visitors are treated to remote wilderness experiences and wildlife viewing that is unsurpassed. On safari, travelers can expect to see big game such as lions, zebra, gazelle, and wildebeest roaming free in their native habitats. As Eric Gordon, chief executive officer of Park East Tours in New York says, "On safari, you see the way nature lives. The cheetah wakes up in the morning and has to go out and hunt for food. You're the guest. You're in the cage, and they run wild."

Travel sales to East Africa have been slow this year in the wake of the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi last year and terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens in Uganda earlier this year. While some operators are simply riding out the slump others, including Big Five Tours & Expeditions in Stuart, Fla., are seeking to stimulate sales by offering price leaders that provide extra value.

Sample package: Big Five Tours & Expeditions is promoting an 11-day Living Free Safari by offering half-price air-inclusive rates for travel companions. The tour, offered in conjunction with Serena Lodges & Hotels, incorporates visits to Kenya's top game parks, including Mount Kenya, Samburu, Lake Nakuru and the Masai Mara.

Price: $3,295 for the first traveler and $1,648 for the second, including air from New York, 20 meals and guaranteed window seating. Departures: Monthly or bimonthly, through Dec. 3 and from Jan. 18 to April 28. Commission: 12%.

Call: (800) 345-BIG5.

ASIA

China

While China is more often thought of as a destination for cultural travel than for adventure or nature tourism, it should hardly come as a surprise that a country of such size and diversity offers plentiful opportunities for all three. Over the years, operators have offered expeditions by horseback that explore the high plateaus of eastern Tibet, white-water rafting trips on China's rivers and bike tours of the country.

Among opportunities for adventure, natural history and expedition travel in China in the upcoming year is a 14-day biking trip by Backroads in Berkeley, Calif. Also, Clipper Cruise Line in St. Louis has created two itineraries for its new 120-passenger Clipper Odyssey that combine China, Korea and Japan; they include a 14-night Trade Routes of the Orient and a 15-night Ancient Treasures of the Orient.

A classic month-long China expedition offered next year by Wilderness Travel in Berkeley, Calif., follows in the footsteps of Marco Polo on the Silk Route. The overland journey crosses the Taklamakan Desert by four-wheel-drive vehicle and takes in highlights such as Xian, Lake Koko Nor, the Magao Grottoes, Turfan and Kashgar before ending in Islamabad.

Sample package: Mountain Travel*Sobek is offering a 20-day Focus on Ethnic China photo expedition designed for especially adventuresome travel photographers. The exploratory trip spotlights Guizhou Province, where travelers will have the opportunity to photograph the spring festivals of the Miao, who are practitioners of shamanism and animism and one of the province's largest ethnic groups. The trip, which will be led by professional photographer Nevada Wier, also will visit other festivals, markets and tribal groups. The operator notes that accommodations on the trip are "rustic at best."

Price: $3,990 per person, including photo seminar, ground transportation, sightseeing and most meals; internal air is extra. Departures: Feb. 4.

Call: (888) 687-6235

Thailand

The Southeast Asian destination of Thailand lends itself to cultural tourism that incorporates elements of soft adventure and nature travel. Remote hill tribes in northern Thailand, ornate temples, ancient cities, Buddhist traditions and the wildlife and jungles of Khao Yai National Park are among the many highlights here. Clients have a choice of trips that incorporates elephant treks, easy day hikes in Thailand's rain forests, snorkeling, and even biking. Among suppliers that offer cultural soft adventure trips to Thailand are Asia Transpacific Journeys of Boulder, Colo., and Backroads and Wilderness Travel, both in Berkeley, Calif.

For scuba divers, snorkelers and other water lovers, it is Thailand's long coastline that attracts attention. Especially favored is the Andaman Sea on Thailand's west coast where dozens of islands, clear waters, balmy temperatures, rich marine life and dramatic underwater topography make for rewarding adventures. Highlights here include the Similan Islands, a group of nine nearly uninhabited islands that have been designated a marine national park. Also of interest is the region's traditional fishing culture, hints of Chinese and Portuguese influences left behind by traders long ago and beautiful beaches.

Sample package: Every winter Star Clippers of Coral Gables, Fla., repositions its 170-passenger Star Flyer, a clipper ship that carries 36,000 square feet of sail, to Thailand's Andaman Sea. Here the vessel sails roundtrip out of Phuket on two seven-night itineraries that take it to various island clusters, focusing on remote areas, small villages and national parks, and into the waters of Malaysia.

Price: From $1,345, including snorkeling excursions, waterskiing and use of windsurfers, Sunfish and Lasers. Scuba dive excursions and resort dive courses are extra. Departures: About four times monthly, November through March.

Call: (800) 442-0551.

A Taste of Adventure

Clients interested in sampling activities often featured in adventure vacations without committing themselves to a full-blown adventure experience might consider a stay at Swept Away Negril during the month of June. That's when the inclusive Jamaica resort offers Adventure Month, one of a series of specialty months.

During Swept Away's Adventure Month, the resort expands its lineup of activities to include off-property mountain biking tours that explore Negril's countryside, sunset hikes led by a Jamaican guide, kayak lessons, and excursions. The active excursions are covered by the inclusive rate of Swept Away Negril, which caters to travelers ages 18 and older.

For information or reservations, call (800) 545-7937.

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