Tracking pumas in Patagonia
Spotting big cats is a traditional pastime on safari but if you're looking for something different, then why not go tracking pumas (also known as cougars, or mountain lions) in South America rather than lions in Africa? "Pumas are solitary and shy by nature, and finding one in the wild without the help of a professional guide is almost impossible," writes Sarah Hepola in Bloomberg Pursuits.
Their shaggy-haired prey, the guanaco, an ancestor of the llama, roams the desolate hills and Patagonian peaks of the Torres del Paine National Park, in southern Chile a landscape "so stunning it seems unreal", but the pumas hunt mainly at night and in twilight.
SouthWild is one South American ecotourism company that is promoting "responsible encounters" with the animals as a means to protect them. The goal of its Oxford-educated founder, conservation biologist Charles Munn, is to "harness economic forces" in order to protect endangered habitats: "The only things we're not going to destroy are things we love and things that create business". He counts heart surgeons and businessmen among those who have signed up for his guided big-cat "photo safaris", which he has been running since 2011.
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It's quite a trek to the southern tip of Chile "the end of the world" as it's sometimes called, says Hepola. And mobile-phone reception is "spotty or nonexistent". However, when you get there, you can see everything from Magellanic penguins ("named for the explorer") to flamingoes, ibises, Andean condors and the Darwin's rhea, an ostrich-like bird.
As for the pumas, "seeing one kill a guanaco is rare" and "moving along with an animal requires patience" but if you want to get away from our "instant gratification" day-to-day world, it's a great way to do it.
SouthWild's ten-day puma tours start at $4,990, including lodging and meals. See southwild.com for more.
Hanging out with the 'man of the forest'
The great British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace first came up with the theory of evolution by natural selection (which he went on to describe in a letter to Charles Darwin) after encountering birds of paradise on the Indonesian "spice island" of Halmahera. This specialist tour of the Malay Archipelago allows visitors to follow in his footsteps, and see many of the creatures that inspired his revolutionary ideas.
The tour starts in nearby Sarawak, part of Malaysian Borneo, where you'll have a chance to spot orangutans in the wild, writes Juliet Rix in The Daily Telegraph. "The Malays made the connection between these great apes and man long before evolutionary theory: orang-utan means man of the forest'."
The trip also takes in Sulawesi, Bali, and Halmahera, where Rob Sinke, a Dutchman married to a local, offers diving trips to local reefs and runs the eco-friendly Weda Resort, with houses designed as Wallace described in his writing: "a base of stone followed by bamboo and sago palm".
This trip won't run again this year. "Ecuador and the Galapagos" is another evolution-themed trip by Jon Baines Tours, from £4,280 (jonbainestours.co.uk).
Richard Branson's African safari
Mahali Mzuri ("good place" in Maasai) is a luxury safari camp made up of just 12 tents, perched on the edge of Kenya's Maasai Mara. It's a fantastic place to spot wildebeest and other big game animals. It's Richard Branson's second African safari camp, and celebrates its second anniversary this month. It attracted rave reviews when it opened in 2013, with Jane Knight in The Times describing it as "a new breed of safari camp in East Africa in terms of luxury".
The inspiration for the camp came to Branson when he learned that the wildebeest migration was being threatened by encroaching farmland. The 13,500-hectare Olare Motorogi Conservancy, which is where Mahali Mzuri is located, leases land from 277 local Maasai. But unlike the neighbouring Maasai Mara game reserve, only small numbers of "luxury" tourists can visit the area, which is roughly an hour's flight to the west of Nairobi.
Prices for 2015 start from $640 per person, per night (from 21 November); $910 (20 October to 20 November); or $1,070 (until 19 October 2015). See virginlimitededition.com for more.
Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.
Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.
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