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Adventures for the non-adventurous

If you’re like me, you prefer a balance of activities on your vacation. You want to go outdoors and explore, but not necessarily get hot and sweaty. Biking should be interspersed with stops to enjoy the scenery and take photographs, walks can involve window shopping, and an afternoon of kayaking might be topped off with a massage.

If this type of getaway appeals to you, consider a “soft adventure” tour. Soft adventure typically describes a vacation that combines active (but not overtaxing) outdoor pursuits with pampering activities and leisure time. Many tour operators understand that travelers want such a mix during their time off, and as such have structured getaways that suit this concept of active travel that isn’t too strenuous.

Here are five soft adventure possibilities worth considering for your next vacation.

NEXT >> Kenya safari

Kenya safari

“Sitting there, eyeing our breakfast, were two female lions [that] had just come from a kill,” says Anita Brawley of Naples, Florida, describing a morning excursion in Masai Mara National Reserve. “Their mouths were covered with blood. They were sniffing our breakfast, and the [guides said], ‘We’re Masai, we kill lions.’ So we got out, had breakfast, and the lions just walked around and went on.” Brawley recently went on Friendly Planet’s Best of Kenya Wildlife Safari tour, a 12-day trip that also stops in Samburu Game Reserve and Amboseli National Park. “Everywhere we turned there were animals. We were there during the time of the great migration—[there were] thousands of wildebeest everywhere.”

While this vacation doesn’t require a lot of physical exercise, Brawley recommends that travelers have a lot of stamina. “You’re getting up early, by five or six every day.” She says travelers should expect a three-hour drive over rough terrain each day.

Friendly Planet is offering the Kenya Safari trip throughout 2007, with prices ranging from $3,099 to $3,899 per person based on double occupancy. Packages include round-trip airfare from New York, all in-country transportation, accommodations at hotels and safari lodges, 25 meals, and sightseeing tours and drives with expert guides. Travelers can also add on an extension to Tanzania for an extra charge; this option includes airfare to and from Tanzania, one night at three game reserves, 11 meals, guided tours, and transfers.

For those concerned about safety, Brawley assures travelers they’re in good hands on this trip. “Our guides and drivers were extremely conscientious and were looking out for us so we wouldn’t get in a bad situation—both with people and animals. Not at any time did we feel threatened or in danger. It’s the best trip any of us ever took.”

NEXT >> Walking in Ireland

Walking in Ireland

One of the best ways to really experience a place is by walking its streets, hills, and countryside. Ireland is particularly hospitable to walkers, boasting beautiful vistas, seaside cliffs adjacent to rolling farmlands, and hospitable towns with friendly locals.

Sean Mullan organizes and leads tours in northern Ireland, focusing on County Antrim and County Donegal, with Walking & Talking in Ireland, a walking tour company originally part of The Donegal Language School. “Both places have magnificent coastal and hill walking,” says Mullan. “Donegal [is] a little wilder than Antrim with its bogs and heather. Antrim is very special because of having Scotland on the horizon and the Giant’s Causeway—the eighth wonder of the world—on its coast.”

Staying true to the organizations’ educational origins, walks include lectures on the culture, geography, history, and politics of both regions. Days start with a traditional Irish breakfast, and walks commence around 10:30 a.m., says Mullan. Travelers should expect to do “about four to five hours walking at a steady but not fast pace.” The first break comes after about two hours of walking, “where we eat our sandwiches and have tea or coffee if desired. We normally have another two or three hours to do with breaks for photos along the way. We finish around 5 p.m. and perhaps have a Guinness before heading to our B&Bs to freshen up before going out for our evening meal.”

Tour participants should be moderately fit before going on this vacation. “Everybody may feel a little stiff after the first day or two, but that’s normal,” says Mullan. “However, if someone has done no physical exercise, then the walking is difficult. You should have done regular exercise, preferably walking. [You] don’t have to be an Olympic athlete.” Walking & Talking tours cost €790 per person based on double occupancy, and include all transfers, seven nights’ accommodations, and meals.

If you’d like to explore southern Ireland, consider a Dingle Peninsula walking vacation with SouthWestWalks Ireland. “The southwest corner of Ireland is warmed by the Gulf Stream, giving it a mild climate year round,” says guide John M. Ahern. “This gives us a lovely mix of coastal, cliff, bogland, and mountainside walks. The rugged scenery and open wilderness, be it by the seashore or on the hilltop, has to be experienced to be appreciated. And when you add all this with the history, culture, flora, fauna, music, and welcoming people of the area, you have a walker’s paradise.”

