Chasing Dragons in Indonesia
Komodo National Park offers some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. And, of course, dragons. The 700 square miles of volcanic islands and isolated beaches feel like the Grand Canyon—if Arizona had been flooded with bathtub-warm water, fringed with a reef, and stocked with 2,500 Komodos, the largest pack left on Earth. On the park’s two main islands, Komodo and Rinca, guides will take you just feet away from the white-tongued monsters, shooing them with a stick if they get too curious. Fly to Labuan Bajo on the western coast of Flores, and make the Anam Emerald Resort (from $124; anamemeraldresort.com), just outside the park, your base.
Spinning Donuts in Southern Nevada
Here’s a new way to experience the old West: one part high-desert hajj—a self-driven tour of the remotest territory in the lower 48—and one part off-road race, with you manning an open-cockpit dune buggy, identical to ones that run in the Baja 1000 (and if you don’t pay attention to the ruts in the dirt, you’ll find out the hard way what a roll cage does). Sign up with tour operator Wide Open (wideopennevada.com) for a three-, four-, or five-day tour (from $5,000 per person), which will send you speeding over wagon trails from unoccupied ghost towns to the relative metropolis of Goldfield, Nevada (population: 500).
Sailing With Blue Whales in Sri Lanka
Now that Sri Lanka’s civil war has ended, visitors can finally partake in the world’s best whale-watching. Instead of hours of windblown seasickness broken up by a few fleeting tail-flicks, you’ll likely see dozens of giant blue whales just yards away from your small, solitary sailboat. From January to April, large pods of blue whales swim right past Sri Lanka’s southern tip, where naturalist-guided boats can get surreally close to the migration (Mirissa Water Sports, from $70; mirissawatersports.com). Stay at Jetwing Lighthouse, a hilltop hotel with views of nothing but blue (from $150; jetwinghotels.com).
Hunting Gobblers in Candor, New York
Turkey trot acres’ Pete and Sherry Clare would argue that this locavorism thing is really just a dressed-up name for a very old practice. The couple lead group turkey hunts at their camp until November 19 and again in May—just four hours northwest of Manhattan. (Permits are technically required to shoot wild game, but nonhunters are welcome to observe.) After a four-hour trek around the Shindagin Hollow State Forest, groups head back to the lodge for mugs of Ithaca Brewery ale. The fowl lesson continues with Pete demonstrating how to prep and cook game with his on-site smoker (three-day packages, including meals, from $1,050; turkeytrotacres.com).
Tracking the Big Five on Foot in South Africa
Encountering leopards and elephants from the safety of a vehicle is, of course, exciting. But facing such wild creatures without a windshield in front or two tons of steel underneath you is an unparalleled thrill. The year-old Shindzela Bush Camp—five hours north of Johannesburg, then 45 minutes down a dirt road in the private reserves next to South Africa’s Kruger National Park—is about as far as you can get from the pampering of a luxury safari lodge. Led by a ranger with a rifle, a hushed whisper, and a fierce eye for tracking, visitors search for wildlife not in the back of a jeep, but on foot. Back at the unfenced camp, guests bunk in tents and gawk at passing hyenas or elephants. Packing earplugs is recommended: Lions have been known to hold nightlong wildebeest feasts directly below tent platforms (all-inclusive from $200; shindzela.co.za).
Ogling Auroras in Sweden
Scientists report that we are likely heading into an era of increased solar storms. What’s that mean to us non-astronomers? Magnificent auroras. The best place to see them is at the Abisko Mountain Lodge in Abisko, Sweden, which not only is stationed inside the Arctic Circle but also enjoys a virtually cloudless microclimate called the Abisko Blue Hole. Thrill-seekers can snowshoe to an ancient Sami sacrificial site, or helicopter into the nearby national park, then ski back to the lodge, camping overnight along the way. Spend nights in kitchen-equipped cabins that share a communal bathhouse (from $174), or in private rooms back at the lodge (from $225, with breakfast; abiskomount ainlodge.se/eng).
Racing Your Kids in Breckenridge
Putting aside Breckenridge’s ultra-lax marijuana laws (the town legalized possession of up to an ounce last year), the resort town is actually one the family-friendliest in the Rockies. In addition to the vaunted bunny runs and skating rinks, Breck will debut another non-ski attraction this winter: the Gold Runner, a gravity-propelled slide (breckenridge.com) with tandem sleds rocketing down 2,500 feet of elevated tracks at up to 30 miles per hour, assuming you can lay off the brakes. Later, take to one of two indoor pools at the recently opened One Ski Hill Place hotel (from $226; oneskihill.rockresorts.com).
Spelunking to Sacrificial Sites in Belize
Tkal in Guatemala and Copán in Honduras are both sights to behold, but one of Belize’s Mayan ruins easily surpasses them in the danger department. Dodge wolf spiders and swooping bats, swim through jet-black pools, and squeeze through damp, cold passages barely wider than your shoulders on the two-hour trek to Actun Tunichil Muknal, a 1,000-year-old sacrificial site discovered deep within the cave in 1989. Your bravery is rewarded upon arrival in the “Cathedral,” where the remains of fourteen sacrificial victims have gathered dust for more than a millennium. Book with Mayawalk Tours ($75 per person; mayawalk.com), and stay nearby at Blancaneaux Lodge, Francis Ford Coppola’s luxurious jungle resort (from $500; coppolaresorts.com).
Zip-Lining Over Cliffs in MoroccoA if the stunning views of Marrakech from the High Atlas Mountains weren’t dizzying enough, there’s the stomach-dropping ride on a zip line through vertiginous cliffs and valleys ($21). Run out of the casually luxe ecolodge Terres D’Amanar (from $200; terresdamanar.com), 45 minutes outside of the fabled city, the zip line whisks you over the same gaping crevasse where Sean Connery plummeted to his death in The Man Who Would Be King; past a red-clay Berber village with a towering mosque; and into the arms of local guides. Later, enjoy another only-in-Morocco moment, playing a game of donkey polo on a nearby field.