Novices call it "birdwatching" but those in the know simply call it "birding" -- and believe it or not, birding is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in America with over 50 million Americans reporting that they watch birds. It's a passion that you can pursue from the comfort of your backyard, or you can make it the entire purpose of your next vacation. Pick a place from the following recommendations, pack those binoculars and go.
For 100 years, the National Audubon Society (tel. 800/967-7425; www.audubon.org) has been committed to restoration and the conservation of natural wildlife habitats. Audubon tours adhere to a strict code of travel ethics that promote sustainability, eco-diversity and conservation. Join Audubon's 17-day "Brazil's Birds and Biodiversity Tour" taking in the Itatiaia National Park, the Pantanal, Amazon rainforest, Cristalino State Reserve and Chapada National Park. This specialist tour runs from October 19 to November 4, 2005 and is $5,195 per person based on double occupancy or $5,690 single occupancy (prices are land-only). Airfare from Miami to Rio de Janeiro, then on to Cuiaga, Sao Paulo and back to Miami is estimated at $772 in October. The tour includes all ground transportation, visits to various national parks, all meals and 14 nights' accommodations. You'll have to the opportunity to view over 250 distinct species in their natural habitats -- some of the most rare birds in the world. To view a full list of the society's tours, go to the website listed above, click "Travel with Audubon" in the right-hand navigation and then "Trip Listing." You'll find outings to locations all around the world, and a few fall within moderate budget constraints. GORP Travel (www.gorp.com) with Costa Rica Expeditions (tel. + 011 506/257-0766; toll-free fax: 800/886-2609; www.costaricaexpeditions.com) has a seven-day "Costa Rican Jungle Canal Exploration and Highland Birding Tour". This land-only tour includes six-nights' hotel accommodations, transfers, most meals, hotel taxes, entrance fees to National Parks, museums and places of interest, three full days in Tortuguero on Costa Rica's North Atlantic coast exploring the creeks and jungles of the area by kayak and a further three-days in the highland cloud forests and Savegre Valley, home of the Quetzal. Priced from $1,920 per person based on dual occupancy, the tour departs throughout the year with a minimum of two participants and a maximum of 12. Airfare to San Jose is additional. 1800CheapSeats (tel. 800/243-2773; www.1800cheapseats.com) has round-trip airfares from Miami to San Jose on American Airlines starting as low as $250 including taxes.
Exotic Birding (tel. 877/247-3371; www.exoticbirding.com) runs birding-specific tours to Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Trinidad, & Ecuador. Belize is a fabulous birding destination with few tourists and a wonderful diversity of tropical aquatic, lowland broadleaf forest, and higher elevation pine forest birds. In addition to birding, Belize features numerous Mayan archeological sites and world-class reefs that are included in tour itineraries.
Their special "Belize January 2006 Tour" is being led by H Lee Jones, author of the book Birds of Belize. It will visit the Bermudian Landing Baboon Sanctuary, Caye Caulker, Cockscomb Basin, Crooked Tree, Hidden Valley, Lamanai, Pook's Hill, Caracol archaeological site, the magnificent Mayan ruins of Tikal National Park (Guatemala), and Xunantunich. This tour begins in Belize City on January 5 and includes ten-nights accommodation, all ground / water transportation and meals for $3,195, with a single supplement of $450. A similar tour without the visit to Tikal or H. Lee Jones departs from Belize City on March 29, 2005, also for ten-nights and is $2,525 per person dual occupancy with a $450 single supplement. A minimum of two people is required for these tours and a limit of eight participants. Round-trip flights from New York to Belize City are approximately $550 including taxes on American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com) in January 2006 and $60 more in late March 2006.
The Caribbean island of Tobago is home to over 400 species of birds. The Cuffie River Nature Retreat (tel. 868/660-0505; www.cuffie-river.com) is a romantic secluded tropical rainforest and exotic birding resort located at the edge of Tobago's main ridge -- the oldest protected tropical rainforest in the western hemisphere. At the retreat itself, over 90 exotic species have been identified and just walking to breakfast each morning will give you a close encounter with feathered friends. Standard rooms with breakfast are $95 for a double from April 16 and December 15, or $19 more during the high season from December 16 to April 15. Add $53 for room with breakfast and dinner or $100 for full board. Superior rooms start from $105 per night and executive suites start at $130. There are only ten guestrooms at this retreat so your exclusive birding stay will be an intimate nature experience. Their "Togetherness Package", recommended for honeymoons and anniversaries is priced at $650 per person and includes three-nights in the largest executive suite, all meals, airport transfers, government tax, guided nature walks and service charges. For a luxurious Tobago birdwatching getaway, consider staying at The Palms Villa Resort (+868/635-1010; www.thepalmstobago.com). Located only ten-minutes drive from the Crown Point Airport, these luxurious individual villas sleep six people in three-bedrooms with three bathrooms, private pools and wrap around verandahs for $450 per night from September 4 to December 16, 2005. Divided by six, that is a very reasonable $75 per person per night in such luxurious surrounds. Prices go up to $650 per night for the peak Christmas vacation period between December 17 and January 1, 2006.
From New York or Miami, British West Indies Airlines (tel. 800/538-2942; www.bwee.com) flies daily into Port of Spain (Trinidad) and on to Tobago. From Washington, D.C., BWIA flies direct to Tobago once a week. Airfares to Tobago start at $377 round-trip from Miami, $429 from New York and $480 from Washington, D.C. Theirs is a three-day minimum stay required for travel using e-tickets only between July 1 and September 15, 2005. Bookings must be completed by August 31, 2005. Taxes and surcharges of up to $135 are additional.
Wings Birding Tours (tel. 888/293-6443; www.wingsbirds.com) has been conducting birding tours around the world for over 30 years. Its 2005 calendar of tours offers unique opportunities to share your love of birds with others who share your passion. Their "Northeastern Peru: Explornapo Lodge, Canopy Walkway and Mishana White Sands Forest Tour" takes you to the Iquitos region of northeastern Peru which boasts rich Amazonian avifauna and more than 550 recorded species. Visit the white sands forest at the Mishana-Allpahuayo Reserve, travel down the Amazon River to Explornapo Lodge and the ACTS Field Station, explore the trails, oxbow lakes, Amazonian river islands and Canopy Walkway. This tour beginning in Lima on August 6, 2005, will be led by zoologist and bird expert Gary Rosenberg, and is priced at $3,090 based on double occupancy, with a single supplement of $190. The tour includes nine-nights accommodation, meals, ground and water transportation (the Amazon River) and internal flights. International airfare to Lima is additional. Airfares start at approximately $476 including taxes for direct round-trip flights from Miami during August on Avianca Aerovias (tel. 800/284-2622; www.avianca.com).
The Wings "Southern Australia Tour" runs from September 29 to October 13, 2005 from Melbourne and travels through the Victorian, South Australian and Central Australian countryside and desert areas to view some of the most bizarre and unique fauna and birds in the world. Highlights include visits to Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary, the penguins at Phillip Island, Toolangi State Forest, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Simpson's Gap National Park, the St. Kilda salt fields, Wyperfeld National Park and Koo-Wee-Rup. This tour is priced at $5120 based on double occupancy (with a single supplement of $450) and includes ground transportation, 14-nights accommodation, internal flights and meals. Airfare to Melbourne is additional starting from approximately $1,070 round-trip including taxes from Los Angeles on Air New Zealand (tel. 800/262-1234; www.airnewzealand.com) in September).
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