SEYCHELLES (2006 Winner)
Fly-Fishing the Cosmoledo Islands
When you encounter the foot-and-a-half-long coconut crabs that reside in the Cosmoledo Islands, 500 miles off the coast of Tanzania, give them a wide berth: Their pincers can lift up to 65 pounds and crack coconuts with diamond-cutting precision. Then again, you won't be spending much time inland on this outer subgroup of the Seychelles—the real action is casting in the turquoise flats surrounding the four atolls. The Cosmoledos, protected by a ten-mile-wide coral ring, have never been inhabited—they had their last documented brush with humanity in 1822, when British captain Fairfax Moresby came ashore during an Indian Ocean mapping expedition. This isolation has led to a freakish evolution of fish species, including the giant trevally, weighing in at 70 pounds. You'll spend six days casting over the crystal water and seven nights aboard a retired 1935 North Sea research vessel, complete with teak-and-brass-appointed saloon and dining room.
Outfitter: FlyCastaway, 011-27-82-334-3448, www.flycastaway.com
When to Go: November-April
Safari by Elephant
The trouble with most elephant-back safaris is that you never properly bond with your transportation. This issue is smartly resolved at the elegantly understated Abu Camp, in the Okavango Delta of the Kalahari Desert, where you live alongside eight resident elephants that roam the 395,000-acre reserve outside the six handsome platform tents. With assistance from the camp's wildlife experts and mahouts, spend four days and three nights interacting with the herd and riding them into the floodplains to graze undetected among zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, and impalas. At night, soak in the trill of some of the 500 species of birds while finishing off your five-star grub of sweet potato soup and harissa fish stir-fry by the campfire.
Outfitter: Classic Africa, 888-227-8311, www.classicafrica.com
When to Go: May-October
SOUTH AFRICA (New)
Jump into the hottest archaeological debate going—the true origin of man—with an exploration of the 3.2-million-year-old "Cradle of Humankind" sites at Sterkfontein and Swartkrans caves, 45 minutes north of Johannesburg. Led by the top archaeologists and paleontologists in the country, you'll spend 13 days poking around the gravesites of prehistoric Australopithecus africanus, from the limestone caves of Limpopo to the Knysna coastline, while bunking in wine-country estates and elegant hotels. You'll also check out the Big Five at Mthethomusha Game Reserve and the success at Addo Elephant National Park, where the pachyderm population has grown from 11 to 420 in the past 75 years.
Outfitter: Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, 800-422-8975 ext. 146, www.crowcanyon.org
When to Go: June
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Though Africa's largest population of endangered cheetahs—about 3,000—lives in Namibia, their propensity to snack on livestock keeps them in jeopardy. You'll try to change that during this two-week safari, five days of which are spent working at the Cheetah Conservation Fund training Anatolian shepherd dogs, building fences, counting wildlife, and staying in a nearby farmhouse. On your first night in Namibia, take in the view from the 1914 castle of Count von Schwerin, where the wine collection is stored in a cellar carved out of a stone hillside. Later, you'll check out the black rhinos of Etosha National Park, the shipwreck-littered Skeleton Coast, and finally the Namib Desert. After a day of sand-surfing the 1,000-foot-high dunes, refuge is in a kulala, an open-air bungalow with rooftop stargazing.
Outfitter: Mango African Safaris, 888-698-9220, www.mangosafari.com
When to Go: July-August