Adventures in Paradise: Sharks, Skeletons and Glowworms

Apr 14, 2015

On a sunny beach vacation, the most pressing decision you have to make is which frozen cocktail to order as you lounge on a hammock. While many content themselves with being beach bums on a getaway, others crave a more action-packed escape. However, travelers shouldn’t assume that sun and sand mean bland. These six destinations, well known as relaxing escapes, also supply heart-pounding adventure for those who know where to look.

Bahamas: Swim among the sharks

As sunbathers lounge on the beaches, you can head below the waves for a true bucket-list adventure. Outfitters like Stuart Cove’s lead snorkeling and scuba excursions to swim among reef sharks and watch them devour chunks of bait carefully presented by a guide wearing chainmail protection.

Despite their intimidating size, the reef sharks are considered safe to swim near if you follow your guide’s precautions. You may get a chance to make even closer contact -- when a brave guide pets a shark just below its snout, it renders it into an immobile, trance-like state, allowing divers to get as close as they want.

Belize: Wade through a cave to Mayan skeletons

Leave your buddies on Belize’s Caribbean coast and head inland to Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, where an adventure that’s not for the fainthearted (or claustrophobic) awaits. Local guides can lead you on an hourlong hike through jungle foliage and shallow rivers to the mouth of the Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre. Continue the journey into the cave by wading and swimming through streams and past stalactites, eventually arriving at the eerie main event: the skeletons of 14 humans sacrificed during ancient Mayan religious rituals. The most famous is known as “The Crystal Maiden,” the remains of an 18-year-old woman whose bones appear to sparkle due to calcification.

Dubai: Freefall over manmade islands

Dubai draws travelers eager to indulge in its beaches, expansive shopping malls and global fine dining. But a less mainstream adventure starts even higher than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Book a skydive to experience the thrill of freefall with an unbeatable vantage point of the emirate’s manmade, palm-frond-shaped islands and futuristic skyline. Like most things in Dubai, this experience isn’t cheap -- a tandem dive with Skydive Dubai starts at $474 ($1,750 AED).

Oman: Go canyoning and aquatic hiking

Oman boasts luxury resorts tucked into its stunning coves. At the Al Bustan Palace, guests can sample fresh-caught seafood from a table set directly on the beach, with the low, rocky mountains as their backdrop. But heading into those same mountains yields more adventurous pursuits: canyoning and cliff diving. Head to fertile valley oases known as “wadis” for treks that incorporate walking, climbing and swimming (often called “aquatic hiking”). Still too tame? One such valley, Wadi Shab, hosted the RedBull Cliff-Diving Finals in 2012, with divers leaping from heights of up to 28 meters (91 feet).

Brazil: Careen across dunes in a Jeep

Called the “City of Light” for its near-constant sunshine, Brazil’s coastal city of Fortaleza boasts a party-town reputation. Its miles of sandy beaches are ideal for working on your tan, but they also offer a more exciting pastime: a wild ride over the nearby sand dunes. Hire a driver with a Jeep or dune buggy and hang on as you careen over the rolling dunes, taking hairpin turns and flying over steep drops. After your ride, you can try out ski-bunda, like sledding but with sand instead of snow.

New Zealand: Blackwater raft to the light of glow worms

New Zealand’s Kawhia Harbour is a sleepy fishing town. During low tide, visitors can dig into the sands of Ocean Beach and lounge in a warm bath of geothermally heated waters as the sun sets. But when you’ve had your fill of relaxation, head inland an hour to the Waitomo Caves. There, guides lead a unique excursion known as “blackwater rafting,” navigating an underground river on an inflatable tube. Along the way, your path will be lit by something other than your helmet light: glowworms that reside in the caves produce a soft luminescence, making for spellbinding surroundings. Other tours in the cave system let you climb narrow passages and abseil over waterfalls.

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