KENYA (2006 WINNER)
The Great Walk, Tsavo National Park
"You smell them as you come closer," says safari veteran Nadia Le Bon, director of special programs at Mountain Travel Sobek. "You see the prints, which way they go, which way they come." Lest you forget that humans are not at the top of the food chain, the fresh tracks of a Tsavo lion serve as a poignant reminder—especially when you're traveling on foot through East Africa's largest national park, home of elephants, rhinos, crocodiles, and the infamous man-eating felines that terrorized railroad workers a century ago.
This 11-day, 110-mile Kenya journey is a walk in the park for trip leader Iain Allen, an honorary warden and seasoned adventurer who once trekked 300 miles from Mount Kilimanjaro to the Indian Ocean. You'll trace his steps along the wildlife-flush Tsavo and Galana rivers, tracking the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino) as you cross the 8,300-square-mile park from west to east. As for the carnivorous critters that are bound to catch your scent, Le Bon says, "They tend to walk away."
The trek begins at Mzima Springs, a hippo hangout at the base of the Chyulu Range, 149 miles southeast of Nairobi. From there you'll follow the palm-fringed Tsavo River through giraffe and kudu habitat to your first campsite, at the base of the jagged Ngulia Mountains. After a nap beneath the down comforter in your plush safari tent, you'll be ready for an afternoon game drive and cocktails by the fire. In the next few days you'll track gazelles, impalas, and zebras en route to the park's more arid eastern side, where it's easy to spot hartebeest and fringe-eared oryx across the open plain. The journey ends with a night of pampering at the Hemingways Resort, a posh hotel on a white-sand stretch of Watamu Bay, where you can lounge by the swimming pool and ponder your epic feat.
Outfitter: Mountain Travel Sobek, 888-687-6235, www.mtsobek.com
When to Go: March, June, September