You must be prepared to walk roughly eight miles per day on a SouthWestWalks vacation. Guided mini-break tour options include the Dingle Peninsula, Kerry Peninsula, Southern Islands, and more.

SouthWestWalks’ guided minibreak to the Dingle Peninsula is available from €525 to €565 and includes four nights’ accommodations, a full Irish breakfast each morning, four dinners, a picnic lunch on walking days, and four days of guided walking tours. Airfare is not included.

NEXT >> Touring the Galapagos Islands

Touring the Galapagos Islands

“This is where Darwin started out,” says Dan Austin, director of Austin-Lehman Adventures, describing the Galapagos Islands, which he visited in 2003. “The ecosystem is amazing and hasn’t changed in centuries.”

“We snorkeled with turtles and sea lions,” says Austin. “Seeing iguanas underwater is amazing. Everyone associates reptiles [and] lizards with dry desert, so to see these big iguanas sliding off rocks into the water and feeding is really impressive.”

Austin-Lehman’s Ecuador-Galapagos adventure encompasses an eight-day cruise to the Galapagos, departing from Quito and returning to Guayaquil. While in the Galapagos, travelers will visit San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Tower islands, along with a stop at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

“Many of our trips are for burning calories, really getting out there for exercise,” says Austin. “This is more of an ecological trip. [There are] interpretive walks with a naturalist—flora, fauna, and wildlife explanations.” Activities can be as intense or relaxed as you want them to be. “You can kayak for as long as you want,” Austin says, “but if you just want to float along and check out marine life, you can do that. I took my 13-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. My daughter could do a triathlon; my son prefers to stay on the couch. Both found it perfect.”

Packages range from $1,950 to $2,775 per person for eight-day trips, not including airfare. Rates include cabins with private baths, all meals, guided tours, use of recreational equipment, and taxes and gratuities.

NEXT >> Walking Mexico’s Baja Peninsula

Walking Mexico’s Baja Peninsula

“Southern Baja is an incredible area to explore on foot,” says Sonya Bradley, tour manager for Country Walkers. “The moment you leave the spring break scene of Los Cabos, the landscape opens to desert—offering more diversity than you would expect—from cliffs overlooking the Pacific, to canyons and trails framed by giant cactus, to the famed Sea of Cortez … I could return again and again.”

Country Walkers’ “Mexico: The Real Baja” tour covers easy to moderate terrain, with all activities centered in and around Todos Santos. Cliff walks, swimming with sea lions, and astronomer-guided stargazing are some of the highlights.

“Guests should be in good health, and comfortable with walking four to six miles per day,” says Bradley. “The ascents and descents, as well as diverse terrain, make the walking more moderate. We will walk on rolling dirt paths, single track paths, and long sandy stretches. The challenging sections on the tour require a little rock scrambling and one section includes a ladder climb.”

There are plenty of cultural activities, too. You’ll take a cooking class with a local family, tour downtown Todos Santos, and visit a mountain pottery studio.

Vacations cost $2,898 per person for seven-day trips; airfare is not included. Packages include six-nights’ accommodations, transportation during the trip, guided walks, all meals except one dinner, and all activities described in the itinerary.

NEXT >> Biking Prince Edward Island

Biking Prince Edward Island

“Our motto is this is your vacation, and you should decide how fast to travel. Go at your own speed—you plan your own day and timing,” says Henry Curran, tour planner for the Independent Tourist, a biking company serving Prince Edward Island (PEI). Travelers bring their own bikes or rent them on the island, and bike from inn to inn each day on the route of their choice, averaging 20 miles per day. The tour company arranges for bags to be transferred between inns, and also covers directions, maps, and daily breakfast (typically at the day’s host inn). “It’s your responsibility to get to your B&B for that night’s stay, but we do the rest,” says Curran.

“[It’s a] relatively rural place with very small villages; traffic is not a big deal,” Curran says. “It’s not Disney World. That’s its attraction.” Bikers should expect flat roads along the Confederation Trail, and slight hills on the paved roads closer to the seaside.

“Plan on three or four hours of cycling per day on average,” says Curran. “You should be able to do 10 miles or so before the trip.”

Independent Tourist offers a variety of tour choices on PEI. Their “Tip to Tip” option, considered the most demanding, covers approximately 240 miles over six days. Guests journey from the northern point of the island to its eastern point. The package costs $1,225 per person and includes seven nights’ accommodations at island B&Bs, daily breakfast, luggage transfers, some on-island transportation, and route maps.

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