Beyond The Beach

Fall's top travel hits

Beyond the beach

takeoff_tileTired of the same old all-inclusive resort? The all-you-can-eat buffet, open bar, beach, sand, and sun on a tropical island? OK, maybe not. But most of us are also keenly aware there’s more to a vacation than tanning. In fact, more Canadians are making adventuresome travel choices than ever before.

If you’re the “I want to do something different” type, here are some of the hottest trends in travel this season. Travel agents are loaded with new inventory and can offer you everything from riding through the desert on a camel, to playing Mother Theresa, to hanging out in a tree house under the stars.

A Different Kind Of Sand
If you’re hot for the desert and other far-out fun, you’ll be happy to learn that a number of operators are offering exotic active experiences this season. For instance, you can bike through the fertile Northern Jordan Valley, home of the country’s blossoming agricultural industry. When the Jordan River drains into the Dead Sea, the southern area of the valley turns into the hot, dry wilderness of the bible, and you can trade the bike for a camel safari. You can even include some beach time. Although floating on the Dead Sea does not lend itself to banana boating, its viscosity has other advantages (not to mention health benefits). You can actually lie back and read the paper without it getting wet. I have pictures of me reading the Globe and Mail to prove it.

Non-Stop Action
Himalayas anyone? Rock climbing, skydiving, and hiking in the Himalayas are not just Bondian fantasies anymore. Many far-flung parts of the world are well equipped to offer breathtaking experiences to all walks of life. It’s not just the testosterone-driven twenty-something male who is signing up. Older travellers, particularly women, are the new breed of daredevil. According to adventure specialist Steve Larkin of Intrepid Travel, they make up 60% of the Intrepid Travel clientele. “We find a lot of our clients want more than lying on a beach– they want the real life experiences we provide. There are active vacations for every level of fitness.”

Give & Take
Volunteer vacations are the hot new brag holiday, and yes, you do pay for this privilege. A friend recently chose to volunteer in Costa Rica and spent two weeks living with a local family in a rustic house. She helped 20 seniors in a retirement home do crafts in the morning, taught an hour of English in a school in the afternoon, and another hour of teaching in the evening at the cultural centre. Although there weren’t even indoor bathroom facilities – much less a swim-up bar – she says it was the best vacation she’s ever had.

Telling On Tela
This is a getaway secret you may want to keep to yourself – a beach destination that still retains its local flavour. Tela is a former banana port on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. It’s come a long way as a tourist destination since Standard Fruit pulled out in 1974, leaving 4,000 people out of work. Now the town is reinventing itself as a new Central American sun destination and in-the-know travellers are heading there now before the big chains move in. You can spy on monkeys, parrots, and alligators at Jeanetter Kawas and Punta Izopo National Parks, snorkel and sea kayak, traipse through white sand beaches and jungle, and check out man-eating plants at the second largest tropical botanical garden in the world. History buffs take note: Copan’s famous Mayan ruin is only a three-hour bus ride away. Not yet beset with cookie cutter resorts, this lovely town has a variety of unique accommodations, from 1930’s villas, to French colonial buildings and casitas.

Good Morning Vietnam!
Indochina is still as hypnotic as it was 50 years ago when the French languished in cafes throughout what is now known as Vietnam – and the hottest destination in the area. This lush green country offers everything from mountains to beaches. It is also very affordable. The Vietnamese people have not been exposed to years of American-style tourism, which means hawkers won’t surround you at every corner. The quiet culture is welcoming, and the Vietnamese treat foreigners as honoured guests. And yes, you can visit the popular War Remnants Museum in Saigon, and in many places the ruins of 20 years of war are still visible.

Mucho Choo Choo
Mexico’s Copper Canyon ranks among the world’s most awe-inspiring train rides. The Copper Canyon is really six canyons, some twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The Chihuahua-Pacifico Railroad is certainly an engineering wonder with its 39 bridges and 86 tunnels, and the train chugs through the stunning scenery of one of the most untouched areas in North America. The trip takes 14-15 hours, unless you decide to get off and stay in one of the little towns along the way. This 25,000 square mile area is home to the Tarahumaras, a people considered mostly unaffected by modern society, and one that has chosen to live apart from Western culture. They live in caves in winter and move into small log cabins in the summer. Dogs are important members of the family, sleeping with their human friends to keep them warm.

Where’s Friday

For a truly memorable lodging experience, consider renting a tree house in Costa Rica, à la Robinson Crusoe. It won’t be quite like the movie, however – this one is located on a calm beach in the Gandoca-Manzzanillo Wildlife Refuge and features a gourmet kitchen and air-conditioning.

Go on, live a little, and venture past those all-inclusive gates. In the words of American poet Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

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