Close Encounters

Say hello to the wild life

A scarlet macaw perched in the rainforests of Belize     Photo: Corel

EXPLORING REEF AND RAINFOREST [BELIZE]
Mingle with everything from crocs and tapirs to jabiru storks and hawksbill turtles on this eight-day whirl through Belize. After three days on the mainland, gawking at toucans and parrots at the Crooked Tree Bird Sanctuary and dodging howler monkeys at the Mayan ruins of Lamanai, you'll be whisked 55 miles offshore to a tented base camp on undeveloped Lighthouse Reef. Spend your days snorkeling, kayaking, and scuba diving within more than 70 square miles of pristine reefs. OUTFITTER: Island Expeditions, 800-667-1630, www.islandexpeditions.com. WHEN TO GO: December- May. PRICE: $1,929. DIFFICULTY: moderate. WALKING WITH BUSHMEN [BOTSWANA]
See the backcountry of Botswana and all its attendant wildlife—with a twist. On this nine-day safari, you'll tag along with Bushmen on their daily hunting-and-gathering forays (while still bedding down in luxe lodges and camps). Following the lion-cheetah-leopard-elephant-giraffe-zebra spectacle in the Okavango Delta, you'll head north for a night to stay in the River Bushmen's new camp, where you'll search for medicinal plants or hunt with bow and arrow. Farther south, in the arid Central Kalahari Game Reserve, San Bushmen will show you how they survive on roots and prickly pears. OUTFITTER: Africa Adventure Company, 800-882-9453, www.africaadventure.com. WHEN TO GO: April-November. PRICE: $1,925-$2,595. DIFFICULTY: easy.

SWIMMING WITH HUMPBACK WHALES [TONGA]
It's been said that life is never the same after you've looked into the eye of a whale. Here's how to find out: Every year between June and October, hundreds of humpbacks congregate in and around the turquoise waters of Vava'u, a group of 40 islands in northern Tonga, in the South Pacific. For seven days, you'll bunk down in Neiafu at night, and by day slide into the water and float quietly while mammals the size of semis check you out. OUTFITTER: Whale Swim Adventures, 503-699-5869, www.whaleswim.com. WHEN TO GO: August- October. PRICE: $1,180. DIFFICULTY: moderate.

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